Faith House, a maternity house opening soon in Walden, will provide expectant mothers a safe haven from poverty, unstable living situations or homelessness.
Faith House purchased a 5,000-square-foot home in Walden on a secluded, wooded one-acre lot. The house has four bedrooms for four mothers and babies and a bedroom and living area for live-in house parents.
The maternity house is open to all women aged 18 and older. Women will come from a variety of situations, whether they be homeless or in an unstable or unsafe situation. Women can come preferably early in their pregnancies and stay for a year after their baby is born.
“Our initial vision is that people who are pregnant will have a safe place to give birth, that babies would not be born into homelessness or unsafe situations,” founder and executive director Linda Arzu said.
Arzu said volunteers and staff need to renovate and clean the house before opening, which they hope to complete by spring. The house will not open until the organization has saved nine months in operating costs. Currently, Faith House has raised $25,000 of its $125,000 goal.
Arzu said residents will receive supportive services, such as prenatal care and transportation to doctor’s appointments, through a case manager. There will also be classes on pregnancy, delivery, and infant care.
Residents will also receive life skills classes such as nutrition, cooking, housekeeping and financial literacy. Job training will be available, with classes on job searching skills, interview skills and professional skills. Women who haven’t received their high school diploma will have the opportunity to obtain their equivalent diploma and those interested in college will research their options.
“Our hope is that they’ll take advantage of [the classes] and by the end they’ll have some solid skills to live independently and take care of the child, at a minimum have a job, have daycare set up and have a safe place to live,” Arzu said.
The maternity house will support women who would like to put their baby up for adoption by providing emotional support and by connecting them with an adoption agency.
While Arzu said the details are still being worked out, the residents will be allowed visitors in a separate location depending on their situation.
The four-resident limit in a residential setting will foster a supportive family environment, Arzu said. This is different from a homeless shelter, which is meant to be a short-term solution, and doesn’t provide as many of the same supportive services or house parents.
“We can get to know the women in-depth and really understand what their needs are, what their skills are, what growth they want to have for themselves and really be able to support them in a deeper, more long-term way,” Arzu said.
Faith House will be the only maternity house in the mid-Hudson region. Arzu said approximately 50 women have reached out or been referred to Faith House in the four years since it incorporated as a 501c3 organization. The closest houses to Orange, Ulster or Dutchess counties are at least two hours away, and many women don’t want to go that far.
Leslie Toback, center director of MyChoice Pregnancy Care Center, said she sees a need in the community for a program such as Faith House and she is excited to see it open. While there are several government and community programs in the area that can assist expectant young women, Faith House offers a sense of community and support lacking in many other programs due to the nature of its family-style living.
“The girls would know I’m not in this alone; there is somebody here who cares about me,” Toback said. “There is somebody who knows I’m here and I’m not just returning to my own apartment.”
There will be house rules and women will be required to be drug and alcohol free, so the program isn’t for everyone.
“There’s different segments of our society that will fit into different needs and Faith House definitely would help the young woman who doesn’t have a good family structure,” Toback said.
Maternity houses offer a longer-term solution for expectant mothers facing homelessness and poverty. Studies show homelessness is a risk factor in low birth weight. Residents of maternity homes have fewer repeat pregnancies, better high school/GED completion rates, stronger life skills, increased self-sufficiency, and healthier babies, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Arzu said her goals for the future are to purchase a second house for girls younger than 18. She would also like to build a support program for the fathers of the babies so they can learn how to be a supportive father to the mother and the child.
Another future project is to create an independent apartment for mothers exiting the program to help them with the transition. Staff could still drop in on the mothers while they learn to live independently.
And lastly, Arzu would like to partner with a business to offer a job skills program for the young mothers.
“This would be an opportunity where they could say yes, I do have some skills, I have something to offer, something that will boost their confidence,” Arzu said.
Volunteers are needed to renovate and clean the house, as well as donations to open it. To donate, visit faithhouseny.org.