New Paul Stefan regional home will offer education, hope to women in crisis pregnancies

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"I was an adopted child, but I wish my birth mom had been in a place as loving as this," said Craig Hartman, looking around a room furnished with everything from diapers and swaddling blankets to a bedside Bible and rocking chair. "My birth mother went to a cold place where girls were shamed into giving away their babies. This place empowers girls; it shows so much love."

Hartman was among more than 200 supporters and community members to attend an open house, ribbon-cutting and luncheon at the new Paul Stefan Regional Home of Virginia May 1. Located in downtown Orange, the stately building was built in the mid-1920s as an inn and later used as an assisted-living facility for adults. Given new life and plenty of fresh paint, the 27-room facility eventually will house women in crisis pregnancies and offer educational programs, counseling and faith-based support.

Just before cutting the ribbon in the home's foyer, Paul Stefan Foundation co-founder Randy James thanked the crowd of supporters.

"The love you brought through your support is what we will show them here," said James, who hopes the regional home will serve as a model for similar programs in other states.

The Sunday event marked the end of phase 1 renovations and showcased a third-floor kitchen and seven bedrooms with bathrooms, along with a ground floor filled with large windows and photographs of babies born at the two current Paul Stefan Foundation Homes in Unionville. The Unionville homes will be stepping stones to independent living for the women and their children. Plans for phase 2 include the addition of an educational center, daycare, playground, and a kitchen that will double as a training space and community soup kitchen. During the final phase, bedrooms on the middle floor will be renovated.

James, a parishioner of St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg, estimates it will cost $1 million to complete his vision for the home. "People thought I was crazy when I told them what I wanted to do years ago," he said, smiling. But with ongoing assistance from numerous Arlington diocesan parishes, pro-life organizations, the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and individual donors, his dream is becoming a reality.

Additional support is needed to meet the goal of welcoming women into the first seven rooms by July 1 and continuing with the second and third phases. A $2,500 donation "takes care of the behind-the-scenes work," such as plumbing and electrical wiring, said James. A donation of the same amount will furnish a room. Or a group can take the hands-on approach and paint and furnish the room themselves.

The completed third-floor bedrooms each "have a unique flavor" because a different group worked preparing the rooms for the women, said James.

The Paul Stefan Foundation is named for the son of James and his wife, Evelyn, co-founder of the nonprofit. Their son died in 2005 an hour after being born without lungs. Even though they knew the baby's lungs would not be developed and Evelyn was encouraged to have a late-term abortion, she carried the baby to term. With support from Father Stefan P. Starzynski, now chaplain at Inova Fairfax Hospital, the couple established the memorial foundation.

"God gave our Paul Stefan an amazing set of lungs, because they will breathe existence into the homes for expectant mothers," said James, who said he believes "God wants (the homes for women) and is making this happen."

A unique regional home

While crisis pregnancy centers typically focus on serving local women, the new home will welcome expectant mothers from across Virginia. The regional home also is unique in offering on-site education and allowing longer lengths of stay.

"They can live there for two, four, five years - whatever it takes," said James. The intent is to invest in the women with time, resources and love, giving them the tools needed to thrive long-term.

Through partnerships with local teachers, the Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare and other groups, the facility will provide education in the culinary arts, information technology, personal care and certified nursing assistant certifications. The Paul Stefan Foundation also is partnering with a number of local universities and community colleges and is applying for a grant through the National Science Foundation to offer education in technology-focused fields.

"You can't raise a family on a job at McDonald's," said James, adding that a strong educational foundation allows for a strong career.

James said counseling will help women struggling with underlying emotional and psychological issues, some of which may have led to their crisis pregnancies.

Danielle Nicholson, mother to a 3-year-old, was at the open house. She said one of the Paul Stefan Homes in Unionville gave her just what she needed about four years ago after finding out she was pregnant with little familial support.

She's since earned an associate's degree while caring for her daughter. She currently works two part-time jobs, including as a substitute teacher for Head Start, a federal program for preschool children from low-income families. Her goal is to someday be a social worker.

"I hope the women who come here realize the opportunity they've been given and run full speed ahead with their hopes and dreams," said Nicholson. "Because this place won't let you fall."

How to help

To support the Paul Stefan Regional Home of Virginia, go to paulstefanhome.org or call 540/854-2300.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016