Article and photo by Sarah Thompson, Urban Alliance’s Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization.
Not long ago, Henasi Calderon wasn’t sure how she would face another day. Alone and sleeping in a train station, she didn’t know how she would be able to care for the baby she was carrying.
“I wasn’t ready,” she shared. “I was homeless and dealing with a lot. I wasn’t stable at all. All I kept thinking was how was I going to do this?”
Faced with pressure to abort her baby, Calderon applied for housing and tried her best to take steps toward regaining stability in her life. She enrolled in Job Corps and continued with the pregnancy, still unsure if she would place her baby for adoption or choose to parent.
After visiting a clinic when she was 15 weeks pregnant, her journey took a turn.
“What had happened wasn’t my baby’s fault,” she explained. “I had seen the ultrasound and I thought, I can’t give this baby up.”
At her appointment, she was given information about housing options, including Nehemiah House, a crisis pregnancy home in rural North Granby, Connecticut that provides a path to permanency for young women who are facing unplanned pregnancies.
“They told me about Nehemiah House,” said Calderon. “I called every other house on the list and they all shut me down because they had waiting lists. It was difficult to find a place.”
Soon after, she was welcomed with open arms by Sherry and Steve Danalis, founders of Families United Serving and Embracing (F.U.S.E.), the non-profit organization that established and operates Nehemiah House.
“Women quickly find out that the places on the list they are given are mostly shelters and they don’t take pregnant women,” explained Sherry. “We have learned that we’re the only maternity home in New England serving women over 18 except for two by the Connecticut shore.”
While many shelters offer short-term stays with a maximum of 90 days, Nehemiah House welcomes women while they are pregnant and offers housing for a year following the birth of a child, with support services that extend beyond the first year.
“When their child is born they are coming into a stable environment. They have the life skills to succeed, they have a community around them and they actually feel the tangible love of God,” shared Sherry. “We’re serving the needs of those who need to be served because we feel that this demographic of women is the most underserved. Those in foster care can check themselves out when they turn 18. Many have no families to go to. And, this is the population that is most vulnerable to trafficking, incarceration, homelessness and pregnancies.”
“We teach them that life has seasons,” shared Steve. “We want them to gain independency.”
Sherry added, “Jesus left the 99 to go after the one. And so, for us, how else are they going to be reached? We are saving lives. We are saving the baby’s life and changing the trajectory of the mom’s life.”
Still uncertain what the future would hold, Calderon had no idea what was ahead of her when she arrived at Nehemiah House in March.
At one of her ultrasounds before arriving, she was told she was having a girl. But then one night changed things for her forever.
“I had a dream on one of the first nights I was at Nehemiah House,” she shared. “I had a dream that I was having a boy and I heard the name Kaleb. Then a few weeks later, I had another dream about my brother, who is named Joshua. In the Bible, Joshua and Caleb were together in battle and Caleb was known as a man of faith. The name also means ‘devoted to God.’”
Soon after, she went to her next appointment and the doctor told her that she was having a boy.
“I was getting confirmation after confirmation. Dreams after dreams,” she shared. “I was hearing God consistently. I have people back home praying for me, but even before I got to Nehemiah House they were saying they would pray for me. When I got here I met a lot of people who were also praying, so that obviously does something because God hears prayers.”
Like the other moms at the house, Calderon participates in parenting and life skills classes, educational, volunteer and work opportunities, and receives mentorship to help her transition back into the community.
Through F.U.S.E.’s Rooted program, the young women at Nehemiah House are offered support to help them overcome their challenges and meet their goals.
“They are given a pathway to become independent,” explained Sherry. “Life coaches help them identify their goals and guide them each step of the way as they have opportunities to get their GEDs, find employment or begin a college career, find suitable housing, learn money management skills, obtain their drivers licenses, develop strong parenting skills, apply for medical insurance and access community services, learn about healthy eating and nutrition, and establish life-long connections to caring adults.”
She added, “We hosted one mom who was homeless and pregnant. In under three years, through our Rooted program, she obtained her dental certificate and is now gainfully employed. We were able to enlist another home that could extend her time in our program, she got her driver’s license, a car was donated for her, and she’s now in the process of becoming a homeowner through the NACA program. She was in a crisis pregnancy and malnourished, because food insecurity is a real thing in America and people don’t understand that. But you should see her now, thriving because of the community and the ongoing support she’s had. She’s surpassing every obstacle that she’s been up against.”
