Saving Sarah

At 10 PM, Thursday, April 18, my phone rang. On the other end was Noah.

"My cousins just left. Can you give 'em a place to stay for just one night?" he asked.

One was Sarah, a 19-year-old Swartzentruber Amish gal. She chose to leave and needed a kind "outsider" to give her a safe home and help.

My husband and I dressed, drove to WalMart, and met Sarah. She was tall - well, anyone higher than me is tall - slender, pretty, brown-eyed, with long brown hair and wore blue jeans, a blue t-shirt, and boys' athletic shoes. I tried to imagine her in plain dark frock, white kapp, and black bonnet.
Sarah and her brother, Monroe, greeted us toting plastic store bags with a few items. "Thanks for picking us up," she said.
"Where'd you get your English clothes?" I asked.

"We hid 'em in our attic while we planned to leave."

I quickly realized two of Sarah's immediate needs were clothes and food, and she had only $100. One of the reasons they come out with little money is because all income is turned over to the dad until the child turns 21-y/o. Her $100 was the amount silently ferreted away from her dad.

Among other needs: her birth certificate, a Social Security number, a toothbrush and toothpaste, misc. toiletries, hairbrush, another pair of shoes, a bank account, transportation, dental care as she'd just had all her bottom teeth pulled out, housing, and a job. Where to begin?

It's almost overwhelming teaching and tutoring a teenager so much in a few weeks what our daughters gradually learned while growing up. Ex-Amish must feel brain-overloaded and exhausted with their condensed education. (tweet that) And those who are unwilling learners, stubborn, or argumentative have trouble successfully adjusting to the non-Amish life.

As a Swartzentruber Amish, she used an outhouse (for the females only), never shaved, nor was taught about proper hand washing or cross-contamination with foods. Typically, this Amish Order believes that ignoring their body is proof of their righteousness. My daughter gave Sarah her first razor after she said, "I'd like to shave under my arms." I gave Sarah a "tour" of our bathroom showing her how to use the shower, and wash with soap.

The next day, Friday, I drove Sarah to our county's Health Department to see if there was a birth certificate on her. The employee searched vital statistics and, fortunately, found that one was on record. "My mom always told me there was no birth certificate on me," Sarah exclaimed both surprised and delighted. She paid the fee and, for the first time, held a copy of her birth certificate.

Next on our agenda was obtaining clothing, shoes, toiletries, and a job. I sent out a plea to our church members, who generously and spontaneously donated to her. My pals Karen and Vicky found garage sale clothes, Lisa gave her a bicycle (but Sarah wasn't allowed to have a bicycle so she hadn't learned to ride). Some of my author colleagues sent a check to use towards Sarah's costs and needed dental work.

Saturday, I drove Sarah to a walk-in hair salon for her first-ever professional shampoo and haircut. She waited her turn conflicted with anxiety and anticipation. Wow, what a change when she walked out afterward sporting a shorter - not short - new doo. With new confidence, she smiled saying, "I'm glad I did that." But her money was nearly gone!

Noah called, "I found Sarah a place to live and a job in a restaurant." She was excited as she grabbed her bags of meager belongings and hopped in Noah's car to her new home.

On Sunday, Sarah and her brother accompanied us to church, where many people awaited with questions and welcomes. "Our church is different than Amish Gma," I said. "Men and women can sit together. Our benches have cushions, the service is in English, there's only one sermon, and we sing with musical

After church we spent the afternoon gathered around the table for a rowdy game of Skum. Sarah quickly learned the game through our shouts and crazy laughter.

Wednesday, I picked her up and drove her to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to jump through government hoops in getting a Social Security number. "Do you have a photo ID?" asked the worker. 

"No," replied Sarah.

"I need proof you are who you are."

"Why isn't my birth certificate enough?"

"It just proves your date of birth."

We drove to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to get Sarah an Ohio photo ID Card, then back again to the SSA. After a day of driving back and forth, waiting our turn, answering questions, explaining why at 19 Sarah had no SS#, and signing paperwork, she eventually received approval for her number.

Finally equipped with her ID and SS#, we went to our bank to open Sarah's checking account. That provided another round of waiting our turn, answering questions, fiscal explanations, and signing paperwork. Whew, we were both exhausted.

Out of respect for her privacy - and that of her younger brother - I've not posted about this duo until now. As I write this post, Sarah's just moved to another shared living arrangement, she's cleaning houses, and working as a restaurant cook when needed. She wants dependable FT work, a place of her own, driver's license, and eventually a car. Her employment opportunities are severely limited as she doesn't have a high school diploma or GED. Fast food restaurants, that usually hire teens, are an unfamiliar work venue to ex-Amish. 

