L to R, Karen Schertel (volunteer), Janell Brock Wolfe (President), Teresa Shrewsberry (staff), Vivian Doherty (Board Member), Joyce Vogel (Vice President) Photo courtesy of  Joyce Vogel


The Hiding Place Ministries Project for local women


By Tyler Whitney


There are few clichés as frustrating as hearing some cold and heartless denial for help in the form of ‘life just isn’t fair’ and that because life isn’t fair, we don’t deserve a second chance or an opportunity for change. Fortunately, ‘life’ is just a term that refers to all of us, just ordinary folk, living together and making decisions one at a time. We, then, are the ones who decide together what is fair, what is merciful, and ultimately, what the world should look like tomorrow. It is with this vision of action that Janelle Wolfe, the president, and Joyce Vogel, the vice president, started Hiding Place Ministries: a non-profit that looks to provide a second chance for women leaving jail, finishing rehab, or looking to escape abusive situations at home. Together, along with their team, they hope to provide emotional, spiritual, and physical shelter where women in Libby and the surrounding areas can restart their lives.

The Hiding Place project started at the intersection of two stories: one, on a national scale and the other one, intimately human. In the United States between 2005 and 2010, the National Resource Center on Justice-Involved Women (NRCJIW) found that within five years of release from prison, 68% of women will be arrested again and that over half of those crimes were found to be related to property or drug offences. What the Hiding Place Ministries, and other similar organizations, then found was that this trend was not spontaneous, but rather came from a very predictable indicator: community.

Humans are social creatures; we build families, neighborhoods, towns, we hold parades with silly themes, and birthdays parties for a one year old who will never remember if they had a blue or pink cake. Our support systems, our happiness, our memories, our safety, our confidence all come from others; from those around us. So, when one starts using drugs, or finds themselves in an abusive relationship, those things are not isolated, but rather they are connected with every other aspect of life. Leaving drug use or fleeing abuse, then, is not simply removing a portion of a life, but it can be an exodus from an entire community built around those parts. For those facing this decision, it can be an impossible one, but that is where Hiding Place Ministries comes in, providing a new and healing community when the old was no longer viable.

The second story, the human one, comes from those who have built the ministry, not just from seeing a need, but living it and experiencing it first.

Wolfe grew up in a home where violence and alcohol’s sour aroma were no stranger. And in a moment of something indescribable, Wolfe saw her mother severely beaten and her house burned down by her stepdad. There was nowhere to go, no community to provide support, that is, until a local ministry stepped in and provided a new home and assistance until Wolfe and her family could get back on their feet.

Vogel, on the other hand, saw the lives of women caught in an unbreakable cycle of drug use through a jail ministry, of which Wolfe was also a part. For over ten years, she would visit the local jail to talk, council, and remind as many as she could that they were not alone and that “they were loved by God.” There would be glimmers of hope through long conversations and long written letters sent back and forth that perhaps this time would be the last in jail, but always haunting them, was the fact that many of the women Vogel and Wolfe would learn to know, would find themselves back again a few months after release. It seemed as if the jail was not simply penance, but a perpetual trap that many women could not escape.

Wolfe, inspired by her experience as a child, and Vogel, propelled by a cycle of never-ending incarceration, and both encouraged by their faith, started the Hiding Place Ministries program to provide something better to women who could not escape their circumstances.

The program starts with an in-depth application and interview process to evaluate if the organization is actually equipped to assist and help the candidate. Once accepted, there are five phases until the candidate has “graduated” from the program when they become self-sustaining.

Starting with a total separation from the old life and relocation into new organization owned housing, the participant then moves through developing important life skills, financial and professional habits, future educational and career goals, increasing occupational responsibility, and eventually, moving into their own housing. Perhaps most important in the program is the progressive housing that walks participants through increasing levels of house responsibilities from a shared living space to a single occupancy space. Hiding Place Ministries is still looking for additional housing, funds, and volunteers to fully accommodate all current and future participants in the program.

Throughout the program the women who join are seen as masters of their own fate. They are provided with a home, support, and all the tools necessary to start a new life, however, it is ultimately their responsibility for how successful they are in this program.

One recent success story is that of Sarah, a participant who has been in the program for well over a year. She started like many of the other women have, in and out of jail, struggling with addiction, and surrounded by an environment that only encouraged the continuation of the same. But now, after months of working hard, focusing on chemical dependency treatment, going to church regularly, and dedicating countless hours to self-improvement, she now is moving forward with a full-time job and looking to move out of Hiding Place Ministries housing into her own place to live with her son. Then, after a lifetime of dreaming, she hopes to become a nurse “to help others as [she] has been helped.” And really, that’s what it all comes down to: that the prosperity of the individual and the prosperity of the community are profoundly linked.

When a few women with a vision in Libby make second chances their business, they don’t just impact a few lives, they create a chain reaction that influences countless others. If you would like to learn more about, volunteer, or donate to Hiding Place Ministries, you can visit them on their website, www.hidingplaceministries.org or their Facebook page.

The author is board member at Hiding Place Ministries.