Susan Stephens: Exodus Ministries
Story and photos by Jan Osborn.
Working with Dallas charities over the past twenty-five years, I thought that I was aware of most nonprofits in the city. Obviously, I was not. It was such a pleasure recently to run into a friend whom I had spent many hours working diligently with in raising funds and setting up programming for another area nonprofit. While visiting with Donna Webster, she introduced me to Exodus Ministries where she serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors. Exodus Ministries is the only organization in the state of Texas who takes in previously incarcerated women and their children in a comprehensive, residential surroundings and help them rebuild their lives from the inside out. Donna invited me to tour the facility and meet the Executive Director of Exodus Ministries, Susan Stephens. Susan graciously visited with me and answered several questions I had about Exodus Ministries.
Tell us about the mission of Exodus Ministries.
Exodus Ministries transforms the lives of formerly incarcerated mothers and their children by providing a safe place to live, tools needed for their success and Christ-centered spiritual support.
How did Exodus Ministries get started?
Exodus was founded in 1985 by Mike Rouse and Don Dennis. They saw a need to help the formerly incarcerated women who had stepped into a series of bad choices by giving them a safe place to start a new and productive life, even if they had no idea what that looked like.
Tell us about what brought you to Exodus Ministries.
The Lord called me to this ministry by way of an old friend. The previous Executive Director, a long-time friend, called me to talk about finding a new “Operations Manager” for a nonprofit. I told him I would keep my eyes open for possible candidates. Little did I know, at that time, it was me he wanted to assume the position! That was over five years ago.
How are the women accepted into the program?
The women apply to the program while they are still incarcerated. If they are accepted, they come to Exodus directly from prison—that is when the hard work begins. The transformation is comprehensive: covering parenting, Bible study, financial budgeting, how to get a job, keep a job, and how to forgive themselves. Often, they have to learn to forgive family members for things that were done to hurt them. This all takes place during the year that they spend at Exodus.
Tell me about the program at Exodus.
It is not an easy program. You have to learn to be self-disciplined. You have to show up at a job every day, go to class at night and learn how to parent your children. All of our women have children, but most of them have experienced motherhood. Someone else has raised their children, tucked them in at night, while they have been living a different kind of life before prison and during incarceration.
Each weekday, this small group of mothers participates in scheduled events designed to provide life and job skills. They learn to be the best moms, citizens and employees possible. The regular classes include a 12-step recovery program, Bible study, parenting classes, and instruction in financial management and budgeting. Additional classes enrich and supplement the core curriculum, including self-defense, flower arranging, art, sewing, nutrition and fitness, as well as topical discussions relevant to the healing process in which each woman is engaged.
Where do the women and their children live?
Each woman and her children are provided with a private, fully furnished apartment while they stay at Exodus. When they graduate from the program, the women are allowed to take everything in the apartment — furniture, clothing, food, toys — with them to help their family get started on its new life.
Exodus has 13 individual apartments available for occupancy. The number of vacancies varies because each woman graduates on the anniversary date of her arrival.
What does it cost to provide for a family for one year?
The cost to operate a residential unit varies depending upon the number of children, their ages and the mother’s needs. For all units and families of varying sizes, the average monthly residential unit operational cost is approximately $3,500. Clearly, a family with three growing boys have greater financial needs than a family with a 4-month old infant.
After graduating from the Exodus program, where do most of the women go?
The next step for each woman is somewhat different depending on her interests and the ages of her children. Many graduates are interested in and capable of completing college-level educational work. In partnership with Buckner Family Pathways, some Exodus graduates pursue associate and bachelor’s degrees. Others seek employment situations that maximize the use of their skills.
At this time, what is your greatness need?
Like most other nonprofit organizations, Exodus Ministries needs volunteers who can help in our Children’s Program while the moms participate in our nightly classes. Both the moms and the school-aged children are in need of mentors who are willing to stick with them during the entirety of the Exodus Ministries program and pour their life experiences into them. Exodus Ministries needs an army of prayer warriors who will consistently pray for each of the moms, their children, the ministry, its staff and its Board of Directors. And of course, we need funding to continue the important work we do!
Tell us about your upcoming fundraiser.
Our 2019 Power Breakfast will be on October 11 at the DoubleTree Hotel Campbell Center. We are honored to welcome Pat Smith as our guest speaker at this year’s event. Pat is the founder and CEO of Pat Smith Enterprises and co-founder of Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities. Her nonprofit, Treasure You, inspires women to pursue second chances in life despite circumstances or setbacks. Please consider joining us!
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