Group seeks support in providing housing for women with unplanned pregnancies
Maureen Nwoye was on her knees, as she had been countless times before, praying to God for a sign. For 20 years, she wanted to help women and their children but was unsure how.
Then she decided to start an organization dedicated to housing and supporting expectant mothers with unplanned pregnancies. She had heard of a similar program in Fredericksburg called Mary’s Shelter and felt Richmond mothers deserved a refuge, too. She didn’t know where to start, but she knew she needed money. She posted on Facebook asking for donations, and then she prayed.
“Dear God,” she said, “if you want me to do this, show me by sending just one person, just one donation.”
As she was getting off her knees, she heard a ding — one simple chime to let her know that someone had donated at that precise moment. That someone was Pamela Pilch.
Pilch and Nwoye knew each other from various ministries throughout the Diocese of Richmond. After Nwoye told Pilch about her vision, they got to work on making it a reality.
Pilch, a UVA School of Law alumna, navigated the meticulous world of business law. It was a long and tedious process to gain their 501(c)(3) approval and then diocesan support, but now that they have both, they are eager to spread the word.
Deciding on the name Mary’s Choice RVA for their organization, they recruited several board members from the Richmond area, including director Ann Gill and fundraising committee chair and director Michael Siewers.
“The purpose of Mary’s Choice is to provide community living and support for women who find themselves with unplanned pregnancies,” explained Gill. “We are based on the foundations of love, dignity and service to Christ.”
What makes Mary’s Choice unique is that the support doesn’t stop once the baby is born but continues afterward. There is no other program like this in the area, according to Pilch. The organization appeals to donors across the political spectrum because it’s actively trying to help women long-term.
“It’s an appealing ministry for both pro-life and pro-choice supporters because it’s really doing the work,” said Pilch. “If you don’t take care of the mother, there’s no hope for the baby.”
A woman is allowed to stay up to four years in the home, giving her time to care for her child and get back on her feet. An array of services will be made available to them, such as shelter, food, job training, education, mental health services, child care, nutrition counseling, parenting classes, transport to and from doctor’s appointments and access to a mentor with whom she will meet regularly.
Mary’s Choice welcomes all women in crisis, of any faith or of no faith.
“The goal is not to proselytize, but to love with Christ’s love,” said Pilch. “We are serving her through the love of Christ so she recognizes her inherit dignity made in the image of God.”
Planning began in 2019, but fundraising efforts were somewhat stalled by COVID. Rather than wait for the pandemic to subside, Mary’s Choice hosted an online cocktail party via Zoom that raised $30,000.
One of the biggest needs right now is finding a house, which has also been impacted by COVID and the hot housing market. Beyond this, they need money for, among other things, utilities, furniture, clothes, toiletries and cookware.
“These women will be under our care, and everything has to be in order for them. We can’t open up a home without knowing where our money is coming from,” said Siewers, who has extensive fundraising experience and whose family owns a well-established local lumber business.
Mary’s Choice had its first Baby Bottle Campaign recently at St. Bridget Parish, Richmond. Parishioners filled empty baby bottles with donations. Children from one family set up a lemonade stand and donated the proceeds — about $100 — to the cause. More campaigns are planned for the future, and their first in-person fundraising event is slated for October. Several people have signed up to volunteer, including a pediatrician and a doula.
Though still without a house, the board is confident that will change soon.
Siewers said, “I feel that our home is out there. It’s in one of the churches, in one of the parishioners.”
The goal is to eventually have several houses and apartments across the city to help as many women as possible.
In the meantime, people can go to https://www.maryschoicerva.org/ to donate or volunteer.
Nwoye said that even though they don’t have a home yet, they will find a way to shelter any woman who comes to them, even in their own residences.
“These women wonder, ‘What can I do? Where can I go?’ Here. They can come here,” she said. “When God was leading me, I didn’t know which way he was directing me, but now I know. I didn’t know how to begin or how to do it, but I knew I had to do it. Every city in the country should have a center like this.”
Now, one more will.