By Anna-Marie Menhenott
MARTIN COUNTY -- Mary's Shelter gives those who need a helping hand just that... and so much more.
Women who find themselves in the predicament of pregnant and without a safe environment to live in can seek a roof over their head, but it doesn't come cheap.
"The ladies who stay with us have to earn their keep," said Gina Thompson, executive director. "The girls have to finish their education, get job training and do things around the house such as chores and cook meals. Everyone pulls their own weight."
From the outside, the shelter looks just like any other home in its Stuart community. But on the inside, the women are learning skills that will not only help them become independent, but also teach them how to bring a healthy baby into the world.
The organization prepares mothers with newborns for independent-living situations and works with them to build a vision of hope for their future. The first step in this process begins as soon as the women are connected with Mary's Shelter.
Staff and volunteers help with goal setting to develop a plan of action for each woman, focusing on achieving the skills necessary to live independently. While some mothers choose to take an educational route by completing a GED program or pursuing higher education, others choose to volunteer and receive job training in order to enter the workforce.
"Our overall goal is to help our mothers become independent and successful in all areas of their lives," said Ms. Thompson. "By assisting these young ladies with advancement opportunities, we can ensure that they will have the skills necessary to become self-sufficient, productive members of the community."
The residents at Mary's Shelter are enrolled in a point system that reinforces education on budgeting, while allowing them to pay for rent, food and supplies for their babies. The young women earn points after successfully completing volunteer hours, shared shelter chores or completing hours at their place of work.
Recently, three young women received their GEDs through the Martin County Adult High School program.
What makes their story different from the many other graduates on the Treasure Coast is that in addition to their studies, these women also dealt with being homeless and pregnant.
With the guidance from Mary's Shelter of the Treasure Coast, these young women found the courage and support to complete their high school education and are on the way to maintaining a stable environment for themselves and their children.
"The ladies and their newborns can stay for up to six weeks after the birth of their child. This gives them time to find a stable job and somewhere to live. We assist them in every aspect, providing job-training, life skills and helping them deal with all of the stressors that having a newborn brings," Ms. Thompson said.
All pregnant women who are 18 or older are welcome regardless of race, religion or nationality.
Since the shelter began accepting residents in April of 2010, more than 60 women have been helped, 23 healthy babies have been born and all of the mothers served have left the shelter as stronger and independent women.
For more information about Mary's Shelter, or for volunteer opportunities, call (772) 223-5000 or visit www.maryssheltertc.org.