BANGOR, Maine — There’s no shame in asking for help, but don’t make it a lifestyle. That’s the message Barbara Ford spreads at her Bangor shelter for young and expectant mothers who need a hand.
Gov. Paul LePage on Monday toured Shepherd’s Godparent Home alongside First Lady Ann LePage. Ford requested the governor visit to learn more about the shelter.
The shelter, which opened its doors to residents in 2003 and moved to its current location last year, has room for up to eight mothers and their children. Mothers start out in apartments on the second floor receiving food and housing, medical care, educational opportunities and parental counseling. After the mothers give birth, they have the option of going to Nikki’s Hope — a basement apartment where they can raise their child for up to a year until transitioning into an apartment of their own.
The home tries to avoid publicly revealing its location in order to protect the mothers, some of whom have escaped situations of abuse and domestic violence.
Once a mother and child are ready to leave, organizers set them up in their own place with furniture, appliances and other home needs that have been donated and collected in garages out back. So far, Ford said, 10 apartments have been fully outfitted for new families.
All of this is provided free of charge to the mothers. The faith-based organization was founded in 1992 by Linda Dodge. It serves women ages 13-28. Mothers who have struggled with drugs in the past must submit to and pass random drug tests in order to stay.
Other women who stay there have had struggles with addiction, poverty or crisis at home with their families and simply need help getting a fresh start, Ford said. However, the shelter stresses the importance of being independent after their time at Shepherd’s Godparent is up, stepping away from state and federal assistance like food stamps. If mothers aren’t in school, they’re expected to seek employment.
This is the sort of anti-reliance on welfare message LePage has been stressing since he stepped into office.
He said the sort of “compassionate help” the shelter provides is an example to be followed.
LePage also admired the fact that the organization is funded entirely through private donations, independent of state or federal grant support.
“That’s what America was like in the 1950s,” LePage said. “It was about neighbors helping neighbors.”
Ann LePage spent much of the visit taking turns holding each of the three babies in the room and talking to staff.
Ford said she would like to see the shelter expand in the future, pointing out that three expectant mothers “in crisis” had called the shelter on Monday morning alone in hopes of finding a place to go.
Once the shelter pays off the mortgage on the property — it has about $34,000 left to raise — it hopes to build an upstairs apartment. Ford asked the governor if there was anything he could do to find additional discretionary money to help that process along.
“We’ll figure something out,” LePage said.