Toddlers shrieked with delight as they played tag and ran around while others used sidewalk chalk to make creations on the pavement.
Mothers kept a close watch on their babies in strollers while they enjoyed fruit salad, burgers, hot dogs and other snacks. Some of the women sat outside enjoying the warm spring sunshine on a Saturday afternoon. Others were inside the pavilion browsing through neat rows of clothing, shoes, boots, books and toys and baby gear arranged by size and age, selecting what they needed for themselves and their children.
The occasion was an alumnae event hosted by Zelie’s Home, a facility that assists pregnant women who need a safe place to stay until they give birth and get back on their feet. According to their mission statement, Zelie’s Home is a caring community that empowers pregnant and parenting women to take positive and effective action on behalf of themselves and their children by providing physical, emotional, spiritual, and professional support. It’s somewhere they can thrive as they embrace motherhood.
Founded June 24, 2009 in Parma as The Zechariah House, it was part of Maggie’s Place that is based in Arizona. In 2016, Zechariah House closed for renovations. After encountering delays and other obstacles, officials decided to explore other options.
In 2018, Zechariah House relocated to a larger facility in Garfield Heights. There was space for up to a dozen women in the new location and a variety of support services.
A tree of life dominates a wall on the first floor of Zelie’s Home, testament to the mothers and children who were helped. The leaves contain the names of the mothers, their babies who were born while they lived at the home and their birth dates. Since its inception as The Zechariah House 13 years ago, nearly 200 families have benefited from the home.
Erin Hathaway, Zelie’s Home executive director, said the local board of directors decided in spring 2020 to adopt a new model as an independent facility in order to better serve the needs of women in Northeast Ohio. As a result, Zelie’s Home was born. It is named after St. Zelie Martin, wife of St Louis Martin. The Martins were the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux and eight other children.
Hathaway said St. Zelie was a good choice as namesake for the facility because of her great love of children. “St. Zelie said, ‘The good Lord does not do things by halves; He always gives what we need. Let us then carry on bravely,’” Hathaway said. “This is our motto as we transition and carry on bravely for the women and children of the Cleveland area.”
It took about two months for the board, staff and volunteers to transition to the new independent facility. This month, seven mothers and six children were living at Zelie’s Home, but that number could increase, depending on circumstances and need.
“Zelie’s Home embodies the spirit of Maggie’s Place while responding to the unique needs of mobs and babies in the Cleveland area,” Hathaway explained.
The core values at Zelie’s Home are human dignity, a supportive and collaborative community, a commitment to growth, a safe learning environment and resiliency and creativity. Hathaway said the board, staff and a group of dedicated volunteers ensure that the women who live at Zelie’s Home get what they need as they prepare to deliver their children and rebuild their lives.
At the recent alumnae event, Suzette, a former resident, kept a watchful eye on her daughter Maya, 2. Suzette, originally from Florida, had a friend in Ohio and eventually found her way to Cleveland after spending some time moving around with a group of carnival people.
“I went to a shelter and a woman told me about this place,” Suzette said. At the time, she was 35 and about six months pregnant with Maya, her first child. She had been working construction jobs to save money, but as her pregnancy advanced, she was unable to continue with the work and her money ran out.
Zelie’s Home was the answer to her prayers.
“The staff was great. The food was good and I had my own room. The women here talk to each other and help each other,” she said. Suzette said she appreciated the support services, including group sessions, education programs and other services that help the women develop the skills they need to be successful and independent. “It’s a great place for a woman in a tight situation,” she added. She stayed at Zelie’s Home for about three months after her daughter was born by caesarean section. Although she found an apartment and moved in with her baby, Suzette said in hindsight, she wishes she had stayed a little longer at Zelie’s Home.
The lessons she learned and the friendships she formed are invaluable. She stays in touch with Zelie’s Home and some of the women she befriended. They help each other with childcare and other needs, giving each other a much-needed break, she said. The pandemic affected Suzette’s plans to return to construction work because of difficulties with childcare and transportation since she doesn’t yet have a car. She opted to stay home with her daughter and help some of the other women who needed child care by watching their children.
“I was a foster kid and I don’t want that for my daughter. I want to be sure she’s safe,” Suzette said. “We have a community here. This is one of the best choices I made.”
Lauren, who is expecting twins this summer, was living in substandard housing. “My house had mold and no bathroom. I’m supposed to be on bed rest so I can’t work,” she said. When she learned about Zelie’s Home, she was grateful, Lauren said. “I have a safe, clean room and a place to bathe.”
She grew up in group homes and doesn’t want that for her babies. “These are my bundles of joy,” she said, cradling her stomach. “They’re the reason why I’m alive.”
Another expectant mother was living in her car when she learned about Zelie’s Home. Hathaway said they expedited the intake process to ensure she could get into a safe place as soon as possible to receive the support she needs.
“It’s an extreme blessing to be here,” the woman said. “It’s overwhelming to know as a pregnant woman that I have somewhere safe to have my baby. I wish other moms in need knew about the services they have. I finally have peace of mind and can take a deep breath.”
She said she has no support group to help her. The baby’s father plans to help her co-parent, but they no longer are in a relationship. “We both care about the baby and want to be the best parents we can.” She said Zelie’s Home offers important resources and removed much of the stress she was experiencing. “Now I can focus on my child and take things one day at a time. My case manager is helping me to get on a housing list. I am extremely grateful for the help.”
Hathaway said Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services contacted her for placement of two women who speak only Swahili and needed a place to stay with their young babies. One woman, who had a hearing impairment, received cochlear implants and is working on her English skills while she cares for her young daughter named Grace.
“When they came to us, they had virtually no support. They didn’t even know their exact age or date of birth,” she said. Zelie’s Home worked with MRS to have translators available and to obtain any specialized services the women needed.
Hathaway said Zelie’s Home welcomes volunteers and donations. There is an urgent need for size 4 and size 6 diapers, Avent bottles, natural bottle nipples, bottle brushes and dish soap. Visit the website for more information on the needs list and Amazon wish list. Household items and goods also are needed. Call 440-886-2620 for information on how to donate or drop off items.
In addition, there are various types of volunteer opportunities available including helping to prepare meals, pitch in around the house, cleaning with the residents and more. Email email@example.com for more information.
Click here for information on the second annual Birdies for Babies golf scramble benefit for Zelie’s Home. The event is June 24 at Sleepy Hollow Golf Course in Brecksville.