By CHRISTIE STORM
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Kathy Kaczmarek has big plans.
She hopes to start a transitional home for women who have been incarcerated or survived abuse, sexual violence or addiction.
A chaplain for 25 years and prison men- tor, Kaczmarek envisions a two-year pro- gram in Little Rock modeled after a program in Nashville, Tenn., known as Magdalene and Thistle Farms. It would be known as Magdalene – Coming Home.
The program is in the planning stages, and an informational “FUNraiser” will be held Oct. 6 at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, in Little Rock.
The idea for the project grew out of Kaczmarek’s experience mentoring a woman in prison and coordinating fellow men- tors.
“In that process I met a lady,” Kaczmarek told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat- Gazette (http://bit.ly/2cRk71z ). “When we first met she was in the Pulaski County jail, right after being arrested.” Kaczmarek followed her from her appearance in court to her incarceration at the McPherson Unit and on to the
Wrightsville Unit. The two began meeting once a month and writing to each other in between visits.
Eventually, the woman was granted pa- role and Kaczmarek knew she had to be there to help her friend ease back into life outside of prison.
“I’ve known this woman for about eight and a half years now, and while I was meeting with her I got to learn about her family, her husband, who was taking care of their two younger children … and during the whole period I began to realize the struggles, not only for her but also for their family,” she said. “I realized how little help there is for women.”
Kaczmarek heard about the Magdalene program in Nashville that was started by Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest lauded as a “Champion of Change” by the White House. Kaczmarek attended a program training session, along with the Rev. Lisa Hlass, associate priest at her church, St. Michael’s. She also talked with the organizers of Magdalene Serenity House in Fayetteville.
The idea for a similar program in Little Rock began to grow from there, and Kacz- marek and others interested in the project began to meet and toss around ideas.
The group has identified two pieces of property close to the church as possible locations. The project will not be connected to the church and Kaczmarek said she envisions it as more of a community- based nonprofit with support from individuals, churches and organizations.
“I don’t think this is something any one church or group can really pull off, but if you have a community that sees the need and sees the results that can come from it, I think you stand a better chance,” Kacz-marek said. “That’s why starting with these informational meetings, not necessarily as fundraisers but so people will become aware of how much of a problem it is, and this is a way we can work together to help these women.”
The first event will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 6 at the church. The band, Still Married and Friends, will perform (a different group will perform each month). Snacks, beer and wine will be served and in be- tween band sets, organizers will talk about the project.
“Hopefully, from there we’ll get more community awareness, more churches aware of it, and work toward establishing a board and get this thing rolling,” Kacz- marek said.