MANCHESTER, NH – The statistics are alarming in and of themselves.
About one in three women in domestic relationships have faced a form of abuse including sexual assault, physical violence, or stalking by their partner. Often exacerbated by issues with alcohol or drugs, victims can find themselves rudderless with no place to turn.
Enter The Light House.
“We intend to welcome all women in crisis,” says Kristie McKenney, CEO of The Light House. Set to open this fall, the non-profit will be housed in downtown Manchester and provide a broad range of programs, education, counseling, support services, life skills, and housing for women in need, as well as their children.
McKenney, a long-time human rights advocate, has spent much of her professional life working on behalf of child sexual abuse survivors and their families. As the founder and Executive Director of the Hillsborough County Child Advocacy Centers (CAC) located in Manchester and Nashua, Ms. McKenney was the driving force behind establishing the largest CAC in the Granite State. Later she transitioned to be the founding Executive Director of the CAC state chapter –The Granite State Children’s Alliance. More recently, she worked in a national role as the Director of Member Services and Chapter Development with the National Children’s Alliance, in Washington, D.C.
While that work was fulfilling, she said she “felt the call to return to grassroots work” during the pandemic. “It was very clear to me that there was acute need for transitional housing for women in crisis due to past trauma and sexual abuse.” With the support of her family, the decision was made to leave her current job and form a new non-profit.
As she shows a recent visitor around the Light House, the energetic McKinney frequently uses the words “acceptance, healing and restoration” when referring to agency’s cause. She says that once open, the Light House will offer clients housing and programs to rebuild their lives and ideally as a springboard to a brighter future.
Funded by seed money from the City of Manchester, “an amazing and supportive partner,” McKenney says, the Light House will offer a unique live-in program designed to help women break the cycle of pain and destruction caused by sexual violence.
The multi-faceted program will be tailored as much as possible to meet the specific needs of its clients. It is built around a nine-month in-house program – residents also will take turns cooking, cleaning, and sharing other household duties. Following successful completion of the initial program, clients will get additional sessions of off-site support as they transition back to independent living. “Our goal will be to help participants build back confidence and self-sufficiency,” says McKenney. The program includes faith-based elements alongside fostering strong community connections with medical and mental health services. “Catholic Medical Center’s Health Care for Homeless program will be a critical partner in this.” The Granite YMCA is another local partner that has stepped up in a significant way, she says.
Clients with families will be provided with child-care support so they can attend classes and counseling.
While a nine-month program may seem lengthy, McKenney points out that “This is not a band-aid approach. People in trauma need time to heal. We are helping people transform themselves. Each person will have an individual care plan.”
The facility will be staffed with certified case managers as well as staff who will live in the house full time. Initially, McKinney hopes to house at least five women and their children this fall and ramp-up to full capacity –10 residents – by early 2022.
While going from a concept to a program to a literal facility opening in the space of about a year may seem a tall order, McKenney is undaunted. “Life for those we are seeking to help is scary with many twists and turns … there are people in crisis right now who need our help.” She says the Light House board is “an amazing group of local community leaders who have hit the ground running. They are truly cause-driven.”
As is the case with most non-profits, the Light House is looking to raise funds and awareness. Further, as many of the clients may arrive with literally the clothing on their backs, household items will also be a need.
As a survivor of childhood abuse herself, the cause runs deep and is personal for McKenney. “As we speak, there are women, some with young children, who are living in fear, just trying to survive the day,” said McKenney. “We want to help them first heal, then rebuild their lives.”
The agency is currently running a campaign asking donors to make monthly or annual pledges. Please contact McKenney at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
In the coming weeks, the organization will be announcing a formal opening date. To support the Light House or learn more, please visit: https://lightoflifemin.org/lighthouse/