Hometown Heroes: 'Haven of Hope' gives former inmates a second chance

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Painting, unpacking and decorating. Volunteers are hard at work, repairing and remodeling a house in Ruskin. Starting December 1st, the vacant home will be a "Haven of Hope" for women recently released from prison.

"We are getting 'Haven of Hope' ready for them to live and to find them jobs and help them transition back into society," explained Janet Smith, President of the Haven of Hope.

Janet has been volunteering in the prison system since 2009, and says rather than judging the inmates she meets; she chooses to help them get back on their feet.

"These ladies are just like me and you. And sometimes I think, had I been in a situation that some of these ladies are in, I might be in their shoes,” said Janet. “And I would want someone to give me a second chance."

So she started "Haven of Hope", a faith-based program that provides transitional housing to women recently released from prison.

"None of us have ever done this before, so it's a brand new adventure for us. We just have a heart for these ladies, to see that they're taken care of so they don't go back into prison," said Janet.

They've supplied the home with all the necessities, from furniture to toiletries, thanks to donations from across the community. The kitchen is already stocked with everything for cooking, baking and eating; the bedroom drawers are even filled with clothes.

"We try to make it homey and make it feel like it's some place that they belong," said Janet.

But "Haven of Hope" offers so much more than just a house full of stuff. It's a place for reformed women to start over, regardless of their past.

"These are all God's children, so it doesn't matter. We need to be forgiving and merciful and give people an opportunity, and that's what we're doing here," said Sharon Whiddon, a volunteer of Haven of Hope.

But that opportunity also comes with rules. Each woman will be required to get a job, do community service and follow the strict guidelines of the house. Janet hopes after a year at "Haven of Hope", the women will be ready to move out and live on their own.

As for the programs future, Janet says she'll leave that in God's hands.

"If this goes well, maybe we can expand into new properties in years to come. I don't know what God has in store. But He's been so good so far. I am just waiting to see," said Janet.