Mary’s Shelter: The Cay Galgon Center

Mary’s Shelter: The Cay Galgon Center

By Laurie Teter

Mary’s Shelter, The Cay Galgon Center, honors the legacy of a woman known for her tireless dedication to the unborn. Following Cay Galgon’s death in 2007, members of the Women’s Guild at St. Thomas More, Allentown, wanted to pay tribute to the woman who inspired them all. The following year Cory Lamack, now program director at the Center, met with Christine Folk, executive director of Mary’s Shelter in Reading. Folk introduced Lamack to others in the region who shared Galgon’s vision of helping young mothers and their babies.

Committees and boards were formed and re-formed over the next 2 years and in November 2010, having found the perfect site at the former St. Simon and Jude Convent in Bethlehem, the decision was made to open the Center as the third site of Mary’s Shelter of Reading. After receiving approval from Mary’s Shelter’s Executive Board, zoning approval was won in August 2011 and the planning and fundraising commenced for the new shelter. Renovations began in January 2012 and the first resident was welcomed in April 2012.

The renovated convent has six client bedrooms, each beautifully decorated by volunteers, some who represented community groups and others who were simply generous individuals. The main floor includes a large kitchen where residents prepare their own meals and occasionally have a cooking lesson. The living room, which sometimes doubles as a meeting or education room, is roomy and bright.  The lower level is home to the laundry room and storage areas for donated items including maternity and baby clothes, car seats, high chairs and pack-n-plays. The convent’s original chapel, along with office space, is located on the first floor. While no formal services are held on site, the chapel is often used for personal meditation or “quiet time” by the residents.

Lamack is quick to credit their many volunteers for the wonderful renovations made to the shelter. The entire structure was painted by volunteers using paint that was donated. Pretty handmade window treatments frame the windows, and rooms are filled with furniture and appliances, all donations. There are storage closets for the moms and for the babies filled with everything from shampoo, soap and toothbrushes to diapers, wipes and baby lotion. The entire space is welcoming and homey – not at all institutional.

Women can come to Mary’s Shelter, The Cay Galgon Center, at any time during their pregnancy and stay for up to six months after the baby is born. Mothers need to be at least 18 years old and homeless (or about to be homeless) and what Lamack describes as “a good fit.” With only six rooms available Lamack needs to be selective. In addition to taking those candidates with the best likelihood for success, Lamack must consider the best interest of all the residents, since they will be living together for several months.  Fortunately, women can often be referred to the Reading location, which is larger and offers additional services.

While at Mary’s Shelter, women receive assistance with coordinating prenatal care, continuing education and permanent housing; individual and group counseling; onsite education training in parenting and life skills; formal education or job training and budgeting and money management classes. Residents are required to pursue a high school diploma or GED if they don’t have one when they arrive at the shelter. As well as attending work and/or school, attendance at the parenting and life skills classes is mandatory and the women are required to be home for dinner, which they prepare for and clean-up after, Monday through Thursday.

In addition to the structure at Mary’s Shelter, residents also have an opportunity to “take a breath.” The young mothers are often scared, overwhelmed and tired. The shelter provides some much needed temporary relief in the form of food, clothing, shelter and support – from the staff, volunteers and other residents. With basic needs being met, these young women can take time to develop a plan to become self-reliant and self-sufficient mothers.

Each woman’s situation is unique, but lack of affordable housing is often a reason women enter the shelter. Says Lamack “Affordable housing is the biggest challenge in this area – pregnancy or having a newborn impedes the ability to participate in training or education and with only a minimum wage job, while raising a child, it is extremely difficult to afford housing.” Whether they lack suitable housing or favorable family relationships, Mary’s Shelter’s objective is to prepare women with newborns for independent living and a vision of hope for the future.

Lamack candidly acknowledges not every story has the same ending.  “Sometimes we are just planting seeds, helping for a short period of time… and that’s okay. Not everybody is going to go to school and get a great job but we want their life to be improved.” The ultimate outcome is having a healthy infant born to a healthy, well-informed mother.

Since opening a little more than a year ago, Mary’s Shelter, The Cay Galgon Center has helped more than 10 babies and 16 mothers and nearly every bedroom has been filled every day.

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram