'Not a shelter, but a home': Martha's House of Hope helps pregnant women
Martha's House of Hope in east Ames is "not a shelter, but a home," according to its mission statement.
Since opening its doors in October 2019, the faith-based nonprofit organization has offered free housing to pregnant women up until their baby's first birthday. Six women have lived at the house for some period of time, and two mothers and their babies are current residents.
Residents are expected to accept mentoring and counseling services, as well as work or volunteer 20 to 40 hours per week.
"They may have come in here into the house as homeless and not knowing where their next meal is going to come from. But I want them leaving the house having enough resources ... so that they can take care of their child and be a member of society," executive director Missy Sanow said. "At some point in this life, we need to break the cycle."
The organization also offers job coaching, parenting classes and assistance with the adoption process, with all services aiming to make women feel prepared for independence, Sanow said.
The pandemic has caused Sanow and her volunteer staff to adjust how they carry out this mission. Sanow initially stopped requirements for work and volunteer hours, although the women are now required to fulfill one or the other. Instead of cooking instructors teaching in the house's kitchen, Sanow helps the women with lessons sent over email. And while about 40 mostly older volunteers were helping maintain the house before the pandemic, now only 10 are available most days.
This summer, the house hosted a "'drive thru' or 'stop and party for a moment'' baby shower for one of the residents, who gave birth to a baby girl in July.
It's been challenging, Sanow said. One bright spot of 2020 was accepting a $2,500 grant from A Community Thrives.
A Community Thrives is a grantmaking and crowd-funding program from the USA TODAY NETWORK and is part of the Gannett Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Gannett, Inc. A Community Thrives supports nonprofit organizations with projects focused on community building and has helped to contribute more than $12 million since 2017.
Local operating grants, the type Martha's House of Hope received, are merit-based and meant to support general operating expenses.
"Not only will (the grant) help with basic needs and and life skills and those kind of things, but it also helps me be able to spend the time mentoring and coaching the women in day-to-day life," Sanow said.
Other Community Thrives grant recipients in Iowa included Capital City Pride Des Moines, Everybody Wins! Iowa Inc. of Des Moines, Family Promise of Greater Des Moines, Highland Park Community Development Association of Des Moines, Shelter House of Iowa City and Hope Haven Area Development Center Corporation of Burlington.
In the future, Sanow hopes to grow the facilities and staff so Martha's House of Hope can serve more women for longer periods of time, including after they leave the house.
"I would like to have an 'after' program. So once they move out, I want to have a great program that they can keep relying on us and we can keep checking in with them and making sure they have everything they need," Sanow said.
Staying at Martha's House of Hope requires an application process that may include a background check. Residents cannot already have children, must be age 18 or older and have no record of a violent felony. Histories of severe mental illness or current substance abuse are evaluated on a case by case basis.
If you would like to receive help from or donate to Martha's House of Hope, visit https://www.marthashouseofhope.org/.