By Caroline Gurton
“From where you are, to where you need to be.”
This quote lines the front of The Bridge’s annual ministry report from the past year. In 2012, Julie Huggins decided that she wanted to see change in the Obion County area. Every day, she saw single mothers around her struggling to balance their responsibilities, and often getting consumed by all of the baggage that they had to carry. Most of the women in this demographic carry the weight of unsafe relationships, bad family situations, poverty level wages, and insurmountable debt as a result. She knew that these women needed someone on their team, so she decided to build one – The Bridge.
Housing | Julie began with a small group, which met to pray for these women and formulate plans to provide them with some sort of relief. The idea came into fruition through Phase Two Transitional Housing – a step between independence and oversight. In 2015, they began their first house placement. In exchange for a place to live, women going through the program are still responsible for paying rent through a savings program. When they graduate out of The Bridge Program, this money is returned to them as a beginning investment for a house of their own. These women also follow other guidelines, attend counseling sessions, and now participate in church programs at The Refuge Church. The mission is to help these women see that they can eventually be free – learn their stories, then allow them to get there in their own time.
Transitional homes are furnished among arrival, but individuals are encouraged to decorate and add personalization during their stay!
The Refuge Church | By 2017, The Bridge had drastically expanded. Eighty women had gone through the program, and wheels were turning at home. Julie and her husband, Dan, had a vision to leave behind mainline church and create an environment where all people felt welcome to worship. They did not have a cookie cutter family, they had walked through their own valleys, and they wanted others who did not fit every societal mold to feel comfortable at church. Inspired by Dry Bones Denver, a ministry he had visited in Colorado – Dan wanted to build a community that would meet people where they are. They began weekly church services at the Fairgrounds, and since have grown to host several other ministries for the community. Together, The Bridge and The Refuge serve as a parachurch organization: the church helps to fund the nonprofit, and in turn the members of the program participate in church programming.
Programming | After The Refuge began to grow, the couple saw a need to create a transitional department for men that would provide support similar to that given through the Bridge program. Everyone participating in these assistance programs are asked to attend Celebrate Recovery – which is more than just alcohol or drugs. This is a support group for those who are family members of addicts, who struggle with relationships, or have other “addictions” that may prevent them from reaching their fullest potential. Members of the church and programs are also invited to participate in Service Sundays and Prayer Nights (Corner of Nash & College St. on Tuesdays) that are open to the public. These opportunities are used to build relationships, unify the community, and give a glimpse into the lives of others.
The following services are not provided:
- Homeless Shelter or Emergency Housing
- Financial Institution
- Rehabilitation Services
Soul Food Café | Another need identified in Obion County is that for fresh food in lower socioeconomic households, and Soul Food Café has been an effort to combat some of that hunger. On the first and third Thursdays of each month, community groups and congregations volunteer to provide free meals distributed from the Fairgrounds. Additionally, The Refuge is able to offer a "Feeding of the Five Thousand" meal each year during the week of Thanksgiving and other occasional grocery distributions throughout the year.
Community Yard Sale | Julie’s most recent endeavor is what she describes as “everything coming full circle.” Several years ago, she hosted a yard sale in her own front yard and allowed participants from The Bridge Program to work it and keep any profits. When others heard about the sale, donations of items and proceeds began to funnel in. It was so successful, that she decided to do it again the next year – and it continued to grow. The year before last, the donation inventory had grown so large that they began to search for a location to keep items and host the sale. With help from the community, The Bridge was able to purchase a warehouse to serve as a permanent physical location for bimonthly sales. These sales now allow The Bridge to pay women in the program as employees while providing affordable items for others in the community, so everyone benefits in the end!
Sorted items in The Bridge Warehouse & their watch dog, Moses!