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Residential program helps mothers and children heal, improve lives

by Diedre Jacobson

Angela Slabaugh said painting mural last summer was a way for women to depict their journeys.

Two large residential homes, sitting side by side in Spokane Valley, house up to nine families—single mothers and their children—as they try to improve their lives.

Recovery from substance abuse, domestic violence and trauma are the themes Angela Slabaugh, executive director of Hearth Homes, sees in the lives of the women who reside there. 

For children living there, Hearth Homes strives to reduce their Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score.  ACE is a ranking system for negative events—such as abuse, drugs, divorce or incarceration—that affect children’s health and well-being.

“The program does that by providing a healing environment for the mothers,” Angela said. 

The transitional program has four phases: connection, engagement, ownership and transformation.  The goal is for the women to move through these phases, so they progress from external to internal motivation. 

“This might be moving from the goal of ‘getting my child from Child Protective Services’ to ‘having the skills I need to provide a stable home and nurture my child, long term,’” said Angela. “There is a big difference there.”

Much of the work of Hearth Homes is relational, involving staff, mentors and volunteers, as well as the women and children.

It seeks to transform lives by helping young mothers develop life skills, such as parenting, nutrition, self-care, health, communication, conflict resolution, finance, housekeeping and responsible renting. Women can stay for up to two years.

Each resident prepares a meal once per week for the community as they strive to provide a sacred mealtime and a safe place for engaging in community.  The women shop for ingredients from the pantry, which is stocked by donations from community partners. 

They earn “boutique bucks” through accomplishing goals.  With those, they purchase essential and fun items at the Hearth Homes’ boutique.

Angela grew up in Spokane, attending St. Anthony’s Parish with her mother and grandmother, graduating from Eastern Washington University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. 

“I have always been drawn to people who are hurting, even as a child,” said Angela.  

While in college, she attended Life Center, and there made a commitment to Christ. 

She traveled to New Orleans to earn a master’s degree in social work in 2009 from Tulane University and work in the rural South on literacy and HIV/AIDs issues. 

After graduating, she applied for a job at Hearth Homes, which began in 2004 in Spokane Valley, and was offered an unpaid position, which she turned down, feeling it was not yet time to leave New Orleans. 

Two years later, Hearth Homes called again to offer another position, living on site with a stipend. 

She had asked God for direction and knew this was the path she was meant to follow.  After accepting the offer, she learned the executive director had resigned, and there was no house manager.

When arriving for her new job, her heart sank.  The property with two homes side-by-side was in disrepair. 

“In some ways, God brought me to Hearth Homes for the same experience as the women,” Angela said. 

She lived on site and worked 13 months, building the program and remodeling the home as volunteer power and donations allowed.

“This was a huge learning curve for me,” said Angela.  “Most of my work in the beginning was putting out fires.  I had to have total dependence on God.  God faithfully provided for the needs as Hearth Homes grew.”

Married in February to Nathan Slabaugh, whose father is a Brethren in Christ minister, she and Nathan now attend Anthem Friends Church in Hayden, Idaho.

Hearth Homes relies heavily on the Spokane Valley community to provide much of the needs for the transitional program, managing with a small yearly budget. 

Their team is continually connecting individuals, groups and congregations with the needs of Hearth Homes.

In 2014, 19 moms and 28 children were served with an average stay of eight months. 

“We focus on encouraging the women to make good choices. They tend to blame others for their circumstances and their own decisions.  We use intentional wording when a woman relapses, ‘We recognize you are choosing to leave because you have decided to use drugs again.’

“We have moved away from the live-in model for staff,” Angela said.  “Previously staff would live on-site.  However, this took up room and had little influence on the choices women made.  We want to empower them and demonstrate trust that they are able to facilitate a healthy home environment with our support. 

“The women are empowered to manage their own homes, and the staff and volunteers ‘do life’ with them, which means living in authentic relationship with the women.  We aim to create an environment of grace and accountability, not just performance,” she said.  “Doing life together is a challenge and can be messy, but we believe it better demonstrates Christ’s love and transforms the hearts of everyone involved.”

There is no requirement for religious participation there.

“We do not want to be one more person telling them to put on a mask.  Instead, we plant seeds and trust they will grow,” she said.  “That may take years.”

Last summer, Hearth Homes’ residents painted a wall-size mural depicting their journeys of hope. 

Suzanne Ostersmith, an art professor at Gonzaga University and an artist with Partners Through Art, helped them to create a mural that would give them a voice. 

On Aug. 12, Spokane Valley’s mayor, city council members and leaders from Spokane Valley United Methodist Church, Spokane Valley Kiwanis, Gethsemane Lutheran, Spokane Valley Church of the Nazarene, Advent Lutheran and others came to Hearth Homes to honor the women for their art.  

The mural shows the women’s experiences along a winding road leading to a tree of transformation. 

Angela stresses the value of community among Hearth Homes’ staff, residents and volunteers and with the Spokane Valley.

Volunteer opportunities abound at Hearth Homes, including yard work and garden beds, home repairs, childcare, boutique, mentoring and class instruction.

Hearth Homes relies on support of individual donors and private grants.  Just $5 a month can help provide meals for families throughout their stay.

For information, call 926-6492 or visit

Copyright © January 2016 - The Fig Tree