Not every Collin County woman has a white picket fence and the American dream. There’s the single mother to young kids, recently laid off and overdue on rent, or the woman overcoming the trauma of domestic abuse with no place to call home. Homelessness is a growing reality for many women in Collin County—especially single moms. Plano resident and mom Janet Collinsworth decided to do something about that. The Agape Resource and Assistance Center, which she founded in 2013, provides temporary shelter, counseling and tools to help families who are homeless and survivors of abuse and human trafficking redefine their lives; to date, 135 women and children have entered the Agape program. Collinsworth gave us the ugly statistics of homelessness in our county—and shared one of her favorite Agape success stories.
What inspired you to found Agape?
When I first started working with nonprofits and mission ministries, in 2009 I [became] a co-founder of the Seven Loaves Food Pantry. I raised my kids here in Plano and I didn’t understand that there was a poverty or hunger problem, or homeless people. The pantry was a very eye-opening experience. I realized that food was a symptom of a much bigger problem of poverty, homelessness. I began to do some research and find out what was going on in Collin County. What I found was that there was not a good infrastructure to help people who were homeless. There was a drastically increasing number of people becoming homeless beginning in 2008. Of those, 75 percent were single women head of households or single women. One of the largest causes of homelessness of that demographic is domestic violence, sexual assault and [human] trafficking. I just felt like somebody had to step out and do something. It needs to be something that is healing and solves the problem these women are facing so the children won’t fall into poverty.
Aside from housing, what other tools do you provide to help them?
We have a program that focuses on health and education. We have a counselor that they are actually required to see once a week. Moms have the option to allow their children to go to counseling. In their first 30 to 60 days with us, we have an education and vocation advocate that will sit down with each woman to choose a vocational path to increase their income. We provide scholarships so they can go to school, child care and help them with transportation. Not only do they have to heal emotionally, but they have to get themselves back into the workforce so that this doesn’t happen again.
Your mission is hope, help and home. How do you get this concept across to women who haven’t had those three things?
Our counselors are a huge component in making our women feel heard and learn how to use their voice again. We [use] a program, “Stronger Than Espresso.” It’s a very intense group therapy session that goes on for 13 weeks. Each new class of women that we have, we start a new series. That goes a long way in helping them understand their worth as women and humans, and understand that whatever circumstances or situations resulted in where they are right now, that doesn’t define them.
We are a faith-based organization; we don’t require any religious participation at all, but we seek to serve with grace. And we seek to serve with respect. We feel that by displaying that in everything we do with our women and our children, they will feel respected, heard and loved.
Is there a particular success story that stands out to you?
We have several––they are all heroes. We had one woman who was single and an abuse survivor. The abuse had been so severe that she was afraid to go outside. She was afraid to talk to people and there was no trust. She had a pretty good job and was taking care of herself, and then there were layoffs in her company, so suddenly she lost everything. She ended up sleeping in her car. Through the counseling, and scholarships so she could gain job skills in areas she wanted to pursue, she was able to graduate into her own apartment and maintain a job. About a year after she left us, she was laid off again. She called me and told me that because of what she learned here, she didn’t sit down and cry about it. She immediately went to the library, got online, got her resume out there and had a job in three days––and has still been able to take care of herself.
We’ve had trafficking survivors that have gone to college, completed associate’s degrees and now are able to economically take care of themselves. Through the counseling and support systems that were developed here, [they] really came to learn they are valuable and have a voice––they don’t have to be oppressed and they are not victims. Watching them blossom into totally different people has been amazing. They are now their own person.