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Mary's Shelter meets needs
Three home schooling moms create a homeless shelter that's still growing four years later.

 Cari Fensand (center), who is living at Mary's Shelter, graduated this spring from the Gladys H. Oberle School in Fredericksburg.
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Date published: 7/19/2011


AT AGE 9, Cari Fensand left a Chinese orphanage for family life in America. Nine years later, she faced a future as a pregnant, homeless high school dropout.

Fensand was 18 and a senior at James Monroe High School when she became pregnant eight months ago. She couldn't keep up with her schoolwork and dropped out. She worried about living on the streets with a baby.

Then a friend suggested Mary's Shelter, a local nonprofit group serving homeless pregnant women.

Five months ago, Fensand moved into one of the charity's Fredericksburg homes.

Fensand settled into a downtown home with gleaming cabinets, hardwood floors and professional portraits of cherubic babies on the walls. The house seemed more like the cover story of a decorating magazine than a shelter.

And the surroundings were only the beginning. Volunteers helped Fensand enroll in the Gladys H. Oberle School and earn her high school diploma. Then they helped her apply to Germanna Community College, where she'll begin classes in August.

They also connected Fensand with Bethany Christian Services, where she attended prenatal classes. They've helped her keep her job at a city restaurant.

And Fensand discovered a new passion in the knitting classes offered at Mary's Shelter. Volunteers also host book clubs and teach cooking lessons and craft classes for the women in the the shelter.

Fensand faces a much different future than she envisioned five months ago. She hopes to go to Virginia Commonwealth University in two years and eventually become a forensic scientist.

She's also looking forward to motherhood; her baby is due Aug. 30.

"They teach me how to be a good parent. I learn new things every day from this program, and it definitely will help me get back on my feet again," Fensand said. "I don't see this as a shelter. I see this as a transitional house for me to learn to be a mother."

Her turnaround is nothing short of miraculous, said Fensand.

The founders of Mary's Shelter, three home schooling moms, dreamed of such transformations when they first began putting up mothers-to-be in Fredericksburg apartments four years ago.

Kathleen Wilson, Theresa Rousseau and Chris Taraschke met in a Catholic home-school group. The idea grew from their shared anti-abortion stance. They wanted to prevent desperate, homeless women from choosing abortions.

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Mary's Shelter is preparing for its fundraiser, a summer soiree. The event was first held last summer, after organizers started the year with just $42, said Kathleen Wilson, one of the founders. They were determined to never be in that place again, but Wilson admits, "We're always going to be on a shoestring budget, because if we had more money, we'd just open another house."

The Summer Soiree will be held Aug. 13 at St. Michael the Archangel High School. The event is free, but RSVPs are due by Aug. 3. To get on the guest list, visit marysshelterva.org, call 540/623-5778 or email info@marysshelterva.org.