Before moving into Casa de Vida, a residential program for young, pregnant women, 22-year-old Dominique Sawyer had two options: the street or a homeless shelter. "It was the shelter, the streets or here," said Sawyer, who is expecting a baby girl in December. "I thank God every day that I was sent here. Everything turned around for me. It opened a lot of doors." Casa de Vida in Reno provides support and services for young, pregnant woman who have nowhere to turn. They may be homeless. They may be drug addicts. They may be rejected by their family and friends for being pregnant out of wedlock and refusing to have an abortion.
Some girls are as young as 12.
"A lot of the girls would not be in a very good situation," said Valerie Luevano, executive director. "This is a ray of hope for them."
Casa de Vida, a nonprofit program, gives them a roof over their heads, nutritious meals that support maternal health and access to medical care. For many of the women, it's the first time there's been enough to eat.
"Sometimes there's some hoarding and stockpiling of food," Luevano said. "So we really have to teach them that it's safe to be here. You never have to worry about being hungry."
Casa de Vida was founded in 1982 by three Catholic women: Pat Glenn, Terry Ricciardi and Sister Peter Damian. The women were answering phones at a crisis pregnancy hotline and realized the community lacked a residential resource for the women they were counseling.
The program, which is privately funded through grants and donations, has the capacity to house six women. Some women stay after the babies' births in order to get on their feet. A social worker provides case management services to the clients, as well as any other pregnant or parenting women in the community. The women receive individual and group counseling by a behavioral health care professional, and classes on parenting, budgeting and child development.
"When girls come in, we make sure they are physically prepared to care for their babies," Luevano said.