Pastor Paula Millsaps knew what the former Central Elementary School in East Millsboro looked like -- and will look like -- before she ever stepped foot in the former school. She had seen it in a dream.
“All I did was dream of this place,” said Millsaps, a native of Wilmington, North Carolina. “I dreamt of this school before ever seeing it.”
That was 10 years ago and now, her dream of transforming this discarded elementary school into a safe haven for mothers and children who have survived domestic violence and other abuses, including human trafficking, is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Millsaps, herself a survivor of abuse two times over, founded Joel 2 Missions, Inc., which is based locally in Donora, to provide a variety of services to survivors, like mentoring, pastoral counseling, life coaching and prayer ministry. The organization’s name is derived from a Bible verse, Joel 2:24, Millsaps explained.
“The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.”
The organization’s housing program or home project’s vision is “to see women and children free from the chains that bind them and restored back to their intended identity as children of God and heirs to His throne.”
Throughout the process, but especially in the beginning, Millsaps said J2M has had various corporate partners to help finalize the purchase of and refurbish the elementary school where women and children who are homeless due to fleeing from abuse will live, heal, and thrive.
Healing Springs Gathering, a nondenominational church, holds services every Sunday morning in the former school’s auditorium. Millsaps serves as the senior pastor of the church.
So often, she said, when mothers and children escape an abusive situation, they lose more than their homes. They lose their community and whatever support systems they had. Under the care of J2M, Millsaps said they will receive healing, church community support, mentoring and volunteering opportunities.
In addition to the church, the facility will also include a library and education space to homeschool children, counseling space and offices for counselors and family suites where residents will live. Currently, Millsaps and her volunteers are working on setting up suites, which have been partially or completely sponsored by local businesses or individuals.
Women and children will receive free housing for the first year, but will need to be referred to the program from another social agency, church or ministry. Once there, they will receive professional counseling, career counseling and guidance, nutrition and physical training, life skills training, job skills training, educational service and much more.
“They will concentrate on healing themselves, healing their families,” said Millsaps. “My vision for it is that we identify the gold in their hearts.”
Although it will be free for residents, Millsaps knows the services will cost money.
She’s hopeful sponsorships – by way of a one-time donation or as a monthly contribution to J2M – will take care of the needs.
In addition, the program is in need of volunteers, but especially those that can do the heavy lifting. Millsaps said volunteers have come from other churches, youth groups and associations, and many other community organizations. Volunteer trainings will be held over two upcoming weekends: May 31-June 2 and June 21-23, so anyone interested should contact J2M.
She said she has been humbled by the outpouring of support they have received from local churches, the community and businesses.
Antique church pews that line the hallways were donated from a woman in Alabama who found J2M online and wanted to give. Schools, churches and individuals have donated books for the library, and more is needed. They are also in need of homeschooling curriculums for the children.
Setting up the living suites is a top priority. Some businesses and organizations have sponsored an entire suite or two at a cost of $3,500.
The organization is still accepting sponsors for the rooms. It’s a one-time monetary donation, though some sponsors have also chosen to donate items needed for the rooms, she said.
J2M is also planning its - hopefully first of many - Heart for Homes Spring Gala on May 18. The gala is an opportunity for the public to tour the facility and be a part of what the organization is doing this year. Eventually, Millsaps said, the dinner and dancing event will be a great opportunity for the residents to have a fun and enjoyable night.
“The idea behind it is once a year to get all fancied up, enjoy a good meal and have a night of dancing,” said Millsaps.
The goal was to have the housing program up and running in May or June of this year, but delays have caused Millsaps to revise her opening date to most likely September.
On June 8, from 2 to 5 p.m., J2M is planning to hold an open house for another opportunity to tour the new facility and see all the progress that’s being made.
For more information about the plans or how to help, go to joel2missions.org, visit them on Facebook at @joel2missions, or call 724-361-3110.