And Then There Were Two

by Mary Peterson, Heartbeat Housing SpecialistLiving Room

Since 2015, the program was called Esther Home. But, when God presented an opportunity for growth, Amber Hornsby, Co-Founder and Executive Director, jumped at the chance to become Esther Homes. After a long season of feeling the Lord prepare the organization for increase, the dream was fulfilled when their second home opened in July 2018.

"We are renting from a church," Hornsby described, "and grateful for the opportunity to come along side of families together to serve them and meet their needs." Esther Homes welcomes pregnant and parenting women, often with young children, for up to two years to "do life together".

Hornsby noted several challenges related to growth, "The biggest fear in saying 'yes' to expansion is the money aspect. We are doubling our current budget and that means our leadership has to spend more time planning and fundraising."

She also described a process of going back to the drawing board on the program, examining what works and what doesn't. "In some ways, we went back to the dirt in order to refine ourselves. We wanted the second home to carry the heart of who we are so we needed to be able to articulate how we want things done." She summed up the process by noting that the backbone of the two programs is the same but differences arise because each location has unique people, layouts, and neighborhoods that they are within. "The programs are even in different counties," Hornsby quipped. "We had to figure out the implications of that."

When asked to give advice to homes considering expansion, the millennial leader let out a deep breath and said, "Be okay with change and accept that things might shift." She continued, "The work load doubles but time doesn't." Hornby described the importance of training new staff and allowing them to do thier thing while remaining available and encouraging. "You need a team to share the load!"

"You can plan a lot but then you get into it, and there are a lot of unknowns that surface," Hornsby reflected. "I just need to stay positive, take a deep breath, and get creative about coming up with solutions." The leader noted that the commitment of the Board of Directors has grown beyond coming to meetings to include greater availability for discussion, more planning for the future, and more administrative support.

"There is a lot of hype about expansion and a season of time where you feel like 'I don't know what I am doing,'” Hornsby summed up. "But ultimately, it’s about the families we are serving and now, we have a greater ability to meet their needs."

For more information about Esther Homes, please visit their website at:

Like Esther Homes, Ruth Harbor Ministries had been actively exploring expansion and had several disappointments along the way. Trusting God through the process, their second location, a 7,200 square foot home outside of Des Moines, anticipates welcoming women later this month. "There are so many God stories in how this came about," Mark McDougal shared with joy.

The second property will serve as the mother and child aspect of the program, welcoming women from their maternity program as well as women with children. The property has an interesting history having served as the family home of the McCaughey septuplets. "The couple, having become empty-nesters, wanted the home to go to a ministry and continue the legacy of family," McDougal recalled.

McDougal shared story after story of God's provision on the expansion, "A very large church in Iowa rallied behind the project. They were able to bless us by purchasing and furnishing the home as a Lenten project. Truly incredible!"

Part of the process of growth was to think in a more standardized way. "We wanted to be able to duplicate what we were doing and we wanted to be able to talk more clearly about the impact that we are having on women's lives," McDougal shared. That desire led the organization to adopt the Evaluation Tool developed by the National Maternity Housing Coalition and integrate it into programming.

When asked what advice he would give to others considering growth, McDougal responded with, "Obviously, seek God's face and don't get discouraged!" But, he continued, "Preparing staff, Board members, and supporters that the process takes time is super important."

"When organizations grow, leaders have to grow," McDougal reflected. He described the homework and planning that goes into expansion and the need to let go of things that he used to be hands-on about. Having served as the Executive Director for 16 years, McDougal was quick to share, "It’s nothing that I'm doing—this is what God wants and I'm just trying to keep up."

For more information about Ruth Harbor, please visit their website at: