Lourdeshouse: Affirming Life for Women and their Babies
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