January 18, 2012 // Local

Area organizations join forces to support life

Hannah’s House gives hope to pregnant women in crisis

MISHAWAKA — “That little baby is God’s baby. God had a plan for that baby even before that baby is conceived,” believes Karen DeLucenay, executive director of Hannah’s House. It is this belief that brings her to work every day with the goal of helping a young girl make the best decision possible for her unborn baby.

Hannah’s House is a maternity home that provides a safe environment, programming and support for the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of pregnant young women. Hannah’s House is often filled to capacity; serving seven women and their unborn/newborn babies at any given time. Approximately 25-35 women live in the home annually.

“Our mission is to serve pregnant young women who are single and going through a situation,” said DeLucenay. “We provide an opportunity so they can choose life.”

According to DeLucenay, the home finds girls who are left with nowhere to go and no one to help them make a proper decision for their unborn child. Often, the girls that come to the house are being pressured into abortion or adoption and been left alone by boyfriends and parents. Many of the women are victims of mental or physical abuse, neglect or have struggled in school socially and academically.

“They have a hole in their heart and they are hoping and wishing for love,” said DeLucenay. “They are searching for someone to love them.”

Upon entering the program, girls get the chance to explore their options for their baby. If they choose to have the child, they can stay at the home for the duration of the pregnancy.

“We’re here to help them get ready,” said DeLucenay.

Some of the prescreening measures required by the house are drug testing and a doctor’s appointment. If a girl tests positive for drugs they are required to get treatment if they are to live at the house.

All expectant mothers are required to either go to school or if they have dropped out be enrolled in a GED program. They are also required to look for and maintain a job while living at the house along with participating in regular chores and household duties. Counseling services are a necessity with group sessions and individual counseling. The house has prayer at meals, evening devotion and each girl is required to attend a church of their choice each week.

Expectant moms are taught life skills including how to care for their newborn and ways to create and maintain a home for that child as it grows. After a mother gives birth there are monthly sessions offered for both the mother and father. Everyone meets for dinner and afterwards moms have one group session, dads have another group session, and childcare is available for the children. They also offer a Learn and Earn Program on Thursdays and Saturdays where women can come and read educational materials and earn points that can be redeemed for home items or items for the children — like toys.

“We try to encourage that this is a big decision,” said DeLucenay. “We want them to want to be here.”

Along with the unique atmosphere of girls living in a house that has been decorated to look like a home and not like a shelter, Hannah’s House is completely self funded with no government aid or United Way Funds used on the project.

“We have generous donations from the community, local churches and our main way we bring in money is through fundraisers,” noted DeLucenay.

DeLucenay said one of the keys to the success of the program is the housemothers.

“House moms stay here overnight with the girls so they are never left alone,” said DeLucenay. They guide the girls as a mom would and provide support throughout the entire pregnancy and birthing process.

DuLucenay has had many memorable moments over the years. One day she got a phone call from a young girl in her senior year of high school, whose mother had died and father’s strong discipline methods forced her to be put in foster care. The foster family found a pregnancy test in the trash and informed the young girl that the house had room for her but not for a baby.

Initial contact was made during the girl’s passing periods at school, so it took a little work to get an initial meeting set up. The young girl was a strong student who put great emphasis on her academics but was pressured by her foster parents and told that there would be no scholarships for girls with babies. She moved into the home, had her child, finished high school and went on to college.

“We try to give these women hope,” said DeLucenay of the goal of Hannah’s House.

If a woman’s pregnancy test is positive, the Women’s Care Center gives her a newborn “onesie” and matching booties. The Christ Child Society of South Bend provided 3,000 of these Layettes of Hope to the center last year.

Christ Child Society offers Layettes of Hope

SOUTH BEND — When a woman visits a Women’s Care Center for a pregnancy test, she receives much more than the test: She also receives the love and support of a dedicated staff and hundreds of volunteers and donors who make these centers possible.

