- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lawrence L. Cumberbatch Jr.’s wife told him he was crazy when he announced one night after dinner in 2000 that he intended to use the couple’s savings to open a group home to help teenagers who are pregnant or have young children.

“My wife looked at me and said, ‘You have lost your mind,’ ” Mr. Cumberbatch recalls.

But thousands of hours and about $60,000 later, Mr. Cumberbatch and his wife, Deandria, are the founders of Restore for Life Inc., a nonprofit organization that offers counseling, housing, computer training and other services to pregnant and parenting teens.

Mr. Cumberbatch said the group, which targets girls 14 to 19, is an outlet “to help these young ladies get their lives back together.”

“Our philosophy was to come in as a Christian-based organization and give them a different outlook on life,” he said.

The organization started in 2002 as little more than a clearinghouse for parenting pamphlets that also offered informal counseling, field trips to amusement parks and a Bible study out of the couple’s home.

In March, the Cumberbatches began leasing a five-bedroom home, nestled among four wooded acres in Temple Hills, to serve as a group house for women trying to move from a shelter into the community.

With its cozy fireplace, indoor shrubbery and hardwood floors, the home is a good alternative to “horror stories” about shelters, Mr. Cumberbatch said.

House mother Tracy Swann, a mother of three, said many of the girls are battling sexual, domestic and drug abuse, while others have been abandoned by family for choosing to keep their child.

“We set the program for them to give them the parenting, computer and career classes so they can get out on their own,” she said.

Dameanna Johnson, 25, said the couple took her in the day after she gave birth and allowed her to stay for two months, though she was above the age requirement. The couple’s generosity inspired her to start developing an after-school program to keep children off the streets.

“They teach you the value of getting yourself together,” said Miss Johnson, who quit using drugs upon learning she was pregnant with her now 2-month-old daughter.

Despite their good intentions, the Cumberbatches have struggled.

They recently had to scratch together $2,500 to have the heat turned on again. Mrs. Cumberbatch said they also fell behind on their $3,000-a-month mortgage and needed a “blessing” in the form of a $15,000 grant from Prince George’s County to stave off eviction.

Michael D. Herman, County Executive Jack B. Johnson’s chief of staff, called the program a “safety net.”

“A program like this is pretty critical because, statistically, children who are raised [while] constantly going from place to place are not … who we would expect to be high achievers,” he said. “So giving more and more stability at the earliest ages of life for the young moms and their children is critical to making them productive members of society.”

The organization also coaches teen girls on pregnancy prevention and offers counseling to the children’s fathers, who are sometimes reluctant to take an active role in their offspring’s lives.

Mr. Cumberbatch, who was raised by a single mother, said he offers the girls a male perspective.

“I show them there’s compassion, a man who won’t give up on them,” he said. “I know what it’s like for a single mom to raise kids.”

The Cumberbatches next week plan to take in five teens who need foster parents and hope to start a partnership with a senior citizen’s home so the young women can “adopt a grandparent” who will offer parenting advice.

Mr. Cumberbatch also wants to expand the program to at least two more states within six years.

“It comes to a point where it’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about doing what’s right. Our happiness is to see we helped the girls.”

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