PAWTUCKET — Every Monday, Mike Krzywonos, a member of St. John Paul II Parish, Pawtucket, spends his afternoons at the diocesan Project Hope outreach center in Pawtucket, where he offers support to women in unplanned or crisis pregnancies as a volunteer with St. Gabriel’s Call. The program, an outreach of the Office of Life and Family Ministry, is a much-needed resource for women who find themselves without financial or family support in their time of need.
“A lot of people, they don’t really know how bad it is out there,” said Krzywonos during an interview at the Project Hope office this past Monday afternoon. “The people who come here are really appreciative.”
That afternoon, Krzywonos had a full schedule of appointments with women who return to the office for regular support before and after the birth of their children. One of his appointments was with Dulcelina Landim, who lives in Pawtucket with her husband and two young girls. Landim first made contact with St. Gabriel’s Call in November of 2014, when she was pregnant with her youngest daughter. She visits the office monthly to give updates on the girls’ progress and receive donations of diapers and other supplies.
“They are very good here,” she said. “It does help a lot.”
Landim sat down with Krzywonos on Monday to update her family’s information. She said the girls, ages three and one, are well and healthy, though the older one will soon begin speech therapy. She and her husband, who work opposite schedules, trade off staying home with them. Landim works in home health care as a Certified Nursing Assistant and also goes to school, taking classes at CCRI to improve her English. Though she has held the job for four years, she said she does not receive benefits and hopes to go back to school to get her Registered Nurse certification.
At the end of the appointment, Krzywonos asked if there was anything else the family needed. When Landim mentioned clothing, he found a box of donated clothing for 12-month-olds that she was free to go through. She chose several outfits, adding with a smile that her older daughter always insisted on wearing pink.
Though one of Krzywonos afternoon appointments was a new client expecting a baby, most of them were, like Landim, returning mothers who receive regular donations of supplies. St. Gabriel’s Call continues to support children and their mothers up to age five and helps connect them with other services as needed. Melanie Monteiro, a Project Hope intake worker who schedules appointments with expectant mothers at the Pawtucket outreach center, said she tries to find out as much information about the families as possible to see if there are other diocesan services they could benefit from.
“Whatever comes our way, we let them know what’s out there,” she said.
Carol Owens, director of the diocesan Office of Life and Family Ministry, strives to meet the needs of expectant mothers and their families materially, emotionally and spiritually. Many of the mothers, she said, do not have close family to turn to during their pregnancy and are in need of guidance and support.
“We try to mentor them, guide them along, embrace them,” said Owens, who uses her own experiences as a mother to advise the women who come to her in need of support. “If we can help them in that process, we’re doing God’s work.”
St. Gabriel’s Call, which operates nationwide as the Gabriel Project, first began in Rhode Island as an outreach of All Saints Parish, Woonsocket. About 10 years ago, the Office of Life and Family Ministry began a parallel ministry based in Providence. Owens now oversees six satellite offices around the state, including the Woonsocket outreach and a new office opening soon at Jesus Saviour Church in Newport.
In addition to diapers, clothing and toiletries, St. Gabriel’s Call provides mothers with cribs, baby carriers and other items as they become available. Many of these items are donated by parishes and schools, or by individuals who once used them for their own children. For its day-to-day operations, St. Gabriel’s Call relies heavily on funds from the Catholic Charity Appeal and on the network of volunteers who operate its outreach centers.
“It’s a big operation to keep six or seven satellites going and their shelves stocked,” said Owens. “The Church is there to help. We’re there to help out with hands like Jesus to anyone who comes to our door.”
Owens can recall many times when meeting the needs of a family meant going above and beyond the regular call of service. During her 10 years of running the program, she has outfitted entire nurseries for mothers in need, paid childcare fees for siblings of newborns and helped women who’ve been away from the Catholic faith have their children baptized in the Church. Once, she even paid the repair fees for a couple whose car broke down while they were at her office for an appointment.
“We’re not just about giving out diapers. We’re here to walk the walk,” she said.
The supportive attitude of St. Gabriel’s Call extends to the clients, who often look for ways to assist each other. Shortly before Landim’s appointment at the Pawtucket satellite office, a woman entered the office carrying her six-week-old son and a bag of clothes she wanted to donate. The woman, Sandra Seals, explained that she had received services from St. Gabriel’s Call after being referred by Women and Infants hospital in December. Her son was already beginning to outgrow his clothing and she brought it to the office so that other women would be able to use it.
“If they’re giving, why not give to others?” she said. “If people give me stuff and I can’t use it, I bring it here.”
The staff and volunteers at the outreach center were happy to accept the donation, as the ministry relies on the generosity of others. For Seals, giving back was one way to show her appreciation for a ministry that offered her support in a time of need.