Community backing helps women’s group evolve into ministry

Sharon Metzger, the director of Place of Grace, gets her new office organized in a repurposed laundry room at the ministry’s new quarters, the former Trinity United Methodist Church parsonage. The organization seeks to help women coming out of jail change their lives, get back on their feet and transition back into the community.
Sharon Metzger, the director of Place of Grace, gets her new office organized in a repurposed laundry room at the ministry’s new quarters, the former Trinity United Methodist Church parsonage. The organization seeks to help women coming out of jail change their lives, get back on their feet and transition back into the community. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin

Originally published Jan. 9, 2016.

A new ministry in town is enjoying the backing of the community as it seeks to help women coming out of incarceration turn their lives around.

It’s called “Place of Grace,” a mission that takes its roots from the jail itself, Director Sharon Metzger says. A women’s group at the jail began the vision in 2009; that vision has evolved into a house nearly ready to accept women seeking their own transformation.

“They actually realized a few weeks in that a lot of them were in fear of what would happen if they left,” Metzger explains. “They were fearful of going back into the same situations that got them into jail in the first place. They were worried about a lack of support and they were just really living in fear.”

The group stayed together, joined by a bolster of concerned citizens. In 2015 a board of directors was formed and Place of Grace gained 501c3 status.

Metzger came on board in July last year, leaving the Boys & Girls Club to take the helm. She was then charged with finding a house that would serve as the new residence of the program’s participants.

“Shortly after, someone told me that Trinity United Methodist had this empty home that was the church parsonage, and they weren’t quite sure what they were going to do with it,” she says.

Over the next few months, after several meetings and a vote by Trinity UMC’s membership, Place of Grace received the OK to occupy the home, rent-free, for three years. The ministry will be responsible for maintaining the home as well as paying utilities and any other fees to be there.

The ministry’s program is no quick-fix solution. The founding group saw a need that Metzger says was unmet in the community for a holistic, faith-based program to help women change their lives and habits. Those in the program may expect to stay at the house from six months to as long as two years.

“One thing that we saw lacking in some of the other houses was the long-term aspect and also the collaboration aspect with community entities,” she says. “If a woman comes in and it’s the right time in her life, and she is motivated, she is ready to do whatever it takes, it will probably take her about six months to be prepared to transition out of the home. But some of them will just need longer for a lot of different reasons.”

The house can accommodate 10 women at one time. Applicants to the program may come in with the referral of the Huntington County Prosecutor’s Office, Probation Department or Community Corrections. Some will come from Drug Court or remain under house arrest. But the main clientele will be coming out of the Huntington County Jail, Metzger says. Already two women have applied to the program and several other applications have been sent out, she adds.

Metzger has also hired a staff of four to five to keep someone in charge at the home 24 hours per day, once residents arrive.

Women at Place of Grace may expect to attend outside counseling sessions as part of their rehabilitation. Other services available to them include taking classes, both outside the house and from instructors coming to the home for such interests as art or cooking lessons.

Metzger plans to have participants take advantage of the Purdue Extension classes offered in financial, employment and healthy life skills. Bible studies and mentorship will also be a big part of the program, as will helping the women meet their educational goals.

They will also be expected to find jobs, attend church services and perhaps fulfill some community service. Each will be charged a small amount for rent, which will pay for food, program costs and housing.

Place of Grace is a stand-alone organization, with Metzger seeking funding to support the program and pay the bills. Although no one church “owns” the ministry, members of several area churches, along with service groups and individuals have contributed funds and volunteered to do everything from paint walls to prepare bedrooms for the incoming women.

“Our board is ecumenical, so there are a number of different churches represented,” Metzger says. “The board really sought the desire of the church as a whole in Huntington, to be mobilized toward change in this area. They really felt a need to make sure it wasn’t under the umbrella of just one church.”

Place of Grace also has its own Amazon wish list. All new kitchen appliances have been donated.

Metzger says the house is nearly ready to receive residents. She plans to hold an open house in the next few weeks to allow the community to view the home and ask questions about the program. Already she is heartened about the community’s acceptance of the house and its mission with little negative feedback.

“That’s been so hopeful, that we’ll succeed, because these women have the community backing them. The community wants to see them succeed and wants them to get the help they need in order to do that,” she says.