Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shelter celebrates a decade of assisting women and babies

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

Pregnancy is new life.
There should be joy and hope.
But that's not the case for every expectant mother.
'I was depressed, hopeless and scared,' said Tyreena Mendez of Temple.
The month was March.
'I had one baby with me, and I was eight months pregnant with another,' Ms. Mendez said. 'I had no friends, no family, no where to go.'
She had come to Killeen from Puerto Rico to let her son Devyn see his father.
'He was locked up, about to go to prison for a DUI,' Ms. Mendez said. 'After that, I went to a shelter in Copperas Cove.' And that's where she learned about the Our Lady of Angels Maternity Shelter in Temple, a non-profit United Way agency that provides emergency housing to pregnant women.
By April she was an Our Lady resident.
'Things started to make sense there,' Ms. Mendez said. 'My spirit healed, and I found the courage to find a job and make it on my own.'
She had a job by June and a place of her own by July. Her income was steady enough by September to buy a cell phone. And her new baby, Denard, is happy.
'That's what we like to see,' said JaLeta Tidmore, the shelter director. 'The girls come in, find stability and safety, develop networks, start working on goals - and then they start to succeed at life.'
In the last decade, shelter staff and volunteers have helped more than 200 women work toward that goal.
To celebrate its 10 years of service, the shelter will have an open house tomorrow 3-5 p.m. at 613 S. Ninth St. in Temple. A prayer of Thanksgiving is planned for 4 p.m.
'There will be a lot of people coming in for the Open House,' Ms. Tidmore said. 'Representative from the local Catholic churches, the many previous employees, directors and original benefactors. It'll be wonderful to have everyone back.'
Part of tomorrow's program will be dedicated to the volunteers.
'This place wouldn't run without them,' Ms. Tidmore said. 'So it's very appropriate that we recognize them at the time of the 10th anniversary.'

The process
The Our Lady of Angels Maternity Shelter can house up to 12 pregnant women and any children they already have in its dormitory-style rooms.
Two mothers room together unless there's a mom who has a large brood.
'The roommate relationship is valuable,' Ms. Tidmore said. 'It prevents the new mom from feeling alone. It can be a doorway to a powerful relationship.'
The shelter's two current residents know what Ms. Tidmore's talking about. Gabrielle Sapenter and Mary Parsons say they're like sisters, even though they've known each other less than two months.
They're both in their mid-20s, jobless and without family. Ms. Sapenter is 3 months pregnant, and Ms. Parson is at 8 months.
'Watching what Mary has already gone through kind of helps me be prepared,' Ms. Sapenter said.
When the women arrived, their first task was to meet with a social worker and come up with a three-month plan.
'The goal is to have the girls independent in three months,' Ms. Tidmore said. 'It's rough right now, like everything else in the economy, but it can be done.'
With the social worker, the residents apply for Medicare, food stamps and the women, infants and children nutrition program or W.I.C.
'We follow up with the girls everyday to see how they're doing on their paper work,' Ms. Tidmore said.
Ms. Mendez liked the structure when she was a resident.
'They help you get things started,' Ms. Mendez said. 'It's hard enough to say everything that your brain knows has to be done. But once its out, they put it on paper and it becomes manageable.'
Ms. Mendez is grateful because the step-by-step program she developed with her social worker led her not just to a full-time job and paycheck but also to a life filled with friends and community functions. Her three-month plan included visiting area churches.
'I wanted to learn the town,' Ms. Mendez said. 'I wanted to feel like I belonged, and after I started making friends, I started to volunteer at places, which is what led me to my job. I belong now.'
Ms. Parsons is equally appreciative of the shelter's structure.
'Everything's on track,' Ms. Parsons said. 'I'm studying to be a nurse. The paper work is ready for the baby, and right now I'm focused on figuring out how to get an apartment.'
In between paper work and job-hunting, the residents take parenting classes from the Hope Pregnancy Center, another area non-profit group that caters to pregnant women.
'The girls who come here, they don't know safety,' Ms. Tidmore said. 'They don't know anything but survival, so we start with the basics.'
The staff emphasizes that asking for help is OK.
'That doesn't make them bad mothers,' Ms. Tidmore said. 'It makes them good ones for doing the best they can for their baby.'
And to help the residents in gaining employment, the shelter joins efforts with the Texas Workforce.
'Skills are identified, and the Texas Workforce sends them job matches,' Ms. Tidmore said. 'They're expected to apply to five jobs a day and follow up with phone calls.'
Computers are available at the shelter for Internet research and email communication.
And if a resident lacks a diploma, the shelter will help her obtain a GED.

Life in the shelter
The shelter's house-parents are Catholic nuns from the Sisters of Sacred Sciences.
'The Sisters take the girls ... twice a week to do their shopping,' Ms. Tidmore said. 'They cook lunch for the residents every day, and keep the house pantry stocked with all the staples. The residents buy what they prepare for dinner.'
The Sisters live at the shelter with the expectant mothers, so if there are any needs that arise during the night, the Sisters are at hand, ready and capable.
'That's the best part,' Ms. Mendez said. 'They are there to share their words of wisdom. They are so kind and so wise. They know what to say when it counts.'
Recreation in the shelter usually takes place in the TV room. Children have control of the remote from 3-5 p.m., and the adults get it from 5 to 9:30 p.m.
'Lights go out at 11 p.m.,' Ms. Tidmore said. 'Midnight on the weekends.'
The residents get help with transportation via a van service.
'The shelter has a driver,' Ms. Tidmore said. 'And the residents sign the van in and out on a sheet in the hall. This lets us know where everyone is, and it helps the residents schedule their days without many conflicts.'
The van takes the residents to churches, club meetings, job interviews, work places and volunteer sites.
Residents are usually well on their way to independence at the end of their three months, Ms. Tidmore said.
'And we're there for them after they leave,' Ms. Tidmore added. 'If they need baby clothes, food or diapers, we help them as much as we can.'
Ms. Mendez knows.
'They helped me get started in the apartment,' Ms. Mendez said. 'And they still call me to make sure I'm doing OK, and I like to take the babies over to the house to visit.'
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Did you know?
From 1999 to 2009, the Our Lady of Angels Maternity Shelter in Temple helped 231 women and 166 children. Of the 166 children, 53 were newborns, one of whom was born on shelter grounds.

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