by Mary Peterson, Housing SpecialistHeartbeat International
I recently downloaded a game on my phone for interior design. You are given a shell of a room and have to choose the perfect sofa, rug, and accent tables to meet the design briefing. There is a weird satisfaction for me in finding the find combination of color and balance and scale for a room – even though my own home is FAR from an interior design masterpiece! But, the game came to mind as an analogy. There are design elements to consider when creating a maternity housing program, all of which require balance and attention.
Here’s my take on the “fresh” key program design elements to consider in your maternity home:
There is no “perfect living room” in the design app I’ve been playing—it’s a matter of one’s own personal style with the limitations of available resources plus some principles of design. Similarly, there is no “perfect model” of maternity home. But the elements mentioned above provide some principles of design worthy of consideration as you create a beautiful maternity housing program.
by Mary Peterson, Housing Specialist of Heartbeat International
Fall is here! With this great season, we think about football, pumpkin spice, and…baby safety?!?! Yep, in addition to being the time of shifting weather and changing leaves, September is recognized as Baby Safety Month.
In the spirit of recognizing the role of having a safe environment, here are a few safety tips that impact a group living environment, especially with newborns:
1. Wash your hands. When you read about promoting health, especially in group environments, handwashing is ALWAYS mentioned as the key starting place. Whether it’s singing silly songs, giving the stink eye, or side-by-side modeling the behavior, figure out a way to create a culture of clean hands. (Note: Stink eye, while a technique used by moms everywhere, should be used only in special circumstances.) If pretty-smelling soap promotes the distraction of germs, it’s worth the investment!
2. Use products according to directions and the child’s age, weight, and developmental needs. That’s the big one given by the promoters of Baby Safety Month so I thought I should feature it! At maternity homes, we are pretty good at “making do”—but when it comes to the well-being of our little ones, I like the motto, “When in doubt, throw it out.”
3. Be attentive to sleep safety! It’s a tough one to convince sleep-deprived mamas and nearly impossible to regulate, I know! But having safe practices around sleep will give peace of mind and hopefully, better sleep to everyone involved. Maybe we could share creative ways to talk about safe sleeping in our Facebook group?!?
4. Be attentive. Watching moms engage deeply with their child(ren) is one of the joys of maternity home life. Whether engaging playfully, meeting the baby’s needs, or watching for safety hazards, homes should be a source of encouragement for the mother’s active participation in the life of her child. The habit of managing distractions—especially with gadgets constantly at our fingertips—is a great life lesson!
5. Prevent slips, trips, and falls. These everyday hazards are a common threat to kids—and adults!—of the house. Pregnant women may not easily see the underfoot and falling objects that can be dangerous to infants on the ground or in cribs. Be aware of cords, ice, and other hazards. Teach the adults of the house (staff, volunteers, and residents) to turn on “risk assessment” eyes as they observe the environment!
Let’s raise a pumpkin spice latte to the safety of our homes! May they be places of well-being and protection!
by Mary Peterson, Heartbeat Housing Specialist
Since 2015, the program was called Esther Home. But, when God presented an opportunity for growth, Amber Hornsby, Co-Founder and Executive Director, jumped at the chance to become Esther Homes. After a long season of feeling the Lord prepare the organization for increase, the dream was fulfilled when their second home opened in July 2018.
"We are renting from a church," Hornsby described, "and grateful for the opportunity to come along side of families together to serve them and meet their needs." Esther Homes welcomes pregnant and parenting women, often with young children, for up to two years to "do life together".
Hornsby noted several challenges related to growth, "The biggest fear in saying 'yes' to expansion is the money aspect. We are doubling our current budget and that means our leadership has to spend more time planning and fundraising."
She also described a process of going back to the drawing board on the program, examining what works and what doesn't. "In some ways, we went back to the dirt in order to refine ourselves. We wanted the second home to carry the heart of who we are so we needed to be able to articulate how we want things done." She summed up the process by noting that the backbone of the two programs is the same but differences arise because each location has unique people, layouts, and neighborhoods that they are within. "The programs are even in different counties," Hornsby quipped. "We had to figure out the implications of that."
