For all the ways people try to break the cycle of poverty, how many start in the days before someone is born?
Paula Belemjian believes helping homeless women who are pregnant will work.
Many agencies, hospitals and services do it. Few will attempt to lend as much continual support in one place than the Margaret Home, a place in East Rochester that will open in May to be more than a maternity home for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
"We are raising our hand and saying 'We are going to help you and we're going to walk along side you,'" said Belemjian, the new charity's president who will commit her life to what she calls a mission inspired by a 13th century saint.
Many have made The Margaret Home a possibility. So many have donated time, money, and ideas to resurrect a former convent from a shuttered property to a place where hope will flow.
The Margaret Home will welcome pregnant women 18 and older, who are not addicted or severely mentally ill, to find shelter with their all-volunteer staff of professionals, caregivers, and neighbors. The facility will offer safe, single-bed housing complete with crib and child care amenities.
Communal living will mean shared social spaces in the home, and meals made for all. Daycare will be provided while case managers work with the women on everything from basic services that they need to education, training and links to willing employers who want to help provide stability.
"So what do we need to do to get her stable?" Belemjian said. "To get her into those services, those wrap-around services for her to be stable and safe. That's number one."
The Margaret Home will serve women in this way for up to two years, much longer than any single agency or effort attempts.
"You touch that mom and you change the life of that mom. Then you change what she knows. And now the child knows nothing else," Belemjian said. "The child knows nothing else other than what she's living now."
When it opens in mid-May, The Margaret Home will house eight to 10 women and their children. Services and opportunities provided while the women stay will be extended once they leave the facility for up to three years, according to Belemjian.
Belemjian has spread the word about the group for a couple of years. She writes grants for support and raises money through what she called amazing anonymous donations. It's helped secure the building and positioned The Margaret Home for its mid-spring launch. Though it's in a former convent, the organization is not being operated by the Rochester Catholic Diocese.
None of it would be possible without overwhelming response from donors who have delivered everything from the stroller-car seats still in the box to the contributions from individuals, agencies and companies who have paid and even delivered "sweat equity" to renovate the bedrooms where the women will stay.
"We had one boy build storage shelves for us in our basement; business executives swinging hammers and installing electric and plumbing for us; all on their own time," said Belemjian, who added that two Eagle Scouts will be helping to renovate the building's chapel.
Women who want to experience this new option must apply through the organization. Helping the women who come to the Margaret Home understand "they're worth it," drives all who will be serving them, according to Belemjian.
"The intrinsic worth of a woman, a child, of a life, has no dollar amount on it. They are worth it. Because they're a person," Belemjian said.