Gabriel Project helps pregnant mothers
May 13, 2012 at 12:13 a.m.
Updated May 14, 2012 at 12:14 a.m.
She was alone, pregnant and homeless.
That's the situation Lillian Hernandez found herself in two years ago, just before the birth of her son, Jasiah Hill.
The then 17-year-old, first-time mother and high school dropout was newly released from juvenile detention, and caught between the responsibility of teenage motherhood and continuing a relationship with a physically abusive man - the baby's father.
Hernandez's mother, and only guardian, was also on her way to prison to serve a five-year sentence.
"I didn't have nowhere to live," Hernandez, 19, said. "My boyfriend hit me, and I left him."
Desperate, Hernandez sought help from the Gabriel Project - an ecumenical Victoria-based non-profit that supports mothers in crisis pregnancies. Equipped with volunteers to provide material, emotional and spiritual needs, the Gabriel Project turned Hernandez's crisis into a self-edifying success.
"I was fighting for my kids. That's why I came to the Gabriel Project. I didn't have nothing for my kids," Hernandez said. "I think I would be dead somewhere, without my kids, if I hadn't come here."
Inside the Gabriel Project storage facility on Convent Street, baby clothes, diapers, bottles and packaged hygiene products litter the building.
Cribs and other items are lent out upon request, and volunteers are lined up to point pregnant mothers to whatever need they have, including housing, employment, daycare and abuse counseling.
"We help in any way we can. The idea is for these girls to eventually continue a good, productive life on their own," said Barbara Ann McCain, Gabriel Project's co-founder.
When Hernandez visited the organization, she was assigned an "Angel," or personal mentor, to assist the new mother find housing and provide the resources she needed to make it through a shaky nine months.
"They were helping me find a place to live at the same time I was waiting to hear back about a house ... so I knew, either way, I was going to be all right," she said.
Two months ago, Hernandez gave birth to a second son, Anthony Hill, and a Gabriel Project Angel was by her side through the entire pregnancy to assist her with any material or spiritual needs she had.
"I'm happy now. I don't do drugs anymore. I have a good job," she said. "I'm trying to get my GED. I want to be a good mom for my kids."
McCain said the organization is currently working with more than a dozen area mothers inside the coverage area of the Victoria Diocese. There are more than 50 volunteer Angels, men and women, who are ready and trained to provide confidential resources and support for mothers of all ages.
"We have helped mothers from 12 to 42 years old," McCain said. "A lot of these girls don't know what to do and they're afraid to tell their parents, or their boyfriends and husbands."
McCain said one of the primary objectives of Gabriel Project is to help counsel women who are faced with family and relationship pressures to abort their pregnancies.
"We will help mothers that are pregnant up to three months after they have the baby," McCain, 60, said. "The biggest things these girls are dealing with is the panic, the emotional part of not knowing what to do. We want them to know we're here and there are other options for them to help them through this process."
Hernandez said she hopes other pregnant mothers in need will seek out the Gabriel Project during their pregnancy.
"They need to come here if they need the help," Hernandez said. "They made me get my head right. ... I think about it sometimes, and I don't know what I would have done without them."