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Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013

Founder of transitional hometo get MLK Living Legacy Award

Minister who started Freedom House, a resource center and transitional home for women, is being honored with MLK Living Legacy Award.

Special to The Star

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Just over a year ago, the last coat of paint was drying on the walls of Freedom House as the transitional women’s home prepared for its first occupants.

Since then, the Rev. Alice Piggee-Wallack has seen this dream come alive and change lives in her community.

Piggee-Wallack runs Freedom House, a family resource center, and the Emancipation Station day program through her ministry at True Light Church of the Nazarene. All the programs operate from 31st and Charlotte streets in Kansas City.

“We had the property and … it was sort of in disrepair. We couldn’t afford to renovate it, but when I made the decision to turn it into a transitional house for women, the help just poured in,” Piggee-Wallack said. “People just took the project on as their own.”

She will be honored for her work next week when MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, where she has been an instructor and diversity adviser, gives her its 2013 Martin Luther King Jr. Living Legacy Award.

It’s been about 14 years since True Light Church held its first service and seven since the resource center opened. After its first year, Freedom House has marked success, too.

Since last year, three people have come and gone from Freedom House, using it as a stepping stone to greater independence. Piggee-Wallack said the intention is to give single women a nice place to stay while they try to get a job so they can support themselves.

The house can accommodate five women at a time in three bedrooms; currently, it has three residents. Piggee-Wallack and others are sifting through applications to fill the other two spots.

Applicants have to go through a background check and be tested for drugs, tuberculosis and HIV. A positive HIV test doesn’t exclude people from residency, but having the test allows residents to take appropriate precautions, Piggee-Wallack said.

“The potential applicant sometimes comes as a referral from one of the shelters. We have a case worker at Hope House who has made references to Freedom House, and also we have a working relationship with case managers at Truman Behavioral Health,” she said.

One resident stayed just four months before she found two jobs and was able to pay for her own apartment. Stories like hers are encouraging for current residents like Patricia Porche, who moved in recently.

“It’s really nice. It gives you the feeling of being home,” said Porche, who has been homeless twice due to unemployment. “We try to encourage each other. It’s an incentive to anyone who’s trying to get back on track.”

Graduate social work students from the University of Missouri-Kansas City work with the women every week. The women also receive help applying for jobs and skills training at the nearby resource center.

Although they all have independence, the women eat meals as a family and share in the upkeep of the house. Every bed is made neatly, and the hardwood floors shine from the care the residents put in to keeping their new home nice.

“It’s important for women to feel lovely and to have lovely surroundings,” Piggee-Wallack said.

Volunteers from all over the Kansas City metro area come in to help with organizational projects or for special occasions. A group from Harvest Ridge Covenant Church in Shawnee helped decorate the place for Christmas.

Others are also noticing the work that Piggee-Wallack, who is both an ordained minister and a social worker, has done in the community, but she was surprised to learn she would receive the Martin Luther King Jr. Living Legacy Award.

“There are so many people who do what I do. I do what comes natural to me; I don’t see it as any big deal. I do it because I love to do it,” she said.

Her hopes for the future include expanding the kitchen at the Emancipation Station, which she shares with Metropolitan Lutheran Ministry, to better serve people who come for meals. She’d also like to have another Freedom House in the area, possibly one that could accommodate women and children.

David Spittal, president of MidAmerica Nazarene University, said Piggee-Wallack is “a woman of great faith (whose) faith is demonstrated through her compassion for people and selfless service.”

Her work with Freedom House and her congregation “exemplifies the legacy and lessons modeled by Dr. King,” he said. “She is soft spoken and does not seek recognition. The strength of her faith and a determination within her spirit has impacted many lives.”

Spittal will present Piggee-Wallack with the award at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at College Church of the Nazarene in Olathe.

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