Sarah's climbing a vertical learning curve about life outside the Amish:
  • Insurance, 
  • idioms and English expressions,
  • taxes,
  • rent, 
  • budgeting,
  • dental care,
  • furnishing a home,
  • earning a GED, 
  • different manners and courtesies.
With fear and apprehension Sarah's avoided visiting her Amish parents. We encourage her to keep in touch with them and perhaps someday - soon - she will. Whatever the culture, I believe a mom's heart is always with her kids and she wants to know they're safe.

I'm not shy about asking for help for these kids. If you have a question or want to shoot me a donation to help Sarah, please let me know in the comments below! I have a Paypal account where you could donate money to help with transportation, dentures, and other expenses. I'd like to help ex-Amish realize we "outsiders" aren't as evil and on our way to hell as their culture tells them.

See ya next week.  ~ Brenda

 (c)Copyright 2013, Brenda Nixon.


  1. Brenda, there are many needy among us, not just the English homeless. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences. Please let Sarah know that she is brave and courageous and thank her for allowing you to share her story. You've seen the "writing on my wall" above my computer desk. When I read it, it will be my prayer for these ex-Amish who wish to live, work and worship among us: "When I called you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted" (Psalm 138:3)

    1. You're right Cathy, there are many needy among us & we often have opportunity to help. I was reading an article today about helping others and the research cited said that healthier & happier people are those who help others.
      I'll pass along your encouraging comments to Sarah.

  2. Brenda, please tell Sarah how much I appreciate getting to know her. So glad she is able to get out and enjoy living! Hoping the bike works out - just another small step in shaking off the Amish rules! Can't wait till we have a Sunday, after church bike ride!!

    1. Yes Lisa it's a joy getting acquainted with Sarah. She's learning to ride a bike - as you know Swartzentruber Amish aren't allowed to ride bicycles - and loves the freedom it gives.

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    3. I am out in californa retired law enforcement, Would love to help one of them to start a new life,, learn to drive a car etc, I have a small ranch where I train great danes and Dalmatians. If there is anyway I can help or they need a place to stay that is safe though I am out in California,, email me at jgdgreatdanes@gmail.com all the best,, I can be found on the web and be verified:) jolene

    4. Thank you - I'll keep your email and get in touch with you when I know of an individual who is moving to California. To my knowledge there are no Amish settlements in your state. I do know of one gentleman who was raised/left the Amish and is now living in CA.

  3. Hi,

    thanks for your interesting accounts about these people from the more traditional/primitive Amish groups.

    You've mentioned newly ex-Amish being reluctant learners or stubborn about doing things as you taught. That would be an interesting thing for you to blog about or at least comment on here. What are they stubborn about, exactly, and why? I bet you have some interesting anecdotes.

    That learning curve does sound steep. But maybe the youths are more excited than stressed out?

    How much does it cost them to get a GED, and how long before they get it? The process of getting educated would make a good blog entry, as well.

    I'm not employed, so I must apologize for being reluctant to send money to help Sarah.

    1. You're welcome Erik. I love to share what I've learned & continue to learn. Nobody should claim to be an "Amish Expert" because there are too many layers to this complex culture.
      Well, I'd love to blog about some of the reluctant learners or stubbornness among some of the ex-Amish but, I don't want to name names or sound critical. Let's just say this culture doesn't practice negotiation - or compromise - it's black & white literally & figurative. Conflict negotiation is often met with a wall of refusal to bend and that's why there are so many different Orders.
      Studying for a GED is free. The only expense is the GED exam. I'm pleased to announce Marvin just earned his GED and I know some others who've studied, taken the test and earned theirs then go on to college. Sadly, there are some who try repeatedly and give up. Some don't see a need for formal education and never study.
      Don't apologize for not sending money to help Sarah. I appreciate your willingness to read my blog. I've readers from around the world; perhaps someone (or two) will feel an urge to help me share the load of helping Sarah get started in her new life.

  4. Brenda,
    First of all, I'd like to make a contribution toward Sarah's expenses,so I just need instructions on how to go about it.

    Secondly, thank you for sharing Sarah's story, which I know parallels so many of the others that you have helped. However, I did want to share something regarding the subject. I straddle the fence on this issue, because I know how it feels to walk away from beliefs you were raised with, specifically because of so many stringent rules, and I understand the why behind it. Yet, on the other side, I know what it does to the families. I was not shunned by my family, but the hurt I caused was definitely huge & lasted for years. My dad passed 20 years ago & had made peace with it, but my mom still lets me have a sermon now & again. So, I for sure & for certain understand both sides.

