Ground broken for new women’s crisis center in Champaign

Construction on a center for women in crisis began Sunday when officials broke ground on the construction site.

Merci’s Refuge is a residential program that will be offered to women 18 years and older who find themselves in need of a place to stay due to an unplanned pregnancy, abuse or homelessness.

Greta Henry, director of Champaign Ministries, has been working on the project since 2001 after it was passed down from the founder of Living Alternatives Pregnancy Resources Center.

“It’s so exciting to see what God is doing in this area,” said Henry.

Merci’s Refuge is an extension of Living Alternatives, which they describe as a nonprofit pregnancy resource center dedicated to saving the lives of unborn children while sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ through word and deed. Because Merci’s Refuge was funded entirely through public donations, they are allowed to help the women at the center through religion.

Mary Kate Evans, clinical director at Merci’s Refuge, shared with the ceremony’s audience the story of her life’s struggles before she was reborn. She said she has since dedicated herself to help other women that had been impacted the way she had been.

Evans accepted her first job at a treatment center in Peoria that served women, but she always felt that, as a Christian, something was missing. Centers that accept government funding are prohibited from using religion as a tool.

“We could talk about higher power, but to many of the women, higher power was the group, nature and for some, even a light bulb,” Evans said.

Evans quit her job at the center and went on to accept a position with Merci’s Refuge. She said she looks forward to helping the women in the community.

“It will offer a safe place for those who really want to change their lives and need a place to do that, and it will make a huge difference in our community,” Evans said.

The center is set to be completed in May 2014. It will open as a one-floor facility that houses eight women. Once there is enough funding for the second half of the building to be completed, a basement will also be built to house an additional eight women.

Each woman must enroll in a 9 to 12 month program. This program will provide residents with a series of classes to help them grow physically, emotionally and spiritually as well as biblically-based individual and group counseling from licensed counselors and social workers. In the end, Merci’s Refuge employees will help transition the women out of the program to start their new lives.

“The goal of Merci’s Refuge is to help them realize the situations they get themselves into and save them,” said Terri Lipscomb, director of fundraising development at Merci’s Refuge. “And to give them good tools on how to get out of those situations in the future and what to look for to know where there’s going to be problems for them.”

Lipscomb, along with the other speakers from Merci’s Refuge, feel very fortunate to have support from the community to make their dream of building the facility a reality. Kathy Loutrel of Mahomet has been praying for Merci’s Refuge for three years and said she is very excited to finally see it being built.

“I think that it will give the community an opportunity to serve women whose lives have been broken and that want to change for the better,” Loutrel said.

Taylor can be reached at news@dailyillini.com.