According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, “Arkansas had an estimated 2,366 experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Of that total, 101 were family households, 188 were Veterans, 262 were unaccompanied young adults (aged 18-24), and 514 were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.” In Clarksville, Arkansas, homelessness looks a little different than the rest of the state, nonetheless, it still is a prominent issue. Homelessness in Clarksville, Arkansas isn’t a public affair, as it is typically individuals that fell victim to drug and/or alcohol addiction, unemployment, mental illness, poverty, etc., and don’t know where to turn for help.
In 2019, Abigail and Sharon Garrett decided that the Clarksville and Johnson County communities needed help with their population of people that were struggling in multiple facets of their lives. They did what they could at the time and opened Safe Haven as a space to take in homeless women and help them in any way that they needed.
I was able to sit down with Abigail Garrett, who is the CEO of the outpatient division at Safe Haven. Garrett is the head counselor for the drug and alcohol counseling that they offer as one of their services. According to Garrett, her mission was clear in being drawn to addiction ministry when she moved to Arkansas.
“And I just fell in love with how God does miracles. But, whenever somebody’s life is so broken in pieces, the miracles that God does to get them from ground zero are just amazing. So I just fell in love with watching that transformation. So I got into drug and alcohol counseling and switched my major to do so at Arkansas Tech,” Garrett explained.
What all started with a dream from both Abigail and Sharon Garrett--and the other members of the Safe Haven board--of “empowering people to rebuild and restore their lives” has transformed into so much more than that. Now in 2022, Safe Haven is still focused on “bringing healing to Johnson County,” according to Abigail Garrett, through day classes for budgeting, parenting, etc., offering them a laptop so that they can search for a place to stay, build a resume, apply for a job, etc., drug and alcohol counseling, and they even have a home for women that allows them space to complete daily chores set for their everyday routine, do their homework for their healing process, participate in group therapy, and meet the program requirements.
As a non-profit organization, Safe Haven relies solely on the various support they receive from the community. The University of the Ozarks that is located in Clarksville, Arkansas decided to be a part of the support that Safe Haven receives because of the campus communities’ belief and passion for Safe Haven’s mission.
I also sat down with Larry Isch from the University of the Ozarks to talk about the support they provided to Safe Haven through a monetary donation. Isch is is the director of public and media relations and serves as a liaison between the university and the community.
Isch explained the background of how they were led to support Safe Haven, dating back to six years ago, and a decision that the university made to provide aid to the community.
“Before six years ago, the university used to send out Christmas cards every Christmas, several thousand Christmas cards, and the president signed each one of them. These cards would go out to alumni and friends, and President Dunsworth got us to thinking and there were some other faculty and staff who were involved in discussions about how maybe we could take that money that was used for Christmas cards and give back to the community by supporting our local nonprofits,” Isch explained.
Ever since the decision was made to donate money to the local nonprofits each year at Christmas, the University of the Ozarks has donated thousands of dollars yearly as monetary support to the nonprofits in Johnson County.
The process of selecting which nonprofits the university will be donating to each year is done through nominations from the staff, faculty, and students. These nominations are done through email and they typically end up with a narrowed down list of about five non-profits that they will donate to. This year, Safe Haven was a popular nomination because they are a newer organization and the staff, faculty, and students alike found their mission to be worth investing in.
Isch spoke about how the monetary donations at the University of the Ozarks are just a small part of the university’s six Christian core values--hospitality, service, justice, growth, honesty, and sabbath.
Isch said, “When we, as an institution, can help nonprofits do their great work, it just makes the whole community stronger. To me, the great thing about having a strong nonprofit sector is that everybody is coming together for a common good and we feel like that’s a big part of our culture here.”
The University of the Ozarks is not just claiming their core values, but they are also doing their best to live out those values from their staff and faculty, all the way to their students as well.
Since the University transformed its Christmas cards into support for local nonprofits in 2016, they have monetarily donated to the following organizations: Self-Contained Classroom field day at the U of O, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (Johnson County), Johnson County Backpack Program, Arkansas River Valley Aquatics, Forester Davis, Royal Family Kids Camp, Johnson County Boys and Girls Club, Johnson County Helping Hands, Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Johnson County, Toys for Tots, Interfaith Service Network, Shop with a Cop, Johnson County Youth Coalition, Safe Haven Ministries, and The CALL (Johnson County, Arkansas).
Because of the University of the Ozarks and many different local organizations, Safe Haven has been able to keep its doors open to guide and assist so many women and families. Abigail Garrett shared, “In 2021 we were able to provide emergency assistance to 72 families in Johnson County. This includes emergency housing, the first month's rent, and utilities. Also in 2021, we had 34 women stay in our residence. With our larger facility, we'll be able to house way more this year! Unfortunately, we just started keeping statistics on our graduates so I don't have any good numbers. I can tell you that 100% of our graduates are employed. Helping them find stable employment is the foundation of our program. Our graduates all earn parenting, job and interview skills, and budgeting certificates.”
If you wish to donate to Safe Haven, you can go to their website, click donate here, and you can enter your debit/credit card information to donate online. They will also accept cash and checks in their main office if you choose to donate that way.
Along with monetary donations, they also have a list of needs that you can choose to donate to them if you wish. Some of those donation items that Safe Haven always needs include: toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, feminine hygiene products, shampoo, conditioner, soap, dish soap, dryer sheets, notebook paper, three-ring binders, pens, pencils, printer paper, local restaurant gift cards in small amounts (McDonald's, Wendy’s, etc.), cleaning spray, trash bags, and ziplock bags. All of these items can be dropped off at 313 S. Rogers St., Clarksville, Arkansas.
The University of the Ozarks is one of many supporters of Safe Haven, and they are just one example of how impactful something as simple as a monetary donation is to the many non-profit organizations in Johnson County. Safe Haven’s mission to help those struggling in our community is just one step closer to healing Clarksville and healing Johnson County.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, Abigail shared the complete list of services that Safe Haven offers in the following:
Abby Asencio is a senior at the University of the Ozarks and has been interning with the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce for the duration of the spring semester of 2022. Throughout her internship, she has worked with Matt Bewley to create Connecting Our Community.