By Alyce Gilligan
December 30, 2009
Young women face some tough challenges today: anorexia, self-injury, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, addictions … The list goes on, and the statistics are often alarming. Nancy Alcorn saw much of this firsthand while working at a state correctional facility for delinquent girls, as well as researching child abuse cases. Later, as a director with Nashville Teen Challenge, she noted how faith-based programs had a greater impact in producing permanent lifestyle changes. From these experiences, Alcorn developed a passion for seeing young women living to their full potential. As a result, she founded Mercy Ministries, and in 1983, they opened up their first home in Nashville, Tenn., as a safe haven for girls dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, addictions, depression, eating disorders and unplanned pregnancies. Sixteen years later, they have four homes in the United States and three in other global locations. Through their efforts, 2,000 girls have found hope and personal healing.
Mercy seeks to restore the lives of young women through the knowledge of Christ’s love, as well as proven clinical practices. Girls of all backgrounds may enter the six-month program voluntarily and without any cost. These facilities are run entirely by charitable donations, with 10 percent being tithed to other ministries.
During the program, girls are counseled, comforted, and challenged to make the most of the opportunities life has in store for them. And it seems to be working: 93 percent of former residents report that Mercy Ministries “transformed their life and restored their hope.” The accounts of these women are perhaps the most moving testament to the work of Mercy.
Sara Opperman entered the Nashville home with an unplanned pregnancy when she was only 16, needing to make a decision concerning her unborn child. “What I needed was a place to come where I could get away from all the noise and opinions of others,” Opperman says. She credits the spiritual foundation of the program with her personal success. Now 29, Sara has raised her 12 year-old daughter and works with the intake department of Mercy Ministries, helping other young girls get into the life-changing program. “They really helped me to reverse that failure and guilt mentality. I feel like I’m living proof that God can really turn things around.”
Ali Erikson is another young woman who was helped by Mercy. She first went to the Nashville home when she was only 17, but she had suffered from an eating disorder for seven years. She’d grown up in a close-knit family with six sisters and was raised in the church. “Everyone wore this mask of perfection, like everyone’s got it all together, and the people who didn’t were like the [outcasts],” Erikson says of her upbringing. During her stay with Mercy, she began to overcome her perfectionist tendencies by developing a personal relationship with God. “Instead of trying to do a behavioral change, Mercy focuses on heart change,” Erikson says. After graduating from Mercy, she spent a year with the Impact 360 program and is now going to college for marketing.
Stories like these are what keep Mercy going, as well as a lengthy list of partnerships with respected artists and businesses, including Group One Crew, Joyce Meyer Ministries, Skechers and To Write Love on Her Arms. A brand new $6 million, 40-resident home opened in Lincoln, Calif., in November, funded entirely by charitable contributions. As the first West Coast facility, this home is vital to the expansion of Mercy Ministries’ influence.
The work of Mercy is impossible without the prayers and support of the community. Volunteer opportunities are available, but the most direct way of giving to Mercy Ministries is through financial donations, either to specific girls or the organization in general. Explains Erikson, “It’s a great investment if you believe in the impact that a changed person can make.”