“How do you teach someone to trust when they’ve never (felt that they) had anyone worthy of their trust? You immerse them in a nurturing environment.” – Jennie Heleski, program director of the Mary Jane Program.
Jennie Heleski has been with Catholic Charities Hawai‘i for 17 years. In the last five, she has served as the program director of the Mary Jane Program. When the house is full, it can be loud, full of activity and commotion but all Jennie feels is, “Joy – it’s the gift of life and new beginnings.”
The Mary Jane Home offers a unique opportunity for pregnant women who need a safe, affordable place to live during their pregnancy. The staff provides education and support so women can prepare for their child and work toward independence and self-sufficiency.
The women start their day with chores, each responsible for cleaning an area of the home. The women then gather in the ‘ohana room where a team of dedicated volunteers teach classes ranging from childbirth to infant care, and valuable life skills needed for motherhood. Even more than the mechanics of being a mom, they delve into the intangible skills like empathy and compassion. “Everyone has a story that no one else knows about,” shares Kanani*, one of the residents. She’s learned not to be quick to judge and to first give grace.
“We work to take down the barriers. Each day is geared toward providing the women with skills to be confident, set healthy boundaries and be their own best advocate. Thanks to our donors we are able to provide a safe place, create a welcoming environment, provide basic necessities for the mothers-to-be and their babies so they can spend their energy on self-reflection. Some of these girls are coming out of abusive environments where they were just trying to survive. We create a peaceful space so they have time to heal from the inside out,” shares Jennie.
“I came here when I was about nine or 10 weeks pregnant and it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Through this program, I’ve learned how to be a good parent. This place is a sanctuary for someone like me,” says Kanani.
In addition to the daily classes and onsite counseling, the residents take part in monthly “family” dinners and an annual event where volunteers, graduates and current residents reunite. They support and motivate each other as they move from the program and share their updates and experiences.
“I’m transitioning out of the Mary Jane Home next month. And that’s hard to think about. When I’m here, I am home. But I know I have the tools and resources to do this,” shares Kanani.
“When the women graduate and move on from our program, we gather together everyone in the house and reflect on our experiences with the person leaving and say what we learned or were given by their presence,” says Jennie. In this season where they have received so much, they come full circle and realize they have so much to give.
Your gift provides a safe space for women to heal and grow to be confident and empowered mothers, often breaking a cycle of instability and trauma. Please consider making a donation today that will have a lasting effect on generations to come.
*Client name has been changed to protect her anonymity.