By Ann Carey
MISHAWAKA — Each of the young women who come to Hannah’s House has her own unique story, but they also have much in common: Each is pregnant and choosing life for her baby, and each woman needs a safe place to live during her pregnancy and for a few weeks after giving birth. Hannah’s House, known as “The Maternity Home with a Heart,” fills that need in a cheerful and roomy house in Mishawaka.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades visited Hannah’s House for the first time on March 18 at the invitation of Karen DeLucenay, executive director. Before taking the “grand tour” of the house, the bishop chatted with the seven current residents, who sat in the sun-filled living room and talked about their different paths to Hannah’s House, about the babies they were expecting or had just delivered, and about their future plans to complete their education, find work and live independently.
The residents praised Hannah’s House as a safe haven in the storm, a place that welcomed them and provides a family environment during their pregnancies and for up two months after they give birth. The women also explained that the house mothers and counselors at Hannah’s House encourage them to stay in school or work toward their GED if they lack a high-school diploma, and the staff assists the women with job leads and learning how to apply for a job.
Parenting skills also are taught, and residents who choose adoption for their babies are helped to connect with appropriate agencies. The residents all have household assignments, including cooking, cleaning and laundry, and the women learn how to prepare nutritious food for themselves and their babies.
Staff “house mothers” take turns providing 24-hour mentoring to the residents, and trained counselors provide onsite counseling. Residents also are helped to connect with community resources for medical care, education, employment and parenting support.
Hannah’s House has certain expectations for the women who choose to live there: The women should remain drug-free, participate in regular prenatal and postnatal care, attend a church or synagogue of their choice on weekends, participate in daily devotions and mealtime prayers, participate in weekly goal setting and individual and group counseling, and help with household duties.
Residents earn “points” by meeting expectations, and the women use those “points” to “buy” items for their babies, clothing or personal items for themselves, or household items for their future apartments from the Hannah’s House “store.” The “store” is stocked by baby showers hosted by area churches and by various benefactors. Even past residents can continue to earn “points” for the “store” through “Learn and Earn” by coming to the house and reading parenting articles.
Some past residents have been asked to leave because they did not abide by the house rules, executive director DeLucenay told Bishop Rhoades. However, most of the young women embrace the opportunity to improve their lives, she said, and the staff works to empower the women to take control of their lives. Indeed, a spirit of cooperation, camaraderie and encouragement showed in the interactions of the residents and in their rapport with the bishop.
“It’s like a community here; there’s a family feeling here in the house,” Bishop Rhoades told the residents, observing that the women must feel like sisters.
Also on hand for the bishop’s visit were Matt Marien, president of the Hannah’s House board of directors, Sister Agnes Marie Regan, a Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration and a member of the board, and Tamara Griffin, business manager for Hannah’s House. Marien and Sister Agnes Marie explained to Bishop Rhoades that it is crucial to support young women who want to choose life for their babies, for some of these women have no family support system, and no where else to turn. With room for seven mothers at a time, Hannah’s House always has a waiting list.
Hannah’s House, named after the Biblical Hannah who longed to be a mother, is an independent entity that is funded solely by gifts and donations. Its main partners are the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, the Women’s Care Center, Bethel College and Gurley Leep Automotive Family. Hannah’s House also runs several fundraisers during the year, and generous individuals support the ministry through donations.
Volunteers also help Hannah’s House operate smoothly by planning and organizing events for the residents such as movie or game nights; providing clerical assistance; doing public relations and fundraising; helping with home repair and lawn care; and helping with the monthly parent support group meetings for past Hannah’s House residents and the dads who are in their children’s life.
Clearly impressed with this “Maternity Home with a Heart,” Bishop Rhoades told executive director DeLucenay to let him know if the ministry ever needed anything.
“We certainly will; we know where you live,” DeLucenay replied.
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