Place 4 Grace Kandee Popham

Kandee Popham stands in the kitchen of Place 4 Grace, a maternity home for unwed mothers. Popham serves as the director of Place 4 Grace.

MOUNT VERNON — Watching a passion come to fruition and growing in faith are rewarding and exciting. When the two are combined, it is awesome.

That is what is happening with Place 4 Grace, a maternity housing ministry for unwed mothers. Kandee Popham co-founded the ministry with her friend, Kim, and now serves as its director. Kim stepped away due to health reasons. Both women have an interest in helping unwed mothers with housing; Popham's passion is unwed minors.

“The Lord was working in our lives separately,” said Popham. “We each had visited a maternity home in another state, but we never talked about it. One day we were together talking, and I said “I think the Lord is asking us to do this.'”

Even though she felt led to get involved with providing housing for unwed mothers, Popham was reluctant at first.

“I was doing all of the human things and being rational,” she said. “I was thinking I can't maintain my job, take care of my family and do this, too. And then the Lord put the same young lady in my and Kim's path within the same week.”

That young lady was in 10th grade and pregnant, and she had an unhappy relationship with her parents. Despite the girl's circumstances, “she wasn't going to be the parent her parents were to her,” said Popham. “I said, 'Lord if I had a house, I promise I could take her.'”

When Popham told Kim that she met the young lady, they discovered that Kim had an experience with the same girl that same week.

At the time, Popham's husband was in danger of losing his job, and Popham was unsure how he felt about her taking on the maternity housing ministry. After hearing about the idea over dinner, her husband said, “I don't know how you cannot do this.”

Popham left her job and began concentrating on Place 4 Grace.

God's plan further unfolded when Popham spoke about her idea to the local Exchange Club. Following the meeting, Exchange Club member and Realtor Thom Collier said he had a house she should see. Popham thought that was a little premature considering she had no money to be buying a house.

“From the second we got here, we just knew that this was home,” she said. “It had so much to offer. We had a needs list; those boxes were checked. We had a wants list; those boxes were checked. There were things we didn't even know we wanted or needed; those boxes were checked off, too.”

The current owners did some remodeling that coincides with the needs of Place 4 Grace. Upstairs, the three-bedroom house features an office that Popham plans to turn into a fourth bedroom, a large living room, laundry facilities, two bathrooms, an open dining room/spacious kitchen and family room. The bedrooms are large enough to accommodate a crib.

Place 4 Grace dining room-kitchen

Plans call for a countertop island to be built in what is now the dining room (foreground) at Place 4 Grace. Director Kandee Popham says the island provides a better opportunity for the girls to work together in an informal family setting while preparing meals.

Downstairs is a complete kitchen and living area well suited for live-in houseparents, a bedroom Popham envisions using for weekend houseparents and additional space that can be converted into living space. Outside features include a back deck, three paddocks and outbuildings ideal for livestock, a utility shed perfect for converting into a hen house and a three-car garage that can be turned into administrative offices for Place 4 Grace.

“When I was dreaming of a place, I hoped we might be able to have chickens,” she said. “They're therapeutic and entertainment; they're just another element that the girls have never been part of.”

Popham said that the life of a pregnant, unwed teenage girl is full of chaos. “For them to have the ability to sit on this porch and look out at his creation, to me, it's just peace,” she said. “I pray the girls will come here and learn how cherished they are by God ... that he would do this [for them].”

Popham said that nationally, 25 percent of children are being raised without a father; 40 percent of them live below the poverty line. Nearly half of all single mothers receive food stamps. In 2013, 15 percent of the 1.6 million children born out of wedlock in the United States were born to teenagers under age 20.

“Poverty, drug abuse, unwed pregnancy, these are negative cycles we hear so much about,” she said. “Where are we stepping in and saying 'Stop. I am going to learn a different family cycle, and I am going to carry it on with me.'

“We may be able to start by working with four lives. We might be working in their lives, but they are changing the whole trajectory of their family's cycle.”

Popham said she wants the girls to learn about forgiveness and healthy discipline, how to work through problems, and about being employed and how to be employed. Budgeting, meal planning and being good stewards of the money they are provided are other values she wants to teach the girls. She plans to teach these values in a variety of ways, including caring for livestock.

“We're exploring the idea of having beef cattle,” she said. “It's another level of responsibility. It would also provide food, and potentially provide a small income to the home. Having the business skills will be great, even if only for use in their own family. Providing care for something is another subtle way of reinforcing what we are trying to teach them. It's putting stuff into real-life practice.

“I think the Lord has a sense of humor,” she added, noting that the water spigots on the outside of the livestock paddocks provide safety for pregnant girls while caring for animals.

Planting a garden and harvesting and canning the produce for winter meals is another way to teach the girls self-sufficiency.

“It's a way to provide for their family in a more economical way than having to purchase everything,” she said.

Popham also wants to develop partnerships with other organizations. TouchPointe is helping in the area of employment and will provide educational opportunities while the girls are at the home. Popham is working with a church whose members will be trained so they can provide child care while a mother goes to a job interview.

“It's really cool to see how the community is coming around this,” she said. “We want a community around [the girls]. Learning these values from more than one source shows them this is attainable, that they can do these things. I think that's the goal, to show them they can be self-sufficient and confident they can do it.”

Popham said that Place 4 Grace will employ a social worker, and everyone who staffs or volunteers at the home will go through crisis pregnancy training. Live-in houseparents will provide care and guidance through the week; onsite weekend parents will provide a break for the houseparents.

“I'm hoping that the Lord provides us with grandparent-type weekend parents because it gives us a whole different layer of relationship,” said Popham. “Grandparents provide a level of spoiling; we'll still have rules and discipline, it just gives them a different feel for a healthy relationship for a family.”

There is no predetermined length of stay for the girls.

“That's something we are still working through because each girl is different. Her needs are different, her background's different,” said Popham.

It may also depend on whether the mother plans to keep the child or place the child for adoption.

“Every girl will be educated on parenting expectations and what that decision means. Every girl will be educated on adoption expectations and what that decision means,” said Popham. “It will always be the girls' choice. We just want them to know.”

Place 4 Grace dining room-family room

The current family room at Place 4 Grace (foreground) will become a large dining room. Popham envisions a ledge along the wall on the right that will serve as a place for computer stations.

Designated a religious public charity, Popham said that prayers at the table and family devotions will be part of daily life at Place 4 Grace.

“Our family here will be a Christ-centered family,” she said. “We will never force or pressure someone, but we will offer to pray with them. The whole atmosphere is that they are safe, not alone, and they are loved and cherished. And that they can do it.

“We want them to know the importance of saving sexual activity for marriage from this time on. Not that they are condemned, but that there is a different way, a relationship based on love and trust.”

Popham said that to acquire the 10-acre property, Place 4 Grace has had to meet milestones such as establishing a reserve account to cover a certain amount of house payments and meeting fire and health department requirements. The next milestone is raising $20,000 in time for a scheduled closing date of Mar. 16. To date, only $19,980 is still needed.

“The Lord has provided for us in miraculous ways,” said Popham. “The Lord has just confirmed it over and over. He's doing it in his way and his time, so we are going to be patient. If our timeline isn't right, we're okay with that.

“I feel like I'm dreaming,” she said. “I just can't imagine how the Lord is doing all of this, and I have a ringside seat watching Him.”

For more information on Place 4 Grace, follow on Facebook, call 740-324-5244 or email info@place4grace.com. Anyone wishing to contribute to Place 4 Grace can mail a check to P.O. Box 283 Mount Vernon OH 43050 or donate online through the Facebook page.

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