- Associated Press - Sunday, May 8, 2016

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Get rid of it.

Those were the words repeated to Gabbi Von Wallen by well-meaning doctors and friends when she found herself pregnant and homeless earlier this year.

She was living in Northern Virginia, she said, when her fiance left her, taking their young daughter with him.

Von Wallen had no job. No place to go.

Until she learned from an acquaintance about the Paul Stefan Foundation, which runs two maternity homes in Orange County.

Come July, Von Wallen will be among the first to move into the former President Madison Inn, which is being transformed into a 30-room facility for pregnant women in crisis.

The Paul Stefan Foundation will run the former inn in addition to its two existing homes, which can only comfortably house a total of eight mothers and their babies.

The goal, said Randy James, who along with wife, Evelyn, started the foundation a decade ago to honor their infant son who died shortly after birth, is to have enough space to accommodate expecting women from around the state.

“We get calls probably every week,” Randy James said. “We have to evaluate and just tell some we don’t have enough room.”

In December 2014, the Orange Town Council voted to approve a special use permit to allow the foundation to operate the inn, which was built in the 1920s and last served as a home for adults.

A year later, extensive renovations began in earnest, said Evelyn James.

The nine completed rooms, which include seven bedrooms, were open for touring on Sunday during a symbolic ribbon cutting to mark the completion of the first of three planned phases. A second phase will include an education center; a third will include more rooms for mothers and is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2017.

Individuals, families and organizations sponsored the overhauling, furnishing and decorating each of the nine rooms that the Jameses hope to have ready for occupants July 1.

There is a laundry room and a kitchen with gleaming white cabinets, two stoves and a dining room table set with place mats and a potted plant. Rooms for mothers are painted in aqua and lavender and coral and filled with beds covered in coordinating linens.

Portable cribs already await babies in some rooms, each of which has its own bathroom. Children’s books are arranged neatly on one bed, pregnancy and childcare books stacked on a night table.

Changing tables are stocked with diapers, baby wash and hooded towels. Toiletries fill baskets for mothers.

Rocking chairs sit ready.

Above one bed are the words, “Everyday holds a possibility of a miracle.”

Out in the bright yellow hallway, an artist from Orange High School, Tamara Sherman, is painting a menagerie: zebras, giraffes, a monkey.

The Paul Stefan Foundation provides long-term housing and support so that mothers can get job training or pursue an education while caring for their children. That can be four years or more.

Pressured to end her own pregnancy in 2005 when doctors told Evelyn James her baby boy would not survive birth due to a condition that would prevent his lungs from developing normally, she ultimately started the foundation as a way to honor the child they named Paul Stefan.

Its mission is “saving babies, one mom at a time.”

The foundation so far has served more than 150 women of all religions and backgrounds. Most, like Von Wallen, who is due in November, are in their 20s. About 80 percent of the mothers come from Virginia, Randy James said. A third come from Orange and surrounding counties.

“There are about 400 homes throughout the whole country that do what we do,” said Randy James, who serves on the National Maternity Housing Coalition. “They all say the same thing. If we had room for 30, we’d be able to house 30.”

Downstairs on May 1, town officials praised the organization for using the historic inn for a worthy cause.

“This was a place when you came to Orange you stayed here if you could. We’re glad to have you here,” said town councilman Harry “Chuck” Mason.

Von Wallen mingled among the dozens who came out to mark the occasion.

Babies abounded, many pressed against the chests of their mothers.

“If not for this place,” she said, “these children wouldn’t have existed.”


Information from: The Free Lance-Star, https://www.fredericksburg.com/

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