New ministry aims to fill vital need for young mothers with nowhere to turn
Kelly Luttinen | Special to The Michigan Catholic
Eastpointe — The staff at Gianna House, a new facility to help young girls dealing with unplanned pregnancies, is “just like family,” according to 23-year-old Delon.
The young mother learned about Gianna House through a referral from another center, Pregnancy Aid, and after taking Lamaze birthing classes at Gianna House in October, she delivered a healthy baby boy Nov. 30. Both mother and son are doing well, and Delon is grateful for the help she received.
“This was my first pregnancy,” said Delon, whose last name is being withheld by The Michigan Catholic to protect her privacy. “Had I not gone to those classes at Gianna House, I would have been clueless as to my delivery.
“They were so loving and caring, so warm and welcoming there. They offer a lot of resources and a lot of great information.”
After six years of planning and hard work, the dedicated group of pro-life religious and laity responsible for creating Gianna House brought their project to fruition in June 2015.
The facility, located on the property of St. Veronica Parish in Eastpointe in the former convent building that housed the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth for nearly 80 years, currently operates as a pregnancy resource center open to all pregnant women, but its long-term goals are more specific.
The eventual aim of Gianna House is to provide a residence specifically for teenage mothers-to-be, especially those under the age of 18.
Inspiration from a saint
Gianna House is named for St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who sacrificed her own life to save her unborn daughter. A physician, Gianna knew the implications of not having surgery for her uterine tumor, but told the medical staff and her family that if it came to choosing between her life and the life of her child, she chose her baby. St. Gianna died seven days after giving birth to a healthy baby girl.
The idea to start Gianna House came about in 2009 when the Livonia-based Felician Sisters were looking for a way to better serve the poor and needy. According to Sr. Mary Diane Masson, CSSF, executive director of Gianna House, the sisters “participate in many cooperative initiatives for the poor, but at that time, we were a looking for a sponsorship that would be all our own.”
After researching underserved needs in the Metro Detroit area, “I found very few programs offering housing for pregnant teens,” Sr. Masson said. Though organizations such as Alternatives for Girls, Covenant House and the Salvation Army COTS offered some help, there didn’t seem to be a ministry specifically for pregnant teenagers with nowhere else to go.
“Existing programs like Mary’s Mantle and Abigail Ministries only take in girls 18 and older,” Sr. Masson said. “Our program will help teens before and after they have their babies. We will not just help with their pregnancy, but with their parenting.”
In addition to childbirth preparation classes and classes in parenting, breastfeeding, nutrition and personal growth, Gianna House offers pregnancy testing, counseling, baby items for those in need and referrals for additional services.
“These are adolescents, no more than babies themselves, who are thrown into the role of mothers,” said Adrian Dominican Sr. Theresa Mayrand, associate director of Gianna House. “We want to help these young girls become good mothers through continuing education in parenting. We approach it one mother and one baby at a time.”
One way to do that is through the help of trained medical professionals such as Dr. Nancy Hauff, RN, who works for Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center’s Hutzel Hospital and teaches Lamaze classes at Gianna House.
Dr. Hauff worked with Delon, the 23-year-old new mother, before and after her delivery.
“I had a great birth experience because of her,” Delon said. “She also taught me about breastfeeding. She covered as much as she could, and she checked to see how everything was going after my delivery. It was a blessing to have her in my life.”
Dr. Hauff said Gianna House should be a great help to teen mothers especially, who are at a higher risk for preterm birth, low birth weight babies and serious conditions such as preeclampsia. She also believes an important goal for the ministry will be to help reduce the infant mortality and morbidity rates.
A work in progress
In order to achieve its goal of eventually housing underage mothers, Gianna House is in the midst of renovations designed to meet state regulations. An environmental survey was recently
conducted and abatement corrections completed. Prior to accepting residents, Gianna House will have to be licensed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Child Welfare as a childcare institution.
Sr. Masson said Gianna House does not have a fixed date for opening its residence, but hopes it is only “months” away. When fully operational, the facility will be able to accommodate up to seven residents and their infants, 15 in total.
Gianna House draws much support from the local Catholic community, including parishioners and staff at St. Veronica Parish and its pastor, Fr. Stanley Pachla, but more financial support is needed to turn its long-term vision into a reality.
Diane Trombley, BSN, RN, a member of Right to Life-Lifespan and a Gianna House board member, wrote in a recent newsletter for the ministry that without resources such as Gianna House, pregnant teenagers are prone to falling prey to a culture that relies on abortion as a solution.
“Without Gianna House to offer a safe, secure and loving environment to them, they will turn to those who will offer the quick fix of abortion and leave them with a lifetime of regret,” Trombley wrote. “This is why we are so anxious to have Gianna House become a reality. Each delay … means one little girl who might have been helped has nowhere to go.”
Gianna House, located in the former convent at St. Veronica Parish, 21357 Redmond in Eastpointe, is open as a pregnancy resource center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
To donate to help with renovations to the planned adolescent residence or to volunteer at Gianna House, call (586) 445-0440 or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.giannahouse.org.