North by Northwest: On a Mission
Christina Moore and her mentor, Gwen Wiley.
Photography by Sharon Memories Photography
She cooked dinner every night for herself and four other people. She kept the house clean. She gave up the small amount of money she made working to provide for her family. She was 15.
Christina Moore was only in high school, but had to act far older than her age. So when she had the opportunity to move in to Saving Grace after graduating from Bentonville High School, she knew it might be the only way to accomplish her dreams.
“I wanted to come here and better myself, grow and find out who I am, because I didn’t really know,” Moore said. “I was so caught up with being a good daughter, being a good sister, making sure both my parents were happy. Since I was 15, I always did what people told me to do. I never did what I wanted, and now I’m doing everything I want to do.”
Founded in 2009 by Kent and Becky Shaffer, Saving Grace is a local mission that helps young women in transition, ages 17 to 24, aging out of foster care, group homes, homelessness, and/or dealing with life without a sustaining network of relationships. The mission of Saving Grace is to be a “Christ-centered, safe harbor offering acceptance, restoration and hope to young women of northwest Arkansas, preparing them for interdependent living.”
“I always dreamed about being in a sorority, but I didn’t have the money for a sorority,” Moore said. “This is almost like a sorority, but it’s more like a family, which I love.”
That was exactly the Shaffer’s vision, to build a home for young women, not a shelter.
Located on Poplar Street in Rogers, Ark., the 14-bedroom building includes four full bathrooms on the resident side. It also has a large living room, utility room, pantry, rooms for office space and a large classroom with computers and printers.
The warm, intimate environment is attractively decorated and makes every guest feel right at home. Each bedroom was sponsored by a church group, business or individual and was uniquely decorated with distinctive themes and new furniture.
“The entire project was all through God putting the right people in our path; it was connections I didn’t have,” Shaffer said. “God was our press agent. This really is a community effort, and people showed up out of the woodwork to help us.”
When the doors officially opened in January 2010, the Shaffers already had three homeless girls who needed a place to live so they could graduate high school. Though Moore wasn’t homeless when she came to Saving Grace, she understood the difficulty in continuing her education, if she had continued to live in her previous situation.
Moore is enrolled in her second semester at Northwest Arkansas Community College and is preparing to apply for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) Dental Hygienist program in Little Rock next year. According to the College of Health department head, she will be one of the rare African-American women applying for this program.
“I really want to accomplish my dream,” Moore said. “It’s been my dream since I was little. I knew if I was going to stay at my house I wouldn’t get As. I wouldn’t save any money because I’d have to take care of everybody. If you let other people interfere with your dream, you will be knocked down really quick.”
Saving Grace not only offers an affordable and safe place to live, but each resident also participates in weekly Life Skills classes in subjects such as budgeting, cooking and career counseling taught by community members. Residents are also encouraged to volunteer at local non-profits; get involved in a weekly Connections “book club”; and participate in Bible Study.
While everything is optional, to be in the program they must participate in the program, Shaffer said.
“We’re Christ-centered just in that He’s the fabric of our being,” she said. “We want them to have a choice in that [Christianity], but it doesn’t have any bearing in their part in the program. We try to be the best example of Christ that we can be to them in the most non-threatening way possible and to not label or judge any of their choices.”
One distinct way they’re continually trying to show Christ-centered love is through their mentoring program. Each resident gets three mentors — a sister mentor, a mother mentor and a grandmother mentor — based on the Biblical passage: “A cord of three strands is not easily broken,” Ecclesiastes 4:12.
The residents are recommended to meet with their mentors once a week, but keep in touch daily. For most, it initially takes quite some time to trust their mentors, but they eventually become like extended family. Though the young women will eventually leave Saving Grace, their mentors stay with them forever.
“I really, truly believe [my mentors] were picked by God for me,” Moore said. “They all have a similar story to mine. They took me to Little Rock to see UAMS two months ago. I didn’t want them to make that day about me, but they basically did. They made the whole day about me, and I’ve never had that before.”
Shaffer’s vision for Saving Grace has blossomed nearly overnight, but as a foster child herself, she not only sees the great work that has been done, but also all that is left to do.
“Our hope and prayer is that one day soon we can do something for young men,” Shaffer said. “These children belong to this community, and we, as a community, have to do something. God didn’t call the state to take care of the widows and orphans, He called the churches.”
Saving Grace’s third annual luncheon Butterflies & Blooms will be held at 11:30 a.m., May 3 at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center. For more information about the luncheon; their facilities and programs or to make a donation, log onto savinggracenwa.org or call (479) 636-1133.