Monday, September 1, 2014

‘Changing a life while saving another’

LIVES SAVED AND CHANGED FOREVER — The Liberty Godparent Home was established by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell in 1982 to give young women an alternative to abortion.

Picture a woman staring at two pink lines on a home pregnancy test, consumed by her thoughts. She is panicked and unsure of where to turn. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2009 this scene reflects nearly half of all American  pregnancies. The Liberty Godparent Home, a Christian maternity home in Lynchburg, Va. that offers an alternative to abortion, is planning its 2010 Winter Market Nov. 19 through Nov. 21 to raise money for girls going through this same situation.

One of the girls using the Godparent Homes services is 23-year-old Kelly White, who came to the home two months ago looking for help and understanding.

“I just needed a place away from all the drama,” White said. “I wanted to be able to focus on if I was ready to become a mom or if I needed to place my daughter up for adoption.”

The Liberty Godparent Home, originally called “Save A Baby,” supplies girls with a safe, supportive environment to help them make these decisions.

Its founder, the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, created the home in 1982 after a confrontational run-in with a reporter about the ruling of Roe vs. Wade.

“The reporter overheard him talking about how awful abortion is and how he is pro-choice, so she asked if he was so against it, why hadn’t he presented pregnant girls with another option?” Director of the Godparent Home Janelle Basham said. “So he did.”

Family Life Services, a private adoption agency that works with residents of the Godparent Home who choose to place their baby, was established a year later in 1983.

The home takes in girls of all backgrounds and ages, and can care for up to 12 girls at a time. Right now, the home houses eight girls. White is the oldest of its current residents.

Before her pregnancy, White says she was living an unfulfilling life. She struggled to make ends meet at a minimum wage job and was living with a man she knew was not right for her. He was involved with drugs, and having come from a similar upbringing, White did not want the same for her daughter. White’s aunt and uncle, whose close friends had a good experience with the Godparent Home, suggested she go there for a fresh start.

“It was the right decision,” White said. “The people here have treated me so graciously and are very supportive. They paint a realistic picture of if we can provide for our babies and do it well.”

The Godparent Home, with its mission statement “Changing a Life While Saving Another,” strives to help young women investigate all their options.

At Family Life Services, the girls attend adoption classes where they learn about different forms of adoption, such as closed, mediated or open. They are also taught how to deal with the grieving process if they should decide to place their child.

The Godparent Home focuses on teaching practical life skills, such as budgeting, job searching, how to properly wash a baby and everything in between. Each girl is also assigned a specific caseworker to take them to appointments and follow up on their care.

While staying at the home, the girls continue their education through a private tutor and online courses if needed.

“We try to create a structured environment,” Assistant Director of Family Life Services Deanne Hamlette said. “We want to teach the girls skills they can use and try to make them comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.”

Various fundraisers are held throughout the year by the Liberty Godparent Foundation, including the upcoming 2010 Winter Market Nov. 19-21 in Liberty University’s Schilling Center.

Since 1982, Basham says the home has had four different locations and housed more than 700 girls. According to Family Life Services most recent statistics, 60 percent of the birthmothers choose to parent and 40 percent choose adoption.

White, who is 26 weeks pregnant and still weighing her options, currently feels led to parent her daughter.

“I have prayed about it, and I really feel like it’s what God wants me to do,” she said.

Basham, who went through the home 17 years ago before becoming its director, chose to place her daughter Amber up for adoption. Her reason for doing so was to supply her daughter with a solid father figure. When she reunited with her daughter eight years ago, Basham knew she had made the right decision.

“She is right where she needs to be,” Basham said. “I had a peace that surpasses all understanding when I saw her.”

Her positive experience at the home is what led Basham to return years later as an employee.

“When I was there, the staff totally invested in me and helped me see how strong I could be. I wanted to do the same for other girls,” Basham said.

She served as a caseworker for 10 years before being promoted to her current position as director. It is the first time a past resident has held the position. Basham hopes her personal experience will help her connect with the girls on a deeper level since most of what they are going through, she has also gone through. White agrees that is the case.

“Janelle has helped me get up and keep going,” White said. “She gave me hope.”

Even after the girls leave the home, baby in tow or not, the staff makes a constant effort to keep in contact through phone calls, e-mails and Facebook.

The girls’ caseworkers also have an open door policy, and are available to counsel and talk with them if needed in the future.

They also do their best to stay updated on adoptive families and the babies placed in them by offering ongoing support groups and get-together events throughout the year, such as Christmas and ice skating reunion parties.

“We want girls to realize that getting pregnant at a young age doesn’t mean their life is over,” Basham said. “They don’t have to live in shame here.”

White says she would not be who she is today if it were not for this mindset. The home has taught her that she can have faith in God and people, and that it is still possible for her dreams to happen.

In a world where unwed mothers are often judged, White said she is relieved to have found a safe haven where she is viewed as so much more than damaged goods.

For more information about the Liberty Godparent Foundation’s 2010 Winter Market, visit the event’s Facebook page.

Editor’s Note: Kelly White is not the girl’s real name. It was changed for privacy.

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