“Why do pro-life activists only seem to care about unborn lives?” asked a Slate writer in 2017, echoing a question asked by scores of people who want to discredit pro-lifers for focusing only on the fetus.
Well, some of them do only care about the unborn. But many of them, including the folks at Mary’s Shelter in Virginia, have a much wider and humane vision, offering not only physical shelter and goods to pregnant mothers in time of crisis, but also classes and mentorship, so women who want a better life get get themselves and their children on a track toward independence.
Mary’s Shelter volunteers warmly supply a broad range of encouraging and educational supports, from cooking and knitting classes to book clubs, mentoring, doula services and roundtables, transportation, a private thrift store, academic tutoring, guest speakers, and baby showers. Residents get help earning their GEDs or degrees and finding jobs, finding counseling, and building new lives. The homes are cozy and friendly, and many women go there and find hope when everyone, including other shelters, have abandoned them.
Mary’s Shelter provides an expectant mother, and any additional children she may have, with housing for up to three years in order to further her education and/or secure employment. She must receive counseling, attend in-house parenting and life-skill classes and adhere to the program covenants which offer structure, self-discipline and guidance.
Each resident is blessed with a mentor who provides hands-on support, compassion and encouragement. This foundation ensures that our mothers have the necessary time and tools to work toward their goals and provide for their children, making the possibility of independent living a reality.
They rely very heavily on donations and volunteers, and since their founding in 2006 have helped more than two hundred pregnant women work toward a goal of independent living. They started out with a basement apartment and now have four houses, capable of sheltering and mentoring as many as fifty women and their children.
Here’s a video from Mary’s Shelter that features some of the women telling their stories and explaining how their needs were met:
In 2014, I did a short interview with Kathleen Wilson, the director of Mary’s Shelter. Here’s an excerpt that gives more detail about what kind of support and community they offer:
Kathleen Wilson: If the woman is abortion-minded, we’ll give her a place to live, if that’s what’s holding her back. If a woman walks in and she’s in a domestic violence situation, we get her counseling. We don’t even kick them out if they’re drinking or doing drugs; we give them an opportunity to do a program and stay with us.
We give women up to two years with us; and women who are “rock stars” – the ones who are really looking to move on and get a nursing degree or something like that — she can stay up to three years while she does school and work and gets everything together. That’s all about the woman. That’s for her.
SF: I was amazed at the long list the services you offer: cooking and knitting classes, book clubs, mentoring, doula services and roundtables, a private thrift store for residents, academic tutoring, guest speakers, baby showers, and on and on. How many people do you have on staff?
KW: We have so, so many volunteers. The main group is me and two people that get small paychecks – a total of only $24,000 a year, and that’s for crazy hours. Then there are two or three volunteers I consider staff. Then there’s a whole slew of people doing other things.
For instance, we hook up every resident up with a mentor or two. And there’s a woman who comes every other week with a van, to take them shopping. A local church sends over volunteers to do service projects, paint room, put in a swing set, redo a bathroom – big projects like that.
SF:It sounds complicated. How do you coordinate everything?
KW: We started out in a basement apartment – didn’t even have a file cabinet! But it’s evolved. Everything we need comes along. Someone says, “Oh, I can do that.” We say we want a book club, book club leader comes along. These volunteers just fall out of the sky. We even have a volunteer coordinator who is a volunteer herself.
SF:I know you sometimes fit in more residents than you comfortably can. What’s the ideal number of women you’re set up to shelter?
KW: Yes, we will roll beds into our office, or put women in hotels in an emergency. We have four houses now, and we’ll be opening our fifth on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15th . When we open the new house, it could be seventeen or eighteen families in the homes all together.
We’re one of the few shelters that take in women with additional children. That really is rare. We’ve got a lot of kids floating around the houses. We don’t offer daycare, but we do have babysitters available during for classes, guest speakers, and baby celebrations.
SF:Do you feel like the residents form a community?
KW: Some of them do. At one of our houses, the women have family dinners together once a week. There’s independent living, but they get together once a week, and their kids play together.
They have babies, and they have to lean on each other a bit. They have to ask for babysitters, or just had a C-section, and they have to step up to the plate. A majority of them haven’t had family relationships. This starts opening that door.
SF: Are you a Catholic organization?
KW: Most of our staff is Catholic, but non-Catholic Christian churches have been getting involved. We’ve had a Muslim resident; there’s no religious criteria for getting involved. We believe life begins at conception, and we ask that if you work for this ministry, you respect that.
It would be lovely to convert everybody, but that’s not our mission. It’s to show them God through our witness, and we hope they will sees God’s hand in everything.
More information about Mary’s Shelter:
You can donate to help sustain Mary’s Shelter residents here and find out more about how to donate goods, volunteer, or help in other ways here.
Expectant mothers, who are at least eighteen years of age and are motivated to make positive changes in their lives, are welcome to apply.
We welcome all races and religions and will support and respect your decision to keep your child or place him/her in a loving adoptive family. Please call us for an interview.
Intake Number: 540-376-2108
540-374-3407 • firstname.lastname@example.org
If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.