When asked to give advice to homes considering expansion, the millennial leader let out a deep breath and said, "Be okay with change and accept that things might shift." She continued, "The work load doubles but time doesn't." Hornby described the importance of training new staff and allowing them to do thier thing while remaining available and encouraging. "You need a team to share the load!"
"You can plan a lot but then you get into it, and there are a lot of unknowns that surface," Hornsby reflected. "I just need to stay positive, take a deep breath, and get creative about coming up with solutions." The leader noted that the commitment of the Board of Directors has grown beyond coming to meetings to include greater availability for discussion, more planning for the future, and more administrative support.
"There is a lot of hype about expansion and a season of time where you feel like 'I don't know what I am doing,'” Hornsby summed up. "But ultimately, it’s about the families we are serving and now, we have a greater ability to meet their needs."
For more information about Esther Homes, please visit their website at: http://estherhome.org/
Like Esther Homes, Ruth Harbor Ministries had been actively exploring expansion and had several disappointments along the way. Trusting God through the process, their second location, a 7,200 square foot home outside of Des Moines, anticipates welcoming women later this month. "There are so many God stories in how this came about," Mark McDougal shared with joy.
The second property will serve as the mother and child aspect of the program, welcoming women from their maternity program as well as women with children. The property has an interesting history having served as the family home of the McCaughey septuplets. "The couple, having become empty-nesters, wanted the home to go to a ministry and continue the legacy of family," McDougal recalled.
McDougal shared story after story of God's provision on the expansion, "A very large church in Iowa rallied behind the project. They were able to bless us by purchasing and furnishing the home as a Lenten project. Truly incredible!"
Part of the process of growth was to think in a more standardized way. "We wanted to be able to duplicate what we were doing and we wanted to be able to talk more clearly about the impact that we are having on women's lives," McDougal shared. That desire led the organization to adopt the Evaluation Tool developed by the National Maternity Housing Coalition and integrate it into programming.
When asked what advice he would give to others considering growth, McDougal responded with, "Obviously, seek God's face and don't get discouraged!" But, he continued, "Preparing staff, Board members, and supporters that the process takes time is super important."
"When organizations grow, leaders have to grow," McDougal reflected. He described the homework and planning that goes into expansion and the need to let go of things that he used to be hands-on about. Having served as the Executive Director for 16 years, McDougal was quick to share, "It’s nothing that I'm doing—this is what God wants and I'm just trying to keep up."
For more information about Ruth Harbor, please visit their website at: http://www.ruthharbor.org/
When studying organizational development, you learn that the shift between stages is a very challenging season. Moving from founding and early decision making into a stage of sustaining and stability demands different skills and leadership strategies. Below are a few thoughts on things you can do to help ease that transition.
I live in the midst of the desert - it's easy to look on the landscape of cactus and sand and just see brown, barren land. But, even here, it is spring. The mesquites have sprung out with tiny leaves; the jackrabbits seem to be everywhere, and a hint of green can be seen on the mountainside. I saw a family of baby quail hiding in a plant the other day and couldn't resist cooing in delight.
In the work of maternity housing, we encounter the nitty-grittiness of life on a daily basis. Some of those situations are fairly typical of the human experience - supporting women who are dealing with the discomfort of pregnancy, facing a difficult decision, or trying to develop new skills.
Other aspects of our everyday reality are extremely challenging - serving adult women struggling with basic hygiene, traumatic experiences, addiction, or abuse in their relationships. Women choosing to remain in patterns of behavior that appear selfish or self-destructive. We have to deal with the reality of asking women to leave our homes, a sometimes brutal transition from a place of safety to a challenging and uncertain future. We get accused of being a much worse and a much better person than we really are.
This reality - of maternity housing - can be very heavy, and at times of exhaustion or overwhelmedness, it can seem bleak or depressing.
But, like spring in the desert, there are signs and indications everywhere of a different reality.
When we attune our eyes, there are indications of growth, new life, and goodness emerging.
In the video below, Chris Bell of Good Counsel, shares a difficult scenario that he encountered and transitions into some thoughts on remaining encouraged in the work. May we all remain steadfast in our committment to resist despair and to seek indications of God's goodness at work.
