Bethany House Turns Pregnant Girls into Mothers
January 4, 2001; THE OREGONIAN
Beth Rhinehart, who opened Gresham's only such home over a decade ago, showers residents with love and training.
Carrie Ann's friends refer to them as her buck wild days. Rebelling against overprotective parents, the angry 18-year-old Gresham High student left home and school for a life of partying and promiscuity. She endured a rape and four abortions. She reached the breaking point when she learned she was pregnant.
It wasn't the first time she had contemplated suicide. "I was a wreck. I just knew I couldn't go through another abortion. I could not go there again." When her Grandmother referred her to Bethany House, a hone in Gresham for single, pregnant women, Carrie Ann saw it as her only option. She had no idea it was the start of a new life. "It absolutely changed me, the house was filled with hope." Carrie Ann is now 26, married and the mother of two.
Carrie Ann, who still lives in Gresham, is one of more than 200 young women who have sought shelter at Bethany House, since it opened its doors 11 years ago. Beyond housing, the residents share encouragement, faith, confidence and nurturing.
"I want every girl who comes through here to know what a mother's love is so they can extend that to their children." Beth Rhinehart, who founded Bethany House in 1990, knows about fear, and about rejection. " There's a lot of rejection, a lot of fear. They need a home where self-esteem is restored."
From her own experiences, Rhinehart's concern for the girls is deep as it is true. At 36, the Sandy High School graduate was a "Social Alcoholic" and abused pharmaceutical drugs such as Valium. "I should have been dead, life was pretty much in the pits."
While working at a Pregnancy counseling center, Rhinehart, a mother of two, connected with the young women, many of who came from broken homes, and had little hope. "They needed to know that they could have a second chance." They needed a place to stay where they could be showered with love and protected from judgment. A place where they could get back on their feet, pursue education and learn to be self-sufficient, is the home that Beth built. "I wanted them to know that they could be more than just welfare moms."
In 1986, Rhinehart started raising money to buy a home. In December 1990, the first young pregnant woman moved into Bethany House. Rhinehart is grateful but not surprised that the nonprofit organization is still going strong, with an annual budget of over $92,000.00. Donations from churches, individuals and civic groups finance Bethany House. "When we started out we had $100.00 in the bank. I always saw it for the long haul. God gave me a bigger vision."
Jonalyn, 19 and Jessica 17, look like typical teenagers as they rummage through the Bethany House kitchen and put together a quick lunch. Both are 7 months pregnant and nervous about the impeding motherhood. Both have stated that they are in a better place than when they arrived at Bethany House several months ago. And they will leave ready to be good mothers and with a restored faith in humanity.
Bethany House, an immaculate old home decorated in a country theme, houses as many as four young women at a time. "I want it to be a home, not an institution." Residents come from all over. One left her home in Louisiana in search of a better life for her baby. Churches, hospitals, adoption agencies, and anti-abortion pregnancy counseling centers usually refer the young women, whom Rhinehart considers family members.
Rhinehart is the Administrative Director of Bethany House, Inc. but the organization had a board of Directors and an Advisory Board, consisting of community members. Bethany House is unique because it provides shelter throughout a pregnancy. It also requires residents to obtain high school equivalency or further educational training. Many attend classes at Mt. Hood Community College in addition to classes on parenting and baby care. Bethany House is guided by Christian Principles, and devotions are given daily.
Residents are encouraged to go to church, which was an unfamiliar place for the old Carrie Ann, who now sings in her church choir. "It was pretty amazing to think of me going to church. It was even more amazing that God did love me, even after the way I had been living.
Although adoption counseling is available, Rhinehart said most of the young women keep their babies. Three housemothers, who work varying shifts, staff the house. Residents participate in daily chores and meal planning. Troutdale resident Becky Coleman, who works as a housemother during the week, says she's there to offer physical, spiritual and emotional support." They need to known they are loved and accepted for who they are."
After their babies are born, Bethany House resident's return home, find an apartment or go to live with a sponsor family until they are ready to live on their own. Time spent at Bethany House is geared toward getting the new mothers to land on their own two feet, not back or into the system. That's why Rhinehart's plan for the future is to offer some sort of transitional housing for new mothers and their babies. "That would complete the circle, but it's a few years out."
In the meantime, Rhinehart continues to search for contributors to help pay for the existing program. She also looks for volunteers to do everything from yard work to carpentry and house sitting.
The house's namesake is a village in the New Testament of the Bible, where Jesus often received hospitality in the house of his friends. "Beth is like a spiritual mother to me, and she's like that to so many girls who come to that house." A quote from Carrie Ann, to sum up what Beth is to so many girls, a mother.