Reducing Homelessness from the Inside Out

Nation of Neighbors recipient Lotus Community Project

In 2019, Ashley Vaala opened the Lotus Community Project – an emergency homeless shelter and transitional housing facility in Vincent, Iowa. With her resourcefulness, creativity, and networking, Ashley converted a previous house of worship into a safe place for women and children to stay when in crisis while also providing necessities, including food, clothing, and personal hygiene items.

“As someone who has experienced homelessness and overcome several traumas in my life, I now live with the purpose to help others achieve self-sufficiency and a prosperous life,” said Ashley.

The Lotus Community Project offers more than basic necessities – it is impacting women in a deep and meaningful way. The project assists women in uncovering the tools they already have within themselves to succeed and regain independence. “Studies demonstrate that in a nurturing environment (that offers opportunities to heal, achieve, and move forward), almost all individuals experience improvement in their lifestyle, their commitment to personal responsibility, and a readiness to assume their role as leader of their family,” said Ashley. “We strive to provide this environment.”

After Ashley’s community came together to support the project with donations, including home furnishings and clothing, she had the idea to open a thrift store, “Lotus Treasures,” to provide free items to the families they are assisting in Webster County. Women utilizing the Lotus Community Project’s services can also volunteer at the thrift store, giving them a sense of purpose, building skills and relationships, and empowering them to give back to their community. In just over two years, the Lotus Community Project has served 325 women and children facing homelessness, and they’re just getting started!

As a 2021 recipient of a Nation of Neighbors℠ grant, Ashley will have the opportunity to expand Lotus Treasures. “It was humbling to learn I had been nominated to receive this women’s empowerment grant,” said Ashley. “The community has embraced and empowered my mission to serve and impact homelessness in our communities.” Direct funds from the store expansion will provide shelter for more families and offer home supplies as they transition to independence. In the future, Ashley would also like to provide permanent housing for several families in need.