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Home for Unwed Mothers Shows Pro-Life is Pro-Woman

I know what it’s like to be pregnant and homeless. It’s why I now devote my time to helping young women in similar situations.

Shortly after graduating from high school in 2005, I learned that I was pregnant. Family members, driven by fear, pressured me to get an abortion, convinced that my having a child so young would ruin my boyfriend’s life and mine.

I, too, feared the unknown, but in my heart, I profoundly loved my child. I knew that he was a gift from God and worthy of life, and I would never be able to take that from him.

So, at just 18 years old and with very little support, I and my unborn child had no place to call home. Although he wanted to, my boyfriend was too young to be able to provide what we needed. So, I temporarily moved in with my grandparents and desperately tried to figure out a plan after Jayden was born.

My boyfriend, who had been scrambling to find work, ended up enlisting in the Navy. Our financial situation eventually became stable enough to allow us to get married, and since then, we have had two more children. They, along with Jayden, are the loves of our lives.

Yet even with the stability of the Navy, my husband and our wonderful children, I thought that something was missing.

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It all became clear while job searching about seven years ago. A maternity home in Jacksonville, Florida, called the Divine Mercy House was looking to hire. The adjacent Catholic parish, Saint Joseph’s, had originally donated the land for this home in 2006, and the community came together to raise the funds for the building, furniture, and operating expenses.

The Divine Mercy House in Jacksonville, Florida, has five rooms in which mothers can stay, including one room that has the capacity for a mother with two children. (Photo: Divine Mercy House)

Though I was drawn to the job, I quickly talked myself out of it, since I had no experience in ministry. Soon, however, I was bombarded by texts and phone calls from those in my community, urging me to apply.

When I finally interviewed there, I left discouraged. On top of feeling unprepared for the role, the pay was much less than I needed to help support my three children at home. I wrote off the job and planned for my next interview with a company that paid more and where my skill set fit better.

On my way home after an interview with that company, my son Gabriel, then 7, asked me how it went. It couldn’t have gone better, I shared, and I would take the job. His response struck me: “That’s great, Mom, but I think God wants you to work at the maternity home.”

Despite my lingering fears, I immediately knew he was right. My husband nervously agreed with me as I mentioned to him I was going to accept the position. That was 2018.

It turned out that the next years were filled with many challenges, but also great blessings. After just one year as her assistant, the director resigned with little notice in 2019. Not being able to find anyone more experienced and willing to fill her role, I asked them to consider me as director.

I had many ideas and quickly got to work. I knew a strong, inspiring team of staffers was hard to find and retain, but necessary, if we were to make a positive and lasting impact on the mothers we served. We revised our policies to allow mothers to stay for as long as they need to after their children are born. We also completed a full renovation of the house with new flooring, new furniture, newly painted walls, and more.

We have five rooms in which mothers can stay, including one room that has the capacity for a mother with two children. We first connect women with available resources, including Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, and more. We provide transportation so that our residents can pursue free education in the form of an associate or bachelor’s degree at Florida State College, and to go to their medical appointments. We also set up savings accounts, which the mothers contribute to regularly and ultimately receive back in full at the end of their stay.

All this and more sets them on a new path full of opportunity that leads to success.

Demand for our services has never been greater. Unfortunately, the city of Jacksonville, like most other places in the nation, lacks affordable housing. Wages are low, rent is high, and record inflation makes it challenging for many young, single, and struggling mothers to make ends meet.

Because I am no stranger to economic hardship, my heart truly beats for these women and their beautiful babies. I understand what it is like to be pregnant without a loving and supportive home environment, so now I work to make sure that other women have what I didn’t.

I had a recent encounter with a struggling young mother who came to Divine Mercy looking for help. Usually, I am excellent at reading people, but in this case I was completely unable to glean from her facial expressions any reaction to seeing our home for the first time. So I asked for her thoughts.

Overcome, she whispered the words that I hope every mother who comes to us for help can say, “I’ve just never felt this way before. It feels like home.”

LifeNews Note: Amy Woodward is a wife and mother, and the executive director of Divine Mercy House, a maternity home in Jacksonville, Florida. This originally appeared at The Daily Signal.

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