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OCEAN ISLE BEACH—An acre of land set aside for God’s purposes was the first step in fulfilling a calling for busy entrepreneurs Jeff and Maribeth Achterberg.
The couple, owners of Verity Management Solutions, thought they moved to Brunswick County from their home state of Wisconsin five years ago to get away from the cold weather, but they say a higher calling has presented itself—helping young girls break the cycle of poverty.
In addition to running their business coaching and property inspection company, the Achterbergs are in the planning stages of establishing “The Ruth House” on property they own on Buck Thorpe Road between Ocean Isle and Sunset beaches.
The home will be a permanent residence for girls ages 13-18 in need of a stable home and support to lead them on the path to successful adult lives.
“I was a single parent for 14 years,” Maribeth explained. “Even in my 20s, I knew I would do something to help young ladies’ self esteem. That way, they wouldn’t enter relationships because something was lacking in their lives.”
When the moved to the area full time, Jeff and Maribeth began visiting churches and became active in the community. That’s also when they learned about a disturbing trend among young people.
The couple came in contact with a number of teen girls who stayed a few days at a time at different friends’ houses because their own homes were dangerous or unstable. The Achterbergs also heard the stories of teen pregnancies and school dropouts and wondered what could be done to turn these lives around.
“We thought ‘What are these girls not receiving in their home lives?’” Jeff recalled.
“We want to have programming to help them to be successful citizens of the world,” said Maribeth. “We want them to have a safe environment to explore who they are.”
The journey toward The Ruth House began when the couple purchased 3 acres of land adjacent to where they now rent office space in the hopes of building their own, larger building. During the purchasing process, Maribeth said she heard a nearly audible voice telling her, “The last acre is mine.”
She told her husband about it and said, “If we don’t give it to God, we’re not going to buy it.” He agreed.
At the time, the Achterbergs didn’t have the cash to pay the $16,800 down payment and closing costs for that final acre, but they were confident God was telling them to buy it and set it aside for what he had planned.
They shortly received another “clue” that they were on the right track.
When the couple attended a birthday party in their neighborhood around that same time, Maribeth was asked to say grace. At the end of her prayer, she added, “Thank you for sending us the $16,000 we need to close on the property.”
The next day, she received a call from the child support system where she lived previously, telling her they had found $16,800 in back child support she was owed for her daughter, who is now in college.
“All of a sudden, we had enough for the closing and down payment,” Maribeth said. “The child support office didn’t know how it slipped by.”
The couple knew where the money came from, however. They knew whenever God gives a vision, he provides for it.
In this case the vision was the home they dubbed “The Ruth House” after the biblical heroine Ruth.
“That was a lesson in obedience,” Maribeth said.
The Achterbergs have set up a nonprofit organization with a board of directors to oversee the home’s operation, and they plan to build live/work spaces on one of the other acres, where they can live above their offices.
Another acre will eventually be the site of a refurbished barn, where The Ruth House will host various arts courses for the home’s residents, giving them a chance to discover and develop their talents. Members of the Brunswick County Arts Council are already on board.
The Ruth House will be a 5,500 square-foot a modular structure, making it easier and less time-consuming to place on the property.
Maribeth will serve as The Ruth House executive director, and the board will hire house parents to live with the girls and provide the family support they’ve been missing. Various volunteers will also provide support.
The Ruth House will have legal guardianship of the girls, and the agency will accept foster children from the Brunswick County Department of Social Services.
The home will provide a Christian-based program of discipline and structure but will not provide professional services such as addiction counseling. The nonprofit will not receive state funding, but the house will meet all the necessary state regulations.
Jamie Orrock, director of Brunswick County’s DSS, said this week the state does not have enough residential facilities for troubled youth.
“It’s a difficult and challenging field to go into,” he said. “They come with problems.”
But the Achterbergs say they know what they’re getting into and are ready to face the challenges.
After months of planning, Maribeth said she is now ready to work full-force as the home’s executive director. Already, she has found people willing to donate services, and she has now begun the fundraising process. The Achterbergs’ goal is to raise $1.7 million for construction and three years of operating capital.
“We’re looking for angel donors to give us an injection of capital,” she said. “It’s important for the girls to know that the community cares enough to donate to this cause.”
The Achterbergs are also looking for additional members of the agency’s board of directors, specifically a fundraising chairperson and a treasurer.
They hope to have the house parents hired by Christmas.
They are quick to add that while The Ruth House will be Christian-based, it will not be affiliated with any particular church. Pastors from various denominations have expressed support for the project, and they want people to feel comfortable there no matter what religious background they come from.
They also have a dream of putting a house in various parts of the county as well as other counties with similar needs.
“We know we can’t help every girl who comes through, but the need is so great for those we can,” Maribeth said.
To donate to The Ruth House or for more information, call Maribeth Achterberg at 575-6757 or visit ruthhouse.org.