July 19, 2019 - Breanna Edwards - Essence Magazine
Tonie Willis’ mother, Ardella, saw the good in everybody.
When she passed away in 2009, Willis was determined that her mother’s legacy would live on through her. And so, in 2010, Ardella’s House, a non-profit organization based in Pennsylvania—Willis’ home state—was born. The organization specializes in assisting women directly impacted by mass incarceration and is determined to show that their mistakes are not the sum total of their humanity, nor their identity.
“There was nobody more loving and caring than my mother. She saw good in everybody. We could be talking about someone and biting her back out, and talking about them like a dog, but my mother would always chime in about something good about that person. So, that’s why I named the program Ardella’s House,” Willis told ESSENCE in an interview.
The organization helps women who are preparing to leave the system for life after their incarceration.
“We have a 12-week program called Life Interrupted,” she explained. “We help build the foundation for the women once they’re released from prison because that is so important for them to have an exit plan as they re-enter society.
“Because if they don’t know what they’re going to do, it’s like a house,” Willis continued. “If that foundation isn’t solid, it’s going to collapse, it’s going to fall.”