- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Carol can relate to the Christmas story. The Suitland teen knows what it’s like to be pregnant with no place to go.When she became pregnant out of wedlock last spring, Carol, 18, whose last name is not being used for privacy reasons, didn’t know where to turn. Most of her friends and family wanted her to have an abortion. However, she wanted to keep the baby.

She felt relieved to find St. Ann’s Infant and Maternity Home (www.saint-anns.com) in Hyattsville, where she has lived since May. In October, she gave birth to her daughter, Aaliyah, for whom she has high hopes.

“I prayed and went to church,” Carol says. “They said, ‘God would want you to have the baby.’ They said, ‘You already committed adultery. You don’t want to commit another sin by killing the baby.’ So I said, ‘I’m gonna do what I have to do as a person to raise the child with or without help.’ And I’m doing a good job.”

St. Ann’s Infant and Maternity Home provides residential care and services to unmarried girls who are pregnant or new mothers. The nonprofit organization also offers help to abused and neglected children, as well as providing quality day care to the children of working families. It adheres to the motto: “Human life is inherently valuable and worthy of respect, support and nurturance.”

Founded in 1860, St. Ann’s is run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, an order of Catholic nuns who have ministered to the poor for more than three centuries, urged by “the charity of Christ.” In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln incorporated the home by an act of Congress and signed the original charter. In 1962, the program moved to its current location.

Currently, the Teen Mother-Baby Program houses 22 pregnant teens or young mothers and their babies, such as Carol. Girls stay at least six months to one year and learn how to care for their children. Services include an on-site accredited high school, medical care, life-skills training, family counseling and social activities.

Residents are not allowed to hold jobs during the school year. In 2002, the program welcomed 95 young mothers, infants and toddlers.

For the past 16 years, Sister Josephine Murphy has overseen St. Ann’s, which is based on love of God and love of neighbor. As administrator of the home, she said she continually prays that God would direct her work.

“I always say to the Lord, ‘They didn’t have room for you, but I hope we never come to the day where we don’t have room for a baby,’” she says. “It’s my opinion that the children and the girls at St. Ann’s belong to Jesus in a very special way, because there is no one else to care for them.”

Despite the lip service given to helping displaced people, such as teen mothers, Sister Josephine is troubled by society’s inaction. She takes seriously the idea that by serving others, she serves Christ, which is outlined in Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

She expresses disdain for “pie-in-the-sky” social workers, but appreciates practical people who get the job done, like many of the members of her staff of about 170 full- and part-time employees.

“We better start putting ourselves where our mouths are, or else, just build some more jails,” Sister Josephine says. “We talk like we care about kids because we want to say the right thing, but we are not a society that cares about kids. We are a world of pleasure. We have made a god of sex in our country. It’s easy enough to get rid of the children by abortion.”

When girls apply to live at St. Ann’s, they must agree to continue their education and commit to a drug-free lifestyle, says Lisa Boyle, director of social services at St. Ann’s. She receives at least five phone calls a day to request entrance.

Applicants cannot be turned away based on lack of finances, race or religion. However, they need to be ages 13 through 20 to qualify. Most girls come through the Department of Social Services or the Department of Juvenile Services. A fee is negotiated with the agency to pay for the girls’ needs.

St. Ann’s also receives money from the United Way and other donors. Funds allow that at least five of the 22 girls in the Teen Mother-Baby Program can be paid for privately.

“These girls have made a decision, despite all the challenges they face, to be brave and keep their babies,” she says. “The babies are all meant to be, and there has to be some place for them to stay. They may not be Jesus, but maybe they will be the future president of the United States or the future pope.”

Latisha, 19, of Southeast, doesn’t know what tomorrow holds for her exuberant 2-year-old son, Keyon, but she believes whatever he does, he will make people smile.

In August 2002, she started the Teen Mother-Baby Program. In July 2003, after receiving her high-school diploma, she moved into Faith House. The home is a separate entity administered by St. Ann’s, which provides transitional housing for eight young mothers, who can live there for 2 years. Last year, it served 21 young women.

Residents, ages 18 through 25, must have passed the General Educational Development test to live in the home. Women in Faith House contribute one-third of their income for rent. They work toward economic self-sufficiency and a stable family life.

Currently, Latisha, whose last name is not being used for privacy reasons, is working toward an associate’s degree in child development through scholarship money at Associates for Renewal of Education in Northwest. One day, she would like to run her own day care center.

“I feel blessed,” she says. “I know a lot of people don’t have a place to go like St. Ann’s.”

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