National Maternity Housing Coalition - Chris Bell from Heartbeat International on Vimeo.
by Mary Peterson, Housing Specialist
The pregnancy help movement has long been a advocate of relationship being the central aspect of ministry. Heartbeat developed this principle into a method they refer to as The LOVE Approach which has been taught in countries across the world.
In recent years, brain science and trauma-informed care research has further validated this idea. This area of study is providing new findings and strategies to further develop connection with clients with deep compassion.
Debbie Simmons of Anchor Point has introduced one trauma-informed method, Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), into her life-saving work. She was so convicted about the impact that TBRI was having in her ministry that she become a trainer on the topic.
"TBRI has revolutionized our ministry and seeing that transformation, you can't help but get excited," Simmons said with passion. "It has taken our ministry to the next level of impact." She continued that TBRI has not only changed the way that she does ministry but also the way that she parents and approaches all relationships.
Debbie furthered described the impact saying, "Our clients are 'kids from hard places' and without a radical difference in their lives, they will raise 'kids from hard places.'" Simmons described how practical differences–things like layout of the building, discipline strategies, and communication tools–can shift a client from having a "fixed mindset" to having a "growth mindset."
"In taking our focus on connection to a whole new level," Debbie described, "our staff needed to have eyes of compassion at a whole new level." For Anchor Point, adopting a TBRI framework provided the training and methods allowed that shift to take place. "It allowed us to see our clients in a whole new light."
Valerie Harkins, Program Director of LifeHouse, has also integrated the TBRI model in the daily functioning of their maternity homes. "The new approach allowed us to move away from power struggles to shared decision making," She continued, "We still maintain authority but do so in a way that respects the woman's deep need to feel safe and in control." For further reading on TBRI, Harkins recommends The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis.
Organizations that are interested in learning more about Trust-Based Relational Intervention can join Debbie Simmons as she presents an In-Depth Day at the Heartbeat Conference in Anaheim, CA on April 10, 2018.
Simmons invited organizations to invest in impact. "These are life and death issues...eternal issues," Simmons asserted, "we want to get them right!"
by Hannah Ellis, International Program Specialist
In a recent piece on Pregnancy Help News, Heartbeat shared that Life Choices, a pregnancy help organization in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, is on the verge of opening their first maternity home, “The Inn.”
After hearing the story of the home’s beginnings from Christy Pittman, Project Coordinator, and Bri Sherman, Development Assistant, I noticed a prominent theme that may be helpful to share with others in the pregnancy help movement as you strategize for the future.
In the beginning, Life Choices had a plan for the new maternity home.
Initially, they wanted a large structure that had a lot of rooms (eight, if you want to get specific). Yet, in their searching and looking at properties, God kept bringing them back to the idea of focusing on the relationships with the clients more than the structure of the program. When they began praying through properties, that’s when the funds started coming in and God showed them the house He had for them – a smaller, more intimate house with potential for growth.
Throughout the decision-making process, Christy and Bri realized they also needed to let go of their control over the details of the houseparent situation, and just a week after they did, a couple surfaced who wanted to fill the role.
The team officially closed on the maternity house this summer, and they have begun buying supplies and setting up policies and programming—which, it goes without saying, will be easier to implement in the smaller house. The staff is overjoyed about The Inn, and the official housewarming party will be on September 22, 2017. They are inviting supporters and community members, and are fully anticipating a waiting list.
Life Choice’s motto is “every life valued.” At the new maternity home—named after the inn that was too full for our Lord’s birth—the motto is “two lives at a time.” The Inn offers a safe haven for these women, where there hasn’t been room for them anywhere else. These young women now have a place of refuge where they are free to choose a parenting direction that is best for them.
Proverbs 16 tells us, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Christy and Bri look back now and laugh about their wanting to be in control and said they’ve “learned to let go and let God move.” He has shown that His faithfulness and provision is beyond their own understanding.
Don’t we do that all too often?
We do more planning than praying and more scheming than surrendering, only to find out God’s design is far better than we could think up or imagine. It’s almost like giving an architect a blueprint for how to build our house. Except, add in the fact that the Architect doesn’t follow human rules or reasoning, and sees the whole picture where we see only a part.