“It’s not like when you go to a shelter and you just get housing and go,” explained Calderon. “You get more. Budgeting and money management was something I needed help with. Now I’m doing a better job than I would do if I was on my own. They also teach me how to cook and things like how to save money at the grocery store.”
Sherry and Steve Danalis believe in the power of connecting with as many people and networks as possible, so that many people can be a life extension for the women they serve.
“We are all about engaging not only the body of Christ, but every agency and every non-profit parachurch community, to come together and do this together because one home is not going to take care of the surrounding need,” explained Sherry.
“The biggest thing we found is that we can leverage social capital, having established relationships in the community for many years,” said Steve. “Because of their age, these young moms often don’t have access to connections and community. But, there are people with companies that have jobs for the girls. Cars have been donated. We can furnish apartments and have supplies waiting to be given out thanks to World Vision and Urban Alliance.”
In addition to supplies, Urban Alliance has provided grant funding and training to help F.U.S.E. strengthen their programs.
“One of the biggest impacts to our ministry is the Urban Alliance grant for Circle of Security training,” shared Sherry. “We find that it is an invaluable resource to equip the young moms we serve.”
Circle of Security is an innovative intervention program designed to improve the developmental pathway of children and their parents.
“Circle of Security taught me a lot,” said Calderon. “Sometimes it’s good to know what you aren’t doing right or what you could do to change something. I learned to let stubbornness go so I could learn to better myself and my children. I want to learn as much as I can.”
She added, “I’ve never heard of a place like this where they teach you all that they teach you. I’ve been in a lot of programs and assistance and there are resources out there. There is help, but nothing family-oriented like this.”
For the Danalises, cultivating a family environment is key.
“Once you open your home to a person who has not experienced family you actually open the door to the truth of who God is and the love that He has for them,” shard Sherry. “Every Sunday we have a family dinner. God says pull up a chair to the table and feast. And so that’s what we want to pass on to them, that true family and community.”
“When I first got to Nehemiah House I was always in my room,” shared Calderon. “Being around people gave me anxiety, because I have been through some stuff where I can’t trust people. But I like the family atmosphere. I’m starting to warm up to it and I think it’s cool. That’s something I would like to continue to do when I build relationships back home with a different community of people.”
For Calderon, her renewed faith is what keeps her moving forward each day.
“When you are in that moment in that time you don’t see that there is going to be any good,” she shared. “You just see that it’s going to be horrible all the time because bad things happen to you all the time. But, Jesus said that all we need is faith like a mustard seed. If you have a little bit of faith, that little hope where you say to God, ‘I need you,’ something will happen. It might be small. A person might say they are praying for you and then someone might give you a grocery bag of food, and then another person might give you clothes, and then it’s someone like Steve and Sherry paying to take you into their home. It literally happened like that. I chose to keep Kaleb and then I believed that God had a purpose for that and I trusted Him. Then, small things happened.”
She added, “Whatever God wants, I want. I know that what He has planned is better than what I want. I would like to be home with my family, but I have a new family here too, so it doesn’t matter if He wants me here or home. As long as I have my kids and I have good people around me I’ll be fine.”
The Danalises have their eyes set on a bigger vision to extend this much-needed community of support.
“We envision a model called House Parent Model where other cities, or churches, can do the same thing without a whole lot of starting costs,” she explained. “You can do it right out of your home. So, it’s like an Uber or AirBnB platform where you are connecting those who need to be served with those who want to serve. It’s resurrecting true Biblical hospitality.”
“Our organization is focused on solutions,” added Steve. “20,000 abortions a week in America is not okay with us. We are all made in His image.”
Sherry added, “These women don’t feel like they have a real choice because the only option they feel they have is abortion. We don’t believe that having financial limitations or being homeless is a reason to abort. These are temporary circumstances. If we give them a home, a safe base to work from, and say to them that we are going to walk with them for two years, then that’s offering options, giving them a sense of hope and support. That’s having real choices.”
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To learn more about Thrive, Urban Alliance’s initiative to help churches and organizations reach and serve young children and their caregivers throughout critical developmental stages so children develop strong foundations for learning and growth, contact Rosaicela Rodriguez, Urban Alliance's Director of Implementation, Children & Youth Initiatives.