Joseph’s House, a home for pregnant women, hosts opening celebration
It was a dream come true for Kitty Spinelli, parishioner of St. Mary’s of the Lake in Skaneateles and co-founder of Joseph’s House on Syracuse’s North side. At 12 p.m. on March 19, the home for women facing unplanned pregnancies officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“It’s surreal,” commented Spinelli. “We’ve already raised $600,000, and it doesn’t seem possible that we’re opening it already.”
Close to 50 people gathered that day to witness the cutting of the huge, light-blue ribbon tied in a celebratory bow just inside the front entrance of the large, welcoming home.
Friends, family and clergy waited in joyful anticipation for the ribbon to be cut.
Joseph’s House’s mission is to promote the sanctity of life and the dignity of women by providing a nurturing home for women who are dealing with unplanned pregnancies. “There’s so much love and joy in this mission,” enthused Spinelli. “You’re doing God’s will — loving women right where they are in life.”
Following a welcome from board member Barry Vaughn and a prayer from Father Richard Prior, pastor of Holy Family in Syracuse, Spinelli expressed her gratitude to everyone who had gathered for the occasion. “Every person in this room has given something to this mission,” Spinelli said. “Every one of you has been touched by God. We are going to embrace these women and show them the love of God.”
Spinelli believes the idea for offering pregnant women in crisis an alternative to abortion was part of God’s plan. In March 2010 Spinelli heard a calling from God that would later shape the destiny of pregnant women in need of shelter. She felt the calling while attending Eucharistic Adoration after praying for an end to abortion in front of Planned Parenthood in Syracuse.
Spinelli originally wanted to build an Adoration chapel behind her husband’s business on the West side of Syracuse. She doubted that it was possible, however, because there would be no one available to take care of it. Spinelli thought that if she could build a home to help pregnant women, they could help take care of the chapel. Spinelli said that God’s response was that she should start by creating a garden, which she eventually built on West Belden Avenue and Van Rensselaer Street in Syracuse.
A few years later, Spinelli and Joseph’s House co-founder Maria Miller connected through the people who staffed the 40 Days for Life table at the 2012 Catholic Women’s Conference. Miller’s experience as a construction project manager and desire to build something new meshed with Spinelli’s desire to provide a shelter for pregnant women in crisis.
The two women formed a team, and with the help of Miller’s brother Vaughn, organized a steering committee and a board of directors for the project.
Joseph’s House is modeled after the private, Catholic-based nonprofit operation Good Counsel Homes. The agency operates homes in downstate New York and in New Jersey that help homeless pregnant women.
They found a house that perfectly suited their needs, and the structure was renovated to accommodate the mothers and babies and to foster a nurturing atmosphere.
To accommodate Spinelli’s wish for an Adoration chapel, one was built in the residence. It is dedicated to the memory of Audrey Gleason, a parishioner of Holy Family in Syracuse who died in a car accident in October 2012.
Spinelli said that two women are slated to move into Joseph’s House around April 1, but the home has room for 8 women and their babies, with room for growth. She added that they had received 20 more phone calls from young women seeking shelter in the last six months.
To be eligible to live in the house, women must be over 18, be free from drug and alcohol abuse and be mentally stable.
Spinelli said that the women would follow a structured schedule while living at Joseph’s House. Supported by a case manager and 10 other staff members, the women will learn how to care for themselves and their babies through the Life Skills instruction program. “They’ll be given the tools to raise their children the way God would want them to be raised,” said Spinelli.
The women will study nutrition, parenting, prenatal care, financial literacy, social skills and career planning, among other things.
Spinelli said the women could stay in the house for up to two years after their children are born.
Kay DiNardo, a parishioner of St. Mary’s of the Lake in Skaneateles and a friend of Spinelli, attended the ceremony. She said she was amazed at the way Spinelli surpassed the many obstacles in raising the funds and supplies needed to fulfill her dream of opening the home. “I’m speechless,” commented DiNardo.
Msgr. Timothy Elmer, chancellor of the Syracuse Diocese, also attended. He had helped out by encouraging pastors in the diocese to invite Spinelli and Vaughn to their parishes to obtain support for the project.
“Joseph’s House gives people a chance to get involved to support these women with unplanned pregnancies,” said Msgr. Elmer. “I think it’s something that’s been needed for a while. This gives them an option. Most women would prefer to bear their child. They want their child to have a life of their own.”
“The community has been very responsive to the presentations and fundraisers we have given,” said Spinelli. “Everywhere we go, we find that people love the mission. People can relate to it because many times they have people in their family who have gone through it [unplanned pregnancy].”
Joseph Convertino, Jr., executive vice president of CH Insurance Brokerage, Inc. and a parishioner at Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville, took Joseph’s House’s mission to heart and he donated his professional services. When he heard about the movement, he thought, “What a great cause.” It hit close to home, as he has three daughters of his own. “I love kids,” he said.
The employees at Convertino’s insurance agency even took up a collection for the babies who would soon inhabit the home. Account executive Eric Ulatowski said that when he toured the home with Spinelli last January, “It hit home.” Ulatowski is a single dad of a nine-year-old. Ulatowski recalled, “It touched my heart. I know first-hand what the struggles are like.” He donated crib mattresses to the home.
Joseph’s House received a special blessing from Bishop Robert J. Cunningham on March 17.
Spinelli noted that they need to raise $300,000 more to cover expenses for the year. They have planned many fundraisers to accomplish that goal.
“There are so many components to the mission,” she said. “People from every walk of life have stepped forward to help. When you’re working with God, anything is possible.”
For more information on Joseph’s House, call (315) 288-0319 or visit www.josephshouseforwomen.org. Donations may be sent to Joseph’s House, c/o Holy Family Church, 127 Chapel Drive, Syracuse, N.Y. 13219.