Special to The Dialog
Magdalena Ochoa’s life came tumbling down last year.
She was driving a van that was involved in an incident in which her brother was fatally injured. Her family, which she said was already dysfunctional, struggled with the brother’s death. Her father kicked Magdalena out of his house.
She moved in with her boyfriend, but again was kicked out after he learned she was pregnant. While living with her grandmother, she realized she wanted a more stable life for her unborn child.
An Internet search of residences for unwed mothers led Magdalena, now 20, to Bayard House, a residence operated by Catholic Charities for pregnant women with nowhere else to turn. Bayard House helped her begin the process of turning her life around.
Last month Magdalena gave birth to her daughter, Jocelyn, at St. Francis Hospital. Four days earlier, Magdalena had completed the math section toward obtaining her GED at New Castle Learning Center. Several weeks after Jocelyn’s birth, Magdalena began the second of the four instructional segments to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. She hopes to take college classes after that, perhaps going into nursing or education — fields that will help her in raising her daughter.
“I could just instantly feel relief” when she entered the program, Magdalena said.
Bayard House is one of the diocesan ministries that will be aided by “Sustaining Hope for the Future,” a capital campaign that seeks $28 million from Catholics in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Through the campaign, the Diocese of Wilmington will provide $2 million for those ministries as well as $10 million to bolster the Lay Employee Pension Fund; $3 million for the Trust for the Welfare and Retirement of Priests, and $11.2 million for individual parish projects.
Thirty-three parishes will participate in Wave II of the campaign, which officially begins the weekend of Sept. 20-21. Those parishes have a combined target of $16,435,000.
The money for the diocesan ministries, Lay Employee Retirement Fund, and Trust for the Welfare and Retirement of Priests will help the diocese in its financial recovery from the 2011 bankruptcy settlement that settled almost 150 lawsuits concerning past clergy sexual abuse. Well before that settlement, the diocese had taken steps to better ensure the safety of children in its ministries and programs and to guard them from potential abuse.
Each woman who enters Bayard House has her own unique story, Program Manager Kim Ellis said. Magdalena’s story began well before her brother’s death. [Magdalena’s named was changed for this article.]
She grew up in a broken family, she said. At 15 her mother kicked Magdalena out of her house. “I didn’t know where I was going.” She moved in with her father.
When her brother was arrested and needed money for bail and legal expenses, her parents could not provide it. Someone told her she could make some money by stripping. “I decided to dance for one night.”
She earned $420, and realized what such money could do for her family. So she continued dancing, first as a stripper and then in bikinis. The money helped her mother get an apartment and bought clothing, shoes and other items for her brother and sisters.
While she earned good money as a dancer, the work made her feel “uncomfortable.” That, she believes, led her to smoke marijuana heavily and to party constantly.
Then came her brother’s death, which was extremely hard for Magdalena. She felt responsible for his death. As the oldest child, she considered him and their three sisters as “being like my own children.”
Once at Bayard House she attended counseling sessions provided by Catholic Charities’ counseling services twice a week. “I was having a lot of issues myself,” she said.
The counseling that Magdalena received through Catholic Charities’ Wilmington office is also offered in Dover and in Princess Anne, Md. Those programs will also benefit from Sustaining Hope for the Future.
Shamla McLaurin, counseling services program manager, said the services provide a vital need in areas such as Dover, providing local residents with options.
“A large number of our clients are low-income or on Medicare,” Ellis said, since Catholic Charities’ fees are less than the going rate of typical counseling services. Without a lower-cost option many would turn to hospital treatment when having a mental health crisis.
Catholic Charities is a faith-based organization, so “they (clients) can include faith in their counseling sessions.”
The Dover office had 115 new clients last year, including four in an intensive outpatient counseling program for children that typically includes nine months to a year of counseling. That program has a total of nine clients.
Typically, adult clients receive two months of counseling, or eight sessions, though McLaurin said some continue counseling for several more months. Catholic Charities offers mental health and substance abuse counseling.
Three full-time counselors and two paid on a per-session basis staff the Dover office.
At Bayard House, Ellis said she is happiest in her job when residents “take advantage of all that we offer,” as Magdalena has. Other services include housing and medical care, parenting classes, independent living skills, money management, and resume and job interviewing skills. Clients also are invited to participate in Project Straight Talk, telling their stories to students in Wilmington area middle and high schools.
Since Bayard House opened in 1980, more than 1,000 babies have been born to residents. Catholic Charities took over Bayard House operations in 2004.
The need is obvious, Ellis said. “Homelessness for pregnant women places two generations at risk,” she said. “Bayard House gives our residents the next best thing to a home, with a way to get quality care for their unborn child and the help they need to help them create healthy, happy, self-sufficient families.”
Several programs assist the young mothers after the birth of their children.
Several years ago Bayard House started a food cooperative to provide former residents and low-income families with nutritious food, “especially those high-cost baby items,” at little cost. More recently Bayard House joined the National Diaper Bank Network.
Ellis, who had worked in social services in the Philadelphia area for 15 years, came to Bayard House in 2012. “When I got here I saw the plan that God had for me,” she said, based on her own experience when her daughter became pregnant while a 20-year-old college sophomore. She keeps a photo of her grandson, now 4, in her office, but recalls being upset when she learned her daughter was pregnant.
When another mother brought her daughter to Bayard House, Ellis spoke individually with each. That mother also was upset. “From personal experience I was able to tell that mother that time heals.”
The daughter also “was heartbroken. She thought it was the end of the world. I was able to share with her something I had shared with her mother: ‘Time heals. God mends relationships.’”
The mother accompanied her daughter to doctor’s appointments throughout the pregnancy. A month after the child’s birth the mother showed up once again. “The mother had prepared her basement for her daughter and the baby to come home.”
Time also has improved Magdalena’s situation. She and Jocelyn are preparing to move in with her father. She is confident in her newfound parenting skills and hopeful for the future.
Bayard House, she said, “helped me in so many ways.”
Sustaining Hope for the Future will help Bayard House continue its services for other young women like Magdalena.
• • •
Questions about the Sustaining Hope campaign
How does the diocese fund its offices and ministries in this campaign?
The diocese has two major sources of income: the Annual Catholic Appeal and parish assessments. Catholics in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore have faithfully supported the Annual Catholic Appeal since its inception. Its goal was to help cover any gap between what the diocese felt was needed to meet the needs of the poor and suffering, to form Catholics in their faith and reach out spiritually to others, and what it received through the parish assessment. The assessment can be likened to a tax the city or county might assess for basic services.
If the ministries receive those moneys, why do they need an additional $2 million?
Actually, the ministries could use more than $2 million. The diocese cut back on staff following the 2011 bankruptcy settlement and continued its ministries sometimes on a bare-bones basis. With the bankruptcy the Diocesan Foundation was decimated; in the past the foundation provided money for start-up of new programs and supplemental funding when necessary. Despite their bare-bones approach, ministries such as Bayard House have innovatively found ways to expand services, such as the National Diaper Bank Network for low-income families that is funded primarily through private donations. The $2 million from the campaign will ease the burden diocesan offices and ministries have faced since the bankruptcy settlement.