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Archives Effort to create maternity home underway

February 28, 2024

By Mary Beth Bracy,
consecrated virgin
Contributing Writer

When Msgr. Dennis Duprey was pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Plattsburgh, Janice Tobin happened to walk into the sacristy one day. A young woman named Katharine was pregnant, in a desperate situation, and needed a place to stay. Msgr. Duprey said that Janice would help her and the young woman ended up staying in Janice’s home until after the baby was born. This experience helped inspire Janice to move forward with her idea to start a maternity home.

Heart Well Homestead is a non-profit organization that is aiming to begin a maternity home in Plattsburgh. They are hoping to raise the necessary funds to purchase a home and provide the necessary services by the end of this year. Tobin, the organization’s chairperson, explained its origin.

“The name was inspired by Regina Maria Retreat House in Plattsburgh that is for sale,” she said. “I learned WW Hartwell and Dependencies were the original owners and he was an entrepreneur in the 1800s. It was the start of my becoming re-motivated about the project. The idea came way before 2022.”

“Gloria Garami and I were working as nurses together in the Clinton County Health Department,” Tobin said. “We were doing home visits with mothers and babies. We often saw women who were placed in hotels by Department of Social Services (DSS) as the only option to offer mom’s who did not have stable housing and who couldn’t afford alternative housing. We would come back from those visits and say ‘We have to do better than this. This is not something we would want our daughter to be facing in a situation like that.’ So we started to think about a maternity home where women could receive education and be independent. I retired five and a half years ago, so the timing seems right for me to begin this big project. When we found out Regina Maria for sale, we talked again. It seems it would be a way to use my experience in this community.”

Tobin visited other maternity homes in Eastern Rochester, Syracuse and Ontario to see what they are offering.
“There are so many success stores and testimonies that I have seen from other maternity homes across the nation,” she said. “We are looking forward to sharing them in the future with our community. They are transitional homes, to be there when a mom is pregnant and offer the support they need when the baby is very young. The first six weeks are critical for bonding and breastfeeding. Garami is a breastfeeding consultant at CVPH.”

“We would like to have 24/7 staff,” Tobin explained, “so that the women would have someone in the home if an issue arises, and we will have programs for the women to participate in. The program will be tailored to their needs, so we will know what their needs are as well. It will be an individual plan for each woman who comes. All the women will have financial literacy sessions, because the goal is also to have them transition from this home with savings and the ability to rent or buy and also to be support in the home. If they have a job, (the hope is that there would be) volunteer babysitting and they could possibly finish college or school. The age group that we will be working with is about 18 to 24 years of age. It could be a woman who is pregnant or a woman who has had her child (children under a year of age). Some of the homes we visited actually have moms with more than one child. Depending on the space we have there may be a possibility of having a child with the mom as well.

“The reason that we’re aiming to have a program that goes for almost two years is to help put that support that they need to be able to be transitioned into their own home with support from the community, but also because many of the women who will be coming into the home need time to heal about trauma they have received in the past to reset their lives and to begin again. It takes time to heal from maybe even a life time of issues in the family. It’s my hope that we will have counselors available as well that we can have the women meet with individually and to have a group meeting a well that discusses certain virtues, possibly things they had never thought about before and to see how they can be lived out. There will be the opportunity to read stories, watch movies, to express themselves with art. Some women who have been given a pen or ink and asked to draw who you are right now and then a year later, there is a huge difference in how they see themselves. Often when they are new to the home they are mistrusting and afraid and very negative about who they are.”

The hope of Heart Well Homestead is to help women become interdependent.

“Part of the building of support around woman is to heal the family that women come from,” Tobin said. “That is something that we hope the women mature and grow in the programs they will be able to share with their families what they learn with.”

They want to help women and their babies overcome challenges.

“Homeless women have difficulty with transportation,” Tobin said. “One local woman was put in Rouses Point, for instance, so you can imagine how difficult it is. Pre-term and low birth rate babies and their health is compromised as well. Poverty is associated with that and is a cycle that we want to break. We definitely want to have healthy babies in our community.”

“I was involved with Encounter Ministries and learned that God gives us Kingdom Dreams,” Tobin shared. “This is my Kingdom Dream. At Regina Maria there is a stained glass window of Joan of Arc. In ministry, we were put into groups and our partner was to say which super hero we reminded them of; they said Joan of Arc for me. This was in May of 2023. I have been rallying the troops around the maternity home. A Kingdom Dream requires more than one person in the community. It requires the community to come around it. This is going to happen. We need to appeal to the hearts of people. It requires a lot of energy and support to be a mom. Beginning those early years with a child gives them a foundation that will carry them through life.”

For more information and upcoming events visit Heart Well Homestead’s Facebook page and their website at https://www.heartwellhomestead.org Donations may be made through the site and are tax-deductible. They are also hoping for the support of businesses and to find a grant writer who can help them obtain larger amounts of money. If anyone knows of a house that is at least 3,000 sq. ft. in Plattsburgh that could be donated for the use of the maternity home, please contact them through the site.

On Fridays throughout Lent, board members from the Heart Well Homestead will have an information table at the Holy Cross Parish “Fish Fry” which is held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the parish center (formerly the Our Lady of Victory Academy gym). They are also planning a Golf Tournament at The Barracks on August 23.

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