An ambitious project poised to begin in Burlington, Ont., just west of Toronto, is again putting to rest the charge that pro-life advocates care about human beings only before they’re born.
Shifra House – named after the midwife in the biblical book of Exodus 1:15, who protected and nurtured life – is about to open in a leafy and picturesque part of the city of 150,000 located on the shore of Lake Ontario. The $460,000 house will provide accommodation and other assistance for up to eight people – young, single mothers and their newborns – who have nowhere else to go before, during and after a baby’s birth.
The home has already received inquiries from six young girls interested in the home’s services. Over 200 teen pregnancies are known to occur every year in the Burlington area, but sadly, only about 50 of them end in live births. As many as 17 new, young mothers are referred out of the Burlington region annually.
A co-operative effort of Shifra Homes Inc. and Project Maranatha for Youth, the home is the outgrowth of a concept by Burlington resident Randy Matters, who is in formation to become an ordained deacon in the Catholic church. (The deaconate is a lower ordained office in the church that sees deacons assist priests in pastoral and administrative duties, while reporting directly to a bishop.) One of the requirements of the deaconate program is a commitment to some kind of outreach ministry and Matters thought the Shifra Home was a perfect choice for him.
“My family has been involved with life issues since (former prime minister Jean) Chretien’s early term,” he told The Interim during an interview at the site of the home. He had noticed that whereas some other cities had homes and services for single mothers who had no other immediate means of support, the Burlington area lacked them.
So in 2004, he sat down with representatives of Project Maranatha for Youth and a group of other interested local residents to form a committee to set the wheels in motion for Shifra Homes Inc., a non-profit organization. The board boasts a variety of professionals from backgrounds including sales, accounting, real estate, business and management.
“We want to help girls choose life,” said Matters, pointing to a mission statement that identifies the corporation as a non-denominational, non-profit entity, while the home itself is a “Christ-centred maternity residence.” The home features four fully furnished bedrooms, a laundry and a large eat-in kitchen, from which sliding doors lead to a lovely, tree-surrounded patio area and manicured gardens.
The staffing model will include an executive director and a house parent. Regulations stipulate that one person must be present in an oversight capacity for every four people in the residence.
The corporation took possession of the property in June 2005 and aimed to have it in operation within a year, but thanks to the dedication and contributions of a number of people, that target has been moved up a few months.
“This has happened so quickly, we’re still feeling our way around,” said Matters. “Secular people and others from a wide range of denominations outside our board have been involved … Right now, we’re concentrating on hiring good staff.” A well-attended open house in January saw Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac attend and lend the city’s support.
Among those integral to the establishment of the home are a number of individuals and businesses that have donated their time and talents, including: Jim Kay of Seava Robotics Inc. and Ed Jans of Jans Electric Inc. who installed and tested various equipment, such as electrical wiring; Carmen Bucci of Fire Detection Systems Ltd., who donated smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and emergency battery lighting; and Neil Griffin of Airquest Inc., who serviced, cleaned and upgraded the furnace, air conditioner, humidifier and fridge.
Bob van De Vrande of Project Maranatha said his organization was looking for a positive, youth-centred project to put its resources into and the Shifra initiative was “tailor made” for that. In addition to writing tax receipts for those who donate to the home’s work, Project Maranatha is providing administrative help and capital.
The home will work with other agencies in those cases where it cannot provide the kinds of help mothers and their babies need. It also intends to network with area families who might be able to take in residents that the home cannot accommodate because of capacity.
A major challenge will be continued funding, and the corporation’s board is looking at a number of avenues to ensure the home has a secure and stable future. “We’re going to hit as many (church) congregations as we can,” said Matters. “There’s a $250,000 annual budget, working out to about $110-120 per day per (resident).”
Matters added that fathers aren’t being forgotten as the project proceeds. “A primary concern is involvement of the fathers and families. We want to help them as well … The babies are a tremendous motivator.”
Shifra House is looking for a number of resources, including baby items, house supplies, furniture, various entertainment goods, cleaning supplies, food and more. Also, its Angel Program will allow individuals and groups to sponsor a new mother and her baby for $25 a month. To find out more, see the website at www.shifrahomes.com or call (905) 632-2007.