Killingsworth Home changes lives of women residents

Becky Roberts explains to volunteer Katie Strickland how to record residents’ medicine use.

Killingsworth, a women’s home for recovering addicts on Pendleton Street in University Hill, is not widely known to those who frequent the area near USC and Five Points. But while it doesn’t get much attention, the impact on residents is nowhere near small. Women battling addiction use the program to turn their lives around. (Photo: Becky Roberts, Killingsworth’s administrative assistant, left, discusses how to record medicine use with volunteer Katie Strickland.)

By Ashley Chonka
Dec. 5, 2013

The doorbell chimes at Killingsworth Home, and administrative assistant Becky Roberts gets up to answer again­ ­­­– and again – and again. Three times in five minutes.

“Excuse me, sorry, but I have to get that because I’m the only one here,” Roberts says. She scrambles to open the door for a volunteer – and then again for a resident.

Becky Roberts Killingsworth administrative assistant
Becky Roberts sits on a swinging bench, much like the one she sat on when she lived at Killingsworth.

Roberts, once a Killingsworth resident herself, proceeds to soothe another resident over the phone. The woman has been told she will be detained on a former warrant. Roberts tells her to go to work and assures her that, yes, her bed will still be here even if she spends a night or two in jail.

A block away from USC’s Capstone dorm tower lies an inconspicuous two-story brick home with no marker except the address, 1831 Pendleton St. It houses 18 women at a time, women who are in crisis situations like substance abuse or addiction.

For 66 years, Killingsworth Home, with little publicity, has been helping such women. Unlike The Women’s Shelter, which has a strict 5 p.m. curfew, Killingsworth provides more freedom. In return, the women must have a commitment of at least 30 hours a week to work, education or service. They also have chores to complete, support groups to attend and $15 in daily rent to pay.

“Killingsworth works because it’s just not a place to sleep – it’s also a family,” said Roberts, who lived there in 1988 while attempting to overcome alcoholism. “If you’re getting ready for an interview, we will tell you if your blouse is cut too low or if you need to wear more conservative shoes. Sometimes you just have to say, ‘Put on anything else.’”

“We’re not going to hold your hand and coddle you,” said Killingsworth’s executive director of 37 years, the Rev. Diane Moseley. “These women are adults and need to deal with responsibilities that come with it.”

According to its website, Killingsworth was opened by Corrie Killingsworth in 1947, at first with help from fellow parishioners at Washington Street United Methodist Church and later with help from Methodist women across South Carolina.

For its first 25 years, Killingsworth was in a clapboard house at Gregg and Senate streets, a block from the current brick home.

Before the 1970s, it was a home for young women from 18 to 25 who had come to Columbia for work or school. They could stay for up to two years while they adjusted to city life. Rules included Bible study at 5 p.m. daily, no fingernail polish and no shorts allowed downstairs.

However, in 1972 there were twice as many staff as residents, so Killingsworth began helping women in crisis. That same year the first ex-convict moved in.

“I was a radical feminist,” said Moseley, who became executive director during the transition. When her supervising pastor told her the Killingsworth job, which would be part of her assigned mission, meant working with women, “I said, ‘Sign me up.”

Funding is a continuing issue. Everyday items are used too quickly, Roberts said, and Killingsworth always needs items like toilet paper and over-the-counter medicines.

Listen to the Rev. Diane Moseley, Killingsworth’s executive director, talk about the rules of the house and how the staff makes residents face consequences.
Listen to Moseley talk about being a radical feminist.
Listen to an extended interview with the Rev. Diane Moseley about the road to recovery for residents. (Approximately 12 minutes)

“They have some stuff, but it’s never enough,” said Katie Strickland, a USC student who volunteers at Killingsworth through Epsilon Sigma Alpha, a service sorority.

“We always get final notices, and one time the phones got turned off,” Roberts said.

But Roberts said an anonymous donation last year to mark the home’s 65th anniversary helped Killingsworth more than double what it raised the year before. According to its publicly available income tax return, Killingsworth raised more than $437,000 last year, including $19,448 from the national United Methodist Church. Its assets also more than doubled to $383,164.

The 18 women at Killingsworth share eight bedrooms, but space isn’t an issue in the 111-year-old house that has more than 5,000 square feet. “You can dance in the middle of them if you want to,” Moseley said.

But the continual presence of women in one living space can be overwhelming.

“One minute you’ll get along just fine, and then the next you’ll want to pull each other’s hair out,” said Kendal Noble, a former resident.

Noble moved in so she could stay on the road to recovery after battling a crack-cocaine addiction for 30 years. She said she was at rock bottom, weighing 78 pounds and homeless.

“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Noble said.

Kendal Noble former Killingsworth resident
Kendal Noble visits Killingsworth frequently to ask for advice when it’s hard for her to escape her drug addiction.

She had been at a recovery home in Lexington but said she was uncomfortable with its businesslike feel. Noble said it wasn’t a home and that no one encouraged her to go to meetings to stay on track.

Noble said that when she arrived at Killingsworth she bawled while fellow residents enveloped her in hugs, which led to her nickname, “Crybaby,” for her first six to eight months there.

“I was so scared and overwhelmed. I would cry at dinner, at meetings, while doing chores, you name it,” Noble said. “But I was determined to overcome my addiction.”

She said Killingsworth not only helped her with her addiction, but also retaught her how to be a lady and have self-esteem.

“I had a potty mouth, and I dressed provocatively,” Noble said. “As I came to terms with what I had done, I didn’t have to do that to get attention. They convinced me that I wasn’t a bad person; I just did bad things.”

Noble said she has been clean for over three years and is working two jobs, as a housekeeper and a cashier. She has also earned her CNA certification and is trying to buy a house.

In addition to helping to run the home, Roberts also accompanies the women with drug problems to weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

“There’s only one staff member who can work at a time; the rest have to be volunteers,” Roberts said. “So you have to deal with everyday crises, be a security guard and complete paperwork at once.”

To help with expenses, Killingsworth holds the yearly Deck the Halls silent auction and fashion show. Last year, the event raised more than $18,000, according to Killingsworth’s tax return.

Roberts said that usually over 700 people attend the gala, but that fewer than 500 showed up this year on Nov. 14.

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