RUSSIA – The Christmas season brings a promise of hope for many.
At Rustic Hope, located in western Shelby County, young women are finding the promise of hope year round.
A non-profit organization, Rustic Hope offers a solution for teens, many who are pregnant, some homeless, all who are searching for love and understanding.
Run by Craig and Connie McEldowney, Rustic Hope is not a licensed foster care facility and is not officially affiliated with any state or federally funded organizations.
All services are provided free of charge to teens who come to call Rustic Hope their home for a while.
The McEldowney’s offer teens the opportunity to get their lives together and while there, they are encouraged to make positive decisions about their future.
Connie McEldowney said the idea to open her home came to her about five years ago when she “got the calling from God that I needed to quit my job, become a non-profit and devote time to this cause.”
McEldowney and her husband, an engineer at Stolle’s in Sidney, are parents of eight children – five biological and three adopted.
“Our biological children are already out of the house,” McEldowney said. “Our adopted children are ages 9, 6 and 3. It’s like we’re starting over.”
Relying on her faith, MCEldowney said “I pray. I completely live my life out of control, or so my mother says. God is in control. Wherever He leads me. I do a lot of public speaking. I feel like there’s a lot of people wanting to help, but don’t know where to go.”
A trip to offer prayer for others led McEldowney to open her home and offer unconditional love to teens in need, she explained.
“A number of years ago I went to Kettering to pray outside an abortion clinic,” McEldowney said, adding how some may think of these young girls as evil. “But I realized they aren’t. They looked just like me. That opened my eyes and I realized these girls were having an abortion because they thought that was their best option.”
McEldowney decided to quit her job at the Women’s Center in Sidney and open her home to teens in need.
The McEldowneys provide support, introducing the girls to agencies that can provide help.
“We help set them up in a stable place.” McEldowney said.
Referrals come through unconventional ways, McEldowney said, with some coming from local churches and school officials.
“Typically the teens do not contact us,” she explained.
Some are homeless. Almost all are local. “We serve Shelby, Darke, Mercer and Miami counties. We had a homeless teen from Versailles who lived in a car for six months. It breaks my heart.”
There’s also been a rise in teen moms with drug issues, who need more specialized care.
Along with providing a safe home, Rustic Hope also offers the Rustic Hope Shed, where single moms can shop for needed baby, housekeeping and personal care supplies, along with baby clothing, furniture and equipment. Rustic Shed serves between 100-150 families a month.
Items are all free and donated by local individuals and organizations.
Beginning this fall, Darke County 4-H Clubs began a new community service project – collecting items for the Russia organization.
The Hands Across the Darke 4-H Club will be taking the lead in collecting the donations, said Rhonda Williams, Darke County OSU Extension Educator.
All county 4-H clubs have been invited to donate.
“We already put together five gift baskets – gift cards, personal care items for young mothers,” Williams explained. “We will be collecting through February and it may end up being an ongoing project.”
Besides baby items such as diapers and baby wipes, other items that may be donated include shampoo/conditioner, small containers of laundry detergent, dish soap, bathroom supplies, and throw blankets.
Baby furniture, strollers and car seats also are accepted and are free for single moms.
Items may be dropped off at the Darke County Extemsion Office, next to the Edison campus on Wagner Avenue.
Rustic Shed also offers volunteer opportunities for sorting donations and stocking shelves.
Those interested may contact McEldowney by calling 526-4336 or by leaving a message on the organization’s Rustic Hope Facebook page.
The name Rustic Hope was chosen in lieu of McEldowney’s first choice – Rustic Haven.
“I found out that was the name of a bar,” she said, located in a nearby city.
“The name Rustic Hope has been awesome because so many of the young moms tell me ‘I didn’t think I was going to make it. I didn’t think there was any hope.’”
PHOTO CAPTION: Rustic Hope in Russia is accepting donations for young moms and their children. Locally, donations are being collected by Hands Across the Darke 4-H Club and may be dropped off at the Darke County OSU Extension on Wagner Avenue.