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Los Angeles home for unwed mothers now a family center to address ‘the bigger picture’

By Paula Doyle
March 6th, 2008
The Tidings (www.the-tidings.com)

LOS ANGELES, CA (The Tidings) - A century ago, when the Ford Motor Company first introduced its classic Model T touring car and before women’s suffrage, St. Anne’s maternity home for unwed pregnant women was founded by Bishop Thomas Conaty in Los Angeles.

From modest beginnings as a small, safe refuge for pregnant young women — most of whom placed their baby up for adoption — St. Anne’s has evolved into a six-acre campus at 155 North Occidental Blvd. in Echo Park serving hundreds of young women, children and their families annually.

St. Anne’s, administered by the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart since 1941, provides residential/transitional housing, mental health and family based services and an education program to hundreds of at-risk young women and children.

Today, all pregnant teenage minors at St. Anne’s are in California’s child welfare system. They have been removed from their homes and placed in the foster care system because of abuse and neglect and may also have been involved with the state probation system.

“It’s a little different than it used to be,” noted Steve Gunther, St. Anne’s chief operating officer. “There was a time when the real focus was on [a girl’s] pregnancy. While that still remains a focus, the reality is that the mental health needs of the girl and the history she brings to us is a big part of the focus, and the pregnancy and the parenting is just a piece of a much bigger picture.”

St. Anne’s residential treatment program, serving approximately 39 pregnant and parenting teenage girls ages 13-18, provides educational and vocational assistance, case management services, mental health services, health services coordination, social and recreational activities and child care services. Mirroring societal trends, the majority of today’s pregnant residents keep their babies. St. Anne’s onsite hospital closed in 1976.

“We have a continuum of programs and services that we can provide,” explained Gunther. “A young lady, for example, could move into our residential services program. She would be enrolled, most likely, in our mental health program. She would have her child enrolled in our child care program. She most likely would be enrolled in family literacy, one of our family-based programs. And she may, potentially, turn 18 and emancipate from that program and move into transitional housing.”

Two-year ‘treasure’

Yecica Robles, 22, was among the first group of mothers and children to move into St. Anne’s Bogen Family Center, which opened in 2005.

Previously a resident of a foster care group home, Robles and her six-year-old son, Carlos, were accepted into The Bogen Family Center’s transitional housing program, which provides up to 24 months of affordable housing and support services for pregnant and parenting young women who have emancipated from the child welfare system.

St. Anne’s operates the largest transitional housing program in Los Angeles County, providing 39 out of 48 “beds” available to foster care emancipated women with children in its Bogen facility. Residents, who are required to work or go to school full-time or do both concurrently, receive counseling and support services aimed at helping them achieve independence after their stay.

“It really did help,” said Robles. “If I didn’t come here, where would I be right now? When I came here, they helped me do everything [such as] fill out resumes, arrange transportation to work and school, and find babysitters for my son.” She currently works as the center’s property manager, allowing her to continue living at Bogen, while taking classes full-time at Los Angeles City College toward her goal of becoming a paralegal.

Robles described her two-year transitional living stay at Bogen like “a little treasure,” allowing her the time to build life and parenting skills. She willingly shares her personal story with others.

“I talk to a lot of residents and try to encourage them,” she says. “I tell them, ‘It’s not easy, but you can do it and you have to do it for your own good and for your child. If I can do it, you can do it.’“

Alumni reunion

As part of activities planned for its centennial year, St. Anne’s staff members and many of its 400 volunteers are organizing a reunion at St. Anne’s July 26 for former residents, children born at the center, and parents who adopted babies from St. Anne’s as well as employees, volunteers or board members who have served over the decades.

Joyce Walter, a member of St. Anne’s Board of Trustees who was born at the Catholic maternity home in 1944 and adopted at one month by a “wonderful” family, is proud of St. Anne’s 100 years of continuous service.

“St. Anne’s has changed along with changing times to accommodate a new generation of girls who make the decision to raise their children. It provides a wonderful service,” said Walter.

A longtime volunteer in the child care center, Walter says she enjoys seeing the young mothers become successful parents. “St. Anne’s holds a big place in my heart,” said Walter.

For information on St. Anne’s alumni reunion or other centennial events, contact St. Anne’s at (213) 381-2931 ext. 274; email stannes@stannes.org or log on to www.stannes.org.

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