BELLA VISTA — Ed and Jennifer Lemerise just couldn’t leave well enough alone.
The married parishioners of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Church in Bella Vista have spent considerable time writing and teaching a program every Thursday for study of the coming Sunday’s Gospel. This, on top of their well-known reputation for pro-life activism, made them an example of faith in the public square.
But it still wasn’t good enough.
“Every morning we met, we’d say a mantra after our opening prayer (which included), ‘Love is an action verb,’” Ed said. “When all of that started really sinking in, we realized this ministry that we’re in had to be more than just writing and learning. It had to be action.”
That action was Audrey’s Home of Hope, a ministry to provide a home and services for pregnant women in crisis. The couple launched it in July 2012 as little more than an idea, but which was almost immediately affirmed as the right one.
“We found there are so many wonderful organizations in northwest Arkansas, but there was no place for a pregnant mom in crisis to go for the duration of her pregnancy and for a portion of time after that when she could get back on her feet,” Ed said. “We were struck to find that gap in social coverage.”
Logic and anecdotal evidence suggested that such a ministry would be needed, but the founders didn’t understand how badly until word started to spread about Audrey’s Home of Hope. Then, the Lemerise’s phone started ringing from shelter directors in Bentonville, Rogers and Fayetteville and the Department of Human Services.
“Every single one of those directors said, ‘How soon can you be open, we have no place to send our pregnant moms,’” Ed said.
There has been plenty to suggest God had his hand in shaping the ministry, such as with the decision to open a resale boutique to help fund the operation, even though neither the Lemerises nor the third member of the original board, Ken DeBauche, had any retail experience.
“Rosie Tucker had a business here called Sensibly Chic. It was a consignment store and she had just won Best of the Best in consignment stores of northwest Arkansas,” Jennifer remembers. “Two weeks later, a hardware store caught fire adjacent to the store she was renting and burned her business down. We offered her the job, she took it and that’s how the resale boutique started.”
The Holy Spirit also moved members of their faith family to support the venture. Even though Audrey’s Home of Hope is an ecumenical organization, the earliest funding came from St. Bernard Church. Betty Kircher, one of the founders of the parish, wrote the first check and droves of parishioners followed her lead.
Audrey’s Home of Hope currently operates out of a rental property, a stop-gap measure that serves two to four women at a time. But this summer, the board took major strides toward the full realization of the ministry, entering into negotiations to buy a 13-acre parcel of land that will one day be home to a 5,600-square-foot, eight-bedroom house.
Phase two will include the building of four-plex townhomes to give pregnant women who already have children a place to live while working toward self-sufficiency. Then, as now, women will be allowed to stay long enough to get their lives on track with the help of job training and other services either offered directly by Audrey’s Home of Hope or through partnerships in the community.
“We help them get to where they know how to maintain a home and be prepared to have a job that can support them,” Jennifer said. “We don’t want to turn them out and just say, ‘OK, go live on the government now.’ We want them to really have a new normal, where they see themselves in the light of someone who is self-sufficient.”
For more information about Audrey’s Home of Hope or to make a donation, visit audreyshomeofhope.org.
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