Wauchula-based nonprofit supports women looking to escape a painful past
Nestled in the tranquil town of Wauchula is a place of mental and spiritual respite and rebuilding for women seeking an escape from addiction or to rebuild their lives after a difficult past.
Sherry White had a vision one evening that was so troubling she got out of bed, dropped to her knees and prayed.
“I saw abused, abandoned children,” Sherry says. “The pictures I was seeing were so horrific. I said, ‘Lord, I don’t want to know what’s going on in the world. I’m just one woman and there’s nothing I can do about it.’”
The next day, she had another vision. This time, she saw a late 1800s-style farm.
“I drew it with horses and carriages, vegetable gardens, a petting zoo, farm, general store, RV parking for volunteers and a barn,” Sherry says. “We have that today.”
Sherry White Ministries is more than a ministry. It is a place for religious understanding, as the name suggests, but it also is home to a program that brings women with troubled pasts an opportunity for change.
Lydia’s House in Wauchula is home to those women.
“Lydia’s House Inc. is a refuge for women coming out of destructive lifestyles,” says Sherry, founder of the Lydia’s House program and Sherry White Ministries. “We want women there to know they are loved despite their circumstances. The program takes people who were incarcerated—or should have been incarcerated—and gives them a chance to turn their life around. We don’t charge the women for the one-year program, and I don’t get paid for anything I do in ministry. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them.”
Everything at Lydia’s House is free for residents, who agree to participate in the yearlong, three-part program. Participants live onsite and are provided shelter, food and clothing. During their time with Sherry and other participants, the women learn about personal, spiritual and family recovery and basic life skills. They also receive counseling.
“I’d been doing prison ministries and evangelism for a long time,” Sherry says. “I saw a real need for people to have a program other than being incarcerated, where they were given consequences for their decisions, but are still given life skills to succeed. The program is just one step under jail or prison.”
The program is strict because Sherry wants participants prepared to be on their own, which includes employment after graduation.
“We didn’t want them getting back into a drug environment or an unhealthy environment,” she says. “We want them to have an opportunity to work in the latter stages of the program.”
That is where Amazing Grace Tea House comes into play.
“When they get to this place, they are able to earn money working at the tea house,” Sherry says. “We’re not putting money in their hands when still in the program, but a portion of their tips goes to Lydia’s House for special outings.”
Graduates do earn tips and keep the money. Participants and graduates both learn the benefits of servant leadership, which puts others first.
“We stress and teach servant leadership, and what an excellent opportunity to exercise what they’ve been taught by serving others here at the tea house and truly making it about the other person,” Sherry says.
Danielle Anderson and Krista Altenbach say the program changed their outlooks.
“The root of it is selfishness,” says Danielle, who lost custody of her daughter due to addiction. “You get to a point where you care more about getting high than you do about your family. I didn’t realize how much I was hurting my child because I was too high or drunk to realize it. My breaking point was when the pain was greater than the high or when I was drunk. I was getting high to live. I ended up signing my kid over to my dad and my stepmom. They said I had to go into a program.”
She contacted different programs, but says none seemed to be the right fit. Danielle was then referred to Sherry White Ministries.
“This place shows you how not to be selfish by being a servant and doing what Jesus did,” she says.
“We all learn that true joy comes in serving,” adds Sherry.
As participants work toward recovery, Sherry continues to plan for the future.
The organization has a 25-acre farm with restored cabins for families to use when visiting. It is also where participants can spend up to 21 days in a tent for causing disruptions. She wants to expand to 200 acres so graduates can live onsite and gain independence while still having some accountability.
Krista says she arrived with no respect for authority, but finally got to a place where it hurt to be selfish and hurt others. She says she still has work to do, but the program—including a stint at the farm in a tent that almost forced her to leave—gave her choices.
“If I didn’t have the choice to go out there, I would have gone out and been swallowed up again,” Krista says. “I decided to stay and do something different.”
Lydia’s House welcomes women from throughout the United States. For more information, call
(863) 773-0877 or go to www.lydias-house.com.