When LaNora Purvis founded Heaven’s Army Home of Amazing Grace in 2010 to help women struggling with addiction and abuse, or to escape sex trafficking, she believes she was following a vision from God.
Now, a decade later, she is following a new vision to move the outreach ministry and women’s shelter from Cleveland to a 22-acre property in Tarkington where eventually there will be facilities to help both men and women.
The plan to move came after an attempt to purchase their current rented home in Cleveland fell through, she explained. The property owner offered Heaven’s Army a fair deal on the Cleveland home – $400,000 – but a $100,000 tax lien was discovered during closing.
“I went to my board and asked them if we needed to pursue purchasing the property or if we needed to look for something else. They voted to retract the offer and look elsewhere,” Purvis said.
As Heaven’s Army had already collected a sizable sum from business and private donations for the home’s down-payment, the money sat untouched while other properties were pursued. Around that same time, Purvis’ friend, Terri Manners, told her about a friend’s home in Tarkington that she believed would be ideal for the mission’s current and future needs.
“When I first told LaNora about it, she didn’t think they could afford it, but God kept telling me, ‘No, that is the house,'” Manners said. “I told LaNora to do what God was telling her to do. She said, ‘My board is not going to go for this. I said, ‘How do you know unless you ask?'”
Because of the home’s size – 8,500 square feet on a 22-acre lot with a large pond – it had proven to be a challenging sell for the homeowner, Wanda Ling, who built the house with her late husband, David, 28 years ago.
Now in her later years of life and burdened by the upkeep on the property, Ling also had been praying for the right owner to come along.
“I haven’t had a lot of interest in the house, partly because of its size,” Ling said.
Other buyers had asked Ling to make concessions such as filling in the swimming pool or selling the property in two sections, but she had been unwilling.
With Ling’s property twice the price of Heaven’s Army’s original home, Purvis and the board had to find an inventive way to raise the rest of the down-payment. Purvis’ husband, Howard, came up with the solution, which he told her came to him in a dream.
“He had a dream about the bridge that goes over the pond on the property. He told me he sees us replanking the bridge with the names of businesses and sponsors. With 232 planks on the bridge, that would give us the money we need to purchase the home and help with operation expenses,” she said.
Each $1,000 plank sponsorship is for three years. After that time, the donor can renew their sponsorship or purchase their by-then weathered plank at a nominal fee.
For Purvis, the bridge is symbolic.
“When we first started the women’s center, we operated out of a house on Morgan Cemetery Road. There was a picture that was the only thing left in the house, and I had it framed and have had it ever since because it had meaning to me. It says from ‘Recovery to Wholeness,’ which is what we are all about with Heaven’s Army Home of Amazing Grace,” she said. “In that picture is a bridge that is carrying people from this dry, barren place to the Promised Land. That’s where we are right now. We can’t build anything on the current property. We can’t do anything else here. At the new property, there will be room to grow and prosper.”
The idea for the plank fundraiser appears to be working. Already, Purvis, her husband and board have sold more than $50,000 in sponsorships. Each sponsor’s name will be placed on the plank by a laser engraver. The 2 X 6 treated planks are being donated to Heaven’s Army by McCoy’s in Cleveland.
The home will also serve as a way to teach women about operating a business as it will be used as a wedding venue. The home has two garages, one of which could be used as a space for the house leader or a classroom. The outside workshop will be transformed into a wedding and prayer chapel.
“Eventually part of our mission is to have a chapel built out under the trees by the pond,” Purvis said. “I think God wants this for us.”
Since 2010, roughly 200 women have enrolled in Heaven’s Army’s program. Of those, approximately 60 have gone on to lead successful lives. Of the 20 graduates who have completed the six-month program, only two have returned to their former lifestyles. All of the graduates in the one-year program have been successful, according to Purvis.