Friends Co-found Inclusive Counseling Center after Meeting in Master’s Program

| Alumni

Amy Alexander headshotAmy Alexander and Jennifer Thames met in Trevecca’s marriage and family therapy master’s program in 2003. After graduating, they went on to found The Refuge Center, a counseling center that emphasizes excellence in care and affordability. They now employ more than 70 counselors and interns who specialize in everything from anxiety and depression to domestic violence, addiction, grief and more.

What part of Trevecca’s marriage and family therapy master’s program was most helpful to you? 

Jennifer: It was a small program and it had such an intimate feel. I just loved all of our professors. I still remember the stories they would share from their own therapeutic experiences and I pass those on to my clients. There was a mentoring style of teaching that helped us feel competent as we went further in the field. 

Amy: I think for me the biggest thing was the sense of community and the smaller class sizes. There are professors who are still our friends and those connections are so valuable. 

What inspired you to open The Refuge Center?Jennifer Thames headshot

Amy: We were in a class with some really wonderful people and it seemed like everyone was starting a private practice. There were many good private practices and really niche nonprofits but some only took medicaid or only did eating disorders or only worked with kids. There was no agency that we were aware of that could serve the whole family in one location and do it on a sliding cash-based fee scale. 

What was it like to start your own practice? 

Jennifer: We had a vision of how we wanted to serve a vast range of people but we didn’t know anything about the actual nuts and bolts of starting a nonprofit. So we had to learn in real time, moment by moment. We hit the ground running and everything was trial and error. 

Amy: We were 25 years old and had this big vision and that has proved to be a good thing. There were so many learning curves, sometimes with a high price, but we have continued to maintain our integrity and try to treat people really well. There’s a great quote, ‘Let us tend to the depth of our ministry and let God tend to the breadth of our ministry.’ We are not trying to be a certain size, we’re just trying to do the best work for the people who need it most. 

What is unique about The Refuge Center?

Amy: Our waiting room is full of people who look very different. Some of them are coming from local domestic violence shelters and they pay the $19 fee in quarters. Then we have people from the entertainment industry who can pay the full fee and go anywhere, but they’re here for the same reasons: abusive relationships, addiction, trauma, marital crisis. We are all human. I am proud to say that at The Refuge Center, we’ve built probably the largest intern program in the area if not the state. We have 24 master’s- and doctoral-level interns from 13 universities and Trevecca continues to be the leading agency. 

What are your plans for the future of Refuge? 

Jennifer: A new property is something we have been working on for a decade. We want a place that is more of an experiential and therapeutic experience where you could go on walking trails after your session or plant something meaningful in a garden. We like there to be spaces for contemplation and meditation. 

Amy: We have a lot of fundraising to do and we need to raise a lot of money in the coming months but we’re breaking ground on the first of March. Refuge is a community, we have people who are humble, hardworking and kind. There is no other community I would rather devote my life to stewarding than this one. 

To learn about or donate to the work of the Refuge Center, visit