Saturday, June 7, 2008

A clear vision

A little girl with a big dream. That’s what Tabitha Hall Pennon of Ennis was when she started the outreach shelter, Texas Vision House.

“I knew from the time I was seven-years old that this was something I wanted to do,” she said. “In my simplistic take on it all, I just wanted to provide a house for people who didn’t have one and that is what I set out to do.”
Pennon’s initial plan of temporary housing for those in need went beyond mere thought; she said she obsessed over it, even drew up a blueprint for the center on poster board.

“My grandmother used to sew and she would have those huge books with patterns in them,” Pennon explained. “I would cut out the pictures of quilts and glue them on the beds in the rooms of the house I made and when I finally did get to build the facility I dreamed of, it was modeled from that poster board blueprint.”
After graduating from Ennis High in 1986, her brainchild was put on hold as she battled doubts and fears of putting into place the resources she would need to realize the project. While working at a correctional facility, she learned first hand the needs of the people she would serve in what would soon become her life’s work.
“At the correctional home I saw many people who had made the wrong choices in life but who were good people underneath it all,” she said. “I knew that sometimes in life people just need a second chance and I wanted to give them that.”

The path for second chances she chose was in the form of an interim housing center for women recovering from substance abuse. This facility would be a place for women to get back on their feet as they struggled through the first stages of being drug free; it would also be a place where they could develop skills that would serve them when they left the house to return to living on their own. The name of the outreach had always been clear to Pennon: Vision House.

Established in 1999, the center was the embodiment of the dream she had once put aside, but had come back to. She now dedicates her life to Vision House.
Due to the nature of residents’ issues, including alcoholism and drug abuse, and the specialized recovery methods needed to aid them in their transition from the facility to living independently, Pennon went back to school, earning a degree in social work and substance abuse counseling. Her no-nonsense approach to the women and the responsibilities they are expected to take on at Vision House allows her to help them with their problems while still supplying a shoulder for them to lean on.

“There is no free ride here,” she said. “I am always telling the ladies that the world does not owe them anything and if they want something they have to work for it, so that is what we put into practice here. They each have their roles to play at the house and they also take part in the work program that we have where we set up booths at the American Airlines Center and the Ball Park in Arlington to sell food. The work program also teaches them about giving back to those less fortunate because the money raised from the booth goes to the Canning Hunger project to help fight hunger in the world.”

Residents who stay at the facility –– from upwards of a year to 18 months ––attend four Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week. They are also asked to attend church at the chapel located on the property. Pennon feels it’s important to heal the mind, body and spirit when dealing with recovery.
“These women must have healing in all aspects of their lives in order to function when they leave us,” she said. “We don’t make going to church a pre-requisite but we do encourage it.”

Although some residents leave Vision House only to return to old ways, there are many success stories.

“We have had people who got out of the program because they weren’t ready for the help and that is their decision,” she said. “I pray for them and work to help the rest of the group so they won’t follow suit. However, I have seen the change that can happen if the residents work toward it. and some of the best cases actually ended up cleaning up their lives and coming to work for us or volunteer with us after they left to reclaim their lives. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, those ladies remind me why it is I do what God has called me to do.”

Vision House, which operates on donations, has been chosen as the recipient of funds raised from a fashion show organized by fellow Ennisite, Charlotte Watson. The event is part of a program called “Meet me in the Boardroom,:” which is focused on helping women find the information they need to help with finances, health care and jobs. Part of the two-day workshop, to be held June 13-14, will feature a style show with some of the residents at Vision House acting as models.
Pennon said she’s thankful for the opportunity and that her residents are thrilled.
“The ladies are so excited and have been looking forward to this since they found out about it,” Pennon said.

“This will be a real ego boost for them and I’m so glad Charlotte thought of us for helping with the fashion show and receiving some of the proceeds.”
For more information about Vision House or to donate visit or call 214-257-0207.
source: Ennis News Daily