(Washington Examiner) It’s early in the morning at Bethlehem House, and our campus is already bustling with activity as children get ready for school, mothers prep for a busy workday, and some of the grandparents that live on the grounds step out for a morning walk. I smile as different people wave good morning — our community is like a large extended family.
It’s a community we’ve spent decades building. Nearly 20 years ago, a group of friends and I were heartbroken to see so many broken families in our community and the women who suffered as a result. We knew that the “quick fix” of abortion was not the answer for pregnant women struggling with poverty, addiction, and homelessness — but what hope did they or their children have?
We came up with an action-oriented solution to address the root causes of their suffering: the Bethlehem House. The Bethlehem House is a maternity home that helps women who choose life to break their addictions, achieve educational degrees and career goals, and become financially independent. Most importantly, our solution allows them to keep their children and be a part of a family.
Since 2005, Bethlehem House has offered a safe home and a new life to more than 1,200 families. Our main home for our Family Life Program has 12 bedrooms where women and their babies stay on average 9-14 months completely free of charge.
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It was clear right away that we were meeting a dire need. Prior to arriving at Bethlehem House, 98% of our residents were chronically homeless, 92% suffered from addiction, 86% had a criminal history, and 100% were below the poverty line with little or no family support. One hundred percent of our women also reported feeling abandoned, abused, and neglected by family or someone close to them.
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Knowing that these women needed an intense intervention to rebuild their lives, we partnered with local hospitals and therapists for weekly therapy sessions and nursing visits. We also partnered with local doctors and addiction specialists to ensure that our residents had the resources and support to help break their addictions and maintain sobriety. All our staff members are professionally trained and specialize in social work, nursing, grief, and faith formation, as well as addiction and recovery. Our staff are on-site and available to our women 24/7, 365 days a year.
As part of our effort to fulfill our promise to always be there for our residents, we expanded our services with the launch of our AfterCare Program. Through AfterCare, which lasts for life, any former resident is eligible to apply and live in one of our 15 fully furnished Bethlehem House apartments, stocked with household supplies and toiletries. Any former resident in AfterCare receives individualized case management to ensure that they are maintaining sobriety and meeting their educational, life, and career goals.
We’ve been blessed to see so many women completely turn their lives around. Seventy-six percent leave our care completely free from reliance on government assistance, welfare, and food stamps. A shocking 96% of our residents break the cycle of homelessness and maintain stable housing, and 50% of our current and former residents are working toward a college degree or mastering a trade. Nearly 86% of our residents achieve and maintain sobriety.
Our very own Family Life Director Tammi was one of Bethlehem House’s first residents in 2006. Tammi was homeless, struggling with addiction, and had a criminal history when she showed up pregnant on our doorstep. She had no family to support her.
Bethlehem House became like a family to Tammi as she fought to become drug-free and rebuild her life. We shared Tammi’s sorrows and joys over the years — we rejoiced with her when her beautiful daughter Katrina was born, and we were there to comfort Tammi and cry with her when Katrina died at 22 weeks. Today, Tammi has been sober for 17 years and is a successful homeowner, a hardworking woman, and our family life manager. She is also one of my dearest friends.
Countless stories such as Tammi’s are why Bethlehem House has tirelessly worked for nearly 20 years not only to help women choose life but also to heal and strengthen them so that they can lead joyful, healthy lives of their own. As one Bethlehem House mother recently told me, “Because I chose life, I now have a life.”
Hearing these beautiful words and seeing the happy families thriving in our apartments and our community reminds me of Mother Teresa’s words: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
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I see the truth and power of those words daily at Bethlehem House. By loving the many women and their unborn children who arrive at our doorstep, I know that we are changing the world, little by little.
Editor's note: Gina Tomes is the program director for Bethlehem House, Omaha, Nebraska. This article was published by the Washington Examiner and is reprinted with permission.