At 2720 Fairfield Avenue sits a house built in 1904. The home recently underwent a five-month-long renovation, which included a new roof, kitchen, and HVAC system. Inside you’ll find beautiful original hardwood floors, an open staircase, and elegant windows overlooking a backyard.
A tree mural, where all the leaves are photos of graduates.
At the top of that staircase, on the second floor, is a tree mural, covered with photos of past residents of 2720 Fairfield Avenue. This house is just one of six homes owned by Redemption House,
a transitional housing program that serves as an alternative to incarceration, and the residents pictured in the mural are graduates of the program.
Placed there through court order or referral, most struggle with addiction and have a criminal record, but through structured, faith-based programming, Redemption House is helping these women get back on their feet.
Founder and CEO Tomi Cardin designed the programming for Redemption House based on her experience and connections made from working within the prison system as a volunteer jail chaplain.
“It wasn’t something that I desired to do, I kind of stumbled across it through an invitation from my pastor’s wife to do a chapel service there,” she says. “I had what they call a lightbulb moment during the service. I just knew something in me came alive.”
After some bumps in the road, Cardin became an official jail chaplain and started leading substance abuse classes and Bible studies at the Allen County Jail.
The newly renovated kitchen at the Fairfield Avenue Redemption House.
“I was really connecting with the women,” she says. “We would make these great plans for as soon as they would get out, we were going to get together, have coffee, or go to church. They would be released and I wouldn’t hear from them or see them again until they were rearrested.”
Disheartened by seeing this process repeat itself over and over again, or as she called it, “a revolving door of frustration,” Cardin says it made her realize these women needed a different solution and she had a vision for that solution.
“These women needed a safe to go, to keep doing the work they had started while they were in jail,” she says. “When you’re released and you go right back to the same environments, you end up making the same choices.”
Cardin says she knew she was meant to work with these women post-release, to be part of the solution providing a different type of environment for women to come home to. This led her to founding Redemption House in 2012.
Cardin and every resident and graduate who has come through the Redemption House will tell you it’s more than a recovery house– it’s a place to continue rehabilitation, to plant seeds for new habits and skills.
Redemption House CEO Tomi Cardin at the front door of 2720 Fairfield Aveune.
On average, women stay for about six months. Throughout their time there, women participate in weekly Bible studies, daily devotionals, addiction recovery meetings, and MINDCAP, a program that addresses trauma and addiction. Individuals may also be required by the courts to attend services outside of the house, like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other recovery groups. Each day every house has dinner at 5 p.m., followed by a variety of programming in the evening.
The house is staffed 24/7, so residents always have access to support. Staff at Redemption House helps with programming, including working with the Department of Child Services, Allen County Superior Court, Allen County Family Court, and SCAN to develop plans for reunification when possible.
Redemption House also offers a variety of skill-building classes to its residents and maintains a garden in the backyard, giving the women a great sense of pride and accomplishment when they’re able to harvest and eat food they’ve grown, says Cardin. Residents are also taught about self-care and participate in self-defense classes.
While there, women are expected to find employment. Redemption House helps them obtain formal education, like a GED if needed, while also delivering education about resume-building and interviewing techniques. They’re also expected to participate in household chores, including cooking and cleaning.
Through these responsibilities, residents are also taught about managing money, becoming self-sufficient, and understanding what it means to be economically stable.
CEO Tomi Cardin (center front) with residents of the Redemption House.
While there are programs and rules in place, and Cardin will say they’re often referred to as the “strictest house in town,” Redemption House lacks the stiffness you might expect to find in a transitional housing facility. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Throughout the day there are waves of chatter and laughter coming through the house, and hugs are traded as women come and go for work and appointments.
And noticeably, Cardin herself is invested in the lives of each woman who passes through the Redemption Houses. She knows each resident personally and celebrates their milestones with them.
“We celebrate a lot of things other people might not think about– dental work, getting a driver’s license,” she says. “We have a couple getting their GEDs. These are milestones that deserve to be celebrated.”
The programming and atmosphere help women like Ebonie, 28, who has been at Redemption House since early July. She’s been in and out of recovery for the past 10 years. After being released from prison in early 2023, her parole officer noticed she needed help and connected her to leadership at Redemption House.
Because Ebonie was in active addiction, she couldn’t move in immediately, as Redemption House does not accept applicants who are actively using. Instead, she was asked to enter Avenues Recovery Center
, an addiction treatment center.
“We said we would have a bed for her if she would do the 30-day program and she said yes,” explains Cardin. “And she stayed the whole time. Sometimes in addiction, people are desperate and they’ll say yes to anything, but they’re not willing to do the work. Miss Ebonie did that work. She got 30 days clean under her belt and then came into our program.”
In early September, Ebonie celebrated 90 days clean. She says the Redemption House is helping her rebuild her life.
Another unique aspect of the Redemption House is its attentiveness to graduates who have finished the program. A few years ago, leadership noticed that graduates were struggling to find housing. Finding affordable housing in general can be difficult, but with a criminal record, it can be nearly impossible. Leadership also recognized that graduates might have a better chance of success if they retain access to the support system they experienced while participating in the program.
Redemption House CEO Tomi Cardin (right) with graduate.
“When the women would graduate after six months, they were in a really good place– mentally, emotionally– they had a plan,” explains Cardin. “And then, they would struggle to find safe, sober, affordable housing.”
This led to the creation of the Alumni Network in 2020, which allows residents to stay in housing provided by the Redemption House. Residents in the Alumni Network pay rent, are expected to follow certain guidelines, and have full access to the same support network they built before graduation. Alumni residents are on a month-to-month agreement and they can stay for as long as they feel they need to.
“We decided to invest in this next phase and make some of these options available,” says Cardin. “Graduates have their own private spaces in their bedroom and then they share the communal living space. There’s accountability. There’s support, but it’s not staffed. It’s that next step.”
The Alumni Network now consists of four homes where graduates can stay, each renting their own room. Three of the homes are meant for single graduates, but the fourth home, purchased last year, is designated as mixed, meaning graduates with children can also live there.
Cardin says they’re hoping to acquire more housing for alumni to meet the demand they’re seeing from graduates.
Tosha is one alumnus who opted to move to the Alumni Network. She says it provides accountability and support as she takes the next step in life.
“It’s another step to help you,” Tosha explains. “You still get support from Redemption House and the other girls in the house but you don’t have someone there telling you what to do, but you know someone is always there if you need them.”
One of the most notable perks of living in Alumni housing, says Tosha, is having other graduates around who can relate to you and help you.
Laundry space at the Fairfield Avenue Redemption House..
“When you get off work, going home, and seeing the girls, just being able to talk about how your day was or asking if they had any struggles,” she says. “Just being able to walk in the door and have somebody there that you know is going through the same things you are and been through the same stuff that you can just talk to.”
She’s lived in the single graduate housing since finishing the program in January, but now with a baby due in November, she’s preparing to move into the fourth home, designated for graduates with children.
“This is a great opportunity for her to continue the life that she’s built during her residency and in graduate housing, and now with her baby,” says Cardin.
Throughout their 11 years as an organization, Cardin says seven out of 10 women who start the program finish it, and that’s a big deal.
“You can’t punish your way out of addiction,” she says. “You can’t force someone into recovery. It’s an up and down journey, so having these safe places and people in your life that will support the ups and the downs– it’s how you’re going to achieve long-lasting change and recovery.”