When the Rev. Becca Stevens came to Vanderbilt in 1995 to serve as the chaplain
for St. Augustine’s Chapel, she was interested in starting an outreach program.
Little did she know her desire to assist women in recovery from a life of
prostitution and drug abuse would turn into a non-profit organization that is a
That organization, Magdalene House, is a free, two-year residential program that
provides women a safe place to recover.
“I didn’t know it was going to be such a big deal when I started it,” Stevens said. “I was going to open one house as part of my outreach. I wanted to help women in
a really dignified way and respect them and all they had gone through.
“It has proven to be life changing for us and the women we have helped.”
Since starting Magdalene House in 1997, Stevens has opened five more houses in
the Nashville area. Many cities throughout the country have modeled programs
“It is a real ministry and a beautiful way of treating these communities so that
they heal,” she said.
About 125 women have come through the door of Magdalene to follow a structured
schedule that consists of individualized therapy, a 12-step program, group
meetings, spirituality classes and financial planning courses.
The program is funded by donations and private grants as well as money from the
United Way of Metropolitan Nashville, one of the federations featured in the
Vanderbilt Community Giving Campaign. Responsible for hundreds of initiatives
that address some of Nashville’s most critical needs, the United Way serves as an umbrella to unite groups and
communities to affect change and improve lives.
Stevens likes the way United Way works for her organization.
“The reason we are committed to United Way is because the way that organization
works, they hold people accountable,” she said. “It is one of the few places that require a group, once you receiving funding, to
report back to them. People can trust that if they are giving to a group that
is part of United Way that it is watching how we spend our money, monitoring
our statistics and looking at outcomes.”
The impact Magdalene has had on the community is immeasurable.
“This is a real ministry and a beautiful way of treating this community of women
so that they can heal. And it’s not just a ministry for those participating in the program. We have an amazing
impact on the community. Because our statistics are so good and there is so
much hope, I think it inspires everyone.”
Gwen Cockrell can attest to that. She is a recent graduate of the program. “I lived on the streets for 10 years,” said Cockrell. “The program has done so much for me and I see things so differently now.
“For so long I didn’t think anybody cared or that there was any help for me. I thought the world
would say, ‘This was a choice you made.’ But there are people who care. It takes a community to bring women off of the
streets. We made some bad choices, but we need people who care and love us to
bring us back and give us hope.”
Cockrell, a single mother of four, has been drug free for nearly four years. She
works with Stevens at St. Augustine’s Chapel, facilitates groups at Magdalene House and works at Thistle Farms, the
non-profit business that creates natural bath and body products and is operated
by the women of Magdalene. All sales benefit the program.
Because the program is so extensive, Cockrell, like many of the women enrolled
have been able to receive therapy and receive education and job skills.
“I have found that Magdalene is my foundation and I find it necessary to give
back every day,” said Cockrell. “I am grateful for all the people who believe in this program and chose to
“I am grateful for the vision Becca had. It changed my life.”
Magdalene residents are not just local women. Participants have come from
Georgia, Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida and Honduras.
“Magdalene is a positive witness to this community,” said Stevens. “A compassionate, loving community can be a powerful source of change.”