August 31, 2012

'God is doing some amazing things'

New shelter transforms women’s lives, including the woman who leads it

Cami Pritchett takes time from her duties as the director of Becky’s Place, a Catholic Charities homeless shelter for women and children in Bedford, to draw chalk art with two girls who are residents of the facility that opened this year. (Submitted photos by Corrina Cazares)

Cami Pritchett takes time from her duties as the director of Becky’s Place, a Catholic Charities homeless shelter for women and children in Bedford, to draw chalk art with two girls who are residents of the facility that opened this year. (Submitted photos by Corrina Cazares) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

Cami Pritchett kept fighting God.

She also kept fighting nearly everything she had learned through the years—that to change a life for the better, you have to help people remove their fears, doubts and excuses, and open them to the wondrous possibilities of a new start.

Pritchett knew in her heart that God wanted her to become the director of Becky’s Place, a Catholic Charities homeless shelter for women and children in the southern Indiana community of Bedford. But in the summer of 2010, the facility was just in its planning stages, and Pritchett kept resisting the offer to be the point person in raising awareness and funds for the shelter.

She had her fears, doubts and excuses. Yet, none of them, she says, was a match for God’s persistence.

“I fought with the Lord for a while,” she says with a laugh. “But then it was God saying, ‘This is what you are going to do with your life.’ I prayed about it and walked through the door.”

Two years later, the shelter, which opened in February, has changed the lives of Pritchett, the women and children who come there, and even the community that has banded together to make it possible.

“God is doing some amazing things,” Pritchett says. “Lives are changing.”

Consider some of the success stories, starting with one about a mother and her 5-year-old son.

Life-changing moments

“She was already working, but she was homeless,” Pritchett recalls. “While she was at Becky’s Place, she received some assistance with budgeting. She was able to save money, we got some educational resources for her son, and she ended up moving out and into her own place after two months with us.”

There’s also the story of the mother who took her children to the doctor after the family spent several weeks at Becky’s Place.

“The doctor said that her children were healthier than the last time he had seen them because they were eating better, drinking more water and juice, and they had more structure as far as meal time and bed time,” Pritchett says.

“We also have a couple of current residents who were unemployed when they came into the shelter. After helping them prepare their resumes and helping them take advantage of other resources, they both have employment.”

The shelter has been life-changing in other ways for the female residents, including a woman named Carrie who struggled to reclaim her life after making poor choices and mistakes.

“They offer the structure I need to get back on my feet,” Carrie says. “I got a job, and I have a roof over my head. The staff at the shelter is easy to talk to. They all listen, and they’re there for me. It’s nice to have that. I feel like I’m moving forward.”

The successes not only encourage the residents to make more changes, they motivate Pritchett and her staff of six even more to make a difference in their lives.

“If I don’t take time to see the successes, they can get lost,” Pritchett says. “Like any part of life, if you take your eyes off God and just focus on the everyday things, you’re going to miss out on the miraculous things that are happening around you.”

Like the story of the 81-year-old volunteer that Becky’s Place is named for, and the story of how churches, businesses and individuals have rallied together through Catholic Charities to make the shelter a reality.

A woman’s example, a town’s gift of love

Becky’s Place is named in honor of Becky Ryan, a longtime Pentecostal pastor in Bedford who has dedicated most of her life to helping people in need. That focus became even more intense after her husband of 38 years, Jack, died in 1991.

At first, Ryan helped struggling people in her home. Then she started a food pantry that fed as many as 200 people a day. Later, her efforts led to a shelter for women and children at a building in downtown Bedford. Eventually, the shelter closed, but Ryan’s legacy endured—a boost to Pritchett as she began promoting plans for a new shelter with the help of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese.

“She lives what she believes,” Pritchett says about Ryan. “We decided to name the shelter for her. So many people said they wanted to help because she had a significant impact upon their lives—how she prayed for them, encouraged them and helped them.”

With her 82nd birthday coming on Sept. 12, Ryan serves as a volunteer and advisory board member for Becky’s Place.

“I visit and talk to the girls,” Ryan says. “It’s the love of God that keeps me going. He put that love in my heart. It’s wonderful to see the changes that come into people’s lives. The love and compassion in this town is unbelievable.”

Bedford’s commitment to this project has been touching, according to David Siler, executive director of Catholic Charities for the archdiocese.

“Like many small towns in Indiana, Bedford has suffered deeply from the movement of many businesses overseas,” Siler notes. “The economic opportunity has become very limited and, for some, the result has been devastating poverty.

“For many single mothers, they simply do not have the means to make it on their own. The need for a shelter in this part of our archdiocese has been great, and we feel privileged to be the organization that was able to respond to the need.”

‘It’s God and his people at work’

Siler and Pritchett say the shelter is even more special because of the way the Bedford community worked together to make it possible. There are nine rooms in the shelter for residents, and each one of the rooms has been furnished and decorated by different organizations in the area.

The local General Motors plant provided two rooms. St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford and St. Mary Parish in Mitchell combined to sponsor a room. Other rooms were made possible by Avoca Baptist Church, Bethel Country Church, Popcorn Christian Church, the Altrusa sorority, a Bible study group and two families with the help of Grace Point Church.

“In this economy, when people are so frugal and the need continues to grow, we’ve been able to raise enough money to open the doors and keep it going,” Pritchett says. “I don’t think there’s any way to explain it but that it’s God and his people at work.”

There’s an obvious awe in Pritchett’s voice as she talks about everything and everyone involved in Becky’s Place—and how it has transformed lives.

A similar sense of awe is evident when people talk about how Becky’s Place has seemed to transform Pritchett’s life.

“It has been a real blessing to watch the spiritual growth of Cami along the way on this journey,” Siler says. “She has witnessed miracle after miracle, and her faith has become so strong and a very real witness to the power of God.”

Pritchett smiles as she remembers fighting with God.

“He wanted me to be here,” she says. “My wish for the people here is that they gain a sense of hope, that they’re introduced to the love of God, and that they become more self-sufficient in the areas of shelter, employment and education.

“I know this is where I was meant to be.” †

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