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Mary's Shelter meets needs page 2
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.
SUZANNE CARR ROSSI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 7/19/2011

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The three moms had 20 children among them, but no experience running a shelter. The move seemed risky and the timing precarious, as they started a nonprofit just as the economy started to plummet.

"We put it together with a wing and a prayer and just went with our gut," Wilson said.

Mary's Shelter recently opened its fourth home and has housed more than 70 desperate moms-to-be.

"It's not easy, what we do," Wilson said. "It's a full-time job just raising the money to do this."

But the work pays off in the delivery room, where Mary's Shelter volunteers have witnessed more than 50 births.

And there's a rush of joy when new moms leave the shelter with jobs, a support system and a home of their own, Wilson said.

But the work also carries heartbreaks when battered women return to their abusive partners. Or moms drop out because they can't handle the shelter's rules.

Each woman signs a contract agreeing to get a job or education and promising to live a healthy lifestyle. They're expected to keep the homes clean, to support each other and to be out of their pajamas by 9 a.m.

Kathy Nelson, a nurse at Bethany Christian Services' pregnancy center, said the rules are crucial for these moms.

"Some of them haven't had any order in their life, or direction," Nelson said. "And now they have it."

Nelson never hesitates to recommend Mary's Shelter to clients needing a place to stay: The homes are beautiful and the volunteers compassionate.

"We have homeless shelters," she said. "But wouldn't it be nice to be in a house where you could be mothered a little bit?"

That combination of compassion and structure is the key to the group's success, said Meghann Cotter, director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a homeless outreach.

"They have a very caring service model, and at the same time, have a good handle on how to help these women change their lives and become better mothers for their children," Cotter said.

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973
Email: aumble@freelancestar.com


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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.