Jayla Ned was 18 when she got pregnant and was sleeping on park benches. After two weeks of searching the library computers for a place to go, she stumbled upon Viola’s House, which took her away that same day.
Today, at 20, she has a job and her own home where she can support her two children. She attributes her success to the time she spent at Viola’s House.
In dark gray accommodation behind Cornerstone Baptist Church, Viola’s House provides housing and support services for teenage mothers. Women who stay at Viola’s House typically receive help to complete high school, attend trade schools, and access the resources they need to thrive. Since 2015, the association has accommodated around 240 mothers and their infants.
Every Tuesday, Viola’s House holds a community day where mothers of children under three can come and receive supplies such as diapers, clothes and formula. In the fall, Viola’s House will be opening a thrift store for babies where mothers of children up to three years old can receive a voucher and choose clothes for their children.
As a former teenage mother herself, Founder Thana Hickman-Simmons is committed to providing this population with the support they need to thrive.
“I see a part of myself in so many of them,” Hickman-Simmons said. “It’s funny because a lot of times they look at me and think I’m just a director. Most of the time I can tell them exactly what they are feeling and experiencing because I have been there. It makes a big difference once they know you can identify yourself.
At 17, Hickman-Simmons had her first child. She was a professional harpist at the time and was already starting to take classes at university. Having a child deterred her path, but Hickman-Simmons said it was the path she was meant to be on.
She was still able to finish high school and get a diploma because Hickman-Simmons had her parents, sisters, and godmother Viola Paris. Hickman-Simmons had a support system, but many Viola’s House customers don’t.
“100% of the girls who walk through these doors have dysfunctional mothers,” Hickman-Simmons said. “We intervene as a village to offer what they need and become what they need”
A village is exactly what Ned got when she arrived. Ned described everyone who worked with her during the year she lived at Viola’s House as her aunt or second mother. She said they always push her to do the right thing.
“They are like family,” Ned said. “This is how I feel for everyone. Everyone who works here. When I come, it’s like coming to see my family.
Hickman-Simmons named Viola’s House in honor of his godmother, Viola Paris. She spent countless afternoons and weekends with her godmothers and came to Viola for the advice she needed. Hickman-Simmons said Viola was his village and his safe place.
“It’s the same concept here,” Hickman-Simmons said. “These girls cannot live here permanently, but we want them to know that it is a safe place, it is a safe home, and apart from their parents, we are their village.
Although Hickman-Simmons has a good relationship with her own parents, she wanted the girls she works with to know that they don’t need to be family to take care of them.
Originally from Chicago, Hickman-Simmons moved to Dallas in 2007 to find a more stable life for herself and her children. She got a job with AAA and is now a disaster manager.
When Hickman-Simmons first started working in the DFW area, she had a mentoring program for teenage mothers in Plano and DeSoto school districts, but she quickly realized that the girls she mentored had more immediate needs.
“The program was great, wasn’t it, but they wanted to know where they could sleep, where they could get diapers, where they could meet their immediate needs,” Hickman-Simmons said. “Not the long term mentorship program I was trying to offer them.”
It was then that Hickman-Simmons said she came up with the crazy idea of a residential house.
Viola’s House has gone from two beds in a tiny apartment owned by Cornerstone Baptist Church to a two-story house that can accommodate up to six women and their babies. Now they are hoping to add a second home for more incoming mothers.
“We realized that bringing the residential component to Cornerstone would be a game-changer for the organization as many young women were homeless and pregnant,” said Pastor Chris Simmons of Cornerstone. “Over the years, Viola’s House has been able to help a number of these young women and they have found a stability in their lives that might not otherwise have been the case.”
Pastor Simmons said many mothers coming out of Viola’s House are now working and volunteering with Cornerstone to give back to their community.
“There are so many examples of young girls now living alone, raising children, graduating from high school and working because of the support Viola’s House was able to provide,” said Simmons.
Ned returns to visit Viola’s house at least three times a week despite the fact that she has her own house. She said she just felt comfortable there.
“This place is a sanctuary for young mothers,” Ned said. “Even if you don’t stay here, you can still come here if you need help.”
HOW TO HELP
Donations to Viola’s House can be sent to Cornerstone Baptist Church Viola’s House’s. The biggest need in organization right now is diapers, as large sizes (4-6) and pull-ups are frequently missing.