With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we reflect on all we have to be grateful for at The O’Connor House this year, with recent resident, Madeline (Maddie), being one! Maddie, 23, has just transitioned from The O’Connor House after 9 months of living at the home with her baby. From continuing on her path of sobriety to navigating the new world of motherhood, Maddie has overcome many challenges and has grown tremendously this past year.
In the Fall of 2020, Maddie was turning her life around for the better. Not only had she finished her liberal arts degree from IUPUI in Indianapolis, but she was also working hard as a barista at Starbucks and on her path to sobriety. When in the past her hard-earned money was being spent on alcohol, she was now living at home with her parents and disciplining herself to save money during this journey of personal growth.
Her life took a turn when she found out she was pregnant with her first child. With the father out of the picture and her family unable to support her and her soon-to-arrive baby boy, Maddie was desperate to find help and support. It was through an adoption agency that she found The O’Connor House. In February 2021, at 5 months pregnant, she became a resident.
It was through The O’Connor House, and especially through the other young mothers living at the home, that Maddie had a change of heart.
“I was considering adoption at one point, but when I saw how well the other mothers at The O’Connor House were doing, I decided that’s what I wanted,” she said. “And then I just fell in love with being a mother.”
With a few more months to go before her due date, Maddie was able to find another barista job at a Starbucks near The O’Connor House. She worked diligently to save money and to attend AA meetings. She welcomed her son, Emery into the world on June 15, 2021.
“He’s really happy and really sweet,” she said. “He has taught me so much about myself and just enjoying life as it is.”
Maddie claims that giving birth to her sweet son and putting him first before everything else has been her proudest accomplishment while living at The O’Connor House. She’s also proud of the discipline she has built with the help of The O’Connor House holding her accountable.
Today, Maddie has saved for her own apartment for herself and Emery, which they plan to move into in December, 2021. She was also recently hired at a daycare where she hopes to continue working. Her long-term goals include using her degree to go into child psychology and development.
“I’m grateful for the family environment that we have here at The O’Connor House. They were the support that I needed throughout everything that I have been through in the past year.”
Maddie has been a joy to have at The O’Connor House, and we know that she will go on to do great things while continuing to be an incredible mother to Emery!
Libby Perkins has been a beloved volunteer at The O’Connor House for three years. She is involved in every aspect of the ministry–from helping with fundraising events, to providing transportation, to even donating generously to the organization. Libby even recruited a group of her friends to volunteer at our 2020 Baby on the Way 5K event–something she plans on doing again this year!
When did you first start volunteering for The O’Connor House and what drew you to the ministry?
“I started volunteering in August of 2018. I was drawn to The O’Connor House because of its mission and [how] the organization is rooted in Christian values. I was also drawn to these remarkable women who made the choice, and under some extremely difficult challenges, to bring these precious babies into the world. The life skills that are taught are skills that any of us need to fulfill our dreams and to live independently.
When I visited The O’Connor House for the first time my first impression was ‘this is not a house, this is a home and a family lives here’…..and to see a home full of babies just melts your heart.”
In what areas do you volunteer at The O’Connor House?
“Primarily, I provide transportation. I’ll drive the women and their children to daycare, take the mothers to their work or school – wherever they need to go. I really enjoy driving as I get to spend time with the mothers and their babies. It can be quiet time for [the] mom or we can visit and talk about our day ahead. The more time you spend with the The O’Connor House family, the more involved you want to become.
I also enjoy helping with the spring and fall fundraisers. This gives me an opportunity to work directly with the staff and other volunteers, and to work towards achieving the financial needs of The O’Connor House.
Most recently volunteers have the opportunity to pray each month for one hour in the Chapel. I love this quiet time to open my heart and focus my prayers on these amazing mothers, babies and the staff.”
What are your favorite parts about volunteering?
“Spending time with the mothers and their children is such a joy. To see their strength and determination makes me want to be a better person and to stay strong in my faith… I see God’s work at The O’Connor House.
The staff at The O’Connor House are amazing. They are so kind and supportive. They have such a giving spirit. I hope in some small way I am helping the women achieve their goals and dreams for a successful future.”
Can you share a memorable experience you had when volunteering, or one particular moment that stands out to you?
“I love the moments when we celebrate a new arrival, graduation, new job, or a move to independent living–an important life event that has been achieved by a mother. We all need to celebrate these important moments in our lives and it’s extra special when you know how hard these mothers have worked under difficult circumstances to achieve their goals.”
Anything else you would like to share?
“I want to say thank you to the women and staff at The O’Connor House for giving me the opportunity to serve. I am so grateful and blessed to be a part of this family.”
Our staff is beyond grateful for Libby and all the love she pours into our ministry.
