Charlotte Lancaster made a promise. After years of going through trials and tribulations in her life, she prayed for a change. Homeless after a horrific domestic trauma and having lived on the streets for years, she was headed down the wrong road. “I acted out and all sorts of stuff,” she says. “At 16, I became a young mother with no place to go.” Later, she found herself in another troubling situation in Indiana and felt that enough was enough. “I was in a bad place in Indiana and I had made some bad decisions in my life up to that point,” she remembers. “I sat down in a park and I prayed for help. I promised that if God helped me turn my life around and get out of that situation, I would dedicate myself to helping young ladies like me – homeless and in need of a place to go.” Soon after, Lancaster was able to make her way back to Flint and find the purpose and self-respect that had been missing in her life. She eventually found a career, raised a family and retired. All the while, she never forgot the promise she made and in 2007 she opened the doors of Building Strong Women (BSW) – a non-profit organization providing transitional housing/room and board to women and their underage children in need of temporary shelter as they get back on their feet.
“I promised that if God helped me turn my life around and get out of that bad situation, I would dedicate myself to helping young ladies like me – homeless with no place to go.”
“I wanted to find a way to keep my promise of helping homeless women,” she explains. “We are open to any woman who has no place to go. They could be divorcees, dealing with substance abuse, victims of domestic violence, etc. and if we cannot find an opening for them, we can direct them to another organization in Genesee County that can.”
Since its founding, BSW has helped over 1,000 women find peace and stability in their lives. The organization works hand-in-hand with Shelter of Flint, McLaren and Hurley Hospitals, and State of Michigan Reentry Programs for women transitioning from the prison system into society. “When the hospitals or our partner organizations identify someone in need of shelter, they contact us and we provide,” Lancaster adds. BSW operates four homes, each able to accommodate up to six women. “They can stay for up to two years,” Lancaster explains. “Our wish is to help them become self-sufficient and to help them find their own place to stand through training and support before that time.”
There are very few limitations on who can be housed in the BSW homes. “Due to space, we cannot take mothers with more than two children or who have sons over 14 years of age. Some of our residents have experienced abuse and trauma at the hands of men and we want them to feel safe in our homes.”
Residents must attend weekly mandatory meetings at BSW headquarters when they discuss topics from money management/budgeting to personal health and more. As another condition of their BSW stay, women are expected to volunteer their time and help the organization through administrative support, cooking, cleaning and other ways. “Those with income are charged a fee for housing; but I can tell you that the majority of the women staying here do not have means to pay,” says Lancaster. “We only ask that they give their time to help the organization. We are all volunteers, including myself. Every dollar we receive goes directly to providing for our women in need.”
To support their mission, BSW has annual fundraisers and rummage sales and, to show appreciation to the local community, hosts an annual picnic in the summer as well as a volunteer appreciation dinner in November. It is also a wish of Lancaster’s to take the women they shelter on a trip to somewhere special to show them that they matter. “One year, we were able to take the women on an all-expenses-paid trip to Chicago for a few days,” she remembers. “I would love to do something like that again for them.”
Building Strong Women has recently looked to expand their community footprint in the area around their home office, located on Clio Rd. in Flint, by starting a neighborhood watch program and hopes to someday provide housing for homeless men, as well.
From day one, Charlotte Lancaster and her volunteer staff have worked hard to help as many women as possible get back on their feet. Every woman helped is one who never has to endure what Lancaster herself has experienced: the fear and hopelessness that are part of a life on the streets. “We are here to help any woman in need,” she says. “Everything we do comes from the heart.”
To contact Building Strong Women, call 810.234.7933 or visit buildingstrongwomencommunity.org.
BSW is in dire need of volunteers and donations. The list includes towels, comforters, sheet sets, twin beds and box springs. They are also looking for a sponsor to take the women in the shelter on a special trip this summer. If you would like to help, please call 810.234.7933.
On March 25, 2023 Building Strong Women will present a play at the New McCree Theatre entitled “Bullies with Power” with all ticket sales and proceeds benefiting the organization. Doors open at 2pm with dinner served at 3pm, and the performance begins at 4pm. Tickets are $15.