Well House designed to offer home for female inmates after they leave prison

Kristy Miller, executive director of the Well House, stands in the dining room of the residence at 701 Broadway in Quincy. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Aug. 28, 2012 10:14 am Updated: Sep. 11, 2012 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Well House Christian Ministry Vice President Lee Lindsay Curtis thinks it's fitting that the bedroom windows in the Well House, a nearly finished halfway house at 701 Broadway, overlook the Adams County Jail.

"Since our ladies come to us from the ... jail, or from Illinois prisons, we think it's a little ironic that ... every woman who will live here is looking out and seeing that environment," Curtis said. "It's a good reminder that we don't want to go (back) there. God has a better plan."

Quincy's Well House Christian Ministry will celebrate the completion of the home with an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 9.

The ministry, a group of about 12 women who visit prisons in the area to lead Bible studies with incarcerated women, was started by ministry President Betty Kaufman about 15 years ago. However, it hasn't had space to help female inmates after they leave prison -- until now.

"We realized that many of the women were homeless when they were released from jail and going back, living on the streets or maybe going back into some environments that brought them there in the first place," said Kristy Miller, the ministry's executive director. "So we felt like there was a need for a home where the women could come and ... see what a healthy family life would be like."

The Well House's purpose is to give women the time and resources needed to rebuild their lives. The ministry uses religious teachings as a foundation for instilling structure in the lives of the women they work with so "they can be better moms and responsible women in the community," Curtis said.

For now, children of the residents won't be allowed to live with them in the house.

The ministry found the spacious two-story home after five years of searching, Curtis said. The members settled on a deal with previous owners Lucinda Awerkamp and Michael McClain, and financed the entire purchase through donations from people and churches.

"We ... drove by this (house) one day," Miller said. "We called a number, made an appointment to see it and fell in love with it. It's close to public transportation, the Kroc Center, legal system, churches."

As the halfway house project moved forward and construction commenced, Miller and Curtis thought that creating an aesthetically pleasing environment could help the ladies walking through the door know they're "loved" and deserve another chance. The style is clean, feminine and calm, with light colors and open windows. Most of the house's furnishings have been provided through private donations.

Holly Whatley will live with the women seven days a week when the home officially opens in mid-September. Whatley will work as the house manager Monday through Friday, and volunteers will take over those duties on weekends.

Camera surveillance on the premises will help keep residents safe. A sign-in sheet the that women are required to use when they go in and out will ensure that the ministry can account for "every minute of the day and night," Curtis said.

Out of the average six months that Curtis estimates women will stay at the Well House, several months will be spent working or shadowing a possible employer in the community. They'll also take part in Bible studies, learn to cook healthy food, participate in various classes and hear presentations from members of the community about job opportunities. Structuring each day will allow women to constantly be "doing something positive" and "growing spiritually," Curtis said.

"We've had a lot of experience in watching what happens (to the women) if they really don't have a safe, secure, Christian environment to go to," she said.

How women apply for the Well House program:

• While incarcerated or in the Department of Corrections, a woman can send a letter to the Well House, 701 Broadway.

• Amber McGinnis, a volunteer advisory board member with the Well House Christian Ministry, schedules an appointment for a pre-screening interview.

• The board decides whether it wants to proceed with the application.

• The woman goes through the application process, which involves a second interview).

• A yes or no decision is made by "a group of people," McGinnis said. The decision takes into account the person's appropriateness to the program, the group dynamics of the house, where she is at spiritually and how she plans on changing.