The story of Grace Unlimited starts with our founder and program director: Starkey.
Starkey is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic … clean and sober since 1989, by the Grace of God. Speaking of Grace, that’s how Starkey came up with the name of our organization… Grace Unlimited. After being in jail many, many times and to the State Penitentiary twice, she finally found experience, strength and hope and recovery from alcoholism in the 12-step program. After prison, continuing a lifestyle of recovery, Starkey opened her own home to women who were leaving prison and seeking a new way of life. They slept on Starkey’s couch while she fed them, loved them, and introduced them to a life of recovery and responsibility. Several of these very women who slept on Starkey’s couch years ago are now important volunteers with GU. In 2003, Starkey filed for 501 (3) c status on behalf of Grace Unlimited, and she dreamt of the day when an actual home could be made ready and more opportunities offered to women leaving prison.
You Gotta have Friends(or It Takes a Village)
In 2006, Kathleen Cook- Hunter, Former Co-Executive Director of Grace Unlimited, who has been involved with jail & prison work for over 19 years, contacted Starkey, asking about Starkey’s dream of having a transitional home for female ex-offenders. What was being done to open a safe, loving home?
Kathleen has seen many women over the years be released from prison, with many hopes and dreams but without tools to change their lives. Most go back to prison.
Kathleen was looking for a transitional home for a friend who had served nine years in Gatesville prison and was being considered for parole. Being involved as a volunteer for many years in this field, Kathleen realized that choices for a safe home that actually “loved women sober” and into health with actual recovery tools, life skills, and healthy guidelines were somewhat limited in Dallas.
When she suggested to Starkey that they get together and call some friends, a plan went into action and a dream started to become a reality.
Kathleen called Jacqueline Hartley with the idea that such a home could be established in Dallas, something they had discussed many times as they drove home from Gatesville Prison after bringing in 12-step meetings to the units.
Jacqueline did not hesitate to say she was in – all the way in. Together, Kathleen and Jacqueline made a decision to buy a house to use for Grace Unlimited.
Jacqueline has also been involved with the recovery community since 1987 and has actively volunteered with both adult and juvenile females in State and Federal institutions in California and Texas. In 2003, Jacqueline was named “Detention Center Volunteer of the year” by the Dallas County Juvenile Department.
Mix three women with passion, experience, love, lots of friends, with unlimited Grace, they get things done. The first goal was to lay out a plan and have a larger meeting. People in the recovery community were extremely supportive and still are today. We knew we were on the right track.
Finding our home
The next step was finding a house that could be turned into a home.
Options were limited when we considered renting: coming up with first, last month and landlords not being very open to a transitional home for female ex-offenders.
a safe neighborhood – a family neighborhood
an ethnically diverse neighborhood
a house big enough for six women
proximity to transportation (downtown, mid cities, etc.)
close to a community college (El Centro)
close to Starkey, our program director
front porch and a yard
We also needed an investment that would not lose money in an area that would continue to develop.
Consequently, Grace Unlimited is located in North Oak Cliff. Jacqueline and Kathleen stepped out on faith, buying a house, which we were fortunate to find. All of us immediately agreed that 824 Melba was meant to be GU’s home.
Lots of work needed to be done. 824 Melba had been a boarding house previously, and we all were convinced that we wanted to offer women a safe, loving environment that they could call home. With no shortage of volunteers, or donations, or hard work, or laughter, and never with any doubts, GU took shape.
The journey gets real!
The Success of GU Residents
Our first resident, Pepper, who stayed with us six months left clean and sober and self supporting. Sarah was our second resident. Sarah is working as an apprentice for O&E supplies, learning to make orthotics and prosthetics. Sarah is taking classes at Northlake College. She has established relationships with her family and continues to reach out and help others.
Tammy, our third resident is working full time. Tammy has reunited with her family. She continues to grow. She is active in the recovery community.
Nancy and Bridget arrived in December 2007. We provided a safe and loving home for them. Both Nancy and Bridget are living clean and sober; actively involved in the recovery community. Nancy is reunited with her family and working full time.
Bridget graduated after living at Grace Unlimited for six months. She is continuing her education at El Centro College, working full time at a retail shop and has her own apartment.
Virginia, now living at Grace, has gotten her beautician’s license and is working full time. Virginia just had her first visit with her daughters, she continues to thrive at Grace Unlimited. Theresa has just joined our family.
Once our residents are picked up from prison, they are bought new pajamas, personal intimate items and introduced to AA or NA, and a sponsor in recovery. They receive appointments for counseling and health care. We help them get identification and a driver’s license.
Grace Unlimited offers classes at the house, such as computer use, financial principles, and life skill instruction, the residents attend workshops and seminars in the area; they become active in the community.
Our residents have made a positive impact in our neighborhood. After a storm knocked down trees in Oak Cliff, the GU residents were the first to help the neighbors clean up the trees and get electricity restored. Unused donations such as food are given to the neighbors along with clothing that is not sold at garage sales. Garage sales greatly benefit our neighbors as this gives many families the opportunity to buy children’s clothing, household items, etc.
Veronica is still working at “It’s a Grind” coffee shop.
Life is Funny – Thank you for joining us for the FUNdraising comedy show featuring Chuck Cason at the Lakewood Theater June 7. Almost 400 people attended and was very successful. The FUNdraiser and Grace Unlimited were featured on Channel 11 and Channel 21.
