Prolife spotlight: St. Joseph’s House and Isaiah’s Promise offer support, respite, and joy to families of the disabled

Cubby LaHood used the term “D-day” for the day parents first hear their unborn child has a severe or fatal birth defect.  

“The baby is the same baby they conceived and were joyful about, but … the baby can become a stranger,” she said in a 2013 40 Days for Life address.

LaHood, who died in 2015, suffered the same crushing shock herself, when her baby Francis got a likely fatal prenatal diagnosis. Everyone offered the couple abortion — doctors, clergy, family, and friends. But she and her husband Dan decided that they would love and carry their son Francis as long as he lived.

 
The LaHoods firmly believed unborn children with severe or fatal diagnoses deserve to live. But they also came to understand that carrying such children to term, rather than resorting to abortion, can bring healing, strength, and even joy to the parents and family, and even to the rest of the community, whether the child dies before he is born, or if he goes on to live for several years. 
 
“Hope led to grace, grace led to faith, and faith led to peace,” she said. 
 
Cubby and Dan LaHood went on to found two organizations based in Maryland, to offer encouragement, resources, and tangible support to people with disabilities and their families. Isaiah’s House, founded in 1995, offers personal support for families carrying to term after a severe or fatal prenatal diagnosis.
 
“In seemingly the most hopeless and difficult of circumstances surrounding the birth of a child, a simple ‘yes’ to life reveals the presence of God, and the presence of love,” she said in a video called “Destined to Live Forever.”  
 
They believe that even a very short life has meaning and power. “[These parents] conceived a miracle, and that miracle deserves all the support that you can give it. It’s about more than you,” LaHood said. 
 
Pro-lifers are frequently accused of being merely pro-birth, of counseling parents to reject abortion, but then abandoning them after the delivery. The LaHoods’ mission refutes this accusation. The other organization they founded, St. Joseph’s House, offers daycare, summer camp, and after-school programs, and respite programs for families of children with disabilities.
This effort, too, sprung out of a personal experience. When Cubby LaHood was pregnant with her first child, she wanted to stay at home, so she decided to open a daycare. The first client she found had a disability, and word quickly spread that LaHood was willing to care for disabled children. 
The family soon made it their mission to make a true home for these children, and to counter “the eugenic impulse” of the world that wants to reject anyone deemed imperfect or useless. St. Joseph’s House is now run by the LaHood’s daughter, Natalie. 
 
Cubby LaHood didn’t believe her family was special. “We all have the capacity to give love,” said LaHood. “It can be done without support — we did it without support — but there’s no reason for it to be done that way.”
 
 The LaHoods do not minimize or sentimentalize the difficulty of carrying and caring for a child with disabilities.
 

“Nobody wants to go through the Passion,” said Dan LaHood “No one wants to go through the Garden of Gethsemane. But once you go through it, you find there’s the spirit of God. There’s resurrection. Not only there’s life, but it’s eternal, and it’s more than you could ever imagine; and you can experience it now.”

None of the hundreds of couples they’ve walked with have regretted their choice, the LaHoods said. 

“Even in this worst, most darkened, most rejected place, God is. Love is.”

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Image from this video:

Destined to Live Forever from Lumen Catechetical Consultants on Vimeo.

St. Joseph’s House

​Saintjosephshouse1983@gmail.com

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saintjosephshouse/

Isaiah’s Promise

info@isaiahspromise.net

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IsaiahsPromise4915/

St. Joseph’s Place also runs Cafe St. Joe in , “part job skills training, part community builder, and part fundraiser.” The Cafe offers a specialty blend of coffee made by a roaster that employs adults with disabilities, and half the proceeds to go the cafe

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Previous volumes of Pro-life Spotlight:

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

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.

Pro-life spotlight #5: We Dignify mentors pro-life students to lead with charity and humility

Abortion is part of a quick-fix culture, said Morgan Korth of We Dignify. A woman finds herself with a scary pregnancy, and the pro-choice world tells her she can solve all her problems by simply getting an abortion.

But the pro-life world sometimes looks for a quick fix of its own, explained Korth and her guest Zac Davis of America Magazine, in a recent podcast. There’s the temptation to try to swoop in and intellectually clobber our pro-choice opponents with a single conversation or a devastating scientific fact.