“It is so visible that she is passionate for our ministry, she lights up when serving,” said Michelle Corrao, Executive Director.
“I just think she has a true servant’s heart,” said Susan Barrett, House Director. “She is very consistent and is always willing to help out when we are in a bind.
Depending on who you may ask, The O’Connor House gets referred to as many different things: a women’s shelter, a homeless shelter, a maternity home, a group home, and everything in between. While our ministry does serve women in these different capacities, we consider ourselves a loving home that is also a structured program above all else. Part of that structure includes every Tuesday’s Community Night, an opportunity for our residents to come together, share a meal, and learn new life skills.
Here are 4 things you may not know about Community Night at The O’Connor House, followed by a spotlight on one of our incredible Community Night teachers!
1) Community Night is about more than just learning a life skill
Community Night takes place every Tuesday evening at the home, beginning at 6pm. Part one of the evening kicks off with a shared meal at the dinner table. Residents take turns each week planning a meal and cooking for the other women in the home.
“So many of the women did not have the privilege of having a meal together as a family growing up,” said Susan Barett, House Director. “It gives them a chance to grow together, share their hopes and dreams, and support one another on their journey at The O’Connor House. Just like in our own homes, it is important to sit down as a family and share a meal together. It is during this time the women begin to feel a sense of family and are able to grow into the amazing women God has made them to be.”
2. Staff helps with the menu
By cooking a large meal each week, the women are not only learning how to meal-plan ahead of time, but also how to cook a well-balanced meal for a family. The O’Connor House also has House Managers on staff who have backgrounds in nutrition. They enjoy sharing their expertise and encouraging the women to try incorporating new and healthy foods into the meals.
“I love to share easy ways to make meals healthier, while incorporating the use of all the food groups, along with encouraging them to open their palates and try new foods,” said Susan Huesing, House Manager and registered dietitian.
“I also like to share my cook-ahead and freeze ideas, which they find quite helpful, especially after returning to work when their maternity leave is over. Nutrition is so important and some of our residents have not felt as comfortable in the kitchen. I like to encourage them to not be afraid of cooking and to show them just how easy it can be to put together a healthy meal.”
3) Topics are fun and educational
Following the meal, part two of the evening begins with a life skills workshop or class. This typically includes a volunteer coming in to share their gifts and talents in areas ranging from parenting, budgeting and finances, career planning, and even cake decorating! These classes are intended to be fun and educational, all in preparation to equip the women with as much knowledge as we can before they transition from the home.
4) Community Night is for the moms only!
Community Night is a child-free zone, but that doesn’t mean our little ones don’t have fun too! Every week volunteers sign up to help babysit during Tuesday evenings. This allows our residents to have quality time with each other and to be engaged during the life skills workshop without distractions. Our volunteers keep the little ones entertained in our finished basement’s playroom or our large backyard.
Community Night Spotlight: Cindy Love
Cindy Love is a beloved volunteer at The O’Connor House and has been teaching Community Night classes for 5 years. As an IU Health pediatric nurse practitioner, Cindy brings a wealth of knowledge to the young moms. Her work includes supporting new mothers through Toddler Time and Mother Connection small groups. These groups offer a safe place for new mothers to express their feelings and discuss common questions and issues they have. Through Community Night, she is able to offer a similar safe place to discuss these topics.
“I love talking with the moms about growth and development, sleep issues, vaccines, discipline, common illnesses, and any worry they may have with regards to their infant or toddler!” said Cindy.“ I think [small] groups allow moms to see that everyone has many of the same questions and worries! No one should feel alone when raising children.”
Cindy also reflects on one her favorite memories of helping a resident, “I always love talking about a question or issue and then following up in a couple months to see if a mom has resolved it. I can remember a mom who had a toddler and a newborn and both little ones were not sleeping. The toddler never had slept through the night. We worked on a sleep plan for the toddler and when I came back that little guy was sleeping 11 hours straight at night! She also was starting to work on sleep routines for her baby so she could develop some good sleep habits. I loved seeing this mom feel successful in handling this parenting challenge and look more rested and happy! I am simply helping new moms believe that they can parent well…giving them tools and letting them be successful and in the end they enjoy parenting more and their child feels more loved and secure.”
“God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
The O’Connor House began as a simple vision: to help young women in crisis pregnancies. But what started as a grassroots ministry operating out of a 45-year-old fixer-upper, is today both a loving home and structured program that has served over 450 women and children. Its roots can be traced back to 2001 when two women took a leap of faith after hearing a special calling from God.
Carmel resident, Colleen DuLac, participated on a pilgrimage to Italy with the Frassati Society through Our Lady of Mount Carmel church. During the trip she was a witness to many young men and women discerning vocations to the religious life and priesthood. It was when they visited Assisi that she began her own discernment.
