(Washington Examiner) When Shawnte Mallory, a 22-year-old mother of two with one on the way, arrived at Care Net Pregnancy Center to get an abortion, the nurses on staff told her she did not have an appointment.
Mallory, who had confirmed the appointment prior to arriving, felt as if the world was crashing around her. She had lost everything at once — her job, her car, her home, and her good health. Getting an abortion seemed to be the only option she had.
However, a staffer pointed her in a different direction.
“It was a lady that was in there, she’s like, ‘You don’t want to have an abortion, do you?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t,’” Mallory recalled. “But I just don't know what to do right now.”
Twenty-four hours later, Mallory moved into Mary’s Shelter in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a maternity home that provides food, fellowship, and shelter for mothers and their children. Women who live there are required to follow healthy lifestyles, take care of their children, and secure either employment or education or both.
“We give women three years here, sometimes more,” Kathleen Wilson, executive director of Mary’s Shelter, said. “The idea is that they and their children, who we love … can go on, and counseling, housing, educational, or employment goals can be a real and sustainable reality for them.”
Wilson said the shelter, which started 17 years ago, has grown from one bedroom to four homes with 24 bedrooms. She sees “a real mix of people” come in from all walks of life to turn their lives around for the better.
She said the biggest reason why people come to Mary’s Shelter and why abortions tend to be their first choice is that they are in abusive relationships and do not have a place to live.
“Most of them, that's not what they really want to do,” she 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.”
Mallory said the moment she stepped into Mary’s Shelter, she felt like she was at home.
“It changed my life to be able to have my child, to be in a safe environment, and to not feel like I’m rushed, and I can have all my children with me,” Mallory said.
Mallory found the chores to be the hardest part of living there, as she had never had that “foundation” growing up. However, while she came from a different background and experienced different traumas, she never felt judged.
“When you’re put around someone who shows you love, and like, unconditional love, it’s kind of hard to accept sometimes,” Mallory admitted, referencing her adjustment period to having someone fully invested in her well-being.
“Shifted my whole life”
At a young age, Danielle’s life revolved around drinking, partying, and drugs. She said she had physical parents, but it was “not the two-parent household that children deserve.”
“I experienced a lot of abuse in my life, and neglect, and you know, sexual trauma,” Danielle said, who declined to share her last name for privacy reasons. “I was a rebellious young lady at 20 years old. I had all of these wonderful, negative things stacked against me, but as a young woman, I really didn’t know how to live my life or wasn’t shown properly.”
That is, until she got pregnant — something that “did not sit well” with her family. She arrived at the Paul Stefan Foundation pregnancy care homes in Locust Grove, Virginia, in September 2012, where she experienced an intense lifestyle shock, as she was not used to having to show basic respect or listen to authority, she said.
“I was pregnant, and I had lived with my mom my entire life,” she said. “It was very, very hard and very shocking, and it was super humbling, but the fact that I was about to become a mom just shifted my whole life.”
Randy James, one of the founders of the Paul Stefan Foundation, said the home seeks to help women “regain their dignity” and become functioning members of society. The foundation, named after James's son, who died soon after he was born, opened 17 years ago and has helped 300 women and their children, he said. They have recently renovated an old hotel site into a regional center, where eight women currently live.
“Every woman that has come here has been in a hard place right before coming here, or they wouldn’t be here, quite honestly,” James said. “They just need a little bit of a helping hand to be shown that there’s hope. Get back on the horse and ride it, and you know, keep looking forward in life.”
Similar to Mary’s Shelter, the Paul Stefan homes require the mothers to follow simple but strict rules, with a curfew in place and weekly seminars and prayer meetings that they must attend — a situation that many women initially push back on.
“A lot of the women just don’t like to have to be told what to do and where they need to be,” James said, looking at Danielle, who nodded in agreement. “After time, they find out it’s really good for them. We just have to keep working with them to let them understand that you need to have rules and structure in your life.”
He said Mother’s Day is the busiest day for his wife, Evelyn, as she, like Wilson, receives “all of these calls” from past tenants, even women who left on bad terms, to say thank you.
“They realized that they just didn’t get it while they were here, but they get it once they leave,” James said.
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Now a mother of five girls living in Washington, D.C., Mallory works as part of the mental health outreach team at Pathways to Housing D.C., an organization seeking to end homelessness. She said she devotes her life to bringing people the thing she received at Mary’s Shelter: love.
“Sometimes, you get put into this box that when you have children, your life is supposed to stop, or that when you have children, things get hard, and you can't accomplish the things that you want to accomplish in life,” she said. “And just being around Miss Kathleen and Mary’s Shelter … it just gives you a different perspective on life and how to raise your children and how to love others, and how to love yourself.”
As a mother, Mallory said she promised herself she would be present and healthy for her children, something her biological mother did not do.
“There were times when I didn’t feel like there was a purpose or like I had a reason to be here,” Mallory said. “So I got pregnant with my oldest, and when I had her, I was just like, ‘Wow. This is really what love is.’ It changed my life.”
Similarly, Danielle, whose daughter was born in July 2012, has gone on to receive several college degrees, including a bachelor’s degree, and is currently working on a master’s. After working in child welfare for five years at the Virginia Department of Social Services, Danielle now works as a special education teacher at a local high school.
Looking back, Danielle said she sees the “whole picture” and remembers nothing negative from living at the Paul Stefan homes.
“This home saves moms’ lives,” Danielle said. “Just to be able to have your identity, and to be shown that you are worth it, and you are dignified, and you’re worthy of respect, and that you are a good mom. This foundation saved my life and my child’s life, and I’m very, very successful because of it now, 10 years later.”
Editor's note: This article was published by the Washington Examiner and is reprinted with permission.