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Good Counsel Homes, which provides temporary shelter to young mothers, is helping maternity homes start in other states.
BY Joseph PronechenRegister Staff Writer
NORWICH, Conn. — When Darlene Wagner
and the board she chairs decided to open a crisis-pregnancy maternity home in
Norwich, Conn., they wanted to pattern themselves after a proven winner.
So did Chris Ricketts, executive
director of a group home in Winchester, Va.
Both found the ideal in Good Counsel
Today’s hope is to see homes modeled
after Good Counsel across the nation.
“When you’re searching for the ideal
maternity home, you want to have the best model,” said Wagner. “We selected
Good Counsel because they’ve demonstrated for people of the Catholic faith they
have the most complete program.”
Good Counsel’s executive director,
Christopher Bell, was always hopeful people everywhere would copy this model.
Expand it did, first internally — and now by taking on a number of national
Bell founded Good Counsel with
Father Benedict Groeschel in Hoboken, N.J., in March 1985. He is married to
Joan Andrews Bell, who has served prison time for peaceful protests against
abortion. The couple have seven children, all but one of whom have been
adopted. Five of the adopted children have special needs.
Good Counsel now operates four homes
in New York state, plus Outreach and Exodus follow-up programs.
Since the beginning, Good Counsel
has freely given advice to people or groups trying to operate a
crisis-maternity home. Consequently, eight other homes, from Florida to
Massachusetts, have opened directly because of Good Counsel’s advice and
direction, and they closely follow its model.
This experience, followed by a positive
editorial in The Wall Street Journal in July 2008, led
Good Counsel to seek out additional people and organizations wanting to help
pregnant mothers and babies by opening a Good Counsel home.
Wall Street Journal editorialist
William McGurn suggested that for every Planned Parenthood facility in America
there should be a place like Good Counsel, “where a scared young pregnant woman
could carry her baby to term, complete her education, train for a new job, and
be treated with the love and respect that a mother needs and deserves.”
Said Bell, “Now our Good Counsel
vision is to help anyone across the country to start a home, either to become
an affiliate and remain connected or use us as a model if they’re willing to
follow the basic Catholic moral tenets from conception to natural death.” Soon
he received calls from groups who wanted to be Good Counsel affiliates.
According to Bell, they will
officially be independent, but will follow Good Counsel’s leadership and
direction. They will work closely together to replicate and maintain the best
Catholic practices Good Counsel has developed.
Leave With Job Skills
The Winchester affiliate is in the
works. Hired as executive director to establish a maternity home in the
Winchester-Front Royal, Va., area, Ricketts and his wife, Laura, previously
worked with a Maryland maternity home. Ricketts contacted Bell and visited the
“After observing them and seeing
what they do, that’s the best approach,” explained Ricketts, considering his
own past experience. “It’s so successful. We are going to be affiliated with
Good Counsel very closely and base practically all on the Good Counsel model.”
What makes Good Counsel the ideal
model? “It is so deeply rooted in Christ and the living of Christianity,” said
Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life. “It is a
place where the Lord of life, the Divine Physician, the source of our strength,
Since the first home opened, about
5,200 mothers and babies have spent more than half a million days and nights in
the four homes in the New York area. More than 25,000 people have called its
national 24/7 helpline.
One Good Counsel home is
specifically for women who are mentally ill or have addictions. Help goes to
women pregnant by any means, including rape and incest.
Many either have been turned away or
run away from families and pressures to abort. They stay a year with Good
Counsel learning critical life skills. Later, several continue with Good
Counsel’s follow-up Exodus and Outreach programs that offer counseling,
material support and spiritual assistance.
These women, many homeless, arrive
with next to nothing, but they leave with their child and schooling, job skills
or a job, and are moving with three carloads of donated goods and baby items to
their own apartments.
Presence of Christ
One more mark distinguishes the
original four houses. Said Bell, “We are blessed to have the Blessed Sacrament
in each Good Counsel home.”
Williams, president and one of the co-founders of Visitation House in
Worcester, Mass., agrees that is a major benefit.
House models itself closely on Good Counsel. Williams credits Bell’s advice,
guidance and moral support as being instrumental in helping Visitation House
open in 2005. According to Williams, it’s the only Catholic home of this kind
in the state.
very helpful and always available to speak (to us) and for me to call,” said
Williams, who continually turns to Bell for guidance.
Hodges, president of Room at the Inn of the Carolinas, also knows the successes
of the Good Counsel model. He worked two years with Bell in the Hoboken Good
Counsel with the goal of opening crisis-maternity homes in the South. With
support from Bell and Father Groeschel, who is chairman of the board, he opened
the first one in 2001 in Greensboro, N.C., and the second in 2007 in Bluffton,
S.C. So far, close to 500 mothers and children have been residents.
“We couldn’t have done it without
Chris,” said Hodges. “He’s always been there for us whenever we needed help or
assistance of any nature.” No wonder Hodges calls Room at the Inn of the
Carolinas “an affiliate of the heart.”
Now the homes in Virginia and
Connecticut will be official Good Counsel affiliates.
As chairwoman for Ave Maria home in
Norwich, Wagner appreciates the prayer life and goals of Good Counsel, along
with the tutoring and mentoring from Bell. “Why reinvent the wheel?” she asked.
Affiliates have their own board of directors and do their own fundraising.
Mother Agnes believes spreading this
model is going to allow a woman who finds herself in a crisis pregnancy “to
follow the deepest desires of her heart. She is filled with fears, but often
what is deepest within her is the desire to give life to her child.”
For mother and child, spreading the
Good Counsel model is going to mean a woman does not have to fear pregnancy or
think that her dreams for her life are over or the life of her child is over.
“Rather, having an option like a Good Counsel home,” said Mother Agnes, “allows
her to honor both her own life and future and the life of her child.”
Staff writer Joseph
based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
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