One of the ways this love and support is demonstrated is through the Layette of Hope that is given each woman who has a positive pregnancy test at one of the seven centers in St. Joseph, Elkhart or Marshall Counties. (There also are centers in Fort Wayne; LaPorte; Michigan City; Niles, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; and Milwaukee, Wis. A new Women’s Care Center is opening this week in Madison, Wis.)

The Layette of Hope comes in a small bag that holds a newborn-size “onesie” with matching booties and a note of support from the Christ Child Society that reads: “Please accept this gift with love from the Christ Child Society. We pray that you will have a safe delivery and a healthy baby.”

The Christ Child Society, which provides the layettes, has been active in this diocese since 1947 with a mission of clothing children and infants who need this assistance. For years the society has run a children’s clothing center and provided layettes for newborns and Angel Layettes for stillborn babies.

Like the Women’s Care Center, the Christ Child Society gets no public funding, but rather supports its work through donations, fund-raising events, grants and dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers.

“The layettes of hope can help a woman visualize that this is actually a child” she is carrying, said Mary Kay Bean, Christ Child member in charge of the project.

Last year, 3,000 layettes were donated to the centers, according to Bean. With a $5,000 annual budget, Bean said the society was barely able to keep up with the demand, as there were 2,924 positive pregnancy tests done at the Women’s Care Centers in St. Joseph, Marshall and Elkhart counties. In fact, 40 percent of all pregnant women in St. Joseph County were clients of the Women’s Care Center in 2010, according to the center’s 2010-2011 annual report.

Ann Manion, president of Women’s Care Center, told Today’s Catholic that the Layette of Hope is a “beautiful program” and is especially important for a woman who is ambivalent about her pregnancy or not taking care of herself, as it is a “tangible reminder” to the woman that she now has two people to care for — herself and her baby.

Anna McKeever and Mary Elizabeth Kaltenbach, both counselors at the Women’s Care Center on Notre Dame Avenue in South Bend, said that the women they counsel are usually very receptive to the layettes, which do serve as a symbol of their unborn child.

“The women usually squeal in excitement,” said McKeever. “They love being able to see that layette and imagine their babies in it.”

Kaltenbach added, “It’s touching to see. Some of the women are really excited, but others, especially those who are considering abortion, you can see the change in their faces” when they see the layette.

Of course, the love and support for the women are just beginning when they have a positive pregnancy test and receive the Layette of Hope. The Women’s Care Center walks with the women through their pregnancies and even after the baby is born, explained Ellen Reilander, volunteer coordinator.

The center provides ultrasounds, prenatal vitamins, ongoing counseling, community referrals, parenting skills classes, adoption education and goal counseling. By setting goals and working toward a healthy pregnancy, the women and men who are parents also can earn cribs, car seats, diapers, and more through the Women’s Care Center Crib Club.

Reilander likes to show off the Crib Club room at the Notre Dame Avenue center, a sunny, modern room filled with new and gently used baby clothes and every imaginable item needed for baby care. Handmade nursing blankets, quilts, afghans and knitted or crocheted baby clothes are provided by Busy Hands of Michiana, a volunteer organization that makes such items for nonprofit groups in the community. The afghans and quilts are often given to new mothers who come into the center.

Other donors purchase new baby clothes, and the centers always appreciate the diaper drives conducted at area parishes and schools. The centers in St. Joseph County give out over 10,000 diapers a month. As Today’s Catholic went to press, the results were not yet in from a diaper drive competition between Saint Joseph’s High School of South Bend and Marian High School in Mishawaka.

A new program at the center provides children’s books to center clients and their families, so the center appreciates donations of children’s books. The center also maintains an inventory of gently used children’s clothes to assist clients who have children at home. And clients are also referred to the Christ Child clothing center, so the organizations work together to support, love and give hope.

“The women who are trying to choose life need to know that someone loves them. And there are so many different ways to love them,” Reilander said.

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