Let the SONshine in
Community rallies to open home for homeless pregnant teens
Editor’s Note: Last November, we asked YVW readers on our social media to nominate their favorite charity. When that list was narrowed down to the top five, we asked again and when all the votes were counted, Love & SONshine Ministries came out on top. That sparked a yearlong fundraising campaign organized by YVW called The Great Love Project. By selling travel mugs for $25 with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Love & SONshine, the community stepped up in a big way. The campaign raised $12,500 toward the effort, and with your help we were able to purchase kitchen appliances, a security system and a high-capacity washer and dryer for the SONshine home. For everyone who supported our efforts, we can’t thank you enough. Your purchase made a difference in the lives of at-risk pregnant teens in our community.
All was quiet at the SONshine Home as summer turned to autumn. The swing on the wraparound porch beckoned visitors to pause for a moment’s rest. Inside, sunshine washed through the windows in bright swaths that radiated hope and endless possibilities.
If all goes as planned, by year’s end the pale-yellow house will no longer be quiet. Passersby might hear the clatter of dishes in the sink, the lingo of young teens in conversation and the cries of tiny infants needing a diaper change.
Set to open in the late fall of 2023, the SONshine Home will be a place for pregnant teens and young mothers to find refuge, dignity and hope.
The renovated two-story house, once the Josephine Bed and Breakfast, is the realization of a years-long dream of twin sisters Heidi Williams and Heather Petty. Though the dream was theirs, the sisters credit a large number of businesses and volunteers – among them the contractors who donated their time, the designer who bargain-shopped for furniture, the ladies who stitched quilts for the young mothers’ beds – for turning their dream into a reality. Above all, the sisters credit the Lord for urging them to take action.
“The Lord just put it in our hearts years ago to do something,” Heather says. “Our role was, we got on our knees, had the nudge and said, ‘Yes.’”
Both sisters have experience taking troubled teens into their own homes. But for the SONshine Home, they narrowed their focus to pregnant teens and young mothers who were at risk of homelessness.
“We felt like we could impact not just one heartbeat but two heartbeats at one time,” Heather says. “And the impact on those young mothers’ hearts … you can’t put a price on that.”
The sisters know the need is real. Montana currently offers only 19 shelter beds for at risk pregnant and parenting young mothers. And yet that population is estimated at nearly 5,000 in the state.
“In just the last year, we’ve turned away 22 women,” Heather says.
Fueled by that need, Heather and Heidi went door to door, business to business and church to church, to garner support. Their dream generated an army of volunteers, a vibrant board of directors and funds ranging from one widow’s $10 sacrificial donation to a $100,000 matching grant.
More than two years after taking the leap, the sisters’ Love and SONshine Ministries combined resources with the First Christian Church to purchase the house.
“We closed on Sept. 29, 2022,” Heather says, smiling. “I remember because that’s my birthday.” In fact, it was a “birthday present” for both twins.
In the year since the purchase, the home has been transformed from an aging bed-and-breakfast to a haven with an updated look, featuring individual rooms for five young mothers and mothers-to-be. The remodel also includes two upstairs bathrooms, each with laundry facilities, and two small “suites” for the staff that will support them.
Like many remodels, the project took on a life of its own. The contractors ended up gutting the house down to the studs – studs that are now hidden by drywall but on which volunteers used Sharpie markers to scrawl their favorite phrases and Bible scriptures. From a new roof to new windows, new flooring to reconfigured rooms, the project jumped from an estimated $500,000 to more than $1 million.
“We had several contractors tell us to walk away,” Heather says. “But that was never what the Lord was telling us.”
Today, a subtle palette of fresh paint has infused the house with an air of calm and warmth. Upstairs, though, a dash of bright colors — quilts, toys and children’s books in primary hues — suggest the playful element soon to come.
On the main floor, the pantry is organized with shelves and color-coded dishes for each resident. Beyond the sunny coffee nook, one can imagine young mothers, with babes on their laps, cozied up on the couch and chatting with one another.
The sisters couldn’t be happier with the result.
“This is more than we could have ever thought or imagined,” Heather says.
While much thought and prayer have gone into the renovations, Heather and Heidi have simultaneously devoted countless hours to researching the best practices for making SONshine Home a success. Their primary goal is to provide a safe place where young women — many of whom have suffered poverty and/or abuse — will be enveloped in the love of a healthy family model.
“Even though this is a faith-based organization, these young mommas will come from all different backgrounds,” Heather says. “We absolutely welcome all walks of life,” Heidi adds.
Ultimately, they’d like to unify families, when appropriate. They also hope to expand, with more homes for at-risk pregnant teens and even places for young mothers to transition into new roles. Heather and Heidi realize the transition will come in fits and starts and with bumps along the way.
“They may need to come into the home and just rest for the first month,” Heidi says. “That may be something some people can’t understand.”
Heather and Heidi also know that rules and responsibilities for the residents are key to success. For example, residents will be required to prepare one dinner a week for a household. They also must comply with a ban on tech devices in the bedrooms.
“We don’t want them (residents) to isolate,” Heidi says. “We want them to flourish in this homey environment.”
Likewise, no men will be allowed upstairs and few will even be allowed in the home.
“We want to minimize triggers,” Heidi says, explaining that many of the teen moms will come with a history of abuse. “When they walk through this door we want this to be a place of absolute refuge and safety.”
Each young mother will be shepherded by several mentors who will offer guidance in life skills, such as parenting and financial management. The sisters put particular emphasis on education, requiring each young resident to participate in 30 hours of productive work each week, whether that be finishing high school, training for a job or participating in counseling.
“We want to help mothers but not to keep them on the system,” Heidi says. “We want to give them a hand up, not a handout.”
The SONshine Home hopes to take in its first residents this November.
“We could have 100 homes like this and it won’t be enough,” Heather says.
THE STAGGERING NEED
· 20 percent of homeless young women will become pregnant.
· 50 percent of pregnant or parenting teens won’t graduate from high school.
· 19 homeless shelter beds are designated for pregnant/parenting youth in Montana.
· 4,887 estimated at-risk homeless/pregnant or parenting youth live in Montana.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
SONshine Home seeks financial support to cover operating costs, estimated at $764 a day, not including staff salaries. Those who choose to participate in the Matthew 19:26 Circle of Givers donate $19 monthly to buy formula, a package of diapers, gas for the young mothers to travelSo to doctor appointments and other expenses. To learn more, go to loveandsonshine.networkforgood.com or call Heather at 406-696-0624.
IT TAKES A COMMUNITY
SONshine House built thanks to large donations in labor and materials from these businesses:
Smith & Co. Construction and Design
One Source Lighting
Newman Built Quality Homes
Bert Cain Construction