Pregnant with her second child, in jail on a drug charge, the high-school dropout from a Catholic family was desperate. Her baby was due in a month.
Living from motel to motel with her young son prior to being jailed, the woman in her early 20s thought she had nowhere to turn.
Her fortunes began to change, however, when she was accepted as one of the first residents, in January 2013, of the Emergency Maternity Shelter Program at Casa Teresa. For the past 38 years Casa Teresa has been providing temporary shelter and assistance to marginalized women in need of prenatal care and parenting help at its residential facilities in Orange.
Along with one of its programs, Hannah’s House—which shelters pregnant women who choose adoption for their newborns—Casa Teresa has helped turn around the lives of more than 5,600 women and babies since opening at its original location in Santa Ana in 1976.
One of Casa Teresa’s longstanding community partners has been the Diocese of Orange. The temporary shelter for pregnant women ages 18 and older is just one agency the diocese works with to help women who are facing unplanned pregnancies prepare to raise their babies and learn skills they need to become self-sufficient once they give birth.
Community-based campaigns such as 40 Days for Life, in which Catholics and others hold vigils, pray and fast outside clinics to display their opposition to abortion, paints an incomplete picture of how the diocese serves reluctant mothers-to-be and those facing dire challenges raising their child, Church officials say.
“There’s a great deal of politics around issues of contraception and abortion, which can often distort the message and ministry of the Catholic Church to women, men and families,” says Greg Walgenbach, Director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace, a ministry of the Diocese of Orange that helps to promote Catholic social teaching, organize for faithful engagement and advocacy, and promote parish-based prayer, education, care, advocacy and action with and for the poor and the marginalized.
“We devote a great deal of time, skills and financial resources to come to the aid of women facing unexpected pregnancies with the compassionate and merciful love of Christ, because these are fellow human beings in vulnerable situations and there are at least two lives at stake,” Walgenbach says.
“Christians have been doing this work since the earliest days of the Church,” he adds. “Easter is a great time to remember that God has made possible a politics of forgiveness and redemption—that it is possible to live a good life, to thrive in communities that do not require sacrificing the lives of others, especially the needy, the poor and the most vulnerable among us.”
Lyrissa Roman, Development Manager at Casa Teresa, says the former drug-using young woman who came to the nonprofit group’s Emergency Maternity Shelter Program is expected to graduate in October.
She was raised in an active churchgoing family, but misfortune caught up with her in her teens. Insecure about herself, she was kicked out of high school and turned to drugs and alcohol. She was in and out of jail when she had her first child.
Now, says Roman, the young woman’s life has been transformed. She has been sober since January 2013 and prays regularly. She is working on an associate degree at Fullerton College and doing part-time clerical work at a law firm. And her transformation has caused a ripple effect.
“The father of her two children has seen what Casa Teresa has done for her and how much it has helped her become a better person,” Roman says. “Now he’s taken the initiative to better himself by working full time.”
The Life, Justice and Peace ministry is working with another organization, Options United, that is taking advantage of the digital age to reach out to pregnant women in need, Walgenbach says. Around Mother’s Day, Options United will start promoting a smart phone app in which Catholics and others can pray for women in crisis and donate money to them by punching a few buttons on their mobile phones.
Birth Choice, which offers free pregnancy tests and other services for women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, as well as well-woman care exams, prenatal care and parenting education and counseling, is another agency with which the diocese remains very active.
“The diocese is an advocate and partner to Birth Choice Health Clinics. They partner with our clinics financially, in volunteer support, and through referrals. Many parishes have our clinic information located at the back of the church, in the bulletins or on their website. The dedication of the diocese helps us to serve as many women and children as possible. Their support has been critical to our mission,” says Kathleen Eaton Bravo, chief executive of Birth Choice.
Health Clinics birthchoiceoc.org
Mission Viejo – 28201 Marguerite Parkway #13; (949) 364-3928
Santa Ana – 1105 N. Tustin Ave, D-1; (714) 836-5447
Orange – 1215 East Chapman Ave.; (714) 202-0223
Birth Choice Mobile Clinic – 92 Argonaut, Suite 215 Aliso Viejo; Clinic direct line: 714-267-2111 Toll-free: (800) 771-5089
Mary’s Shelter – Accepts pregnant and parenting girls under 18
Santa Ana (714) 730-0930 teenshelter.org
Horizon Pregnancy Center
15601 Springdale Street, Suite 109 Huntington Beach (714) 897-7500 horizonpc.org
Precious Life Shelter – Accepts pregnant moms 18 years and older, parenting and placing for adoption
Los Alamitos (562) 431-5025 Toll-free: (877) 880-5469 preciouslifeshelter.org
Santa Ana Life Center
1106 E. 17th St., Suite C Santa Ana (714) 835-5433 internationallifeservices.com
La Habra Life Center
579 W. La Habra Blvd. La Habra (562) 691-9395 Toll-free: (888) 504-0188 (24hrs) LaHabraLifeCenter.org
Stanton Life Center
8100 Chapman Ave. Stanton (714) 543-7334 internationallifeservices.com
Casa Teresa & Hannah’s House Accepts pregnant moms 18 years and over, parenting and placing for adoption
Orange (714) 538-4860 casateresa.com
Vietnamese Pregnancy Hotline
24-hour hotlines with trained client advocates who offer free client advocacy, self-administered pregnancy testing, infant supplies and medical referrals to Vietnamese pregnant women in crisis. vietrespectlife.org
P. O. Box 26392 Santa Ana, 92799 firstname.lastname@example.org Hotlines: (714) 721-8557(714) 654-6877 • (714) 654-6047 vietrespectlife.org
This article was first published in Orange County Catholic newspaper on May 7, 2014.