“I was just at the beginning of my own journey back to my faith, but was struggling with the question of What is it that you want from me Lord?” said Colleen. “Due to me being a recently divorced, single mom, I didn’t think there was a vocation option for me. The trip ended but the questioning did not.”
The following January, Colleen travelled to Washington D.C. for the March for Life with several of the same people from the pilgrimage. It was during this trip that she started hearing God speaking to her.
“While at the Basilica [of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception], we were waiting for Mass to start so we visited with the Sisters of Life,” she said. We talked about their mission of helping young pregnant women and their children. I had never considered joining the convent before, but after talking to these incredible women, it was what I wanted more than anything.”
Shortly after their visit with the Sisters of Life, Mass began at the Basilica and Colleen was still asking God for answers. “During the homily I heard Him telling me that I didn’t have to be in a convent to open a home and help women and babies. I almost stood up and answered Him with an audible YES.”
Colleen travelled back to Indiana with this new desire in her heart. Shortly after returning home she met Kris Bussick through a mutual friend at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. “This house wouldn’t have worked AT ALL if God had not brought Kris Bussick alongside me on the journey,” said Colleen.
Kris, who at the time was also asking God what He wanted from her, felt that meeting Colleen was divine Providence. “I like to say I was a ‘listener’ and when Colleen shared her passionate story about how God was calling her to start a home for single mothers in crisis pregnancies, I knew in my heart I was supposed to say YES and the rest, as they say, is history!” said Kris.
Kris also gives credit to her mother, who taught her sacrificial love. “Looking back, I believe that growing up in a big family and watching my own mom sacrifice and pour herself out tirelessly amongst many trials gave me a deep appreciation for my own mom and the importance faith played in her life. I saw firsthand how her strong faith and prayers sustained her as she surrounded all of us with so much love and care. My mom showed me how to “love foolishly” (Cor. 1:18) and that has been a big part of The O’Connor House’s story as well.”
Although beginning the ministry was not an easy task, and often overwhelming, Colleen and Kris both knew they were being guided at every turn. “Anytime over the next few years when an obstacle would present itself someone would come to us with an offer of help, oftentimes prior to us voicing the need,” said Colleen. “God was, is, and always will be there when we need Him.”
Kris shares that there have even been times when she felt like giving up, but those were the moments that she especially felt a helping hand guiding her and pushing her. “Those are some of my sweetest memories,” she said. “It was often through difficulties that I learned patience and felt His presence as He would often show up through the people He sent into my life. This incredible journey has made God real to me and has increased my own faith as I had to learn to trust in Providence.”
Colleen never imagined The O’Connor House would eventually grow into what it is today. “I learned early in the process not to put my limits on God’s work. Once I got out of the way and really let God’s blessings flow, our little mission grew into more than I ever could have imagined.”
Kris also reflects on the success of the ministry over the years. “My final take away, and I truly mean this, is that I have learned that the success of The O’Connor House does not depend on me, it is His ‘House.’ Through all of it I have been a ‘Witness to Love.’ God is our Father and takes care of all of those who come to Him in need.”
“I was always the quiet one, and the responsible one,” shared Mariah when recently reflecting about her life growing up. She lived on the Eastside of Indianapolis with her mom and 5 sisters … “and several brothers.”
Even though test taking was difficult for Mariah, she worked hard and graduated from Lawrence Central High School in 2016. Soon after, she got a job and moved into her own apartment.
“My mom was proud of me.” she said.
One day while she was at work, her apartment caught on fire. A neighbor had left a space-heater on. All her things were ruined. She sadly recalls, “I lost everything.”
Along with being pregnant at the time, her life was becoming very difficult.
Her mom wanted Mariah to get her life back on a good path and told her about The O’Connor House. Mariah also wanted to change her path, so she contacted The O’Connor House and was thankful to be able to move in. She delivered her baby boy Terrance Jeremiah on Oct. 27, who is lovingly called TJ.
Mariah is currently employed at ManorCare Summer Trace in Carmel as a housekeeper. She’s thankful to have a job and to be living with TJ at The O’Connor House and saving money for their future.
In the past, Mariah took the test to obtain her Driver’s Learner Permit, but she failed several times. While at The O’Connor House she was able to enroll in a driver’s training program. For two weeks, Mariah went to work and then to her driver’s training class from 5-7:30p.m. The classes, plus studying together with her Mentor Cyndy Bailey, helped her to finally pass the test to get her permit.
Cyndy shared, “I am so proud of Mariah and her perseverance. She is working hard to get her license and to save money. I had tears in my eyes as we walked out of the BMV!”
