CINCINNATI Unwed mothers are offered refuge in religious setting
The girls have no unapproved contact with the outside world.
MONROE, Ohio (AP) -- Monee Darden was sitting across the table from her mother at a McDonald's in Texas when she saw the sign that would change her life.
It was a plus sign on the readout of a home pregnancy test that her mother had made her take in the restaurant bathroom. The 15-year-old was pregnant.
After that, Monee came to The Darlene Bishop Home for Life, a facility about 20 miles northeast of Cincinnati that offers refuge to teenage expecting mothers.
Homes for unwed mothers were popular in the early 20th century. But with changes in thinking, birth control, abortion laws and foster care, the homes have dwindled from hundreds then to just a few in each state.
The Home for Life, built by the 4,000-member congregation of the evangelical Solid Rock Church, sits on a 60-acre campus marked by a 42-foot-tall statue of Jesus, just off Interstate 75.
The statue represents the home's intentional theme. In the 15 bedrooms shared by two girls each, there are no phones, TVs or radios, but the walls are adorned with religious artwork.
The $1.6 million home, which opened about a year ago, hopes to reach its capacity of 30 girls by next year. That would make it one of the largest pregnant-teen homes in the United States.
"I look at the home like it's my own baby," said Darlene Bishop, co-pastor of Solid Rock Church and founder of the home. "I gave it birth, and now watching it grow is awesome. I just feel like I'm giving something back that was given to me, and that is life."
Since July 2003, 15 pregnant girls, ranging in age from 13 to 17, have lived at the Home for Life. They stay for free in the 23,000-square-foot two-story home, but must pay for their own medical care, which the home does not provide. The girls receive meals, boarding, educational tutoring and instruction in parenting, life-skills and Christianity from 17 staff members.
Insulated from world
As was the case with the unwed mothers' homes of old, the girls are insulated from the outside world. They have limited access to phones and can talk only to people approved by their parents or guardians. They can't leave the home unless escorted by staff or family members.
Most girls arrive in their first trimester of pregnancy and stay until they give birth. The home isn't licensed to house infants.
Bishop preaches an anti-abortion message in more than 100 appearances a year on the international church circuit. Her speaking fees have provided most of the money to build the new teen home and fund its operating budget.
Home Director Beth Ward says staff members are trained not to influence the girls' decisions on whether they keep their babies.
Sue Momeyer, president of Greater Cincinnati's Planned Parenthood, said as long as the staff allows girls to make their own decisions on whether to keep their babies, it is a good "alternative for young women who have decided to continue their pregnancies."
Monee, the pregnant 15-year-old, said she is supported spiritually at the home as she experiences the mood swings associated with being pregnant and being a teenager.
As she waits for her November due date, she thinks about her unborn daughter often, adding that she's leaning toward raising her herself.
"I have dreams where I see her in her school pictures," she said. "She has curly hair. My mom has curly hair so maybe she'll have it, too."