The women in this faith-based recovery home are trying to make a beautiful life for themselves out of the ashes of their formerly destructive lives. The woman who runs the home for 5 women, Tamara, says that she used to feel like she was working hard to make ends meet and she didn’t understand why other people couldn’t do the same. She felt strongly enough about wanting to help women change that she created job skills programs at her church. But she saw that women attended the classes and got a head-start, but they had little or no healthy, sober support network to make sure that they continued to make good choices. After praying that “someone else” would address this need that she saw, Tamara’s father donated a down payment on a house and Tamara began remodeling it. She now has 5 women and their children living there, making and delivering healthy food each week to learn job skills, financial planning, and a work ethic.
This article about the Ashes to Beauty home and their dinner club program was published in the October 2013 Dash section of the Register-Guard.
By Vanessa Salvia
The smell of fresh lime juice and cooking sweet peppers permeates the West Eugene kitchen where two women are preparing food. Chelsy is juicing limes for key lime pie, and Tamara Wilhite, or Tammy, is slicing fresh red and yellow peppers for a fragrant stuffed pepper dish with a side of Waldorf salad. Chelsy’s 18-month-old son is being looked after in the next room while the women talk and cook.
It seems like a comfortable home kitchen and the makings of a delicious meal, but there’s more going on here. Tammy is the founder of Ashes to Beauty, a long-term residential program for women who are rebuilding their lives following addiction or abuse. Tammy purchased the home three years ago and spent six months remodeling it to accommodate up to five women. It was important to her that there be an element of work and volunteerism as part of the program, so the women cook and prepare not only their own meals but meals for the Vintner’s Baskets which are served as part of their Dinner Club.
Members of the Dinner Club commit to a month of once-weekly dinners delivered on Tuesday or Wednesday. The women also cater events. An entrée, salad and dessert for four costs $25; for 8 its $45. Each of the entrees, like spanakopita, chicken enchiladas or lasagna, are less than 500 calories per serving. “It’s ideal for a busy business person because the food is delicious, it’s fresh and it comes right to you,” says Tammy. You can also be assured that the food is made in a law-abiding kitchen—Tammy is a retired health inspector. “Food is something I know,” she says. “What we make are things you can pop in the microwave or oven and eat whenever you’re ready.” The menus are varied and rotate, so Dinner Club members can go a couple of months without a repeat meal. “And we are always working on adding things,” says Tammy. The website, www.ashestobeauty.org, lists the current meals.
Ashes to Beauty is taken from scripture, Isaiah 61:3. “It’s about transformed lives,” Tammy says. “Taking people out of the ashes and creating a beautiful thing. That’s the way God sees us, is beautiful. We just need to see ourselves that way.”
Tammy says Ashes to Beauty came about because she had a “bad attitude” about people who were panhandling. “I was working and I thought, ‘why aren’t you working?’” she recalls. “A voice in my head said, ‘You don’t know anything about those people, you can’t judge them. So I started down a road of trying to find a solution.”
She started a class through her church called Jobs for Life that linked job seekers with mentors and provided help with resumes and interviewing skills. “We had a lot of women come who were about to be released from jail, and almost every one of them struggled with addiction and almost every one of them had parents who had been addicted” says Tammy, “and a good portion of them had children that were in the system.”
Tammy says she prayed that someone would address the need she felt these women had. “We gave them all this hope and we sent them back to the same environment,” she says. “The only people they knew were addicts. They didn’t have a healthy support system. They had no job history or rental history. How could they be expected to succeed without help? I was hoping someone else would do this but God had something else in mind.”
The answer to her prayers was close to home. Tammy’s father supported her desire to open a faith-based recovery program and home for women and their children. He paid for the first year of the program and provided a down payment for the house.
The meals that the women prepare are vital to the success of the program. Not only does it provided practical cooking skills, they learn a work ethic and the income helps pay for the house. Tammy believes in tithing, and if there’s no money to give, they give 10% of their time through four hours of volunteer work per week. Women can stay for about two years. They are free to leave if they want, says Tammy, but she hopes they stay. “It takes many years to learn these bad habits, and it takes many years to unlearn them,” she says.
Some recipes for the meals were Tammy’s mother’s, some were Chelsy’s, who was a good cook before moving into the home. Chelsy, who is 30 and from the Eugene area, said she looked for months for a faith-based recovery program for women like her and was told that none existed. “It’s been amazing, life-changing,” says Chelsy, about moving into the home. “I feel really blessed to be here.”
Tammy knows that feeding the body is akin to feeding the soul, and she hopes that she can break the cycle of abuse and dependence for these women and their children through healthy, nourishing food for themselves and others. “Our goal is to create a bright future for them and their kids,” she says.