Mariah was thrilled when they told her at the License Branch that she passed! “I was so happy to pass the test. I felt it was a big step forward for me. It was a big step towards getting my license.”
“My goals are to be a good mother to TJ, continue working, save money, get my license, and someday get a car.” She added, “Being at The O’Connor House taught me about budgeting and saving money. This has been helpful! Someday I hope to work as a CNA in someone’s home.”
Mariah shared that she feels like her mom is proud of her again. “Coming to The O’Connor House brought us back together. And TJ brings us together also. I’m very thankful to all the supporters for providing this home!”
Dominique was living happily with her mother and sisters in downtown Indianapolis. But after the loss of her mother when Dominique was six, she was moved to an unhealthy living environment. Over the years, Dominique struggled with her situation and the resulting anger issues. She became pregnant, dropped out of high school and moved out. Not sure where she could go, she was guided to The O’Connor House through her high school counselor and moved in during the fall 2014.
Dominique recalls “before moving into The O’Connor House, I was lost.” She described her arrival by saying “it was like when you hit the refresh button on the computer…. and refresh.” While living at The O’Connor House, baby Jaycob was born. Dominique said that by watching the staff and the volunteers she has learned a lot about raising a baby. “Jaycob learns so much from everyone here too. I don’t want to think about what it would be like if we weren’t here.”
During her time at The O’Connor House, Dominique worked hard and with the love, guidance, and support of staff and volunteers she went back to school and graduated. “I am the first person in my family to receive my high school diploma.” Dominique has a job in the community and is working on getting her CNA certification. Dominique dreams of owning her own home someday.
During her childhood, Saibree lived with her mother and half-brothers. She shared that
“None of our fathers were around or interested in us. My mother didn’t like to stay in one place for very long, so we moved many times, from the Southern U.S. to the West Coast and finally to the Midwest. Never settling in a permanent home. I
learned to not get attached to people or places. My mother always said not to trust anyone, so I didn’t make any real friends. I grew up not knowing what was going to happen in my life from one day to the next.”
As she got older, Saibree felt that her mother didn’t want her around. And when she became pregnant, she said that she knew she couldn’t stay. “I turned to a shelter that provided short-term stays for homeless youth. I was 18 years old, pregnant, and homeless. I wanted to keep my baby, but I had no job, nowhere to go, and no idea how to cope.”
Then a volunteer at the shelter told her about The O’Connor House. Saibree said, “I was suspicious but, I met with a staff member there and found a safe and supportive home, and people I eventually learned to trust.”
Saibree moved to The O’Connor House in July, and her son was born in August. “I found STABILITY and security at The O’Connor House. The staff and volunteers gave me encouragement. For the first time, I had a calmness of mind that allowed me to dream of the life I wanted for the two of us.With the help of The O’Connor House staff, I realized that God has given me a good mind and a strong will, and I set out to find a job so I could begin supporting myself and my baby.”
Saibree began taking classes in the pharmacy technician program at Ivy Tech. “THANKS TO THE O’CONNOR HOUSE, I am discovering the gifts God has given me, and becoming a more loving and stable mother to my son.”
This is a story of a mother named Cecelia.
Cecelia was living in downtown Indianapolis and doing well. She had a full-time job, a place to live, and was providing a stable home as she single-handedly mothered her 2 daughters: 4 year old Ja’lynn and 1 year old Diamond. And then, as it sometimes does, life took a turn.
Diamond was born with a tumor that doctors later diagnosed as a rare form of cancer. For Diamond to survive, she would need 12 months of chemotherapy. Cecelia devastated by the diagnosis and overwhelmed at what lay ahead — fear for Diamond’s life, medical bills, caring for a sick child as well as 4 year old Ja’lynn—and doing it all alone. Struggles with the children’s father produced even greater stress. Then she received the news she was pregnant.
Cecelia arrived at The O’Connor House in the spring of 2014 seeking shelter and support. She was pregnant, homeless, and full of worry for Ja’lynn and Diamond. Desperate and alone, it seemed that adding a third child to her family would be impossible. Cecelia was heartbroken and not sure where to turn.
The O’Connor House ministry provided the hope and resources Cecelia needed to get back on her feet, and to assist her with a good plan for the future. During her stay, Cecelia was able to continue to care for Diamond as she recovered from chemotherapy treatments, while staff and volunteers helped care for Ja’lynn.
Cecelia was able to find a new job and save enough money to move into a home of her own. She welcomed the birth of her third daughter, Dynasty, with renewed hope and dreams for the future for her family.
“The O’Connor House enabled me to keep my third child by providing me with just about everything – The O’Connor House changed my life in tremendous ways and I will never forget them and the help they gave me when I had nowhere else to turn.”