HISTORY OF THE SIMON HOUSE
OF FRANKFORT, KENTUCKY
From 1985 through 2008
Compiled by Diane Thompson
The story of the Simon House began with a need and then a vision of how to fulfill that need.
The year was 1985. The need was personified by a young woman who found herself pregnant and with no place to stay. In a desperate situation she called the pregnancy help line and talked with a VISTA worker about her plight. However, no place could be found that could take her in within the whole state of Kentucky. Despite the road block the VISTA worker did not give up. She took it upon herself to find a place for this desperate young woman. And with work and good fortune she found a dwelling -- a duplex in the Holmes Street area of Frankfort -- that could be renovated. Not only would the duplex help the desperate young woman, but there was enough space to help out three other women in similar situations.
Thus began the vision of what was to become the Simon House. And the vision was becoming a reality -- but not without a lot of hard work on many different levels, from government approvals and permits to hammering the last nail in the renovation project. City officials, community organizations, churches, high school clubs and volunteers from every corner of the community all pitched in, with whatever means they could, along with monetary contributions to make the 10-room duplex a reality and a safe haven for women in search of help, hope and a roof over their heads.
Some setbacks did occur along the way. But within a few months the house was ready for its first resident. Others soon followed and the house was filled to capacity by June 1986. In January 1987 the Simon House was incorporated as an independent, non-profit organization.
And so, with many hurdles overcome, more hurdles were to be confronted. The house on Holmes Street was not perfect by any means. Space was limited, it was a distance from public transportation and major sewer problems began to develop. A more suitable dwelling was found at 208 West Campbell Street, just four blocks from the Kentucky Capitol building. The residence was old but large enough to accommodate six apartments, was structurally sound, properly zoned, was on a bus route and best of all it was for sale -- if but a little unaffordable. Not to be deterred by a few thousand dollars, the Simon House was able to get the price lowered from $90,000 to $70,000 (thanks to Cattie Lou Miller, owner of the structure). With help from the community, $15,000 was raised for the down payment. An additional loan was procured and the house was purchased.
In November 1987, the Simon House moved to the Campbell St. location and remains there to date. Around 1993 the name of the Simon House was turned into an acronym, the letters of the word SIMON standing for "Serving Infants’ and Mothers’ Ongoing Needs." The original meaning behind the name Simon for the house referred to a passage in the Bible where Simon the Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross.
Throughout the years changes have occurred in both staff and programs. VISTA workers were withdrawn in 1988 and it was obvious that a thorough overhaul was needed. In the early days the Simon House provided emergency shelter for up to two weeks for women who were pregnant or caring for an infant. Those who wished to stay for up to six months could enroll in a resident education program.
Today the Simon House offers shelter to any woman, 18 years of age or older, pregnant or with children up to age 12. Besides providing a residential setting for qualifying homeless women the Simon House provides specific strategies and training designed to develop personal and family stability. Its purpose is to enable mothers in crisis to become spiritually whole, self-sufficient and able to obtain permanent housing and employment. The residents are also encouraged to develop coping and parenting skills necessary for a stable, successful, independent family life.
As in the early days the Simon House continues to provide a safe environment and emotional support. Each resident has a completely furnished, private living area, with bed linens and dishes provided also. At least one kitchen and bathroom are located on each floor and shared by others on that floor. Each resident does her own cooking, cleaning and cares for her children. Her purpose for being at the Simon House is to develop so that she may take care of herself when she leaves. The ultimate goal is to provide each woman who leaves the House with the ability to join her community, the opportunity to obtain housing and the skills to cope with every day life on an independent basis. Simon House continues to serve as a model for other communities and is unique to the whole state of Kentucky. Several residents have come from outside the state's borders.
The target group served by the Simon House is the woman who has little or nothing and who has fallen through the cracks in today’s society. The underlying philosophy of the program is that with a wholesome environment, experiences in responsibility, education and someone to believe in her, no woman must remain dependent on others.
Simon House is a smoke-free facility. No drugs or alcohol are permitted on the premises. Pets and private TVs are not allowed and private cars can only be used on a limited basis.
Once again the Simon House is experiencing growing pains. The need for such a facility is great and the resources are limited. Even with major funding from United Way and the Kentucky Housing Corporation, the Simon House finds itself playing a balancing act with repairs to an old structure and an overworked staff. The Simon House continues to struggle with the physical problems of maintaining an old house and the high cost of solving those problems adequately, among others. In the early years a house mother was on site in addition to the executive director and, although current funding doesn’t allow for it, the need for a house mother is still great.
In 2008 the vision of the executive director and the board of directors is to find another larger and more modern facility that can accommodate more women with children in need. Oftentimes a woman is turned away simply because there is no room.
In 2008 the acronym was dropped for a new slogan that would better describe the Simon House. "Giving hope and shelter to women with children since 1987" was launched in the Spring leading up to the first ever, major fundraiser with hopes of raising tens of thousands of dollars. The theme for the event is A Night in Margaritaville based on the Jimmy Buffet song. It is hoped that this will become an annual affair.
Perhaps with continued hard work by staff and the board, plus a revitalization brought on by hope for new monies from various grants, the Simon House will realize a new dream with a newer, larger facility, bringing more hope and shelter to more women with children.
Many thanks to the VISTA worker, Frances Ringer, who saw the need over 20 years ago and started the quest to help out just one young woman which in turn has multiplied many times over into the hundreds of women who have walked through the doors of the Simon House seeking shelter and a safe place for themselves and their children.
KEY PEOPLE IN THE EARLY YEARS OF THE SIMON HOUSE
Michelle Mead -- first resident
Regina Greenberg -- first housemother
Mary Ortwein -- first director and teacher
Donna Murphy -- first grant writer (city of Frankfort)
Carol Spencer -- teacher
Elaine Sims -- teacher
Linda Snelling -- teacher
Annette Finger -- replaced Mary Ortwein as director (1988)
Chuck Cotton -- community organizer (raised $15,000 for first down payment)
Kenneth Goins -- community organizer (helped raise first down payment)