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Abba House chicken coop helps to heal women
Residents of recovery ministry program learn about responsibilities by caring for 25 hens
I-Abba House pic 1
The women who live at Abba House, a 15-month recovery ministry in Cumming, care for 25 hens. The women collect eggs and clean out the coop on a daily basis to learn about responsibility. - photo by For the Dawson County News

Three times a day, Amy and the other "chicken mamas" walk to Abba House's chicken coop and check on the hens.

The women collect eggs, clean out the coop and ensure the 25 hens have food and water. They also bathe the chickens as needed, catching each chicken individually and dumping them into buckets of soap and water.

Amy and the other women are part of Abba House's program in Cumming. Abba House is a 15-month recovery ministry for women. Its focus is on women who suffer from life-controlling issues, such as addiction, depression, child abuse, sexual addiction, eating disorders and more.

"We focus on healing the heart, not just getting a woman clean and sober," said Christen Reagan, public relations and marketing director at Abba House. "If you don't do that, someone can go back out and do whatever they were doing or pick up something new."

Abba House focuses on counseling, with participants attending therapy five mornings a week along with other classes. Class topics range from parenting and boundaries to anger management and sexual abuse. Another class also focuses on how to grow closer to God.

In afternoons, the women work in the Abba House thrift stores to learn life skills.

"They eat healthy, they exercise (and) they learn how to live well," Reagan said. "A lot of (the program participants) didn't do that before. They didn't have self-worth before, and the chickens are just part of all that, but it's a cool part of that."

The chickens have been on the Cumming campus about 1 « years. Children and young adults from Creekside United Methodist Church's community outreach program built the 12-foot-by-12-foot coop in summer 2015.

The Abba House women rotate who cares for the chickens, with one "chicken mama" at a time. Chicken mamas are the women in charge of caring for the chickens. Since the women are always in pairs for accountability, they help each other.

Abba House assistant program director Amber Koentop is responsible for assigning which woman will be the chicken mama. She said she usually chooses a woman who needs another responsibility or someone who needs to work on different skills.

"I've seen girls really take pride in it," she said. "At first it seems like a burden ... but then you watch as it changes. Then they'll get into it, and that's usually when we change it up - once they finally get the lesson and embrace their responsibilities."

Reagan said the chickens teach women life skills, responsibility and how to care for a creature other than themselves.
Amy, who did not wish to be identified, is a prime example. She has been in the treatment program for 18 months and likes caring for the chickens. She said she had never been around chickens before, but considers them pets since she has been around them when they were chicks.

"For some (women) it's a good learning experience about taking care of other things beside themselves," Amy said. "It helped me have a heart for other things. I probably would never have ever done anything like that."

Caring for the chickens also has triggered topics for other kinds of treatment.

For example, the coop initially had two roosters, but one kept attacking the women. It was decided to put the rooster down, which led to a sensitive discussion.

"The (women) kept bringing up daddy issues, because they were being attacked," Reagan said. "You wouldn't think chickens would cause (them) to have to bring to the group stuff they'd have to get healing on, but chickens do."

Koentop knows the program works. She is an Abba House graduate, saying it changed her life.

"You're put in different situations where people are able to speak life into you," she said. "Speak truth into you and it kind of helps you to be more self-aware and teaches you to be more disciplined."

Koentop said she also found a relationship with God she didn't know she could have and realized she can turn to him instead of drugs or other addictions. And living at Abba House without distractions such as drugs or TV helps the women and children deal with their issues.

"All you're doing is being aggravated by a bunch of things, being in relationships and having people love on you and talk about it," Reagan said. "That's when you get the healing and the chickens are part of that."