Unwed mothers get fresh start

An unassuming, sprawling house sits atop a hill just over the Blount County line on Maryville Pike. Once a boy's home, it is now House of Courage, a Christian-based, transitional home for unwed teenage mothers. In a short time the tastefully furnished, brightly decorated house will be occupied by six young women, and their babies, giving it the warmth and charm it patiently waits for.

The House of Courage second annual golf outing, 2 p.m., April 28 at Royal Oaks Country Club is just one of the many ways Bonnie Skolfield, visionary and director of the house is raising money to open the doors. An unpretentious woman with the gift of making a visitor feel comfortable, Skolfield doesn't look much older than the teenagers she serves.

Skolfield, and her husband Bruce, became parents at a young age. Instead of being shunned by their family and church, they were loved, cared for and encouraged to continue their personal growth while raising their baby. It made an impact on the couple who have been married for thirty-three years and have three children and four grandchildren. This foundation gave her the courage to help others in the same situation.

Skolfield is no stranger to helping others. For many years she counseled teen moms who would leave her office and return to destructive situations and unsettled homes. Skolfield determined to give her clients something more. She knew the only real way to help them would be to create a safe haven that would nurture both mother and baby.

"In order to change their life, it's going to take a program 24/7," said Skolfield. "We do ask them to make a six month commitment?and they can stay as long as two years," she said.

During their stay, the teens will work with a caseworker to create a blueprint for an independent lifestyle. This includes learning Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace program and getting their GED if they haven't graduated from high school.

"They will get educational plans if they haven't gotten a high school diploma, vocational plans if they need to get a job, and we will set goals," Skolfield explained. "When they leave here, they'll have a plan," she added. They expect most of the girls residing in the house to be between 14 and 19 years old. "That's where the largest concentration of teen moms are," says Skolfield.

The non-denominational home will also meet the spiritual needs of its residents. Skolfield plans to have Chapel on Saturday nights for those who are ready for devotional sessions. The downstairs will be a sanctuary for solitude so the mothers can study and reflect.

Foundation grant money, private donations, and fundraisers support the House of Courage. "We've spent the last three years raising funds," Skolfield said. Even so, a sliding fee scale is in place. "These are teens that are not in state's custody. They have parents who can contribute to them staying here?and I think they should," said Skolfield. But she quickly added, even "if they can't pay, they're (still welcome) here."

Skolfield is quick to say that she "is just the face" of this endeavor. She has a "wonderful, wonderful board" and many individuals and groups contributed to the renovation and beautification of the house by donating flooring, appliances, furniture and even sewing machines. Other contributors adopted a bedroom and completely remodeled and decorated it by supplying furniture and amenities for the incoming mother and baby.

The house itself and the two acres surrounding it are another gift from a benefactor. "Jim Warwick bought the house and surrounding property," said Skolfield. "He asked what we were doing, said he didn't need the house, and gave us a twenty-five year lease," at a minimal monthly payment.

Right now Skolfield is looking for house parents to live on the premises with the residents. "That is a critical point. We don't want to see everything we've worked for go to waste by having someone in here that wouldn't make a great house parent," she states. Once this is accomplished, the House of Courage will be ready and Bonnie Skolfield's dream will be realized.

For more information, or to become involved with House of Courage, visit the website at www.houseofcourage.org or E-mail:

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