A few months ago, six strangers moved into a revamped barn together. These six girls are unrelated, but they share a home with one another — Haddie’s Home.
Haddie’s is an old hunting club turned group home in Opelika, donated to help girls land on their feet, better communicate with their families and provide a safe place to live.
Melanie Cadenhead, who chairs the home’s governing board, said Haddie’s is there for girls who were in tough home situations, as well as those in the foster system.
“When you talk in terms of needs, when we say ‘girls in crisis’, that intent always has been not only to work with a girl, but also the family so that they can return home,” Cadenhead said.
The historyThis refuge began with planning and fundraising by a board formed in 2011, with a converted hunting club opening to its first girls a few years later.
Bringing the building into compliance with the American Disabilities Act later involved a lot of renovation and a temporary closure. Haddie’s reopened in June with an all-new group of girls from private placement and the foster system.
“Part of the thing with being ADA compliant is to make the whole building and the grounds accessible to anybody and everybody, so it’s not just for the kids,” said Executive Director Elizabeth Hancock. “Although we do want to be compliant and accessible for the kids because that means we can serve a broader range of children, but we also want to be accessible to volunteers, to families, to anybody who needs to come out here.”
One of the rules at Haddie’s Home is no cellphones.
“So many of them have had previous negative experiences with phones and social media and it’s caused a lot of turmoil for them and their families,” Hancock said. “There’s a lot of times that social media can have a negative impact on your self-esteem, on your development and so here at Haddie’s, they have the opportunity to learn how to communicate with one another.”
They do have some recreation: a fishing pond, a TV, a pool, bikes and beautiful surroundings for walking.
“We just try to get them outside and not sit inside,” said house parent Anita Smith.
There also is a “no boyfriend” rule for the girls under 16 — and those over 16 have to be approved.
“We want to promote positive relationships and teach the girls boundaries and healthy relationships at that,” Hancock said.
Smith lives with the girls, transports them to and from school and activities, cooks, cleans and helps raise them.
The girls wake up and have breakfast with the group and participate in a Bible study at 6 a.m. every day, then Smith shuttles them off to Opelika Middle and Opelika High schools.
After school, the girls have some time to do homework before dinner all together. The girls will get involved in school activities like sports and other extra-curricular activities. Some of the girls have jobs, too.
“The way I look at it is, this is a home environment,” Cadenhead said. “And what you expect from a home is what we want to be.”
Private placementOne 16-year-old thanked her family for sending her to Haddie’s Home.
“I was in a Christian home,” she said. “My family loved me very much, and they sent me here because I was a danger to myself because I would sneak out all the time, and they sent me here so I would be safe.”
After two weeks at Haddie’s, she shares a room with others close to her age, attends Opelika High School and sings in show choir.
“I was very nervous at first because I’ve never been far away from home for a long time, but I think I’ve transitioned very nicely,” she said.
The best part of living at Haddie’s has been the food, she said. She wasn’t used to home-cooked meals, so having one each night has been a nice change.
“I used to feel like I wasn’t loved, but now I can see that my parents do love me because they sent me here,” she said. “And the leaders here care about me; that really helped my self-esteem a lot.”
Foster homesThe oldest girl in the home recently turned 18 and attends Opelika High. She too, likes show choir though she prefers the dancing element over singing. Before coming to Haddie’s Home in August, she bounced around different foster homes. Her previous foster home was in Wetumpka.
She doesn’t see her biological family very often, so she spends much of her time with the other girls at the home. This is the first time she’s ever been the oldest in the home, and she’s taken to dispensing advice to the younger girls. Overall, she said the girls get along pretty well now.
One aspect that she has had to get used to is not having a cellphone.
“I’m used to having a phone, so now it’s helping me because I don’t need social media. So it’s helping me focus on school work most of the time, and relationship-wise.”
PrivacyBoth girls choose to keep their life at Haddie’s private. Their friends at school don’t know where they live. This makes hanging out with friends more difficult because the women at Haddie’s want to meet friends before sleepovers.
“I don’t really like to tell them (friends) a lot because they tend to feel sad, and I don’t like seeing them sad,” the 16-year-old said.
The 18-year-old said that if she and her friends become close enough, she would tell them. She has a boyfriend she met in show choir who knows she lives at Haddie’s.
RelationshipsDespite the generally healthy atmosphere, there is still drama at times, Smith said.
“Here, we don’t ever yell at the girls because that’s their ‘normal’ from what most of them are coming from,” she said. “So we’re abnormal in what they know. We don’t yell at them, we try to speak calmly to them. Build relationships with them.”
The girls regularly meet with a therapist to help them work past some of the issues they face. Often their families will attend the session as well to help the family unit as a whole.
“We’re working through those issues that are going on, so when they return home, it’s better than when they left it,” said social worker Bailey Padgett.
The 18-year-old acknowledged that being at Haddie’s has helped her be able to talk through issues with the therapist.
The needsHaddie’s Home is a nonprofit that relies on contributions and gifts.
“We are very open to volunteers from all walks of life from different kinds of areas,” Hancock said.
Smith and Hancock would love to have volunteers come out and teach the girls skills like gardening or cooking.
Smith cooks for the six of them, in addition to transportation and providing for the other kinds of needs that teenage girls have.
Cadenhead said that volunteers can also contribute to the Food Bank of East Alabama in Haddie’s Home’s name.
“Not just bringing meals, but the girls love when you come, when two of us come out, whoever, and cook with the girls,” said board member Kennie Kay Halley. “And bring the ingredients and they will participate. They really, really, really do enjoy that.”
A van was recently gifted to help with transportation. Hancock added that help is needed for the building’s roof and a set of twin beds so another girl can come live at the home.
A full list of needs is found at www.haddieshome.com.