LONG BEACH — She said she had been suicidal for years, overdosing on drugs and once coming close to intentionally injecting air into her veins.
Diane, 28, whose first name only is used in this story to protect her privacy, summarized her life before moving into the Kathy Boone Home for Girls in one brief sentence: "I was in very sad shape."
Attempting suicide was almost a ritual, she said. "That was the only thought in my mind: trying to destroy myself."
She was working at minimum-pay jobs in the East, running with the wrong crowd and getting in trouble with the law. "It was too much. Coming to California was an escape."
But she knew she needed help. Diane learned of the Kathy Boone Home for Girls when she contacted the Long Beach Mental Health Services. Doctors diagnosed her condition as manic depression and arranged for her to live at the home in downtown Long Beach, she said.
In the two-story, turn-of-the-century shingled house that has been a shelter to more than 1,000 homeless young women over the past 12 years, Diane said she found a new life.
"They made me open up my eyes and realize how unlimited my potential was, that I could be a productive member of society," she said.
The private, nonprofit home is run by Carl and Bertha Vincent, a Southern Baptist missionary couple who combine a family-like atmosphere with counseling and religious training.
The Vincents describe it as a place of refuge for drug abusers, alcoholics, women who have flocked to the Los Angeles area with dreams of stardom but have found themselves caught up in prostitution and women simply down on their luck. But they don't call it a halfway house.
"We like to think of it as a 'whole way' house," said Vincent.
The women, who range in age from their late teens to late 20s, are referred to the home by the Long Beach Health Department, city agencies, rape and battering hot lines, local churches and word of mouth. The length of their stays depends on their needs, lasting two weeks for some, two years for others.
Mary Bradley, a rehabilitation counselor with the Long Beach Health Department's Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse for 13 years, said she has referred many women to the home.
"If one of my daughters had problems and didn't have a place to stay, I'd rather have her stay at the Kathy Boone Home than one of the drug rehabilitation programs, because it has a family atmosphere, and the girls can feel it is really their home," she said.
v The Vincents estimate that 90% of the women who stay there either return to school or find steady jobs after leaving the home.
One recent afternoon, dressed in jeans, tennis shoes and a striped pullover shirt, Diane appeared self-assured and determined as she described the changes in her life.
She is enrolled in a travel agent course on a student loan. Within a few months she hopes to be working for a major airline and earning enough money to leave the home and begin living on her own.
Diane has also become an avid churchgoer. "I've accomplished more in the past six months by living here at the home than I have in the past 10 years of my life," she said.
The Vincents said that Diane's story is typical of others who have come to the home from all 50 states and nine foreign countries.
The Vincents, who have three adult children of their own, had been foster parents to more than a dozen children before they opened the home in 1972 with Pastor Frank Miller of the Lime Avenue Baptist Church, now the Shoreline Community Church. The home was supported by the church until 1981, when it was incorporated under the name of K. B. Ministries. The church still provides religious training to the women.
The idea for the home began when a 16-year-old vagrant girl wandered into the church looking for food and shelter, Miller said.
"The Vincents and I both had the same dream: to open a place for girls who had nowhere else to go," he said.
The home was dedicated to Kathy Boone, an active member of the Lime Avenue congregation, who was admired for her volunteer work with the elderly. Boone died in an automobile crash on May 2, 1972, at the age of 17.
Even though the home is host to young women, the name Kathy Boone Home for Girls has gone unchanged.
"No one has ever complained," Bertha Vincent said, adding that she and her husband refer to the women as "young ladies" rather than "girls."
The women at the house who can afford it pay the Vincents $150 a month to help with costs. Otherwise, room and board are free. The home operates on a monthly budget of $3,500 but in the past few months has received only $1,000 a month in donations. The Vincents said with their tight budget, they have often come close to having the electricity shut off for lack of payment but that they have always managed to find a way to it keep open.