Hands of Mercy Everywhere — putting young mothers on a trajectory toward a happy ending
For most teenage girls, the prospect of an unexpected pregnancy means entering a dark place bereft of hope and full of challenges that cannot possibly be met. For many, the situation resembles more punishment than blessing. At Hands of Mercy Everywhere (H.O.M.E.), a maternity home in Belleview, the goal is to foster a nurturing environment that puts young girls on a trajectory toward a happy ending, or at least one that avoids the tragic outcomes that are all too common.
Founder and CEO of H.O.M.E., Diane Schofield, explains that many young girls are victims of mental and sexual abuse or have parents in jail or have been neglected or even abandoned. In their trauma, “these young girls are looking for love in all the wrong places. It shouldn’t be a punishment for them because they are carrying a child,” Schofield said. She says that girls may think the only options for them are abortion or adoption, becoming a good parent not among them.
H.O.M.E. provides access to education and health care that would have been denied these young girls, and it comes with providing life lessons with Christian values. In the past 18 years, H.O.M.E. has grown to become one of the largest maternity homes in the state of Florida and currently houses 17 girls and six babies.
Through the Florida Department of Children and Families, girls come to H.O.M.E. and most bring with them a life deficient of proper rearing. Once at H.O.M.E., girls begin to receive physical, mental and spiritual development they had likely never experienced.
“They’ve been placed with us through a court order because a parent abused, abandoned or neglected them,” Schofield said. “We have tons of parenting classes and we work with them on tutoring. When they go back to school, we work with them on daycare.”
At H.O.M.E. it is much more than just a safe space for troubled girls. The teens learn valuable life skills, interpersonal skills such as simple things like how to speak to an adult, apply for a job or even fill out a lease. Most of these girls have never dealt with professional adults and proper etiquette may be sorely lacking. It’s time to grow up, and it happens at H.O.M.E.
For the girls going through a pregnancy or already with a baby, there is the task of not only caring for a child and learning how to be a good parent or citizen, but also completing the necessary education required in society. That means girls miss a lot of school and have a lot of catching up to do – all while going through a pregnancy then raising a baby.
“We do have a really good success rate for them graduating,” Schofield said. “We work a lot with Belleview High School – if a student is behind, we get her caught up real quick.”
Schofield assures that in the program, “We’re there to help them, but not to raise their child for them. If you do that, it would be so easy to get pregnant again. They need to see the process, the good and the bad.”
The girls at H.O.M.E. all have to pull their weight, performing the chores necessary to make H.O.M.E. a home for all – there is no catering to the girls as if they were guests, and cash allowances are made each month in return. Through it all the girls learn how to be a good parent and how to be responsible and hard working.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, instead of falling through the cracks like many others, the staff and girls at H.O.M.E. seized the opportunity to come together to forge ahead in a different manner.
“We have three houses on the same block, and during COVID we turned it into a school and daycare,” Schofield said. “We were the church because you couldn’t go to church; it was a life skill center and a counseling center. I give kudos to our staff that didn’t quit and were willing to be flexible and versatile.
“The girls grew up a lot during that time. There was a lack of knowledge about COVID so they had to rely on us for guidance. It created an amazing bond with all of us.”
The counseling program at H.O.M.E. includes Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), which was designed to meet the needs of children who have experienced “adversity, early harm, toxic stress, and or trauma.” Children who have endured traumatic experiences often hold a distrust of the loving adults in their lives and TBRI is specifically suited to help parents, caregivers and teachers care for children in the proper way that helps instill that necessary trust.
Over the years, the girls who have come through H.O.M.E. have developed special relationships with the staff and the other girls. They know they will never again be alone.
“The bonding that goes on with those girls in that house is special,” Schofield said. “They go their separate ways but they develop a sisterhood. They stay in contact. They stay in contact with the staff.”
Where was once a dark place, light enters for these troubled girls and success is measured in different ways. For some, success means raising a healthy child and embarking on a successful career.
“For me, (success) may be that they’re not abandoning or abusing their baby, or maybe they got their GED,” Schofield said. “We do have a really good success rate of graduating girls.”
To some, that may not seem like much, but from where most of these girls starte, a high school diploma and a healthy baby is a dream come true.