But this approach is not only futile, it doesn’t take into account the perspective, life experience, and dignity of pro-choicers or of women in difficult pregnancies. We Dignify is an organization that seeks to train and mentor young people “how to not only be pro-life, but live pro-life.”

The mission of We Dignify is to “mentor college students into skilled, virtuous, pro-life leaders, so they can build and nurture a culture of life on campus and in their future communities.”

Based in Illinois and founded in a dorm room in 2006, they want to transform college campuses into “centers for a culture of life where people treat life with love, new life is welcomed with joy, and people suffering from abortion are led to healing hope.”

They connect pregnant or post-abortive students with resources they need, and train students in practical skills like how to advertise pro-life events and how to lead pro-life groups that may be made up of students with various degrees of conviction.

And they train students how to engage in “dialogue with dignity.” It’s about more than giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, but also “the benefit of their life experience,” said Davis, who interned with We Dignify when he was a college student at Loyola in Chicago. They encourage you not to let yourself see others as a project, or to approach the conversation as a challenge to win.

In an age of hot takes and snarky memes, they challenge you always to consider how what you’re saying is going to be received, and to give the best possible interpretation to what the other person is saying; to avoid being defensive, in person and on social media; and to discern whether to be bold or to be content with helping pro-choicers realize that pro-lifers aren’t thoughtless, heartless caricatures.

In the recent podcast, Davis said that pro-lifers sometimes have a “savior complex;” but they need to be willing to accept that they are here in large part to be witnesses of love, life, and joy, and that much of what they do is to plant seeds.

At the core of it all, said Korth, is “charity and humility.”

They laughed somewhat ruefully over how everyone exclaims happily, every year at the March for Life, at how young the pro-life movement is. But when the march is over, where do young people go? Often, they disengage. WeDignify seeks to train students not only how to help and witness effectively on campus, but how to bring the skills and virtues they acquire forward into their future lives.

Davis said that he’s learned it’s normal for pro-lifers’ fervor to wax and wane, and so he knows what it’s like to become disengaged with the movement. He encourages pro-lifers to have the courage and humility to reengage, and to challenge their peers to do the same.

He said the pro-life movement does include a lot of people who are well-meaning, but crazy. It’s best not to seek these folks out, but instead to seek out those who are good at heart and also good at what they do.

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Contact: info@weDignify.org
217.255.6675

We Dignify podcasts

WeDignify on Facebook

WeDignify on Twitter

WeDignify on Instagram

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Previous volumes of the Pro-life Spotlight:

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

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.

Pro-life spotlight #4: Gadbois mission to trip to Bulgarian orphanage

In haste, because I got back from a truly excellent conference yesterday and have an avalanche of stuff to get caught up on!

I’ve been Facebook friends with Nissa Gadbois for many years and am always a little intimidated by her tremendous focus and drive and willingness to serve. She and her husband, who is a deacon, have dedicated themselves to what I can only describe as several apostolates, including overseas adoption of special needs orphans. Look around Gadbois Family to get an idea of the many things they do.

Today, Nissa and her son Nick are preparing to travel to Bulgaria to bring educational supplies to the orphanage where he lived before being adopted.
Here’s some more about their work and how to help them reach their goal for travel expenses:

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Thank you for helping us to set down the first support of a bridge that will join our apostolate in America with children, youth, and young adults in Bulgaria! It’s why we call it The Bridge Project.

We begin in small ways – bringing educational materials to a little village in Bulgaria. While there, we have the opportunity to better understand what we can do to help, and how we are to accomplish our work. We will meet with people along the way to help us support our work with prayers, counsel, time, and talent.

This will lead to establishing a Bulgarian home for our work – not an office in a city, but rather a home, or a group of homes, meant to nourish body, mind, and spirit of the young people we serve as well as those of our missioners and volunteers.

And you’re part of it when you share our fundraiser with a heartfelt endorsement, or when you give in any amount.

God bless you! +

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Previous volumes of the Pro-life Spotlight:

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

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.

Pro-life Spotlight Vol.3: Mary’s Shelter offers so much more than shelter

“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.

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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 • info@marysshelterva.org

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Previous volumes of the Pro-life Spotlight:

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

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.

Pro-life spotlight #1: China Little Flower

As I mentioned last week, I’ll be regularly featuring groups who do the work the president described in his SOTU speech: groups that “work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life“and that “reaffirm a fundamental truth [that] — all children — born and unborn— are made in the holy image of God.”

