Lourdeshouse: Affirming Life for Women and their Babies

102513 LOURDES HOUSE 2

Three months ago, Jenefer, 23, walked into Lourdeshouse maternity home. She was nine months pregnant and looking to escape from a sexual harassment situation.

She didn’t know what Lourdeshouse could offer, or what to expect there. Jenefer’s case manager had located the program for her. She just wanted a safe place to bring her baby into the world and to start a better life for both of them.

“I didn’t care what space I was in, as long as I was out of that house and away from the harassment,” Jenefer said.

“When I came to Lourdeshouse, I didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “I didn’t know if it was a good environment for my child. I didn’t know the ladies here. I thought there was going to be a lot of cussing and fighting.”

In her mind, negative images of shelters took over.

But during her very first day at Lourdeshouse, Jenefer came to realize it would be a positive and caring environment for her and her unborn daughter.

She realized it when Lourdeshouse caseworker Renee Ramp showed her to her own room.

“I cried,” Jenefer said. “I cried because I wasn’t expecting I’d get my own space. I cried because I was so happy to know I would bring my child into a safe environment.”

For more than 50 years, Lourdeshouse has been providing life-affirming care for single mothers and their babies.

Nestled within the St. Samuel Center in Harrisburg (also home to the Interfaith Shelter for Homeless Families and Evergreen House for women in recovery), Lourdeshouse is one of Catholic Charities’ “Homes for Healing,” residential homes that serve those in need.

At Lourdeshouse, up to 16 women can stay at a time for shelter, maternity care and residential services.

The dedicated and compassionate staff and volunteers monitor the women’s medical care and nutrition, and offer parenting classes, case management, transportation to appointments, and unwavering support and encouragement as the women seek housing, education and employment.

“Lourdeshouse is such a unique place. When you’re here, you become like a family,” Mrs. Ramp said, gesturing to the spacious living room, dining room and kitchen, and to the bedrooms that offer women and babies refuge.

Within that family dynamic, each staff member and volunteer fills an important role, from Program Manager Annette Martin and the volunteers who prepare breakfast and lunch, to the cook who serves dinner and the women who help tend to the babies while their mothers are out seeking housing or work.

“Sometimes, the women might not have been shown how to cook or do laundry, the everyday things we might take for granted,” Mrs. Ramp pointed out. “We show the women those things, and in that way, a lot of them really do feel like we are family.”

That environment is critical, said Jenefer, whose siblings live nearby but whose parents are further away.

The women can welcome family members to visit on weekends, but not everyone has relatives who live near Harrisburg. Some have severed ties.

“It feels like we’re all just one big family,” Jenefer said. “Miss Renee is like my mom, the girls here are my sisters, and my daughter has whole bunch of cousins coming.”

By Jen Reed

The Catholic Witness

 

Testimonials

Imagine your dream student - someone who is bright, inquisitive, kind to others, and comes to class eager to learn. Well, that is Koffi. He first came to my ESL class in May of 2014. He had only been in the United States for about 6 months at that time.

For many people, those first 6 months can be overwhelming and hectic, but Koffi’s spirit is indomitable. He came to class every night ready to learn and in a short time he found a job. Even after a long day of working hard, Koffi would come into class with a smile on his face. He greeted his fellow students with a smile and was ready to learn.

After being in the country for a little over a year, Koffi decided he would like to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). He took the initiative and researched his options before deciding on the program at HACC.
Koffi continued with his English studies right up to the time his CNA class started at HACC. I was sorry to see him leave, but so happy for him.

In June of this year Koffi graduated from the CNA Program at HACC. We are all so proud of Koffi. He has been such a positive influence on all of us, staff and students alike. It is impossible to look at Koffi’s smiling face and not want to smile right back, he is that full of kindness and hope. I am so glad he was my student and I feel certain that he will do even more amazing things in the future.

- ESL Instructor

Tiffany starts her story by openly stating that the first 39 years of her life were a waste. She spent all of her time drinking, which was her way of coping with the many let downs in her life.

Fearing for her life, a friend convinced Tiffany to check herself into a 30-day detox program. Upon completion she entered the Evergreen House program. While this was not her first choice, Tiffany ended up residing at Evergreen House for seven and one-half months.

Tiffany credits Evergreen’s staff and their patience with her eventual success in the program. Evergreen’s staff understood what she was going through and eventually became like her family. The Evergreen House program provided the structure and support she needed to maintain her sobriety.

Tiffany credits Evergreen House for a second chance at life and she is determined to have a positive impact on others.

- anonymous

A 19 year old woman left an abusive relationship with the infant’s birth father and was interested in making an adoption plan for her 9 week old baby. She was unemployed, close to being homeless, did not have a car or driver’s license and she felt that her daughter deserved two parents who were ready and equipped financially and emotionally for parenthood. Emma’s birth mother was placing Emma’s needs before her own feelings. But she had bonded with Emma and knew it would be extremely difficult.

Emma’s birth father was informed of the adoption plan and initially opposed it. But he realized that adoption was the best plan for their infant. Catholic Charities worked with the birth parents to choose the adoptive family.

Catholic Charities was able to provide grief counseling to Emma’s birth mother upon finalization of the adoption. As part of the openness agreement, the birth parents receive pictures and letters four times a year.

- Anonymous

A single father and his two pre-teen daughters resided at the Interfaith Shelter after separating from his wife and gaining custody of his daughters. Unfortunately, he lost his job and could not afford his housing expenses.
The family relocated to the Steelton-Highspire to be closer to extended relatives, in the hopes of obtaining employment. Due to a lease violation, they were only allowed to stay for a limited time frame.
With no other options they sought shelter at Interfaith. This father worked diligently to seek employment and accepted a position at a local gas station making minimum wage so that they could save for housing. The family was accepted in the Brethren Housing Association’s Fast Track Program, which provides temporary rental assistance and housing to homeless families who demonstrate self-sufficiency and stable income.
After leaving the shelter, he found permanent employment at a casino in the Pocono’s.

- Anonymous
Council on Accrediation Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations United Way

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