A house becomes a home for the first woman in need

VINELAND — On March 1, after months of preparation, Jubilee House opened its doors. Inside, comfortable, furnished and well-equipped rooms have been readied for the arrival of the first residents.

And just this week, Jubilee House has become home, at least for a short while, to a woman who had nowhere else to go.

Jubilee House is a residential services program for single pregnant mothers who are homeless or who are at risk of being homeless. It is the first of such long-term residential programs in Cumberland County, where statistics show some of New Jersey’s highest percentages of teenaged and unwed mothers. It will house and support four women as they work toward goals that will help them transition to sustained, independent living.

The official opening of Jubilee House is the culmination of several years of planning – and praying. For as many years, three women and their supporters spoke to parishes and organizations across the Camden Diocese about a need that they saw, and about their vision to do something about it.

In February 2008, the women, Gerry Barsotti, of Vineland, Alice Corica, of Cherry Hill and Mary Geria, of Glassboro, established Jubilee Women, Inc. as a nonprofit 501©3. Their mission: to create a nurturing and supportive home for homeless pregnant women and their children.

A suitable, sunny house was located on a neat and quiet residential street. With the help of like-minded volunteers and donors, the modest dwelling was rejuvenated.

Furniture drives, organizational and clean-up sessions, Eagle Scout projects, and fundraisers helped create an environment that would be welcoming and functional. Four bedrooms provide private spaces for the mothers, their new babies, and any small children that may be part of their families. The communal areas were readied, including a kitchen, living room, laundry area, pantry, conference room and a chapel.

Needs for the anticipated newborns were fulfilled as donations for cribs, strollers, blankets, and even diapers materialized.

“The generosity of others has allowed us to carry out the Gospel message,” Corica said. “Before we even opened the doors to provide shelter for the homeless, we had an abundance of clothing to distribute to local outreach agencies, and we donated extra supplies and food baskets to families in need.”

Corica said that collections for the Jubilee Women’s flea market provided items that were sold at a nominal fee. “We realized that we were helping families purchase things they needed, a happier alternative than asking for hand-outs,” she said.

“We owe many thanks to our volunteers,” said Corica. The people – and the youngsters, who continue to contribute to this endeavor, have come from so many realms. Corica said that people listen and respond whenever the Jubilee Women relate stories of the young women who are at risk.

There is a strong empathy and desire to do something, Barsotti observed. She repeated an adage she’s heard: ‘So you say you feel for the homeless? Well, what are their names?”

The volunteers and supporters of Jubilee House have demonstrated a real commitment to the changing the plight of the homeless, and a concern for the young mothers who are faced with the reality of a new life that they may not be able to care for.

Volunteers will continue to play a part at the Jubilee House. There will be staff and transportation needs, house maintenance, and fundraising events.

Contributions from foundations, like the Sons of Italy who recently contributed $500 to Jubilee House, and from individual donors are the lifeblood of the program.

“The long-term goal is to be able to open Jubilee House to a wider range of women who are financially unable to live independently,” explained Barsotti, founder and president of Jubilee Women. Presently, the opportunity is only available to women who have applied for and are eligible for state and county funds.

Geria has spent the last couple of years seeking and applying for grant money and has written proposals to secure financial resources for Jubilee House. The most recent grant monies come from a contract with Cumberland County’s Comprehensive Emergency Assistance System (CEAS), with resources available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Jubilee House has been licensed by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and is now part of the county’s coordinated network of agencies and services that respond to the homeless.

“We have established memo of understanding with County Board of Social Services and entered a proposal to Cumberland County,” Barsotti said. With these agreements, Jubilee House will receive referrals from the county’s Division of Homeless. “We will be matched with clients who are eligible for emergency assistance and are good candidates for our program,” Barsotti said.

Jubilee Women continue to explore the means to carry out their mission, tapping into the resources of other agencies and organizations that have a shared purpose. Catholic Charities of the Camden Diocese is among numerous outreach organizations that have come to tour Jubilee House and learn about the services that will be provided.

Residents of Jubilee House will be encouraged to take advantage of services and opportunities already established in the community. While in residence, the women are expected to hold a job or go to school to complete a GED or other career training. They will also attend counseling sessions, meet with a case manager, and attend classes in budgeting and other life skills training sessions.

“Private money is needed to help us secure the future of Jubilee House and its residents,” Barsotti said. The next major fundraiser, One Desserted Evening, will be held on Sunday, April 18 at the Forum of St. Augustine Prep School, Richland from 6-8:30 p.m.

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