Several Sources Shelters recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a fundraising gala honoring its history and the organization’s vision for the future.
Abby Johnson was the featured speaker, and 200 people, including 27 high school students who received sponsorship to attend, gathered for the gala, said Lisa Klunder, CEO. Inviting the youth and having board members “step up” to sponsor their attendance, was a critical move.
“It was remarkable,” Klunder said. “I wanted them to hear Abby Johnson’s story. That is such a pivotal age that we’re trying to help and get the message to. It was a fabulous event!”
The New Jersey-based Several Sources Shelters began because of a teenager.
The history, vision, and mission
Kathy DiFiore started the faith-based non-profit from her home after discovering a local pregnant teenager sleeping in a car near the young woman’s high school. The seed of vision planted in Kathy’s heart, and she began sheltering pregnant teenage girls free of charge in her home. Challenges to her endeavors came in the form of legal issues and a $10,000 fine for operating an illegal boarding house, which was later rescinded thanks to the
Reagan administration and Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
“After she (Kathy) took in the one girl, she quickly learned there were many girls who had been kicked out of their homes because they were pregnant,” Klunder said. “Forty years ago, it was completely unacceptable to be pregnant out of wedlock. Being pregnant in high school was a shame and an embarrassment to the family.”
The mission is to “provide cost-free maternity housing and support for young women that are facing unplanned pregnancies and related concerns,” said Klunder. Several Sources Shelters also helps these women make “life-affirming choices” through the two maternity homes in New Jersey that the organization manages, and the programs offered, including education, counseling, and budgeting/finances classes.
“We were, and still are, so incredibly blessed to serve so many girls and babies and families,” Klunder said. “Women find opportunities, success, and independence, which is our goal for them.”
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According to the organization’s website, more than “34,000 babies have been helped” through the organization’s efforts.
Women stay 12 to 18 months, longer if needed “on a case-by-case basis,” added Klunder.
“They are required to create an exit plan, almost within that first week, providing a light at the end of the tunnel that they strive toward,” she said.
Earlier this year, two women who each pursued a four-year college degree, graduated both from school and from Several Sources Shelter; one stayed three years with the shelter and the other for four years, Klunder said.
“I know we broke that cycle of poverty with them,” she said.
For such a time as this
Klunder took the helm of Several Sources Shelters in April 2020. DiFiore retired after a car accident left her critically injured; she now serves as President Emeritus and as an Executive Committee Member on the Board of Directors. Klunder comes from an event planning and fundraising background, particularly in sports philanthropy. She spent 18 years with Indiana’s College Football Hall of Fame and then worked for Coach Brian Kelly with his Kelly Cares Foundation.
“I loved that job so much!” Klunder said.
However, a move transpired after her husband, a football coach, went to work for the New York Giants. Caring for her terminally ill mother still in Indiana, Klunder began to search for work in the New York/New Jersey area. Her interviews included Several Sources Shelters with DiFiore and the board chair. Klunder received employment offers from the four organizations with whom she interviewed. That was February 2020.
“My mom, who was dying, told me, ‘You need to go help the babies.’ I totally blew her off and said, ‘Oh, Mom, no – I want to stay in sports.’ She died three days later.”
Afterward came time to make a decision and prepare to move east to be with her husband. Then came the COVID-19 shutdown.
“All three of the sports nonprofits rescinded their job offers. I was utterly devastated,” Klunder said.
However, the job of CEO with Several Sources Shelters still stood, and a phone call from the organization’s board chair convinced Klunder her mother had been right.
This has been quite a journey for me,” she said. “God is good because God has a vision, and my mom knew it before she passed away. God has such a bigger picture for us. We may not always see it day-to-day, but I know I’m here for a reason, and it’s been such a gift! It’s been so fulfilling for me personally.”
“Taking it to the streets” and mailboxes
Even prior to Klunder’s hire, the mission of housing expanded into two other ministries for Several Sources Shelters.
The first, a mobile ministry called Gift of Hope, began eight years ago. A medical mobile unit travels five days a week and provides pregnancy testing and ultrasound as well as “counseling and encouragement,” said Klunder. The unit “goes where it’s needed most – in these girls’ neighborhoods,” she said.
The second additional program is called Special Families Ministry in which women and their children who were once part of Several Sources Shelters can receive assistance from the organization if they fall on hard times. For example, if a woman loses her job and needs help paying rent or utilities, that woman can request help from Several Sources Shelters. Earlier this year, the organization conducted a backpack campaign, filling more than 140 backpacks for children of former residents in grades K-12, Klunder said.
“We mailed these backpacks to our families across the country as a gift from all of our donors … filled with school supplies they needed for the year,” she said.
Although the focus for Several Sources Shelters is on women living in the tristate area of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, the Special Families Ministry remains “true to Kathy’s vision” of helping those who were part of the program and living elsewhere.
“We will help people when we can,” Klunder said.
Future vision and changes
Several changes are planned for 2022 as new vision takes root. The first endeavor is adding a second mobile under a partnership with Save the Storks.
“In the first quarter of 2022, we will have two units traveling across northern New Jersey,” Klunder said.
Also planned is a brand, name, and logo change.
“People think we are only a shelter, but we’re much more than that,” Klunder said.
The word ‘Shelters’ will be dropped, and the organization will become simply “Several Sources.”
“Society has changed, the culture has changed – it’s more acceptable now for a teenager to be pregnant,” Klunder said. “Parents and family members are more accepting of it, and that’s good. We’ve seen a trend and the need for the shelter changed. What we’re seeing as a need for these young, pregnant girls is that day-to-day counseling – they don’t need the shelter, but they still need that pregnancy support.”
She added, “We’re at a pivotal stage, and we are looking very hard at the data, and we are expanding our pregnancy resource center into a medical resource center.”
These changes call for additional staff, and Klunder says she is excited about the younger generation stepping in with ideas and zeal.
“It’s really an exciting time – I refer to it as a season of renewal,” she said. “The Lord has blessed us, and we are really excited about our future. We have a lot of work to do, and we’re very excited to do it.”
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