Realizing a dream: Mother Seton House a go in 2012

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

SANTA LOVES KIDS — At a recent Mother Seton House Christmas party, Santa Claus held court with Patricia Hoover and her son, Bentley Hoover.

FRYEBURG — It started out three years ago as a tiny seed of an idea tossed about by five people, to provide shelter to pregnant women, new mothers and infants in need.

That seed has since blossomed into 50 volunteers, $65,000 in donations, and — thanks to a recent matching $65,000 gift from the Kendal C. and Anna Ham Charitable Foundation — will take full flower next August, when Mother Seton House in Fryeburg Village finally opens its doors.

“I can’t tell you how amazing it is, the people who say yes to this all the time,” said Cyndi Broyer, volunteer director of the nonprofit Mother Seton House, Inc. The faith-based organization finalized purchase Nov. 28 of the home on a quiet, safe street, where from four to six women will live at no cost during their pregnancies and up to a year after the child is born.

“Our goal is to help women to transition to independent living situations, with the skills and resources needed to support themselves and their children,” Broyer said. Their families, in most cases, lack the space or financial resources to provide such support, and many pregnant teens or young mothers end up “couch surfing” at one place or another, without a stable home base.

The house will have a resident staff person who will provide security and promote healthy community living, and will also hold cooking and parenting classes for mothers not living there. The women will also be provided with counseling, physical, emotional and spiritual support.

After their stay at Mother Seton House, some of the mothers may opt to transition to Grace House, a smaller residence in North Conway, N.H. that was donated to the nonprofit by the Schiavi family and has been in operation since August. The up to two mothers who live here will be enrolled in some type of post-secondary education program, toward a goal of providing financially for their newborn.

The seed is born

Broyer, a teacher at New Suncook School in Lovell, was one of five members of the Social Justice and Peace Committee of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church who came up with the idea as a service project. The idea led to an organizational meeting of 20 people in August of 2007. The idea then evolved into an independent organization, led by an eight-member board of directors, and has been embraced by many churches and service groups in the Greater Fryeburg area.

The all-volunteer board of directors members have backgrounds in law, finance, business, education and law enforcement, and include Father Joseph Koury of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bridgton. The 50 volunteers, including members of the Knights of Columbus, Lions clubs and local churches, have been organized into committees, and support the mothers through fundraising, publicity, donations, social interactions, workshops, baby showers and special events.

“Sixty-five thousand dollars — from an idea,” said Broyer, who has seen first-hand the power of faith in action as the project has unfolded.

She cited, as just one example, the time an unexpected check came in the mail that just happened to cover the cost of plane tickets to Arizona so she and her husband Alan Broyer (board chairman) could visit Maggie’s Place, a home with a similar mission to Mother Seton House.

Another peak moment came when Mother Seton House competed for #1 top honors in an online Pepsi Challenge grant, when supporters logged on for a month in such numbers that Mother Seton rose to the #83 position. They didn’t win, and Broyer’s computer crashed from all the activity. But she said, “I was so proud of that.”

The trip to Maggie’s Place likewise energized everyone involved in the Mother Seton mission, said Broyer. “It was so exciting to see that it could really work.”

The 100-year-old two-and-a-half-story house in Fryeburg was purchased in a pre-auction foreclosure bid by a benefactor, and held for a year until the nonprofit was able to raise money to take it over.

The house needs new plumbing (the pipes were frozen), electrical upgrades, lead paint removal, a fire suppression system and new windows, and $30,000 still needs to be raised for those renovations. But as far as the layout of rooms is concerned, little needs to be changed.

“The set-up is really perfect for a residence. We want to keep its homey atmosphere,” Broyer said. Eventually, the garage may be renovated for office space for the organization, but the priority for now is on the women and their needs.

The lack of a physical house hasn’t deterred Mother Seton House from moving full-steam ahead on its mission. Since 2007, Mother Seton House has worked with 12 new mothers and pregnant women, offering classes and regular distributions of free diapers, baby clothing, furniture, books and toys. When the home opens, the nonprofit will narrow its focus to the women who live there.

The house will run on an annual operating budget of $40,000, and will include such programs as the Cooking Matters classes, lactation counseling, and both academic and parenting education.

While one might think there will be a long waiting list of pregnant mothers to live for free at Mother Seton House, “they’re not going to be pounding down the door,” Broyer said. That’s because in return for all the support they’ll be receiving, the women will be giving up some of their autonomy.

It’s a loving environment, but it’s structured,” Broyer said. Legally speaking, the home will operate as a boarding house; no boyfriends will be allowed to visit (although involvement by biological fathers is supported), and no active substance abusers will be allowed. If the woman has at least three months’ clean time and is trying to recover, she may be allowed, however. Women who are either pregnant or with a child under the age of one are eligible to apply if they meet financial criteria similar to federal rules for TANF assistance.

“Our mothers are not stupid. They’re brave, they’re smart, they’re very capable and very loving,” said Broyer. “What they are is poor. And that’s not a good start.”

Around four times a year, Mother Seton House has offered what it calls “The Distribution” — a day when baby and infant supplies, diapers, clothing and furniture are laid out on tables at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church and offered, free of charge, to the mothers. The donations have been stored, free of charge, by Terry and Sara MacGillivray, owners of East Conway Self-Storage, and the organization is looking for a new location to conduct the regular distributions.

Two alumni mothers in the program, Sonjia Tainter and Robyn Wilmot, took the distribution project one step further this past April, by creating a Facebook page called “Mommy’s Little Helper.” Here’s a typical posting: “Hi everyone, I just wanted to let you all know that with the help of The Mother Seton House, I now have clothing for both boys and girls, up to size 18 months, as well as many other baby items such as hats, socks, bibs, bouncy seats and more. I would like to invite anyone who could use any baby items to message me for appointments.”

The Facebook page has inspired an Oxford Hills mother to create an “Oxford Hills Mommy’s Little Helper” page for donations and pick-ups closer to her home.

Both of the alumni mothers are also pursuing higher education. Sonjia, or “Sunny” as she is known, is studying at Granite State College in Conway, N.H., hoping to work with teens, and Robyn is attending White Mountain Community College, studying social work.

The benefits notwithstanding, “It takes a lot of courage” for a young mother to be involved with all of the services offered by Mother Seton House, said Broyer. “It’s been an honor to work with them.” Broyer said Mother Seton House welcomes anyone who would like to become involved in its work. She may be reached at 925-2322 or by e-mailing cyndi@klc5.com

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