Before she left Lexington in 2006 to help run a restaurant owned by her sister, Phyllis Abbott was known to many people for her work with ministry efforts including Church Under the Bridge and Kindness in Action.
Ten years later, and with two master’s degrees under her belt, Abbott is back in Lexington with a new mission: helping homeless female veterans.
She said Kentucky doesn’t have a long-term house dedicated solely to female veterans, and there are few in the entire country.
“We just want to make this a home that we can love on our women and make them whole again,” she said.
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She said female veterans are more likely than women in the general population to commit suicide, and many female vets, like their male counterparts, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
A significant number of female veterans also suffer trauma as a result of sexual assault or harassment endured during their time in the military.
“Women rarely talk about their service,” Abbott said. “Not all women are registered with the VA and connected with services.”
She said they often downplay their sacrifice because they didn’t serve on the front lines.
Abbott has formed a nonprofit organization, Sheppard’s Hands, and is renovating a house on De Porres Avenue that has been donated for two years by Jim Thurman, a pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church. After two years, she said, the organization will have the option of buying the house, which will be able to house three women.
In addition to housing, Sheppard’s Hands will ensure that the women it serves have access to medical care and counseling, job training, help with computer skills, financial planning and other assistance.
She said her goal is to be ready to welcome the first women into the house by the end of March.
She envisions the women learning self-sufficiency skills, including canning and gardening. Ultimately, she said, she’d like to have a second house for female veterans with children.
“Children have to be healed as well as the mother,” she said. “I’m dreaming big.”
Abbott, who obtained master’s degrees in organizational leadership and nonprofit management, is not a veteran herself, but she said she was moved to serve veterans through her previous volunteer work.
She is on an advisory committee focused on female veterans through the Kentucky Department of Veteran’s Affairs and said the department will help identify women who need the services of her organization.
Sherry Whitehouse, an Army veteran from Louisville who leads Lady Vets Connect, also is on the advisory committee and is on the board of Sheppard’s Hands.
“Immediately when I met her, I saw the real true passion in her heart,” Whitehouse said. “We’re just so excited to be able to come together and just really impact our women veterans.”
A joint event between Sheppard’s Hands and Lady Vets Connect is being held Jan. 30 to help female veterans in Central Kentucky build relationships and learn about services available to them.
“They want to connect. They just need a place to do it,” Whitehouse said. “What I’ve learned is, connection is healing.”
Meet and greet for women veterans
When: 3:15 to 5 p.m. Jan. 30
Where: Northside Branch of the Lexington Public Library, 1733 Russell Cave Rd.
RSVP: SheppardandLadyVets@gmail.com or Eventbrite.com/e/meet-greet-and-connecting-lady-