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Providing a Beacon of Hope

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Lighthouse guides at-risk community to better lives

By Kacie Goode

When the lighthouse was lit Saturday at Haven of Hope, Sharon Cecil was overwhelmed with emotion.

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“You don’t know how much this means,” Cecil said to the guests who gathered around the lighthouse.

Cecil is co-founder and executive director of We Survive, a nonprofit community education program established in 1994. We Survive offers education on poverty, mental health, health and wellness, peer interactions, transitional development, emotional well-being and more to families.

The lighthouse, which stands at We Survive’s corporate headquarters, Haven of Hope in Bloomfield, was a project launched last year to “guide and inspire” those feeling hopeless to a place of safety. Seeing the project come to fruition was a moment that validated years of work Cecil and others had put into We Survive.

“Last year when we broke ground, we were making a wish,” Cecil said. “This is a dream come true.”

For people like Tatiana Ater, the lighthouse is a symbol of hope in a time when feeling hopeless can be overwhelming.

For Ater, being homeless is a disheartening struggle. For her 5-year-old autistic son, Malachi, it brings unique challenges.

“Change doesn’t do well for him,” Ater said. He needs consistency and without a home, there is none.

Tatiana and Malachi have been homeless for almost two years, bouncing from family to friends to shelters.

“I’ve been all over the place,” she said.

They now reside in Indiana with her partner, Ronnie Brown. The three stay at the Haven House, a homeless shelter in Jeffersonville, Ind., and have been there for the past few weeks.

While their situation keeps them off the streets, “I’d rather not be homeless,” Ater said.

The three, along with others from Haven House and students and volunteers, were in Bloomfield Saturday for a Day of Hope — a day filled with health and wellness activities educating at-risk children and families on topics such as the dangers of sun exposure and substance abuse prevention. Students of Sullivan University’s College of Pharmacy taught the lessons.

“It’s always a rewarding experience,” said second year pharmacy student Ryan Hatfield, who has participated in the Day of Hope for three years. “It’s great to interact with the kids and the families. To have them experience what they may not be able to otherwise.”

Pharmacy student Sarah Thompson, participating in the event for the first time, said it was a great experience working with the kids and families in a unique setting.

For many of the participants, Thompson said, the 79 acres of Haven of Hope provided a refreshing retreat from city life.

“A lot of them are from the city and not really exposed to rural areas like this, so just to be out in nature and experience this kind of life is good exposure for them,” she said. “And it’s good quality time for the families.”

Ater said she enjoyed being away from the city and finds country life more serene.

“City life is too busy, there’s too much drama,” she said.

Summer Hershey, who was there with 3-year-old Kaylei Daugherty, agreed, saying Kaylei enjoyed playing at the creek.

“We were actually walking in it,” Hershey said. “I grew up in the country in Lanesville, Ind., but we live in Jeffersonville right now and it’s city. I don’t like it.”

While the education and the fresh air were important, the inauguration of the location’s lighthouse was a highlight of Saturday’s proceedings. Following its lighting, participants were given a Key of Hope.

“The key symbolizes the fact that you can open the door to Haven of Hope,” Cecil said as she handed out keys to clients and volunteers.

Cecil also invited the group to participate in burning Haven of Hope’s old sign after unveiling a new sign designed by participants last year. The practice was a way of shedding the old and making way for a new life.

“Now, it’s time for a new everything,” Cecil said.