The O’Connor House Provides Shelter for Homeless, Pregnant Women & Their Children
Writer: Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer: Amy Payne
Originally conceived by Colleen Dulac and Kris Bussick, The O’Connor House was started in 2005 to provide a Christian home to help single, pregnant homeless women improve life for themselves and their children.
Because the organization helps to reduce homelessness, in 2010 they received a $500,000 grant, which enabled them to construct a multi-family living space. Since its grand opening in December 2011, The O’Connor House has helped more than 350 women and children.
“Moms often tell us that they expected this place would feel like a shelter but instead it feels like a home,” says Nancy Imhoff, Development Director for The O’Connor House. “That’s our intent.”
The house can accommodate up to eight women at a time, and they are one of the few maternity homes in the country that also take a pregnant mother’s toddler. Most of the moms who come to The O’Connor House are between 19 and 26. They’re allowed to stay for up to 18 months. During their stay, they’re supplied with food, clothing and transportation. They also receive educational support, life skills training and healing through counseling. In addition, the organization offers a formal mentoring program where mentors help the women set personal and career goals and develop specific steps to achieve those goals.
“We also focus on developing positive parenting skills and healthy lifestyle habits,” says Kristi Lammers, who helps with Community Engagement.
Research shows that 80 percent of single moms live in poverty.
“We’re not a band-aid. We invest deeply in each of these young moms to get them on a path out of poverty,” Imhoff says. “That takes a lot of resources and wraparound support.”
Education is key (many moms are working toward a high school diploma, trade school certifications or various levels of higher education). So is learning how to set a regular schedule to achieve productivity.
“When these women start becoming productive, their self-esteem increases,” Imhoff says. “They’re also met with greater freedom and opportunity.”
Located between Carmel and Westfield, the organization uses more than 80 volunteers a week who provide transportation for the moms, do yard work and daily chores, perform maintenance duties and teach moms how to cook.
“We have local mothers and grandmothers who come in to hold babies, so the moms can take time to focus on an online class or work on another goal,” Lammers says.
Many individuals, families and groups volunteer at The O’Connor House from all of the north suburban communities, including Westfield, Fishers, Zionsville and Carmel. They are supporting our neighbors who primarily come from downtown Indianapolis and need assistance at a time of crisis in their lives. The volunteers support the mission in so many ways by giving of their time, knowledge and abilities.
Some groups do a one-time project. For example, the members of the Knights of Columbus from the Zionsville area worked together to do the work involved in completing a full bathroom in the basement of The O’Connor House. This has been a wonderful blessing to the moms and children because the playroom is in the basement.
Though it’s a Christian organization, they accept women from anywhere in the U.S. and from any faith. Women do, however, need to be over 18, pregnant and homeless to stay.
“The O’Connor House transforms lives and impacts generations,” says Imhoff, who shares the story of a woman who had been in the prison system for a number of years. Once released, she became pregnant and was living on a park bench before finding The O’Connor House.
“When she got here, it was the first time she felt unconditional love,” says Imhoff, who notes that through the support and healing she received from the house and the community, this woman went on to earn her college degree and now lives in an apartment with her son.
“Her son’s choices, his life, his impact, his opportunities are completely different than his mom’s, and that’s all because she got this second chance,” Imhoff says.
Fresh starts and second chances are what it’s all about.
For more information, visit theoconnorhouse.org.