Many in Laurel might know Lisa Cochran as the owner of one of the most successful salons in town, Studio R3, and The Studio in Hattiesburg. But if you take a closer look behind the scenes of Lisa’s life, you’ll see markings of an extreme passion for serving people right where they are – even in the middle of a mess. Today, Lisa oversees Dwell, a home that helps women coming from recovery, incarceration, domestic abuse or divorce, get back on their feet.
Starting to Serve
Around the age of 18, Lisa ventured on her first volunteer outing with Betty Busbea of Laurel. They went bowling with a group from Ellisville State School. Lisa always had a heart for serving others and, as she grew in her faith, she began to realize what was required of her (Luke 48:12). “In America, most of us have more than enough,” Lisa shared. “And to whom much is given, much is required.” Even if someone doesn’t have the financial means to give, Lisa believes that the giving of time and creativity is equally as important.
After 36 years in the beauty industry, it’s clear that Lisa has a heart specifically for serving women. “I’ve had some wonderful older women who mentored me in my 20s and 30s, and now, as I’m in my 50s, I am the older woman,” Lisa said. As a single mom who went through a divorce when her son was two years old, Lisa knows the challenges that women can face through various circumstances life may bring. “In my business, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful women with great potential, great families and great careers who, as a result of divorce, family situations or other life circumstances, spiral into depression and are given a pill rather than proper tools to live,” said Lisa. On a regular basis, Lisa sees how drugs like crystal meth have wreaked havoc on women and their families, and she believes having someone to walk through rehabilitation from a Biblical perspective offers something that no medication can give.
The Beginning of Dwell
Lisa prayed about Dwell for 15 years before starting it. She had a vision for exactly where she felt God wanted her to start the ministry. “I would drive by the house and pray two to three times a week for years,” she said. The property was once a part of the historical district in Laurel and was later zoned out. And Lisa was very methodical in her prayers and in the process. She gave the property owner some time to consider the idea (at first he was a bit skeptical). But once Lisa communicated the vision for the home and the potential for life change, he supported her and even offered her a discount on rent since she would be doing repairs to the property.
Susan Vincent has been a mentor of Lisa’s for years. Lisa remembers a City Council meeting in 2003 when she traveled to Houston with others from Laurel to see how the city has grown and developed. “That trip reminded me of the book of Nehemiah where everyone helped to rebuild the wall,” Lisa said. “It wasn’t just the doctors or lawyers, it was true diverse community of artisans, creatives and people from all walks of life pitching in to help.” She believes this is also the case for Laurel.
The Right Kind of Support
“I don’t think mental illness starts as mental illness,” Lisa said. “We are in a society that’s very much in a box, and we weren’t created to operate in a box.” Lisa believes that challenges with mental illness can begin as early as elementary school, then add in environmental factors and other challenges children face daily. “I’ve learned that most people with mental illnesses are very creative, but they just don’t have an outlet for it.”
Lisa shares one story as an example of how Dwell is far more than a quick fix. One day last year, she received a phone call from a woman in need before Dwell was ready to open. Lisa and her husband Mike invited the woman to live in their home for six months. The woman had been homeless for nearly three years, and her boyfriend was also living on the streets. “It was clear to us that they needed to recover together.” Lisa makes it a point to look at each situation individually. “There’s no one formula for recovery.”
Lisa explains the next few months as simply “doing life” with the couple. “Once they were both clean, they got married at our house, in our living room by my father in law,” she said. “It was the first time her husband’s four children had seen him clean.” Through this experience, Lisa and Mike learned that the strengths and gifts the man had were a perfect fit for many of the practical needs they had at Dwell. He helped with the carpentry, laying flooring, molding and paint and now does repairs and maintenance.
The Gospel Comes with a Housekey is a book that Lisa recommends to anyone who has a heart for serving. “I think the Christian community has forgotten what the Gospel is,” she said. “We tend to look at it a Southern Living magazine instead of what it really means.”
The Future of Dwell
Right now, Dwell has seven women living in the home. Lisa’s goal is to soon open a thrift store to help make the ministry sustainable and provide job opportunities, training and benefits. They are also soon looking to offer opportunities for dental care for those who live at Dwell.
Lisa explained that the property owner of the home had done his due diligence to check on her reputation in town prior to renting her the property. While doing his background check, she said that someone told him, “Lisa will do what she says, and the best thing to do is to get out of her way.” Her passion to see the Gospel lived out here in Laurel through Dwell is inspiring and a good reminder that when God gives us a vision for something, nothing can stop us.