Mary’s Shelter help moms in difficult situations find the right path

By Patty Knap

Imagine the coordination and dedication it takes to run a home for young moms and their babies.

Now imagine that for six homes.

Between paying mortgages and taxes, assessing young mothers for housing, taking care of maintenance, furniture, lawns, phone service, electric bills, appliances, fundraising, and all the moving in and out that takes place again and again, Mary’s Shelter is one impressive undertaking.

It’s just a way of life for the people involved in the pro-life maternity homes in Fredericksburg, Va.

As you might guess, these are people who put their faith in God and turn to prayer regularly.

Pro-life work often draws followers of Jesus Christ, doesn’t it?

“Our focus is on the Lord’s work, what pleases God,” said Kathleen Wilson, founder and executive director of Mary’s Shelter. “We witness that in every way we can.”  

“We’re all Christians and Catholics; it’s part of who we are,” Wilson told Pregnancy Help News. “I’m a daily Mass-goer; so are several other Mary’s Shelter workers. We tell the women who come to us that we’re praying for them.”

What began 17 years ago as one rented room for a young mom and her baby has grown to five houses with 30 bedrooms rooms, and Mary’s Shelter is now about to open a sixth house. Over 400 young women and their babies and any other children have been provided free housing for up to three years.

Here’s how Wilson tells the story: 

About 18 years ago, a group of friends and I would go to D.C. on Saturday mornings and pray outside Planned Parenthood. I knew, for me, counseling women as they walked in was not my calling, I was terrified of saying something wrong. I was happy praying and staying on the sidelines waiting for the students from Christendom to come relieve us. The leader of the prayers from that group was Andrew Bodoh, who is now our lawyer on our board. 

One morning a woman who kept driving around finally parked but stayed in her car. One of the counselors grabbed me and said, “See that car… the woman keeps circling … go up and ask her how we can help.” I panicked. But I went over and as I approached; she rolled down her window. I asked, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”  She said, “What can you do to help me?” I froze. I had no idea what to say. She drove away. 

Around that time, I would speak to my pastor about ways to assist women. One day he mentioned a woman from New York who had reached out. She was pregnant with her second child and desperately needed a place to live. The pastor wanted to see more resources for women in crisis and offered to rent a small place if we could assist this woman. So, this woman, who we called Gianna, came with her little daughter, and went on to give birth to her son. We put updates about her in the church bulletin and that brought in money to assist her. After about a year, she went back to New York.

This experience got Wilson, along with two friends, thinking about what more could be done, and they started praying about opening a maternity home. 

“First we talked to a few ministries and social services to see if there was a need,” she said. “We found ourselves getting calls before we even had our 501c.”

One call was hard not to act on. 

“The call was from a gentleman from China,” Wilson recalled. “He and his family were here on a work VISA and were being sent back to China when they found themselves pregnant with their fourth child. They knew it would be a forced abortion. They were a beautiful family and desperately wanted their child.”

“So, we reached out to friends, our homeschooling groups, a couple of churches, and in about one weekend we raised the money we needed to house this woman and her children through her pregnancy,” she said. 

“So, while we were praying about whether we should open a maternity home, we clearly got our answer,” said Wilson. “Not long after, the president of our new board invited us to dinner and placed the documents we needed on the table, including our 501c to operate the ministry. It really all happened very quickly.”

Every aspect of running the homes is donor funded. Individual, family, church donations, and an annual dinner all support the programs.

Whether the homes need furniture, bedding, dishes, washers and dryers, desks, and chairs, it’s all donated by local residents, pro-life groups, and churches. 

“Recently we put the word out that we had a family with four little boys, and we really wanted to get them bikes,” Wilson said. “Within a day I had four bikes for them!  We regularly have volunteers, various service groups, helpers of all kinds doing chores, repairs, landscaping, painting … whatever needs to be done.”

Of course, Mary’s Shelter offers a lot more than just housing. 

“Yes, we want to save the baby, but we really want to see women have an opportunity to grow and succeed,” said Wilson.

The housing program gives these young mothers the opportunity to further their education and/or to secure employment. While her expenses are taken care of – -a huge burden off her shoulders –the mother receives counseling, attends in-house parenting and life-skill classes, and adheres to the program covenants which offer structure, self-discipline, and guidance.

“The idea is that they and their children are prepared for their future,” Wilson said. “Housing, educational, or employment goals can be a real and sustainable reality for them.”

“There is such a trickle effect from these kinds of homes,” she added. “It’s not just about that baby.” 

Wilson says she’s even seen families reunite after time in the residence.

The shelter receives requests from all over, especially the DC-northern VA area. Many come from pregnancy centers, some from hospitals or police departments, others from community residents or even from the moms themselves. 

For some clients there are histories of abuse, mental health issues, and even convictions that make their situation more complicated. A wide range of people come into the shelter from all walks of life, all faiths and no faiths, and often no stability, and are set on a path of turning their lives around for the better. 

The most common reasons why residents come to Mary’s Shelter, along with why abortions are often their first choice, is that they are in abusive relationships and/or do not have a place to live.  

“Most of them, that’s not what they really want to do,” Wilson said. “It’s just these traumatic events in their lives for many of them, but for them to even call us, you know, it really shows … that they’re reaching out in some way.”

To stay at one of the homes, a new resident must sign an agreement. She agrees to attend parenting classes and abide by other house rules. Residents assist each other with childcare during work hours.

Mary’s Shelter had its annual fundraiser dinner last month. As always, a mom who has benefited from her time at one of the homes was the guest speaker. 

“This mom is a real rock star!” Wilson said. 

“Rachel is like a lot of the moms who come to us,” she said. “She was living with a guy she thought was wonderful. When she became pregnant, he backed off — a lot. Then she had a second child. After a while she moved in with another guy, always looking for real love. She had two kids with him and then he disappeared too.”

“We received a call about her when she was pregnant with her fifth child,” Wilson continued. 

“She was in an abusive relationship and had made an abortion appointment she couldn’t bring herself to follow through with,” said Wilson. “She mainly needed a place to live so she could get on her feet.” 

“Well, she is a great mom,” continued Wilson. “She became a real estate agent and works when her kids are either in day care or school, and then at night she makes charcuterie boards that people order for parties. She’s motivated!”

Rachel’s journey over just 18 months is an inspiring example to other moms entering the program, and example of how Mary’s Shelter and other maternity homes are there for women in need.

Editor’s note. This appeared at Pregnancy Help News and reposted with permission.