One of my favorites for many years: China Little Flower. This charity started out with a couple who had met as exchange students in China. They started out simply helping a few orphaned babies, but soon realized there was a great need for a more organized effort. Because China’s culture and legal system is hostile toward children with disabilities, many families simply don’t have the money, the education, or the cultural support to raise a child with complex medical needs.

According to the BBC’s blog on disability:

The most widely used word for disability in Mandarin is canji, which literally means deficient/deformed and diseased.  … [M]any traditional, pejorative terms for disabled people are still in common currency: canfei (crippled and useless), yaba(mute), shazi (idiot) and xiazi (a derogatory term for blind people) can still be heard on the lips of many ordinary citizens of the People’s Republic.

The Chinese government may have relaxed its strict one-child policy, but the culture is not now more welcoming of disabled children. Instead, state propaganda encourages parents to produce healthy children for the good of the country. Women and girls and those considered “useless” are still treated as less than human. According to Leta Hong Fincher in a NYT opinion piece, when China relaxed its brutal one-child policy,

the government was only embarking on another grand experiment in population engineering: This time it was urging women — though only the right sort — to reproduce for China.

[…]

The government has unleashed in recent years a propaganda blitz on women it considers to be gao suzhi, or of “high quality.” “Make sure you don’t miss out on women’s best years for getting pregnant!” warn some headlines in state media. Those years supposedly are between the ages of 24 and 29, according to the government; beyond that, it says, beware birth defects.

Parents who are willing to raise their disabled kids have little cultural or financial support, and little education on how to care for them.

This important clarification from Kelly Mayfield, author of Mine In China: Your comprehensive guide to adopting from China:

“In many cases these parents have made a heartbreaking decision because they can’t afford the medical care the child needs. You can see some images of parents leaving their children at the Guangzhou baby hatch at this link. You have to have cash up front for heart surgery, cancer treatment, etc. There is no legal way to relinquish children in China, so they abandon them in hopes that the child will receive the necessary care when they’re in an orphanage or if they are adopted by another family. Some of the children are left with notes that say ‘Please don’t let my child die. We are poor and can’t afford the surgery.'”

China Little Flower’s mission:

Recognizing the beauty and dignity of each and every individual person, China Little Flower works to build a culture of life by reaching out to those who are rejected, abandoned, deemed as useless, and who have no voice. Whether by direct care, support, or education, we seek to show the value of each human life and build a culture that respects, protects, loves and serves life!

They provide hospice care for orphans, group educational foster care, special care for infants, and long-term care for severely disabled children.

Dew Drops will provide both a long term, enriching home environment for abandoned children, and also  a temporary home for families in need of support and specialized care, while they navigate the health care system. These families will benefit from financial, emotional and medical support in caring for their child during treatment, as well as ongoing support after they return home.  Our primary focus is on children born with complex heart defects.

Our Orphan Care Unit will provide specialized medical care as well as foster healthy emotional development for abandoned children:

  • Children ages 6 month to 5 years old born with complex congenital heart defects
    • Capacity of 30 beds
    • Every child will stay with us until (s)he is adopted
    • Employ full time ‘moms’ who are trained in trauma-informed care practices and who will provide continuous, 24 hour care. This helps abandoned children learn to form attachments and heal from the past trauma they have experienced.

In our Family Care Unit, in addition to specialized care, we also focus on educating families and advocating with them as they seek the best medical treatment for their child:

  • Children from disadvantaged families (targeting rural areas) born with complex heart defects
    • Capacity of up to 5 children/families at a time
    • Children will be accompanied by at least one parent/family member during their stay
You can make a one-time or recurring donation to support their work, and you can also support them through their donor-advised fund.
The founders, Brent and Serena Johnson, live in Beijing with their six children, and they donate their time and efforts to the organization. China Little Flower is a registered non-profit in the USA and received 501(c)(3) status in 2000. You can contact them at info@chinalittleflower.org or

China Little Flower
4388 Steinbeck Way
Ave Maria, FL 34142

Sign up for their monthly newsletter and follow them on Facebook, where they share photos of some the beautiful babies in their care.

chinalittleflower.org
littleflowerprojects.org
dewdropslittleflower.org

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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 “prolife spotlight” in the title.

I’m also looking for a name for this feature! Pro-life Spotlight is okay, but it could be better. Suggestions welcome.