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St. Raymond's House offers place to stay, grow

St. Raymond's House offers place to stay, grow

Home helps pregnant women during, after pregnancy

March 31st, 2013 in News

St. Raymond's Society residents, from left, Unique Gonzales, Jessica Wilson, Kloi McAdams and son, Ashton, 4 mos., and Misti Williams serve food to dining room guests at the Salvation Army Center of Hope on a recent Monday. Gonzales is the house mother to the girls and works with them to improve the lives of them and their children.

Photo by Julie Smith

When a woman is invited to stay at the St. Raymond's House, she is measured not by her past but supported for her potential.

The St. Raymond Society organized in about 2010 to support mothers who have chosen life for their child and to continue support after the baby is born. The society also provides resources for parents to become self-reliant and to provide a stable home for their child.

Overwhelming support allowed the society to open this pilot home in Jefferson City in January 2012, and it has served 12 mothers since then.

Krystal was the first resident.

She came to them pregnant with her third child, diagnosed with cervical cancer and a determination to keep her baby and beat cancer.

Through the health challenges and on to completing her education, St. Raymond's provided Krystal and her children a safe place to live, a sense of responsibility in being part of the house, and time for her to define life goals and make a plan to achieve them.

Now Krystal provides for her family in her own home, while also pursuing a college degree.

Most women who have been referred to the St. Raymond's House have similar stories of redirection, success and, most definitely, hope.

There is no stereotype for the women who find help at the St. Raymond's House. They've had a 40-year-old with a degree and teenagers without a GED.

The home is God's love in motion. But the language is actions, not necessarily words.

After meeting their needs and following through, "they see that God is real," said volunteer Shauna Balk.

Volunteers balance holding women accountable while also providing a supportive, loving and safe place.

"I'm not afraid to do that," said Unique Gonzales. "I would not be productive otherwise."

Gonzales became house mom this summer.

Raised by a single mother, Gonzales said she has admired women who live that lifestyle and has had a passion to serve them.

A social work major, this has been an opportunity for Gonzales to fulfill that desire and gain first-hand experience for her future career.

As a single 28-year-old, Gonzales said occasionally it can be difficult but always more rewarding. Each woman is in her own point of transition and it's always worth it, she said.

"God packaged it perfectly for me," Gonzales said. "Every single one has helped me, too."

As house chairman, Balk is in daily communication with Gonzales.

Balk joined St. Raymond's when the house had been offered but rules and renovations were yet to be drafted.

"It's still evolving," Balk said.

Although they sought advice from other maternity homes, the St. Raymond's model is also a transitional home, serving mothers after pregnancy, too.

Even after mothers like Krystal move on, the volunteers keep in touch.

That's because of the core of the ministry - building relationships, said co-founder Steve Smith.

Each mother is connected with a mentor from the community. Each Saturday, Balk and Gonzales provide fun outings for the residents. Once a week, the clients serve a meal at The Salvation Army.

Supper time and Sunday church attendance somewhere is mandatory for everyone.

"A true, sustainable change is only possible with a relationship with God and realizing life is not about you," Balk said.

Smith added, "We see so much talent and character in them, but they've been beaten down.

"We just want them to be what God intended them to be."

Many of the women who have been helped by St. Raymond's had not experienced a stable, support structure before.

Part of that support is holding them accountable to their individual plan, created with their goals and their vision for what they want to be when they leave, Balk said.

For many women, they struggled for so long to survive day-to-day that they hadn't contemplated beyond today.

"When their needs are met, they can finally have a vision," Balk said. "Even with small victories, their whole disposition can change."

The house welcomes mentors willing to build relationships with mothers.

They collect household supplies to help these women when they move on to their own home.

And they have tax credits offered through the State Maternity Home program.

Organizers hope the transformation most of these mothers experience at St. Raymond's House will span far beyond their stay, Balk said.

"It's incredible to be part of that," she said.

Accompanying photo: St. Raymond's House residents

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