A sliver of light pushes back against the darkness every time a mother says “yes” to the life of the baby inside her.
That “fiat” is less difficult for women in unplanned pregnancies when they’re assured of help through the immediate crisis and in learning to be the good parents God intended them to be.
That is the basis of the multifaceted pro-life work of the St. Raymond’s Society (SRS).
Founded by two local Catholics and named for the patron saint of pregnant mothers and pre-born babies, this faith-based nonprofit organization focuses on giving at-risk pregnant mothers what they need — things such as utility assistance, life-skills training, help with a job search or even a place to live.
“We’re here to show God’s love to people who are in desperate situations,” said Mary Chen, SRS’s Jefferson City program director. “If we can address their ability to support their children, and if they can see that we’re not just making idle promises, that we’re really going to be there for them — that makes all the difference.”
She noted that for most women who seek abortions in the United States, finances are a motivating factor.
“So they need to know if they make this brave decision, if they can trust in God and see that there are people seriously committed to helping them after the baby is born, that makes a huge difference,” she said.
SRS has helped more than 400 women who have chosen life in the Columbia, Jefferson City and Rolla areas.
“We give temporary support and assistance to single mothers in the community and provide a transitional community home where moms can live with their children,” said Mrs. Chen.
SRS’s program focuses on goal-setting and attainment, as well as much needed accountability.
It emphasizes seven components of self-sufficiency: education, employment, parenting, personal wellness, budgeting, housing and transportation.
The objective is for the mothers — and the fathers when they agree to take part — to be ready to be parents and head of a household.
Help remains available until the child turns 5.
“We understand that the struggles don’t end after the baby is born,” said Mrs. Chen. “That’s when they really need the parenting coaching and the job training and transportation and education — all the things we work on with them.”
Home of the brave
The SRS motto is “Beyond words, beyond nine months.”
The society offers transitional housing not just for pregnant mothers but also for any other children they have. For that reason, referrals come not only from local pregnancy resource centers and Birthright affiliates but also the state Division of Family Services.
The average stay for moms in the transitional living program is six months.
These homes make up a large part of SRS’s work, but about half the women the society helps never come to live in one of the homes.
“We have really enhanced the programs for women who have a place to live but still need all of the other services that we provide,” said Mrs. Chen.
“Widows and orphans”
“God can do so much with the tiniest ‘yes,’” said St. Raymond’s Society co-founder Steve Smith.
“The Bible talks about widows and orphans, and in today’s society, that doesn’t always mean that somebody died,” he asserted. “There’s a lot of people out there who need our help, and that’s been our mission from the very beginning.”
After traveling to Washington, D.C., several years ago for the annual March for Life, Mike Hentges of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Columbia asked God for ways to help women in difficult circumstances who have chosen life for their babies.
This is where God led him.
He shared his vision with Mr. Smith, a member of St. Peter parish in Jefferson City, who agreed to help make the dream a reality.
SRS got off to a modest start, with the men gathering up what they could and lining up people to help women who are pregnant and in need.
One of the first women who came to them wanted to have her baby but could not afford to fill the propane tank for her home.
“This was in November, and the woman told us, ‘We don’t have heat. We can’t bring a baby into a cold house.’”
The following spring, the mother and father sent Mr. Hentges and Mr. Smith a thank-you note and a picture of their newborn baby.
“A $500 tank of propane was enough to change a life,” said Mr. Smith. “That’s what they needed to save a life and actually change all of their lives.”
Not all situations can be handled that easily. In the case of a particularly large expense, several pro-life organizations or service agencies may be called on to split the cost.
Last year, a woman who got help bringing triplets into the world brought international attention to the SRS home in Rolla.
Mr. Smith said he and Mr. Hentges were wise in seeking out smart, dedicated women to work with the clients.
“We’ve now got 11 employees,” said Mr. Smith. “And we’ve come up with a really good goal-setting plan for the women we serve — a plan for them to work through, with ways to hold them accountable because they need to be held accountable.”
At first, SRS’s cofounders didn’t have enough money to buy and staff a house, but they quickly came to realize that housing was one of the greatest obstacles to woman choosing life.
With help from generous donors and the Missouri Maternity Home state tax credit program, SRS wound up buying homes in Jefferson City, Columbia and Rolla.
Faith in action
Founded by Catholic Christians, SRS serves people of all beliefs and backgrounds.
“It’s really a matter of putting our faith into action on a daily basis that sets an example and creates curiosity with them as to ‘what could motivate these people to care about us and be so committed to us?’” said Mrs. Chen.
The services themselves point toward discipleship and a relationship with Christ.
“The work we do inspires our clients to think about Christ and Christianity and the love of God and the redemption He brings,” said Mrs. Chen.
Even for those who do not stay in the program, being exposed to God’s love at a difficult time plants a seed of faith that may germinate sometime down the road.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight is encouraging parishioners to bolster the life-affirming work of the St. Raymond’s Society and local pregnancy help centers, through donations and volunteer work.
“This particular ministry of charity is critical for building-up the credibility of the Church’s pro-life teaching,” he said.
SRS counts on the financial support of local individuals and churches.
“We are humbled and grateful for the expressed support of Bishop McKnight, along with parish priests and youth leaders, and Catholic schools who organize numerous service projects for us each year,” said Mrs. Chen.
“The bottom line is, to keep all of this going, we absolutely need prayers,” said Mrs. Chen. “We also need financial and volunteer support.”
“Like a family”
There are numerous ways to volunteer — from moving furniture in and out of the homes, to driving clients to doctor’s appointments or to church, to mentoring and advocating for the women out in the community.
An SRS volunteer named Doris quickly noticed that SRS surrounds its clients with a strong support system of people who love them and have their best interests in mind.
“They are like a family, and the volunteers have been welcomed like family,” she said. “I pray that each woman who partakes of this opportunity will see the light of Christ.”
She said being a small part of this small, dynamic group has been a blessing.
“The women have touched my life more than they realize,” she said.
A volunteer named Karen, who is a single mother, said God has taken the place of the missing father in her own home while she’s raising her son.
She has enjoyed getting to know the (SRS) residents as well as the alumni.
“These are amazing women who are trying to make a new life for their children and themselves,” she said. “Such courage and tenacity are evident in their lives.”
To find out how to donate to or volunteer for the St. Raymond’s Society, call (573) 893-2067 or visit srshelp.org.