Charities & Nonprofits Lydia’s House

Lydia’s House has offered shelter from the storm of domestic violence since 1995. “We work to end domestic violence by being a place of hope and healing for abused women and their children,” says executive director Ellen Reed. “Statistics tell us that women who finally get out of an abusive relationship try to leave an average of seven times before they leave for good, often because they don’t have the resources to live independently. Lydia’s House helps women empower themselves to build independent lives. Many of them come in with nothing but the clothes on their backs, but 85 percent leave with permanent housing and self-sustaining employment.”

    The organization provides safe, affordable transitional housing in a confidential location for a maximum of two years, Reed explains. “Housing is crucial for families who’ve experienced abuse and need time, space and support while they’re trying to rebuild secure lives,” she says. “Emergency domestic violence shelters provide only 30 to 90 days of safety for women and kids. That’s vital for anyone fleeing abuse, but it’s usually not nearly enough time for them to get back on their feet with permanent housing, medical and legal services, and access to other resources.”

    Unfortunately, the demand for services is higher than ever. “Domestic violence is on the upswing because so many people have lost their jobs, adding even more tension to already abusive relationships,” Reed says. Lydia’s House helps by offering more than just shelter. “We allow women to create and implement long-term goals, including education, training, employment and permanent housing.” Services include personal advocacy and access to support groups, economic literacy training, and community and family activities. “In addition, we facilitate access to information and referrals to community resources,” Reed says. “We also do whatever we can to create awareness about domestic violence through a speakers’ bureau and an outreach educational ministry.”

    Lydia’s House began 15 years ago, initiated by three women—Mary Albert, Martha Brunell and Doris Waggoner—who felt called to help abused women and their children. “It started with only one full-time staff member and a single, two-family flat,” Reed says. “By 1999, a capital campaign had allowed us to buy a multi-family apartment complex.” Peer support groups and children’s activities such as scouting, camping and after-school programs were added to the mix.

    Today, Lydia’s House can serve up to 35 families at any one time. Its newest facility has a protected outdoor playground, recreational facilities, a computer-learning center and space for a wide range of classes, including GED prep, life skills, parenting, and arts and crafts. “We couldn’t do any of it without our generous donors, volunteers and community partners,” Reed adds.

    On Saturday, March 6, Lydia’s House will host its annual March of Hope Gala at the Westin St. Louis. “This year’s theme is ‘the Magic of Gaslight Square,’ a celebration of the heyday of bohemian St. Louis nightlife,” Reed says. The event will include cocktails, dinner and auctions, and sponsorships are still available. A pre-gala kick-off takes place Feb. 20 in the St. Louis Room at Saks Fifth Avenue.

    “The most gratifying aspect of helping these women is that so many of them are now able to give back,” Reed says. “We got a check and a note just the other day from a woman who told us, ‘Now it’s my turn to help support you guys.’ That’s why everyone involved with Lydia’s House keeps doing it. It really works.”

Lydia’a House, which provides transitional housing and support services to abused women and their children, celebrates its 15th anniversary with the annual March of Hope Fundraising Gala. The event, ‘The Magic of Gaslight Square,’ takes place Saturday, March 6, at the Westin St. Louis. Tickets are $100 per seat; $1,000 per table of 10. Corporate and individual sponsorships are still available. A pre-gala event will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 20, in the St. Louis Room at Saks Fifth Avenue. On the cover, from left: honorary gala chair Debra Bass, gala chair Nora Amato, auction chair Julie Schanz, and volunteer Jamie Vollmer. For more information, call 771-4411, ext. 101, or visit

Cover design by Dawn Stremlau  | Photo by Jason Mueller