When our Crayola-drawn blueprint gets superimposed with His intricate plan, we are humbled to a place of total trust in His more than capable hands.
What about you? Are you holding on to your design with a tight grip? Or, are you letting God hold the pen as He drafts His intricately beautiful plan? Let’s put the crayons down and instead clasp those hands in prayer, asking God what He wants to do. Trust me; He will blow your mind with what He’ll use you to accomplish.
Ephesians 3:20 – “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”
by Mary Peterson, Heartbeat International Housing Specialist
Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, many of the women served by the pregnancy help movement are dreaming of home. A place that is safe. Walls that protect and people who love.
There has been a lot of wild analysis of The Wizard of Oz over the years, trying to unlock the secret meaning of the story. Without venturing too far into that realm, let’s look at the central themes.
Like the Lion, many of the women seeking housing are deeply afraid. That fear might surface as despair, anger, or some other big emotion but, each is looking to the future and afraid of what they see. Being welcomed into a maternity home eliminates some immediate issues and provides the opportunity to find courage for a new path.
Like the Scarecrow, the women might not know what to do, how to start, or where to go. “I don’t know how to be a mom.” “How can I support a child?” The resources provided by a maternity housing program give her practical skills around employment, life skills, and education. And even more important, they build up her wisdom of her gifts and her identity in Christ.
Like the Tin Man, there is a temptation to revert back, to allow things to “rust” and get stuck in old patterns. Maternity homes wrestle with how to invite change in the deepest part of a woman, in her heart. Loving and being loved is transformational. Having stable, caring figures in one’s life allows the possibility of leaving a life of pain to have the fullness of life. Someone can point to the future and say, “I see more for you. I see a vibrant life. I see your heart fully alive.”
For a long time, Heartbeat’s vision for pregnancy help has included the work of housing programs. In recent years, through a partnership with the National Maternity Housing Coalition, a sense of common work has developed amongst maternity housing providers. As homes began talking to one another, we have looked back to the history of maternity housing in order to know where we have been. We have looked at our current realities to understand our similarities and differences. And we’ve begun to look forward to understand how to strengthen existing homes and support the development of new homes.
Our own Yellow Brick Road, if you will.
One strategy is to be a resource for fostering knowledge and skills–and great tools have been developed. One such tool is Maternity Housing Essentials. It’s a guidebook, drawing from the experience of various models and perspectives, to document the key issues related to housing. Laying out the strengths and challenges of various perspectives, the manual invites housing programs to think deeply about their structure and make informed decisions.
A deeper goal is to rally the hearts of those called to or involved in housing. Whenever homes gather, there is a fast sense of “someone who understands.” It’s a work that can be life-giving and draining, all at the same time. By facilitating community and connection, both virtually and in person, Heartbeat is trying to bolster those who give deeply to this important work.
Among homes, there is a great deal of variety in methods. However, there is a strong sense of unity in mission. And that sense of mission reconnects housing to the pregnancy help movement as a whole. Maternity homes exist to support vulnerable women and accompany them through pregnancy related decisions and beyond. In this way, we share a great deal in common with pregnancy centers, pregnancy medical clinics, and adoption agencies.
So, if you find yourself thinking, there is no place like home as you dream about the future, we are ready to help. Just click your ruby slippers together or click here for more information.
by Mary Peterson, LAS, Heartbeat Housing Specialist
It took me awhile to get it.
Geries Shaheen, a Therapist and Adjunct Professor in Psychology, was delivering a workshop entitled "The 3 Indispensable Elements of Holistic Services." It was the last session at the 2017 Heartbeat Conference and my head was already full of faces and new ideas. But eventually, his core message started to click: Doing life together in a maternity home IS the heart of program.
Using principles of pyschology, Shaheen invited participants to think of their work in the maternity home as "naturally conditioning individuals to become active participants in their own reality." In that way, the work of maternity housing staff is less about creating the perfectly managed structure and more about granting the mother opportunities for healthy experiences and helping her make sense of those experiences when needed.
"Organizations tend to ask questions like, 'How many house outings should we plan per month?' but it would be much more natural to approach outings in a more human way. For example, 'How many outings do I go on per month myself? What does my family do?'" Rather than focusing on executing an overly rigid structure, Shaheen encouraged the natural spontaneity of life to have a central place in the life of maternity homes.