Grace continues to grow as we welcome two new residents this month. Bridgette, Starkey and Melissa finish their first semester of Community College with A averages. Grace Unlimited continues to receive the Bingo Charity Distribution, thanks to Ridgewood Bingo.
Starkey continues to correspond and conduct interviews with potential residents at Jesse Dawson Jail and Gatesville Prison. Bridgette starts work at the Rose Garden, a high-end resale shop in Oak Cliff.
A succesful garage sale raises over $1200. Grace appreciates all donations and especially our volunteers. After three months Nancy is ready to begin living independently. While at GU Nancy began working full time, had much needed surgery and a great start in her new life.
Grace Unlimited receives a donation of a 1994 pick up truck which will assist in moving furniture and donations.
Starkey starts the new year by going to school at Eastfield Community College studying Drug and Alcohol Counseling. Melissa, our resident director, and Bridgette also start classes at El Centro Community College.
A great holiday season starting with two new residents, Bridgette and Nancy. Bridgette celebrated her first Christmas at Grace Unlimited after 15 years in prison. Everyone was surprised by an anonymous donor who left Christmas presents at the back door for Grace Unlimited.
This was an exciting month for GU as both Tammy and Sarah graduated from our program after having spent almost a full year with us. We are very proud of both of them.
Touched by Grace concert annual fundraiser was October 7, 2007 at the Unity Church on Forest Lane. Over 300 attended. We want to thank everyone for their support especially Mark Carroll.
Grace Unlimited welcomes a new resident. Grace Unlimited begins our capital funds campaign. It is our goal to own the house that we now rent.
Sarah starts two classes at El Centro College.
Women of Grace venture out to Samuel Farms to pick fruit and then share the extras with their neighbors on the block. The Grace residents take the elderly next-door neighbor to their doctor appointments. Both therapy and classes continue.
Program Director, Starkey, continues reviewing applications and organizing teams to interview new candidates for the house. This process is comprehensive as it requires Starkey to write personal letters to each applicant, review each application, process a background check, then the trip to Gatesville, Lew Sterrett or Jesse Dawson is scheduled for a personal interview with the applicant.
We proudly watch Pepper complete the Grace Program earlier than expected and march confidently into the world on her own. She left Grace clean and sober, gainfully employed and with money in a savings account.
Grace holds a successful yard sale which brings in money for groceries and to support renovation work on the garage. The Women of Grace respond to the April storms that have left the neighborhood littered with debris by initiating a neighborhood clean up and GU helps to cut down a fallen tree, collect and bag scattered and damaged belongings. The ladies were featured on the KTVT CBS-11 5 o’clock News highlighting their efforts.
Greater Dallas Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse sponsor National Youth Services Day and on one Saturday GU is filled with energetic young people who help repair the garage and front porch.
Ladies have Health Care Plus from Parkland, driver’s licenses and they are working. Pepper has extensive dental work done by caring and generous dentists. Therapy Services are donated and all ladies begin a road of personal healing.
Grace Unlimited receives our largest grant award of $5,000 from the Harold Simmons Foundation.
Molina High School students donate over $1000 to Grace through the Common Cents project where the students collect change for one month to contribute to a cause they want to support. Sponsored by Communities Foundation of Texas, Grace Unlimited attends the event and we are touched by the kindness and generosity of these students.
Through the loving donations of their time, love and money, The Young Family completes the full renovation of the Grace Unlimited Learning Center. Our center now has fully operational computers and Internet connections along with brand new office furniture and workstations donated by Dallas Desk. This allows Grace to begin Computer Proficiency classes taught by our volunteer Mary Ellen.
Resolana Classes, www.resolana.info, begin in Grace’s Learning Center, teaching living and communication skills. Gracie’s Girls opens as a cleaning service company and now employs not only our ladies, but also other women just released from jail, providing them with the opportunity to make an honest living through an honest days work.
Grace Unlimited receives the Bingo Charity Distribution. Thanks to Ridgewood Bingo, some of the profits from games played are donated to Grace Unlimited.
The Grace family welcomes Sarah and Tammy, our second and third Women of Grace. Tammy walked out of the Gatesville Prison directly into the Grace family’s arms and we whisked her to Dallas and her beautiful new home.
The Cox Family has a Holiday Party and asks all their guests to bring paper good donations for Grace Unlimited. What a success and The Grace Van goes home filled with donations.
Grace Unlimited has our first Holiday party and friends bring a decoration for our tree.
$30,000 is raised at the Life is Good benefit concert allowing us to establish a financial portfolio to provide stability for Grace, get a much needed alarm system for the house and insurance for our vehicle. Pepper, our first Woman of Grace, arrives. Upon arrival, Pepper and the hands of Grace get busy, establishing and maintaining her wardrobe and personal needs, health insurance, a Texas Driver’s License and introduce Pepper to the 12-step recovery community.
Grace Unlimited reviews applications from prison. Three Directors go to prison to interview possible residents.
Grace Unlimited has its first “huge” garage sale where we raise over $2000 and realize August in Dallas is not the time to have a huge garage sale!
June and July 2006
The Melba House undergoes serious rehab. Volunteers, mostly from the recovery community, do just about 100% of the work. Walls are scraped and painted, floors are scrubbed and a multitude of other jobs are performed with love and vigor to prepare the house for its first Woman of Grace.
A house is purchased and we’re prepared for hard work in getting Grace Unlimited ready for residents.