“God has done so many amazing things for us.”
It is inspiring to witness the incredible people in the community who give of themselves selflessly to impact others in a positive way; devoting countless hours to help improve the lives of those in our community. And one such organization that works toward its mission every hour of every day is Priest River Ministries - Advocates for Women—which strives to do all it can for the betterment of women who have endured, and are continuing to be affected, by physical and sexual abuse and violence.
Serving victims from Bonner, Boundary and the northern part of Kootenai counties, Priest River Ministries continues to be a blessing for those women and children in need throughout these communities for more than 17 years. “It is an amazing miracle to see God work in this ministry that started in 2002 as a bible study for women who had or were experiencing domestic or sexual violence,” says Rhonda Encinas, executive director. “Now we shelter over 150 women and children and their pets per year.”
The only community domestic and sexual violence organization in Bonner County, Priest River Ministries receives no assistance from the county, state or government to run their shelter program. Rhonda and her team are dependent on the support of foundational grants, businesses, churches, corporations and individuals. She adds that their greatest need is more volunteers in all three offices to accomplish their mission, as there continues to be so much need, and it continues to increase, everywhere.
“Our volunteers are the backbone to this organization’s success, receiving little recognition,” attests Rhonda. “But they provide immeasurable kindness as they live out their service to God at Priest River Ministries - Advocates for Women.” At its inception, Priest River Ministries was made up of just six members and acted as a support group for women who were victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. As the ministry for women and children grew stronger, the team at Priest River Ministries determined that the need was so great for these women and children that they turned their attention to doing all they could to try and find ways to help them. “We shifted a majority of the things we did to help these women and children who were suffering,” declares Rhonda.
“Domestic violence happens to one in three women, so everyone knows somebody who has experienced this—or is that somebody,” Rhonda says. “Through Priest River Ministries, we’re encouraging these women and giving them their self-respect back. We’re helping them to make good, healthy decisions for themselves and their children—a happy life free of violence. To not be afraid every day. That makes healthy communities, healthier schools, healthier places to work at.”
Priest River Ministries received their nonprofit 501(c)(3) status in 2006 and opened their first shelter, Ruth’s House, more than a decade ago in 2008. Once Ruth’s House was established, Lydia’s Place was born. “There were so many women leaving situations with nothing,” says Rhonda. “That’s what instigated Lydia’s.” Here, those in need will find clothing, bedding, blankets, linens, towels, children’s furniture (from baby baths and beds to walkers), and more. And people come in for those things on almost a daily basis, according to Rhonda. For those who are unaware, Lydia’s is open to the general public as well.
Over the years Priest Rivers Ministries has grown and expanded. Today they have three shelters—Ruth’s House, Esther’s House and Rebekah’s Room, which offers long-term shelter for those who need a place to stay longer than just an emergency situation. In addition, they have office locations in Priest River, Sandpoint and Spirit Lake, along with clothing “closets” that are open to the general public and free of charge.
“When mothers are struggling to buy clothes, diapers and formula for their children, being able to supply these things every month for them, free of charge, is truly rewarding,” says Rhonda.
“Being able to do that is important. When we can reduce that stress, we can reduce violence.
Between Priest River, Spirit Lake and Sandpoint, just in our clothing supply, just those in crisis, we see over 450 people a month,” states Rhonda. “And we never charge for anything; our counseling, childcare, all the supplies we give out.” Rhonda is excited to announce that Priest River Ministries recently moved their Sandpoint Office to a much larger facility at 502 North Second Street downtown! You will find them on the first (bottom) floor of the Life Choices Pregnancy Center. Now with three office spaces, this is where the community can also find their free clothing and supply room.
“We are thrilled to be working alongside this amazing nonprofit, as many of our clients intersect,” smiles Rhonda. In addition, they have opened Tabitha's Closet where they provide children's clothing sizes 12 months and up, as well as free household and personal supplies. The office and closet are open Monday through Wednesday, noon to 4pm, to the general public, while counseling and paralegal assistance is available by appointment.
Priest River Ministries - Advocates for Women is helping to save lives and aid in a brighter, safer future for women and their children. If you are looking to volunteer or make a donation to Priest River Ministries here in Sandpoint, Rhonda invites you to stop by their new office. For those who are seeking assistance or know someone who is in an unhealthy and unsafe situation, please don’t hesitate to call 208.448.2800.
“We want to try and help prevent these situations as much as we can,” affirms Rhonda. “The more people who engage, the more people who volunteer, the more we can stop these assaults.”