Bradenton maternity homes hope to SOLVE education gap for pregnant teens

Manasota SOLVE exploring transition program to encourage continuing education

cschelle@bradenton.comJanuary 11, 2014 

BRADENTON -- A Bradenton maternity home helping expectant mothers down on their luck is hoping to expand its programs with help from others.

Manasota Save Our Lives Volunteer Everyway, or SOLVE, provides parenting to expectant mothers of all ages along with direction and support to have a successful pregnancy and start to motherhood. The mothers come to the house voluntarily for the free services because they don't have the support from their own families.

The Kerwins, who came to Bradenton from Southern California in 2005, joined the ministry in 2007 after learning about the faith-based program in her church bulletin. Peggy Kerwin took over for

retired executive director Donna Vellenga last year and says about 60 women pass through the doors each year with about 48 babies. Not all the women stay on through the birth.

The young women at the homes are from every socioeconomic background imaginable.

"We've had women that have come here whose families could have probably supported our entire ministry if they believed in what we did," Kerwin said. "And we have girls that come in with absolutely nothing and everything in between. There is no financial success line that is immune to family dysfunction."

It doesn't matter, they are all treated the same when they arrive at SOLVE.

"Most of our young women here have no family or very poor support systems. We have been blessed that we have a staff around us that draw around us and pull together as if they were our own daughters, our own granddaughters," Kerwin said.

Much of what the nonprofit does is help prepare the new mothers to leave and start their life again while providing an alternative to abortion. Mothers typically stay at one of three homes near SOLVE's offices at 1509 8th Ave. W for about six to eight weeks after the birth of their child. By that time, most mothers have made arrangements to go back to school, get a new job or return to their existing jobs.

"A big part of what we do here is help them to prepare to leave," Kerwin said about the 38-year-old nonprofit.

Some need some more time, though, Kerwin said, and this year the organization is exploring the possibility of offering transitional services.

"It's been our vision for a very long time to have a program that ran in greater duration because a woman with an infant is at a very vulnerable point in her life," Kerwin said. "We very much encourage education here because we know that will be the big break in the poverty system for these women."

The program could provide a place for new mothers to live for two years, as long as they are continuing their education. One example Kerwin gave was a woman who wanted to enroll in culinary school, but the program wasn't near where she could live.

"By the end of the two years they achieved an associate's degree or a strong technical school program that would allow them to earn more and provide for themselves and their child," Kerwin said.

That two years is also critical to provide stability for the mother and child preventing them from bouncing from home to home, she added.

A private donation, of a significant, but undisclosed amount, was given to SOLVE to start the process. The donation came from a program supporter following a tour of the homes, she said.

"It's somebody that knows of us and provided us support but they actually never visited our Bradenton homes before," she said. "That particular day we were sharing the vision like we do any other day, and the question came back, 'What's stopping you?' So, the reality is, is the finances."

Brian Kerwin, development director and Peggy Kerwin's husband, said the key will be to maintain the fundamental services of SOLVE while developing a campaign.

"There is a true need, and the people that we have now shared with on a limited basis are raising their heads and are saying 'Oh, this is so needed,'" he said.

Another anonymous donor recognized the importance of education. Kerwin was surprised to learn two years ago that someone had provided two scholarships for former or current SOLVE residents to attend State College of Florida, and they hope the scholarship will continue.

One recipient of the scholarship is now an office manager at a physician's office and will be graduating with a bachelor's degree this year, Peggy Kerwin said. The woman donated $100 to SOLVE for helping her, bringing the story full circle. Another recipient was matched up with an apartment with rent provided while attending classes, the Kerwins said.

The nonprofit has two fundraising events coming up this year. One is the second annual luncheon and fashion show featuring women of Manasota Solve modeling the latest offerings from Patchington's, and is scheduled from Jan. 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at IMG Golf and Country Club, 4350 El Conquistador Parkway. Tickets are $25. Call 941-748-0094 for info.

The organization's largest fundraiser of the year is the Solve Maternity Homes Gala on March 8 at Fete Ballroom Polo Grill in Lakewood Ranch. More information on that event will be coming soon.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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