The Shed is located west of Russia, Ohio, at 3666 Simon Road. It carries free items for eligible mothers and children. (Linda Moody photo)

Rustic Hope started with just one prayer

RUSSIA— One of the busiest places in western Shelby County just east of Darke County, is The Shed, a part of Rustic Hope, a 501c3 non-profit organization that offers free support to single mothers before, during, and after delivery of their babies.

Founder and director is Connie McEldowney, who has been helping single moms for 21 years.

It wasn’t until she went to an abortion clinic to pray with others in Kettering on Oct. 1, 2008, that she knew she was meant to help others.

“I saw 15 women go in to the clinic and I felt helpless,” said McEldowney, who is pro-life. “That day on my way home I asked God to give me a better option through lots of prayer. I will never forget the day because it was the beginning of my surrendered life.”

On her way home that day, she prayed, “You can use me, just do it.”

That prayer led to many more.

Subsequently, her plans to take abortion-minded women into their home west of Russia to provide them with what they they needed became a reality.

“Rustic Hope was in the works about a year later, but officially received our non-profit status in 2013,” said Connie. “I didn’t have an agenda, I just did what God put in front of me…one day at a time. The Shed opened up around 2013, as well.  We did take in many moms at our house in those years, between 2008-13.”

When she first discussed her plans with husband Craig, he was skeptical.

“He kind of laughed and said, ‘How are they going to find you?’,” she said. “I started taking moms into our house before my word got around and received donations at our house. I decided to put up a little shop where moms could shop for free. They could come out once a month and check things out.”

After their garage became full of donations, she knew she had to do something. That’s when The Shed was formed after some planning. And, today it is where mothers with young children can visit and take needed items home with them.

The Shed is open every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for mothers to come in and select items needed in their respective households.

“More importantly, Rustic Hope provides unconditional love,” Connie said. “We consider every woman and child we help an important part of our family.”

“Pregnancy can be a very difficult time for young women without a support system, and we faithfully believe that providing loving support is imperative to healthy pregnancies,” she said. “We are Christ-centered and family-focused. This wasn’t my plan; it was God’s plan. Now, we  have over 6,000 square feet and it’s all paid for. My plan was teeny tiny compared to God’s.”

Rustic Hope has served 1,400 moms from all around.

“To be eligible to receive these donations, you have to have custody of children under 18,” she explained. “You can even be a grandparent with custody of a child. We go through $6,000 a month in diapers.”

There are close to 100 volunteers at The Shed who come once a week either Tuesday, Thursday and/or Saturdays.

“On their off days, they come in and sort and clean,” according to McEldowney.

Joe DeMange of Russia is one of the men who volunteer at The Shed. He has been doing this for nine years.

“I enjoy it or wouldn’t be here,” he said.

The men are usually the ones who load furniture and other household goods and take them to their destinations, and also help carry items to the mothers’ cars.

Rustic Hope accepts donations of new and gently used baby clothing, furniture, household items, car seats, cribs, strollers, high chairs and toys, and is always in need of diapers and wet wipes. Also accepted will be donations of non-perishable foods and freezer meats; and automobiles; and monetary donations of all sizes.

Other services may include temporary housing, transportation, daycare, adoption information, post abortive counseling and parenting classes.

Donation drop-off locations are at 3666 Simon road, Russia; 188 N. Lincoln St., Minster; 5105 State Route 29, Celina; 889 Philothea Road, Fort Recovery; and 12333 Wenger Road, Anna, Ohio.

McEldowney herself chose the name for this new venture. She first wanted to name it Rustic Haven, but learned that there was a bar nearby with the same name. So, she kept the name Rustic (because they lived in the middle of nowhere) and changed the other word to Hope (for the young mothers).

Rustic Hope, it was noted, can also assist young women interested in making an adoption plan for their baby by providing life books of families willing to adopt, and offering support to both the birth mother and adopting families. All adoptions are handled as private adoptions.

“Rustic Hope is not a licensed adoption agency,” she said. “We do not charge for any of our services. The adopting family is responsible for handling and paying for all legal fees and providing proof of a current home study.”

Connie  pointed out that she and Craig are not licensed foster parents.

“If moms come in, we give them a book that tells them who they can contact and they deal with it,” she said. “Court costs and home study, if they go through us, is cheaper.”

