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Woman turns from childhood of abuse to help others - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Woman turns from childhood of abuse to help others

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HAUGHTON, La. -

Raped for years as a child.

Kicked out of her home.

Getting pregnant with a man she took as a husband, and getting kicked out again when she refused to have abortion.

Living as a homeless pregnant mom, scrounging for food. And later, losing her child to a drunk driver.

And that only begins to tell the life struggles of Bonnie Mathes. But despite all of her tragic past, she's held on to her Christian faith and is on a mission of sacrifice to help children in Haughton.

She's sold almost all she had to open up a big child care -- Angel Town Christian Learning Center -- on South Elm in Haughton.

"It's a ministry and definitely a calling from God," Mathes says.

Among those Mathes and her staff care for are Foster children and others from abused or neglected backgrounds -- for free. Why?

"I know how those girls feel that is raped. I know how those girls feel that has been abused. And I believe I can make a difference in their life," she says.

Mathes' own childhood of abuse lead her to desperate means as a teenager. She says she was kicked out of her home at age 16 after five years of being raped. She married a man just to get a roof over her head. Then got pregnant. Then was kicked out onto the streets again when she refused to have an abortion.

"I lived in the woods behind the dumpsters at McDonalds for five months and nobody knew nothing and I ate out of that trash to provide for my baby that I was carrying," Mathes says, her voice shaking. "But I knew always that God was with me and He's always been with me and I knew God would provide."

Mathes got back on her feet and was raising her daughter, Amanda, when just before her 16th birthday in 1999, Amanda was run over and killed by a drunk driver.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about her," Mathes says, gazing at Amanda's last school portrait. Mathes says Amanda is the angel that inspired the name of the child care center.

But the daycare business has been a struggle. It just opened in April at its new location on Elm Street , after having to close at her first location. That place failed because Mathes says parents stopped paying. She had to leave that building and her modest home on the same property.

"I sold all this for $100,000," Mathes says as she strolled through the lot toward her new, but even more modest home next door. She says she put most of the money from the sale into the spacious new child care center, where there's lots of room to grow.

She's getting some help. The Bossier Parish District Attorney's office is donating computers for the children learn on. Shreveport pastor Calvin Austin is helping make that happen.

"I just want to see the smile on her face," Austin says.

One of the teachers, Marie Copeland, is volunteering until Mathes is able to pay her.

"Jesus called me to come here because I needed to be one of His messengers," Copeland says.

But what Bonnie Mathes really needs: more paying customers. She and the staff are currently providing care for eight underprivileged children for free. She only has four other children who's families are paying. One of those paying parents is Cyndi Phillips, who says she was moved by Mathes' story.

"It's been a blessing to have this open up in my community because it has been sorely needed to have the kind of child care available that ministers to the children spiritually as well as educationally," Phillips says.

"They all deserve to just be loved," Mathes says, as a group of children dressed in costumes performed the nursery rhyme "Itsy Bitsy Spider."

"Later on after this place takes off and God blesses, and the finances are here and I'm able to make a paycheck, I'll be able to get me a home again," Mathes added, wiping away a tear.

Bonnie Mathes says she wants to have Foster children of her own in that next home of hers. Meantime, her child care center is licensed and has zero deficiencies with the state of Louisiana. Angel Town Christian Learning Center also has an A-plus rating with the Better Business Bureau. It takes children from six weeks to 12 years old.

Angel Town is hosting a rummage sale of children's clothing to raise money for playground equipment. Mathes says the clothing, which includes school uniforms, was donated by Grace's Closet, which closed recently. The sale goes until midnight Friday, April 12, and continues Saturday morning at 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. They'll also be selling hamburger plates starting at 10 a.m.

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