    I said that because every story has two sides, & in doing so, maybe it will bring to light that both sides pay a price when this occurs. That being said, those that you help are so blessed in finding a safe haven to help them through, and I'm sure they feel that way.
    Please let Sarah know that she and the others are in my prayers, and that there are many that understand.Also, to continue to follow God's leading, as He will definitely show her the way and His will.
    Prov. 3:5-6
    May God continue to use you and your family in what He has called you to do.

    BTW, I guess I should have added that although my parents didn't "shun" me, most in the congregation did. I was even teaching in a school where many of their children attended, yet they avoided me like the plague. The ones that used to call me "Sister Dali" and showered me with hugs now wanted nothing to do with me. So again, I get it.

    1. Excellent comments Dali. I think of the Native Americans who, at the turn of the 20th Century, were often ostracized by their family after cutting their hair and living like the "white man." My grandmother closely guarded her Native American ancestry. Some of my African-American pals have told me they're called "Oreo" by family and friends when they live too much like Caucasians. A gal I know is rejected by her uncle for leaving her strict Catholic upbringing. It seems leaving any family of origin comes with its own painful consequences.
      Thanks for your compassion and generosity to Sarah. I'll share your words and your financial gift.

  5. Hi Brenda - I'm so happy Sarah had a helping hand when she first left! Thank you!

    1. Thanks Emma but, truth is, we didn't know Sarah until her cousin called and asked if we could give her a place to stay. Of course we're happy to be her helping hand although nothing was planned until that night she left.
      I appreciate the work you do and offer to those with an Amish history. You offer hope to ex-Amish who want to get an advanced education with no parental support nor financial aid. thanks.

  6. Hello! Do you help ex-Amish apply for food stamps or any other government aid (even if just single with no kids)? Just curious to know how that works w/theme and what their thoughts are on it/what their willingness to accept the aid. It's such a stigma even in "English" culture to have food stamps (even when a family desperately needs it- some still don't apply!), just wondering if they apply for it. I hope they do!

    1. Good question but typically not applicable. This culture teaches self-reliance; they're resourceful and do not easily accept charity. When several of "my" guys were laid off from their construction job on Christmas Eve, I talked to them about applying for unemployment - a foreign concept to them. They were resistant until I explained the nature and funding of it. So to urge those who've just left to apply for food stamps or governmental aid (they aren't too keen on government) would probably be a fruitless endeavor. Besides with their ability to work hard, the guys find work within weeks. The gals seem to have a harder time finding FT work but still would be reticent to accept these programs. . . and that's AFTER they get their birth certificates and S.S. number.

  7. Also, and I'm sure you know about these programs, but just in case you didn't, here in California we have the California Conservation Corps. for 18-25 years old men and women who either need a job, high school diploma or GED, a place to live (meals included), or all three! I'm sure they have something similar in your state. I used to be a teacher at a location out here, and I've seen many kids who sound just like your kids- no life experience, hardly any education or skills- totally transform their lives and flourish. I share in your frustration about the ones who don't make it. Check out www.ccc.ca.gov for more info on the California program, which may give you info on ones in other states if you would like! All the best of luck and hope to your kids. BTW- I've seen "homeschooled" (in this case, "no-schooled") kids come in with no transcripts, no driver's license or car, no education, work experience, or place to live, leave with all of these things and a high school diploma! Many get jobs with the U.S. Forest Service. There's also baking/commercial cooking jobs AT the center- so many get jobs in that sector as well. Also, some join the military or got to college. We even have Iraqi refugees graduate! And our program is not a "diploma mill"- our school is WASC accredited. Check out John Muir Charter School (www.johnmuircs.com) for more info. And it's all free to the student/"Corpsmember", because it's a government program (created as part of FDR'd New Deal). Hope this helps!

    1. Appreciate your thoughtful and thorough comment.

  8. Great article, Brenda and great work you are doing. I live in Southern Kentucky and would gladly help too if I can. Will send some money via Paypal. Bless you!
    Teresa nanahood.com

    1. Thanks for your sensitivity, responsiveness & generosity. Sarah is still saving money to buy her dentures. These kids have no budget teaching and since the Amish don't "come of age" until 21-y/o, she was always taken care of by her parents. She needs time, patience, and teaching to learn to save and manage money (well, I know a lot of English teens that way, too). I'm tucking away any monetary donations for Sarah to help her purchase a good set of dentures, not those homemade ones by Amish in a kitchen.

  9. This is really interesting, Brenda. Question about Sarah's first haircut how long was her hair before and after? Did she have lots of split ends?

    1. If I remember correctly, Sarah's brown hair was down below her shoulders. Since I did not cut the hair I don't know if she had split ends or what. These days Sarah keeps her hair trimmed and to the shoulder. She also occasionally wears make up, nail polish and her favorite color is blue.