Center for teen girls enjoying new location in Walworth
If you go
What: Open house for Agape House, a counseling center and school for girls ages 12 to 18.
Where: Agape House, 215 S. Main St., Walworth.
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 13. The girls will present a program at 3 p.m.
WALWORTH TOWNSHIP Pam Patterson never envisioned so much good fortune when she and her husband began caring for foster children 14 years ago in Delavan.
Standing inside the Agape House, a renovated church near downtown Walworth that serves as a school and home for girls ages 12 to 18, she still couldn't believe how far they've come.
"It's beyond (surreal)," said Patterson, executive director of Agape House. "I never dreamt of having a school, and even now we're looking at purchasing another building and having an actual counseling center."
The Agape House is hosting an open house Sunday to celebrate the completion of the project. The organization purchased Grace Church in 2006, and since then has slowly renovated the building, piece by piece, to serve as its new home.
Patterson said the open house is to invite the public to learn about Agape House's, and allow those that lent a hand over the years see the finished product.
Just one person was paid during the renovation. Volunteers took care of the rest.
"We started to realize teens needed more services than just the loving home," Patterson said. "They were older, they had more hurts and more issues. We just decided to become specialized as a teen home and also a Christian home."
The pieces just seemed to fall into place, Patterson said. To purchase the church in 2006, the organization needed to come up with $450,000 in 90 days. Two hours before time expired, she received a $5,000 donation that put them over the top.
That sort of luck continued during the renovation, she said. They needed drywallers, and suddenly a man knocked on the door offering to do the work.
She struggled to decide what to do with all the church pews. Patterson considered selling them, but a friend, who happened to be a craftsman, had an innovative idea.
He removed the pews, and used the wood to help build two large dining tables and bookshelves that now occupy the Agape Home, what used to be the church's sanctuary.
The Agape House concept is unique, said Sandy Heinitz, chairman of the board. By occupying larger space, it's been able to expand services.
The home serves 14 girls. Some live there and some attend daily.
The home offers counseling but also has volunteer teachers who give the girls an education. Heinitz said many of those credits allow the girls to earn high school degrees.
An area of the church formerly used for Sunday school was renovated into dormitory-style housing.
Heinitz was a foster parent in San Diego before moving to Wisconsin. She said the set-up has been successful, but it's still an adjustment for some of the girls.
"It's always complicated because what you see isn't always what is there," she said. "The school offers structure, and the residence offers structure that at first is hard for some of the girls."
Plans now are to focus on a counseling center, and Patterson said they're also considering a transitional home in the future. Agape House serves teen girls, but the transitional home would aid those 19 to 28.
Patterson said they would learn job skills at a transitional home to help them become more independent.
A lot of it depends on funding. Agape House raises all its money through donations and uses the services of volunteers.
Patterson said they don't turn anyone away. She wants to help those who can't get the attention they need from state programs.
"We found in the system they only step in when it's extremely severe," she said. "So there are so many kids falling through the cracks that there is no help for."