Another feature of this ministry, she said, came after members from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which was closing its doors at 9464 Foote Road, Yorkshire, approached them offering Rustic Hope an offer to buy it. After all was said and done and knowing that the organization had no money in their budget to make the purchase, the church was donated to

Rustic Hope and is now known as St. Paul’s Place, where various classes are offered to benefit the well-being of mothers and their children.

Held there are free classes for moms that focus on such things as cooking, Bible study, self-defense, automotive care, painting, stress management and budgeting. An indoor playground is also now available for children.

Instructors of these classes donate their time to make these classes possible.

St. Paul’s Place also serves as a site for community dinners and other spiritual events to bless the Rustic Hope family and community.

Connie, whose husband was against this idea for an extended amount of time is now on board.

“He is now involved,” said Connie. “We have 12 kids, five of our own and the rest adopted by moms in here. We have great relationships with moms of adoptees.”

Their biological children are Cayle, Chloe, Colyn, Cole and Claira, ranging in age from 32 down to 23. They are all out of college and out of the house. Another addition to the family includes Crew, who will be 3 on May 21.

“Our kids love what we do. They love their little brothers and sisters,” Connie remarked.

Another person who is like a daughter to Connie is Destiny Schafer, who lives with them, but is not adopted. And, she is Connie’s assistant in the office and shop.

“There’s never a dull moment,” 21-year-old Destiny said. “I grew up around this not knowing anything else. They took me in as a baby. It’s been incredibly wonderful. Connie doesn’t pick and choose who she helps. She helps everybody.”

People come from all over.

“It’s not about the free diapers. It’s about the hope where moms feel not judged. They are welcomed here and accepted,” Connie remarked. “They’re loved unconditionally. Our job is to love them.”

Connie is amazed how prayers have been answered and how everything has fallen ino place without a whole lot of effort through this journey she is on.

Here are just a few of her miracle stories, especially the ones that gave her goosebumps:

“A woman who was recently divorced and was cooking too much for just herself, packed the food up she made and brought it out to us. We are open to just about anything.”

One day while working out of their garage, Connie reported that a mom needed diapers and was working second shift and walked five miles to work and said she needed a car. “I got off the phone and the very next day, a guy called with a car to donate,” she said. “Since then, we’ve given away 48 cars. That’s life-changing.”

“We get tons of donations at Christmas time,” the director went on.  “One family’s well broke, and there were four girls and no water. They contacted me and, in two days, the job was done.”

“We’ve paid 50 moms’ electric bills.”

“Some donors give free haircuts on certains days or nights.”

Connie, who lives just down the road from The Shed, reported that a Girl Scout troop in Minster is collecting diapers for Rustic Hope.

Monetary contributions, in lots of different amounts, keep coming in and are deeply appreciated.

Yes, she has been duped in several instances, but always persevered because of her faith and the support she has in this journey.

Connie is the daughter of Eva Gehret and the late Joe Gehret.

“Mom thinks I’m crazy, but loves me anyway,” said Connie.

A 1986 graduate of Versailles High School, Connie met Craig who graduated in 1987 from Russia while in high school. They were married June 24, 1989. He works at Stolle Machine in Sidney and she had worked at Clopay in the office in Russia for a year before becoming a stay-at-home mother and volunteer.

Connie has written her second book, titled “Who The Hell I’m Not.” Her first was a children’s book.

“We had almost 3,000 copies and it came out last June,” she said. “I didn’t want to write it because I was already busy, but God kept nudging me. I simply wrote the book to share how God teaches me daily ‘Who The Hell I’m Not.'”

She said she sold out of 1,000 in a month

“That really glorifies God,” she said. “Usually when God wants me to do something out of my comfort zone, I give in. I never thought that one prayer (in 2008) would have started this.”

Connie McEldowney holds a copy of the book she penned and entitled "Who The Hell I'm Not." (Courtesy photo)
This wallhanging is one of the many items in The Shed. It is symbolic of what Rustic Hope is all about. (Linda Moody photo)
It takes a lot of volunteers, like Joe DeMange here, to keep The Shed going as he stocks a shelf there. He also transports heavier household items to their destinations with the other men there and even helps the mothers and their children carry their packages to their respective vehicles. (Linda Moody photo)
Darke County Now Staff - Linda Moody - Staff Writer

Linda Moody / Staff Writer

I am a Darke County native living in the Ansonia area with my son. I have been in journalism 50+ years and enjoy what I do.

Contact Darke County Now Media Correspondent Linda Moody @ lmoody@darkecountynow.com or 937-337-1955.

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