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FINALIST

Mike Hentges and Steve Smith

Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri

Want to help children in need? Start by caring for their mothers.

Longtime friends Mike Hentges (left) and Steve Smith saw a pressing need in their Missouri community—homeless, pregnant women were desperately seeking support to choose life and become stable mothers. “While people often focus on the babies, we realized that if we help the mothers, the babies will be cared for,” said Smith.

Through prayer, financial donations and sheer willpower, they founded St. Raymond’s Society (SRS), a non-profit that offers shelter and mentorship to pregnant women. They chose Saint Raymond as their namesake saint as the patron saint of childbirth, midwives, children and expectant mothers.

Since the first house opened in 2012, SRS has grown to three houses in the Diocese of Jefferson City and one house in California. With 11 employees and more than 150 volunteers, they provide maternal and pastoral care to society’s most vulnerable women.

Smith and Hentges, who are each married with children and full-time jobs, realize that as men, they are slightly unusual founders of a women’s shelter. Their website reads, “Most guys that help single moms don’t start their story with, ‘Two bald guys walk into a restaurant,’ but ours does.” After several meetings together over lunch, they knew they needed to act.

“It is amazing what God can do with a little ‘yes’ from us,” said Smith.

The women they serve lack the social network and finances to have a healthy pregnancy and establish a family. Many were put out by scandalized families, abandoned by the baby’s father or could not afford medical bills or housing. These SRS houses provide a life-changing opportunity to redirect their lives. They not only receive basic supplies and counseling, but in this warm, loving, faith-filled environment, they are nurtured and given security and confidence. Here Hentges helps provide a safe, family setting.

These women learn about caring for themselves and about parenting. Most mothers stay for several months to fully engage in the benefits of this opportunity. Once their babies are born, they are cared for at the houses, until they are on their feet. These are true transitional houses that meet women where they are and move them toward self-sufficiency.

In 2018, the Jefferson City houses provided housing to 21 mothers and their 26 children. The Society also provided outreach assistance to 137 non-residential mothers in their communities and their 211 children, who did not need housing, but needed other assistance during challenging circumstances while pregnant.

Hentges and Smith have remarkable stories of courage to tell. One woman came to them, in crisis and pregnant with triplets. Janey moved into a SRS house and began her new life. She worked, finished her education, worked on her relationship with the father (whom they were also mentoring) and her faith life. Through community volunteers, from all walks of life and faith traditions, they were able to provide round-the-clock care for the babies when they were born. The couple will soon be married.

Another woman, Faith, had just broken up with her fiancé and needed a place to live. When she arrived, she had little education, no job and was in debt. Her outlook was bleak. Today not only is she a thriving mother, but she has completed her college studies and has a job with a 401K.  Faith, second to left, with Smith holding her baby Noah, and colleagues.

The SRS staff help mothers find jobs, obtain college degrees and secure stable housing. “Our staff have moved from being ‘house moms’ to being coaches for these women,” said Smith. “They are being trained as certified life coaches. With these skills, they say to the women, ‘It’s your life and your goals. What do you want to do?’ We walk this journey with them.” Staff members sit down with the women and discuss seven areas of self-sufficiency, including budgeting and parenting.

“This practical, multifaceted approach creates a relationship with the mothers and the community, promising help for the long haul and offering real choices to pregnant women in crisis,” said Jay Nies, Editor of The Catholic Missouri. “It builds compassion and helps motivate followers of Christ to address the causes of poverty and unstable family situations. It also gives women the incentive to become the best mothers and member of society that they are capable of being.”

While the houses serve women regardless of their religious affiliation, Smith and Hentges said that from the beginning this project was a mission of the Church.

“The Bible talks often about ‘widows and orphans,’” said Smith. “But in today’s world, that does not mean someone died. It means a lot of people out there need help. That is our mission now.”

The Lumen Christi Award is proudly presented by Catholic Extension, a non-profit that

provides grants to build the Catholic faith in the poorest areas of the United States.