FIT Reaches Out to Homeless, Pregnant Women
FIT Reaches Out to Homeless, Pregnant Women | AGAPE, homeless women, Dyersburg Regional Medical Center, Baptist Hospital

Melinda George takes a break from wrapping holiday presents to feed the baby of a FIT resident
Derek Mullinix, MD, understands the meaning of service.

His job takes him north to Dyersburg, Tenn., three days a week, where he works as an emergency room physician at Dyersburg Regional Medical Center. While he could accept a different position at a hospital closer to his home in Cordova, Mullinix said he enjoys the challenges he is exposed to at this small community hospital, where he treats everything from gun shot wounds to broken arms. He is also passionate about the work he does when home with his wife and two preschool children, particularly when it comes to serving people in need.

When he learned, through his church, of the Families in Transition (FIT) program run by AGAPE Children and Family Services, Mullinix knew it was a mission he wanted to support. The program reaches out to homeless, pregnant women and their children, providing long-term transitional housing and a range of social services that help these women stabilize and improve their lives.

Mullinix not only gives financially to the program, by sponsoring one of the eight duplexes managed by AGAPE, but he and his wife act as mentors to the residents as well. "The program's philosophy appealed to me," he said. "Rather that throwing money at a problem, they give the women a safe place to live and provide them with life skills."

When the Mullinix family joined the program in the spring of 2008, the couple was paired with Quinisha, a 19-year-old mother who had recently graduated high school from the Memphis City Schools. She had a 2-year-old child and was pregnant with her second. Once or twice a month, Mullinix would prepare a meal and drive into Midtown with his family to share dinner with the teen. Though they came from two different worlds, their kids would play together on the living room floor while the adults talked about Quinisha's desire to attend college and become a nurse. As her pregnancy progressed, the couple threw her a shower. It was a new beginning.

Women learn of FIT from word of mouth or are referred to the program through the Salvation Army. FIT is the only transitional housing program in Shelby County aimed at assisting homeless, pregnant women and their children. By the time they find their way there, many women are already in their second trimester of pregnancy and have one or two children. Their average age is 23. The hope is that by providing these women with a more stable living environment and healthcare services, they can have a healthier pregnancy and begin to get their lives back on track.

According to program director Angela White, the women are usually unemployed and in need of a car, "so we work with them to get them to return to school to earn their GED, develop job skills, and find child care." Baptist Hospital and the Exchange Club of Memphis provide parenting and life skills classes. Job readiness is also part of the program.

The women qualify for TennCare and/or Medicaid, receiving prenatal services from doctors or nurse practitioners at The Med's Health Loop, Hollywood Clinic, and Christ Community Health Services. For those with high-risk pregnancies due to high blood pressure or diabetes, medical staff from Memphis and Shelby County Health Department's Healthy Start Initiative come by once a week to make sure their pregnancy is progressing normally. The hope is to reduce premature and low-birth weight babies. To ensure the residents actually get the care they need, the program requires they come to the FIT office with a note from their doctor verifying their state of health.

Once they've joined FIT, the women can live in the furnished duplexes for up to two years; the typical length of stay is 11 months, according to White. Participating in the program means living by the rules, honoring curfew, and staying drug-free.
The Families in Transition program relies on public donations to fund and furnish the homes. If you or your church would like to learn more about FIT, contact Angela White at 323-3600.

"Instead of providing food stamps, we want to give them tools so they can go out into society and pay their own rent, find a job, and buy a car," said Mullinix. "There's a sense of independence and pride that comes with that. It's a neat thing to see."

Ultimately, 85 percent of the women who leave FIT have a GED in-hand or some kind of technical or vocational training. As for Quinisha, she transitioned from the program last fall, is now living in an apartment, and has enrolled at Southwest Community College. She's still hoping to become a nurse.