- Written by Lynda Hudzick Lynda Hudzick
Candace Abel has “always had a heart for those who had less than me.” As one way to reach out to others, Abel has adopted 12 girls and two boys (in addition to two biological sons and one biological daughter.)
When her first adopted child was lost in a car accident, she used the knowledge gained from her social work degree to start Brittany’s Hope, a local nonprofit organization that advocated for special-needs international adoption through grants and sponsored life-sustaining projects in those countries.
“I gained a great deal of knowledge on establishing a nonprofit with that experience,” said Abel, of Elizabethtown. “I eventually retired and handed the reins over to an adopted daughter, Mai-Lynn Abel, who had the unique qualifications of being an international adoptee and holding a master’s in international social work.”
Although she was retired from Brittany’s Hope, Abel was still keeping busy. Since one of her adopted children has a genetic disease requiring regular blood transfusions, Abel said, “I decided I would do all I could to keep him healthy.”
To her, that meant healthy food and clean products on his skin, so she started a “soap-making journey of discovery,” creating bath and body products using all fresh, good-for-you ingredients.
Friends and family discovered the products and started placing orders, and so in 2017, Abel decided to turn her “bath and body addiction” into a business — and her company Girl Crush was born.
The name is a “nod to the constant reaction to my adoption of yet another daughter,” she said.
Today, in addition to her successful and continually growing bath-and-body-products business, Abel is also the president of Second Grace, a “unique, local two-year program for single mothers below the age of 24 who meet our criteria under the care of Lancaster County Children and Youth,” she said.
Abel, who served as a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) with the local chapter, said that Second Grace was inspired by the “mother of my very first CASA child appointment … she herself was really in need of strong and loving guidance, but she did not fit into any of the local programs for single moms. She needed a CASA but was too old for one.”
Witnessing the heart-wrenching difficulties this young mother faced planted the seeds for the creation of the Second Grace program.
Young mothers enrolled in the program are referred to as Graces, and they will be assigned trained mentors who are referred to as Sages. A Grace will have regular contact with her Sage, who will “offer advice, assess their mental state, make arrangements, and encourage them to meet Children and Youth Agency goals,” Abel said.
During her first year, the Grace will work to stabilize and correct missteps, such as drug offenses, neglect of her children, and unhealthy relationships. The second year will include the work phase of the program, and this is where Girl Crush will come in.
“Once the Grace is determined to be ready, she will work several days a week in Girl Crush … it will be a somewhat sheltered experience, as our managers will have training on handling the unique needs of the Graces. There will be a phase after that second year, and we are in the middle of writing that curriculum now,” Abel said.
Deborah Wilson Gadsden, an adjunct professor at Elizabethtown College who serves on the Second Grace board of directors, holds graduate degrees in both human services and social work.
But the Mount Joy resident faced some struggles as a young mother as well, so she was more than happy to lend her wisdom to the organization.
She was introduced to the Second Grace program by a fellow professor because of her extensive involvement with child welfare and her experience as an intake investigator, casework supervisor, and training professional.
Experienced in writing curricula, Gadsden has “guided a team to write the training for Second Grace, and I serve on the Bridge committee,” she said. “Second Grace is seeking to carve out a unique space of helping women who need support in a variety of ways.”
There is a strong emphasis on training for those who will serve as Sages in the program.
“It is imperative that those women understand the breadth and scope of the experiences that women involved with child welfare may have navigated,” Gadsden said.
Karen Jaskot, ACSW, LCSW, CAADC, of Mount Joy, also serves on the board of directors, and she agrees with the importance of extensive training for those volunteering to serve as Sages.
“It is critically important that the mentors be well trained before they progress to being assigned to a mother,” she said. “The woman that will be mentored will have likely had different experiences than her mentor.”
Jaskot has committed more than 34 years to being a therapist for families and individuals.
“Because of my commitment to healthy families, it was easy to join in Candace’s vision and commit to helping build Second Grace,” she said. “The additional component of having a mentor, educational series, and employment opportunities for these young mothers sold me on Second Grace!”
Carla Rissmiller, an Elizabethtown resident who serves as the secretary for the program, has always been a big proponent of giving back to others.
“It was a natural fit for me to help with this new organization,” she said. “I’m pretty organized and good with technology, so serving as the secretary was a perfect fit for me.”
The goal is to have the Second Grace program up and running in early 2022.
“We were ready to launch and had hired a director when COVID hit, and the county shut down,” Abel said. “It was a lost year for us … and we heard often of young mothers who may have benefited from our program … it was painful and disheartening.”
But it also provided them with the opportunity to strengthen their curriculum, build the program further, and be even better prepared when they were able to launch.
Second Grace is currently seeking women who are willing to be trained to serve as Sage mentors.
“It is extremely important that our mentors are prepared for an arduous two-year commitment,” Abel said. “It will require someone with stamina, patience, and courage. The young mothers will not be easy to love or understand … but I’m sure that when we make a good match, it will be life changing!”
Abel and her team are ready to watch their graduates become healthy and happy and even become mentors themselves, so they can help others who are experiencing some of the same challenges.
The Second Grace team hopes to someday be able to offer additional job training, scholarship programs, and even housing for the Graces in the program, and they would be thrilled to have the program succeed and grow to other counties — to go statewide and even nationwide.
“We want to watch our program grow to include mentoring young, at-risk women before they become pregnant, depressed, addicted, or homeless,” Abel said.
“Having someone believe in a person and make the time to show they genuinely care is a powerful force in the life of someone trying to make changes,” Jaskot said. “Second Grace and the mentorship relationship between the Sage and the Grace are built upon the core belief that having a support person makes a difference in a person’s life.”
For more information on the Second Grace program, visit secondgrace.org.