In the past two and half years more than 1000 unique visitors from over 100 cities have visited Magdalene and Thistle Farms for our monthly education workshops. At Thistle Farms, we start our work days by lighting a candle and placing it in the middle of our circle to remember all of the women who are still out there suffering and pray for them to find their way home. When we greet new and returning friends, we say, "Welcome to the Circle."
Below are thoughts from one of the visitors of our education workshop:
When the Education Director of Thistle Farms, Deb Markland, wrote to me with the subject line "favor" asking if I would write a blog post about my experience at our education workshop, I thought to myself, "Pretty much whatever she is about to ask me to do, I will do!" And that's not just because she is a lovely person (which she is) but because our group got so much out of our time in Nashville that we would do anything to give back to an organization which not only educated us, but embraced and inspired us.
We came to the educational workshop from Houston to learn about the Thistle Farms model because we are building a program that serves the very same women that Magdalene / Thistle Farms does. Our program will be a collaboration between Healthcare for the Homeless Houston (a free clinic that serves our homeless population) and Angela House (a residential substance abuse treatment program that helps female ex-offenders).
The director of Angela House, Sr. Maureen O'Connell, and I arrived at Thistle Farms on a Monday morning and immediately felt welcome and at home. And oh, the scent when we walked in! That set the tone for the entire day. We spent some time getting to know the other workshop attendees and then we "circled up". The circle is a time of prayer and welcome where everyone - happy Thistle Farmers, workshop attendees, women who have just started the Magdalene program - are introduced and warmly welcomed.
Becca Stevens then joined us for a very informative and engaging talk on starting your own social enterprise, followed by a tour of the facilities and a presentation by an incredible woman who shared her story of how Thistle Farms helped her literally transform her life. Then we headed to tour the Magdalene residences and upon return, had a lovely lunch. The afternoon featured Cary Rayson, the Executive Director of Magdalene who gave an incredibly helpful talk and Q and A session. The day ended with a chance to shop the wonderful products we had been learning about all day.
What was remarkable about the day, in addition to the incredible amount of information that they were able to convey in a short period of time, was that the experience was really wonderful for anyone interested in this area - from people who were just starting to explore the idea of ministering to these women, all the way to organizations with established programs who just need fine-tuning kind of advice. Sr. Maureen and I left just so energized and excited about starting our program.
And the help didn't end there. I have had many follow up questions about different aspects of the program, and volunteer and staff alike at Thistle Farms have been incredibly generous with their time and talent. Now when I am at my desk at home, working on different aspects of launching our program, I light one of the candles I bought from Thistle Farms. I do this because it brings me back to a day where I was surrounded by a community of love and acceptance that sees and values the beauty, strength and resilience of these women. Their success and their passion is inspiring and motivating - it makes you think, who wouldn't want to learn how to be a Thistle Farmer?
By Andrea Link, MD
Healthcare for the Homeless Houston
If you want to learn more about becoming a Thistle Farmer, sign up for our First Annual National Conference, October 13-15. Our goal is to share inspiration and best practices for meeting the recovery needs of women who have survived trafficking, prostitution, addiction and homelessness and to launch a shared trade alliance among Thistle Farms and other social enterprises whose primary mission is moving women permanently out of poverty.
Get more information and sign up at www.welcometothecircle.org.