By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 7, 2010
This modest white home mirrors the other small houses on the street, except for a small plaque which greets people at the front door: “Peace be to this house.”
And to the women who call it home, they find that peace. Maybe for the first time.
“I’m not alone. Someone cares,” said Tenisha Dorlus, cradling her daughter, Tiana, who is less than a month old and is wrapped in a blanket.
“It is not just a place where you have a roof overhead. It is a program that helps you get your life together and take control of your life,” said Dorlus, 22. She lived with her mom in a senior citizens housing complex and risked getting both herself and her mother kicked out if she had not found Seamless Garment Ministry.
The house, which is just off of Cobb Parkway, is one of two that belong to Seamless Garment Ministry, a small, ambitious program that marks it fourth anniversary this spring. It aids expecting mothers who are homeless by providing a home, counseling services, along with classes to stabilize their chaotic lives.
“We are trying to break generational cycles of poverty, homelessness, instability. We are always trying to get them to think about moving forward,” said Caryn Lyng, the executive director.
The ministry works to counter the disadvantage faced by children of single mothers. Some 40 percent of births were to single mothers in 2007, according to government statistics. And children with unwed mothers generally face more limited social and financial resources.
Despite the need for this ministry, the year has been a difficult one financially. Donations to the nonprofit only reached about half the yearly goal. Lyng said the program is working to build a foundation of benefactors to help the mothers.
Tequisha Earls sat at the kitchen table with her tutor at the second home. She focused on the proper use of ‘is’ as she studied for the high school equivalency degree.
Earls, who is 26, arrived here in her fifth month of pregnancy. She grew up in foster homes and group homes around Atlanta. She said it took calling dozens of phone numbers filling three pages before she found Seamless Garment. She recalled the excitement when she was given a key to the front door on her first day.
“It’s just exciting. You just really feel like home,” she said.
Her large bedroom is at the end of the hall. Hanging from a wall is a yellow onesie for her unborn daughter stitched with “Mommy’s girl.”
“I look at this every morning. I know what I am getting up for,” said Earls.
Since the spring of 2006, some 29 women have lived at Seamless Garment. The Celebration of Life Garden marks 26 births so far with etched stones of names like Reggie, Faith, Amrit.
“Each child is special to the world and a gift to the world,” said social worker Kettia Carrenard, who coordinates services for the women.
Lyng, who is a licensed real estate agent, said Seamless Garment meets the women’s needs by being flexible. This is not a one-size-fits-all place, she said.
“We were sort of clueless about what we were getting into. The gift has been that each of the women who has come here has taught us so much. They have built the program. The need is tremendous,” Lyng said.
Indeed, Seamless Garment receives more than 150 calls a year for its five beds. And it is just one of a handful of programs in the region providing this service, Lyng said.
The women are on strict daily schedules, with required meetings, from parenting classes to service hours, from a morning prayer service to counseling. There is a 9 p.m. nightly curfew. No men are allowed at the houses. They are able to stay until their baby is about five months old.
“They are on different levels as far as walks of life. But as mothers, they are on common ground,” Lyng said.
The program works to instill in the women a long-range plan for life, not coping from week to week. Earls has a “life goal” poster, highlighting her ideal mate, home and career. Earls said when she started with the program her ideal mate described a Hollywood heartthrob more than a real person. During the weeks, she has rounded out the ideal mate as a man who is “God fearing” with a great career and successful.
“I think about my future more. I’m learning a lot about myself that I didn’t know,” said Earls, who has led morning devotionals at times.
Lyng and her husband, Dave, first got involved with the program as volunteers. And revived it in the spring of 2006.
“We love helping people. That’s the driver,” said Lyng, who left a sales job in the manufacturing industry to run the program. She and her husband attend Transfiguration Church, Marietta.
The nonprofit’s budget is squeezed. Lyng said they raised a little more than half of the $150,000 annual budget. Lyng said the organization is organizing an ‘Adopt-a-Mom’ fundraiser to build monthly financial commitments. Donors will get to know the women they are supporting, Lyng said.
A new grant from the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia will help the ministry. The money will expand its employment services, teaching job search and interview skills.
Lyng said the organization wants to help the women and their children succeed with new skills and a new life, but in the end it is up to the women.
“We are giving them our heart and soul. We just plant seeds,” she said.
For information visit www.seamlessgarmentministry.com.