Current needs for Abba House:
Feminine hygiene products
Three months after moving to property on Hwy. 9 just south of the historic square in Dawsonville, Abba House has opened the doors of a new event venue and restaurant that will help support the organization’s mission to make broken women whole again.
Abba House Co-founder and current President Chris Sharp welcomed a crowd to The Carriage Venue last week to celebrate the newly renovated space with a ribbon cutting ceremony and Business After Hours with the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce.
Abba House is a minimum 15-month, faith-based residential treatment facility for women and their children. Its focus is to help women who suffer from life-controlling issues such as addiction, depression, abuse, sexual addiction, eating disorders and more.
Last summer, Abba House, which had been located on the Dawson and Forsyth County line since 2000, announced it would be closing two thrift stores on Ga. 400 and in Silver City.
The thrift stores helped to cover some of the cost of operating the nonprofit, as well as gave the residents a chance to learn management and real-world job skills.
Because the organization relies on donations and funds raised through enterprise, Sharp also announced that the organization would be moving to provide a new place for the women to work.
In the fall, Abba House purchased a little over five acres of land in downtown Dawsonville with an event venue and a home previously known as Peach Brandy Cottage.
“There were so many new thrift stores in the area we were losing money and so we needed to do something different,” Sharp said. “So God provided this opportunity for us, and he also provided a beautiful home.”
The women moved into the house in December. The home, one of only three sites in Dawson County listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in 1930 by the Gilleland family.
The home is conveniently located on Hwy. 9, also known as Thunder Road due to its use during the Prohibition era by moonshiners transporting bootleg liquor to Atlanta. Rumor has it that Boyd Gilleland concealed his moonshine still in a secret room upstairs that was once only accessible through a hidden door in a closet in one of the bedrooms.
The room is now used by Abba House as a playroom.
Next door, the event space, now named The Carriage Venue, includes a 3,700-square foot dining facility with a kitchen as well as a 1.5-acre lake, a gazebo and an amphitheater.
The restaurant opened for lunch in mid-February, and the meal is held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. The event space can also be rented for events like birthday parties, weddings and baby showers.
“Last weekend we had a bridal shower,” Sharp
said. “We planned the event, the games and stuff, and it was so much fun.”
Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore said the new venture is the perfect use of the space, which sat vacant and on the market for several years.
“(Sharp) came to me over a year ago now and just kind of floated the idea of what could possibly be done with this property, and it's been amazing to watch the steps, the dedication that they’ve had to making this dream become a reality, and it has really become one,” Moore said. “We’re just thrilled to see a former business be rejuvenated by a group that is amazing and has such a great purpose and serves such a need in our community.”
Abba House was founded by Sharp and her husband Jim in 1992 in Florida. Chris was a dental hygienist while Jim was a gemologist and owned a jewelry store.
The couple and their four children moved to Cumming in 1999 to continue the mission of Abba House, and have built the program up along the way.
When women get to Abba House, they are usually sent by judges or the Division of Family and Children’s Services, and often come from jail or prison. They are often accompanied by children or come alone. But regardless of where they come from, they end up part of the Abba House family.
Sharp said that the women are in intensive group therapy three hours a day. The program teaches them how to care for themselves and in turn care for others.
“We can tell their growth by their ability to give back to another, invest in another,” Sharp said. “We’re training them to be leaders, we’re training them to be self-sufficient, and we’re training them to want to take care of themselves and to take care of others. Most of the time they come in here and they're just trying to survive, they’re coming from such horrific dysfunction.”
Along with running the new catering and event business, the women are also held accountable at home, and are written up if they break the rules.
“They’re self-governed, they don’t have staff that lives with them,” Sharp said. “(The program) teaches them to be the leaders, to be responsible. They run the kitchens; they are very equipped by the time they leave to do all sorts of things.”
The program lasts 12 months, with the last three months reserved for a transition period. Abba House also owns a transition house in Forsyth County where women can stay after they graduate and while they find a job and a place to live.
So far, the new arrangement is working out better than ever for the women, who have happily left the retail world behind.
“This is so much better for the women. They love it, you can see it on their faces- it touches the feminine side of them,” Sharp said. “They have more free time; they’re not married to a retail schedule. They have more time in the afternoons for personal training on computers or GEDs, more time to spend with children.”
The women are also gaining a foothold in the community, volunteering their time to various organizations and passing out free food from 2-3 p.m. Mondays from the venue parking lot.
The warmth of the refurbished home, the hope of a new business venture and the support of the community are helping make Abba House a home, Sharp said.
“Women get their identity out of their home. We want their home to be a home; it’s definitely a home, it’s not a house. And you can see it when you walk through there,” Sharp said. “That’s what changes them.”
Schedule an event or catering service by calling (678) 542-4206. Visit abbahouse.com or thecarriagevenue.com for more information.