There’s a quietness about a little white farmhouse on West 159th Street in Olathe. Even as traffic buzzes by on the road outside, the house seems breezy and calm, set back from the road and shielded by shrubs and trees.
It’s the perfect place, says Shirley Goodwin, for women to come and heal from addiction and domestic abuse.
That’s what she thought over a year and a half ago, when she started Thumper’s Haven. And that’s what she still hopes as the counseling center has grown and become a non-profit.
Goodwin knows from experience. She is a recovering addict who has been in an abusive relationship herself. “When a woman sits down by my side and talks about an abusive situation, I can say I know because I was in one for 15 years,” Goodwin said. Alcoholism. Addiction. “I’ve done that. I’ve washed my own blood off walls, abandoned my children. I’ve shattered the hopes and dreams of everyone who ever believed in me. Not once, but time and time again.”
That experience is what drove Goodwin, at age 57 and nearing retirement from a job at a distribution company, to return to school for a degree in counseling. After she graduated in 2011, she began to look for a place to practice.
The little farmhouse — a smallish 122-year-old house on 1.7 acres — seemed to reach out to Goodwin. As a result, she now has a setting that is unique in the county for the services it offers.
First, it is not a clinic office, like most counseling centers. “There’s an appropriate time and place for clinical situations,” she said. But many women also need the comfort and warmth of a home setting.
“What better way to heal than to come sit on the front porch in a home, a house,” she said. “There needed to be a center where women could come and feel safe.”
“This is healing for your soul. Women come through here with life experiences where they’ve been beat up and spit out.” she said.
The center is also a bit unusual in that it’s for women only, she said. “Society has taught women to be horrible to each other. At group women come together and embrace and accept each other.”
The name, though, does cause a little confusion. “People ask, ‘Is it a sanctuary for bunnies?’ ” Goodwin said.
In a way it is. She said most women coming in from a life of addiction or abuse are like scared bunnies. Of her about 40 clients, she said, “about half come totally broken, not trusting, not believing.”
Goodwin can identify. Her own life of abuse had its roots after she became pregnant in high school and gave the baby up for adoption. “That’s where the drinking started. All the guilt and shame from the choices I made kind of got washed away with alcohol,” said Goodwin.
From there things deteriorated. She left her family with two children for a companion who “drank like I drank and partied like I wanted to party.” Domestic abuse followed, she said.
Goodwin, now 63, hopped on and fell off a couple of 12-step programs in the 1980s before finally finding a way to stay clean beginning in 1988. “Everything I trashed, stomped on and ran away from has been restored,” she said. “Even the child I gave up is back in my life.”
Goodwin offers group and individual counseling at Thumper’s Haven, but no living space. She said the counseling is faith-based, but non denominational.
There’s even the occasional session in alternative healing. Nan Graber, who knew Goodwin during her addiction days and is also a recovering user, drives down from Omaha one week a month to offer spiritual healing.
“Shirley has been my mentor all my life,” she said. “She is somebody that gives like nobody I’ve ever met.”
Graber is an ordained minister of Lively Stones Fellowship.
Now Goodwin is working on getting solid financial footing for the center. Goodwin got a good deal on rent from an understanding landlord. Even so, her lease is for only 10 months and runs out in May. She’s run through her entire retirement savings.
Supporters have raised money through yard sales, bake sales and a 5K. And the center recently received federal non-profit status, which should make it easier to raise money, she said.
All that is reason for hope, and maybe even a little dreaming, she said. One day, perhaps, she could grow enough to add a nearby house and provide short-term housing for her clients.
But the rewards have been worth the insecurity. “Abuse creates the eyes of the walking dead,” she said. “I love being able to share, being able to see the light come back on. I’m grateful and graced to have what I have today.”