TRUE STORIES OF WORLD CHANGERS WHO STARTED ALONE: This month we share stories of individual Christians who couldn’t wait for others to tell them when to help the hurting and share the gospel. Their clear vision of a pressing need pushed them to do what they could as soon as they could.
THE RESTORATION HO– USE / www.therestorationhouse.net
By Reggie Hundley
In 2005, a group leader from a congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee, asked his small group this question: “If you could do anything in life with no financial or other hindrances, what would that be?” The power of that one question opened the door to a dream of Daniel and Mandy Watson that has resulted in changed lives for numerous single mothers and their children. Little did the Watsons know at the time, but it would redirect their lives and create ministry opportunities for countless families throughout East Tennessee.
The Watsons were both raised in single-mother families. In Daniel’s case, his mother did the very best she could, but the family lacked the support necessary for success, resulting in instability and sometimes chaotic situations. Mandy was also raised in a single-mother family, but her father remained active in her life. After becoming high school sweethearts, they attended Johnson University and married shortly after graduation.
Daniel had been associate minister of outreach at West Towne Christian Church in Knoxville for several years when the “if you could do anything” question was posed to their small group. Mandy’s response surprised Daniel because she had never mentioned it before. “I would buy a large piece of property, adopt a lot of children, and start a ministry out of my home for single moms.”
Just two months after that small group meeting, 3-plus acres became available that included a four-bedroom farmhouse, with a separate entry apartment, and a small rental home. The Watsons began to see God putting their dream into motion. In 2007 The Restoration House of East Tennessee (TRH) opened; the apartment and small rental facility became transitional living quarters for single-mother families emerging from public housing or referral programs.
The holistic ministry addresses the physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs of the whole family. It is devoted to seeing single mothers restored to God’s good intent for their lives and freeing them from the cycles of poverty and poor decisions. Mothers accepted into this program must focus on career development and work toward self-reliance. All are continually engaged in financial literacy training through classroom instruction and one-on-one financial coaching.
Through a partnership with a local bank, single-mother families in The Restoration House can participate in a 3:1 matched savings program with an individual development account. This program encourages a pattern of savings for the family and can be used to purchase an asset, such as a home or postsecondary education.
A team of 6 to 12 mentors from local churches provides a support structure for each family. The team approach decreases the demands on any one person, which can lead to burnout, and reduces the likelihood of unhealthy dependence within a mentoring relationship.
A family advocate is provided who assists with coordination and planning related to a family’s vision for their future. A contract outlining the basic limitations and expectations of the program is signed by each participating single-mother family.
Partnerships have been developed with local congregations, financial institutions, legal firms, auto repair companies, counseling services, the University of Tennessee College of Social Work, local grocery stores, the Red Cross, and more in the context of a five-way partnership model in which each party contributes to the overall restoration of the family.
Through these combined efforts, TRH has changed the lives of many single mothers and their families.
One single mother said, “My mentors were more helpful and inspiring than I ever imagined. I was able to get my CNA [certified nursing assistant] license, and find a job that made me realize how much I LOVE nursing. April 19 of this year, I walked down the aisle and received my first-ever college diploma!”
A current mentor writes, “My husband and I walk beside a single mother of three. While we joined this organization to assist where we could, we have been richly blessed. This wonderful organization is not a handout, but rather a program that helps mothers with useful tools, training, and skills to be a success story and not just a statistic.”
When Mandy first uttered her answer to the small group leader’s question, I doubt she envisioned the breadth of this current work. The Watsons are dreamers in the best sense, but the years have brought them more people to help, more people to assist those needing help, more partners, and even more personal blessings than they ever imagined.
The original farmhouse and rental property were found to be in need of more repair than the couple could afford. To their amazement, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition also came to the aid of this dream. The Restoration House of East Tennessee now has a comfortable home in which the Watsons live, and new living quarters for more single mothers and their children.
In January 2012, Johnson University established the Watson Restoration House Scholarship Fund to help current and future TRH children attend college. Future growth is also planned; on the drawing board is “The Village,” which may impact 140 to 160 single mothers and 280 to 320 children over the next 10 years.
God has always been in the business of writing extraordinary stories with ordinary people. We never know precisely whom God will use, and we seldom see how large the story will be when things begin. Sometimes they begin with an answer to a question. One small group question certainly changed the ministry of Daniel and Mandy Watson and their family!
Reggie Hundley serves as executive director of Mission Services Association Inc. in Knoxville, Tennessee.