“I played in the NFL, but football’s not who I am. First and foremost, I’m a son of God.” This was one of the points made by speaker Shawn Harper at this year’s Holy Smokes bourbon and cigar event, a fundraiser for A Mother’s Hope, a ministry that supports pregnant homeless mothers and their babies in Allen County.
A Mother’s Hope was conceived in 2013 by Stasia Roth, Founder and Executive Director, at a time in which she was feeling overwhelmed by seeing the pain and suffering of so many people in the world. “I asked God to make it stop, and instead he sent me an idea and a calling. My husband John encouraged me to pursue it.”
The organization began to take shape in 2015, and in 2017, the property was acquired that would become A Mother’s Hope house and a major renovation was undertaken by many generous volunteers in the community at very little cost.
A Mother’s Hope serves an average of 20 women and babies per year, more than 200 women and 170 babies to date. “Our residents’ backgrounds vary widely,” Roth said, “but they all have two things in common: they are pregnant and experiencing homelessness.” The house hosts eight women at a time who follow a four-stage program. Stage 1 is the Welcome stage and lasts the first 30 days. In it, the residents receive intensive case management and counseling and take many courses that rotate throughout the year covering topics such as financial literacy, healthy relationships, parenting, and nutrition. Stage 2 is Pregnancy, and Stage 3 is Postpartum Pause, which lasts about six weeks. Stage 4 is Transitioning, when residents make final plans and preparations to leave the house. Residents can stay for up to one year after their baby is born.
Roth talked about the vision of A Mother’s Hope, “It is new futures for women, children, and beyond. We know that what we are doing with these moms and their babies can have a positive ripple effect down through generations. The mission is to be a refuge for pregnant homeless women that increases their opportunities for stability, which is our real focus.”
The Holy Smokes event originated with Jake Laskowski, the first male member of A Mother’s Hope’s Board of Directors. “I consider myself a pretty pro-life guy,” says Laskowski. “Every first Tuesday in November, I vote with this goal in mind and hope for the best. In 2017, I got an email from Stasia about A Mother’s Hope. These women are pregnant and alone because the first man that should be involved in each of their lives — who was involved in the process of making a baby — decided to fail them. So, the reason A Mother’s Hope has to exist is because of this masculine failure, which demands a robust, strong masculine response. I knew it was my opportunity to be more active in the pro-life cause.”
Laskowski conceived of the idea for Holy Smokes to get more men involved. “It bothered me that there were not more men supporting A Mother’s Hope. So, five or six years ago I conjured up this idea for a men’s event with bourbon and cigars to get them more involved and it’s been great to see it continue to grow.”
Holy Smokes is a men’s only event that centers around bourbon tasting, sampling cigars, dinner, and a talk by an engaging speaker. This year’s event was held on Thursday, June 15, at The Charles Fort Wayne, and featured bourbon by Cedar Creek Carry Out, cigars by Rudy’s, and a buffet dinner by The Orchid.
The speaker was Shawn Harper, former NFL offensive lineman. He spent his 7-year NFL career with the LA Rams, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, and in NFL Europe. Since 2004, Harper has owned and operated his company, American Services and Protection, a security firm based in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Harper applies many of the lessons learned through football to his business and his life. He authored the book “Play to Win” and has been a motivational speaker for 25 years.
Harper had several key messages for the men attending the event. “I grew up in hardship and adversity. My mother was a maid but managed to raise six kids. I had a bad stutter and had to repeat first grade. So-called experts diagnosed me with so many learning disabilities that they told my mother I’d never be a normal kid. But she told them, ‘You will not label my child.’ She told me I was not disabled, but uniquely enabled.”
Harper played high school football but continued to struggle while playing at a community college. “I wrote a list of reasons why I couldn’t be successful, but I told myself I can be more than just successful. I can win. In that moment, my life’s trajectory changed. It wasn’t a mindset; it was a mind shift. I began to do what winners do. They go all in. They separate themselves by working harder than everyone else.”
This mind shift helped Harper land a position with the Indiana Hoosiers football team, then in the NFL. “Every one of us is born a winner,” Harper said, “but often life tells us we aren’t. And winners have the humility to build a great team around them. I’m here today because I had a front line of teammates on and off the field, teachers, coaches, and others who covered for me, prayed for me, interceded for me. A Mother’s Hope needs men like you as their offensive linemen, their silent warriors who can come alongside them, support them, and help them win in their cause. Organizations like this one supported my mother when she raised all six of us by herself.”
Roth explained that a team of women work behind the scenes at A Mother’s Hope. “We have a staff of 17 who work tirelessly 24/7. We depend on community support, and the number one way is prayer. We try to keep our costs down, but expenses continue to rise. Our monthly and annual donors keep us going. If everyone gives even a little, and tells other people about us, it adds up. Being able to go back to the house and tell the residents that there is a group of men out there supporting them helps show them that men can be a positive in their lives.”
To support A Mother’s Hope, visit sites.google.com/amhfw.org/inside/.
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