The living room in the small house on a quiet street in Beaufort was decorated for the holidays. Stars swirled down from the ceiling, a Christmas tree was filled with ornaments and lights, and stockings were hung by the chimney with care.
A holiday party was planned for the weekend before Christmas, but resident Samantha Loggins said that those who were from the area were more than welcome to hang out with their families and "do their family thing."
"We encourage that," she said. "A lot of us - the best way to put it is we burned bridges. So if our families are willing to let us hang out, that's better."
Loggins is, "for lack of a better term," she said, the house mom for six others living in the Hope House for Women, a residence for those who are recovering alcoholics. This is the third Hope House in Beaufort and the first one to offer space for women.
"The women come in, they've got two weeks to find a job, pay rent, get a sponsor, and actively work a 12-step program. The point is learning to live normally and grow up, really," Loggins said.
There is no set schedule but the routine requires residents to do chores, keep bedrooms clean, go out and find a job if they haven't got one, and attend a meeting a day. Curfew is 7 p.m. every night.
"But there's freedom as well. It's not as if you're chained to the house," said Loggins. "You just have to follow our rules and live along the right way."
It's not a simple as it sounds if you are recovering from the disease of alcoholism. There isn't anything easy about it, Loggins said
"It's all hard, really. The whole business of staying sober is hard. Without having that honesty and willingness and open-mindedness to do the program, it's all extremely hard," she said. "We're so used to doing things the way we want to do them, that to do things living along a different basis and along the right way, it's all hard. It's a whole new way of living."
Anita, who was one of the first residents when the house opened in mid-October, said she was 35 and had been drinking "pretty much from my 20s."
"I was a good child but I got bad as I got older," she said.
Anita said she hit rock bottom when she was jailed for 15 months on a burglary charge. Three days after her release and numerous phone calls, she was able to get a room in Hope House.
"I didn't want to live like that anymore. The hardest thing for me was coming to realize how much harm and pain I've caused the people that I love the most," she said. "I'm trying to make amends with my family. I have an 11-year old little boy who's with my mom. And I'm trying to be a better person."
The Hope Houses were founded in 2016 by James Fordham, the owner of a local landscape company, who felt compelled to action.
"I kept getting this thought that God would like for me to get involved in some sort of a recovery type community," said Fordham, who has been a recovering alcoholic for 35 years. "But at the same time, I felt like I wasn't smart enough and I didn't have the money and I didn't have the time, so I said leave me alone. But he didn't."
After taking a course at Tidal Creek Fellowship called "Experiencing God," Fordham was convinced he had to do something.
"I started sharing with other people what I thought God wanted me to do and started asking for help," Fordham said, putting together a nonprofit organization that included what he described as "a pretty good board of directors." Fordham said, "I found people who had more time than I had and people smarter than I was, and people who had a little more money than I had."
The fundraising began through generous donations at church and other people in the community. They held yard sales, an activity that continues, with people contributing gently used items.
"We certainly appreciate the support we get from the community. We want to let the community know we are here to help," said Fordham. "Something happens when the community sees something that's good and worthwhile. They step up and get behind it and support it. The support that we need now is not just for the homes that we have, but we need a van to help people to get from the house to their jobs or to meetings."
Fordham is already focusing on fundraising for the next women's home because the current one is full.
While residents can stay as long as they like, Loggins said most residents in such a facility are there for about six months.
"Some have kids, boyfriends, family. Some are from here, some are from away. We have all different types of people," she said, "and we've all got people hoping we can do this."
The yard sales are more than a way to raise funds for the shelters.
"During the yard sales we usually share what we're about, and so many end up talking about mom, dad, uncles, aunts, friends," Fordham said. "A lot of people have had that problem or experienced it with someone close to them."
At Hope House, the experiences are shared between the residents and at the meetings, and the impact is immense.
"I've never seen so many people pull together, so many ladies working together," Anita said. "I've been here from the beginning and I've seen how much effort it took to make this happen. I've never had so much support, so many people who think you can do it."
For more information and ways to help, call Fordham at 843-263-2520 or visit lowcountryhh.com.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.