"The spontaneous moments of praise that are part of daily life," he taught, "give the brain little boosts of dopamine.” Giving clients these doses of encouragement for small tasks...for example, giving praise when putting on the seat belt...is actually allowing the brain to experience pleasure which in turn, trains the brain to create new neurological pathways. He continued, "We are beings that FEEL first. THEN, we make meaning." Thus, in our interactions with residents, we should allow and invite feelings -- praise, safety, forgiveness, beginning again.
Pointing to various types of therapy, Shaheen acknowledged the role of the clinician. He encouraged homes to actively engage with counselors and therapists. Homes can request "summaries of treatment" and "overview of the goals for the client." Or even “results to a psychological evaluation” which would include mental health goals. But, having been a house-father in a maternity home, he repeatedly returned to the power of relationship.
There is something in his message that I continue to mull on. In my own thinking about the big picture of maternity housing, I've been grappling with the difference and the lack of difference between homes with clinical staff such as counselors, social workers, and therapists, and those without. What is lost? What is gained? In Shaheen's insights, there is a kernel that bridges the therapeutic environment with the loving home. That is simply, the centrality of relationship in experiencing healing and change.
Interested in hearing this workshop or others from the 2017 Heartbeat International Annual Conference? Click here to order.
Geries Shaheen is a Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor operating in and around St. Louis Missouri. He is the behavioral ministries department head at Saint Louis Christian College and teaches psychology classes. He invested 3 years in the lives of pregnant and parenting teens as a house parent through The Sparrow's Nest Maternity Home. Geries provides Adolescent/ Family Therapy through Preferred Family Healthcare, holding his BA in Intercultural Studies from Lincoln Christian University, and his MA in Professional Counseling from Lindenwood University.
by Mary Peterson, LAS, Heartbeat Housing Specialist featuring Susan Barrett and Peggy Forrest
Years ago, I was introduced to the word magnanimous. It’s a mouthful and hard to spell! But, it is used to describe great-hearted individuals–people of courage, insight, conviction, action.
It came to mind when I thought about two leaders in the pregnancy help community, both with vibrant maternity housing programs, who have recently filed lawsuits against governmental bodies.
Susan Barrett, Executive Director of Aid for Women in Chicago, IL, currently has an injunction against the implementation of SB 1564, requiring all medical providers in the state to refer for abortions and counsel clients as to the "benefits" of abortion. “The law would not allow us to continue our mission,” she stated directly. “There was no escaping. If we were going to be forced to comply, why not fight it?”
Peggy Forrest was in a similar position. As Executive Director of Our Lady’s Inn, she recently filed a lawsuit against the so-called “Abortion Sanctuary City” code (St. Louis Ordinance 70459). The ordinance prohibits any organization, church or business from hiring or firing employees on the bases of what the code refers to as, “reproductive health decisions or pregnancy status.” Forrest passionately noted, “With such infringement upon our rights as citizens of the United States and of the state of Missouri, it left us absolutely no choice but to stand up and fight, or pack up and move out of the city of St. Louis. And moving is not a viable option.”
I asked these leaders to talk about overcoming the fear related to filing a lawsuit. Forrest noted that her staff is fully supportive of the action, “we have each other’s backs and know that the Lord is on our side, so we are not afraid.” Barrett echoed the sentiment, “We are not fearful. We put a lot of thought into it and our faith compels us to be strong.”
However, both noted the importance of a network of peers in maintaining strength in the fight. “I surround myself with a group of people who share the same values and are also very strong leaders,” Barrett noted. “It is much easier when people are doing it together.” Forrest suggested something similar, “If your mission is in jeopardy, find someone to stand with you. There is strength and power in numbers.”
Various laws and codes that further push an abortion agenda have been popping up in various parts of the country. The pro-life movement and maternity housing community are grateful for these two leaders, and others like them, who have chosen magnanimous leadership. May their witness of great-heartedness encourage all of us to do the same when needed!
For more info about these two programs or their strong leaders, please visit their websites:
Aid for WomenOur Lady’s Inn
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