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Missouri nonprofit that helps mothers choose life adds childcare

St. Raymond’s Society in Columbia helps women in difficult circumstances say yes to life

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Something amazing happens every time the founders of the St. Raymond’s Society let God take control.

He ups the ante, with grace to spare.

“We’ve never had a need that God didn’t show up to meet in a way that knocks our socks off,” St. Raymond’s Society co-founder Mike Hentges said.

This time that meant space opening up next door to the society’s new home for mothers and children, allowing the society to open Super Start Preschool and Infant Care in Columbia, a thoroughly Christian environment for babies and preschool-age children of the women availing themselves of the society’s comprehensive array of services.

St. Raymond’s Society is a faith-based, nonprofit organization that partners with new and expectant mothers to build a thriving future for themselves and their family.

Named in honor of a patron saint of pregnant women, preborn babies and childbirth, it was founded by Hentges and Steve Smith from a clear directive to help pregnant women who are in crisis, along with their babies and young children.

St. Raymond’s founding principle is that it isn’t enough to say that abortion is wrong and simply wish a struggling mother well, that people need to cooperate actively with God’s goodness and work against the formidable forces that make many pregnant women feel they have no choice but abortion.

“We found child care to be the No. 1 issue for the mothers we serve,” said Smith, a member of St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City. “And out of the blue, God sends us a solution.”

“We were praying for an end to abortion, and basically God asked, ‘Why don’t you do something to help?’” said Hentges, executive director of St. Raymond’s and a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia.

St. Raymond’s Society started out as a loose network of volunteers who in various ways could help women in difficult circumstances say yes to life.

Before long, the founders had purchased a house in Jefferson City to provide safety and shelter for the women the society serves. The organization hired a program manager to help the women prepare for successful motherhood and life beyond the home.

Soon thereafter, the organization opened a second house in Columbia. With both houses full, a decision was made to expand.

Last year, the St. Raymond’s Society board authorized the purchase of a newer, much larger, and better equipped home that had been serving as the Ronald McDonald House in Columbia.

This allowed the society to expand its reach and provide safe shelter and an affirming environment to more mothers and children, while expanding services the society offers to nonresidential clients.

“With staff offices being located in the home, surrounding the mothers with a community of love and accountability has never been easier,” Hentges told The Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Diocese of Jefferson City. “This has been a great benefit to the program.”

The goal of St. Raymond’s faith-based, comprehensive, whole-person program is for the mothers to not only be ready to be a parent but also navigate life beyond the home in a healthy way.

“We are not just transitional housing, but rather are more focused on the transformation that is possible,” stated Smith.

Hentges said the new preschool was essential for St. Raymond’s clients because they need to pursue an education or career path and “simply could not find child care,” said Hentges. “It was not a ‘want to.’ It was a ‘have to.’ Mothers in our program who are unable to secure child care are stuck.”

Smith noted that a year of proper child care can cost more than a year’s tuition at some colleges. One objective with this center was to make child care more affordable for St. Raymond’s clients.

Super Start Preschool has capacity for 95 children, with 25 of those spots being reserved for clients.

“That means we can also help with the child care shortage in the greater community,” Hentges said. “This resource will allow us to serve our client’s most critical need and also grow and advance the kingdom.”

“It really was a godsend,” said Smith. “Originally, we were looking to build a campus. The only thing our new home didn’t have was a preschool. We moved into our new home and God said, ‘Watch this!’”

Super Start Preschool provides a Christian curriculum to children ages 6 weeks to 6 years old and is inspired by the Reggio Emilia curriculum, which believes children learn best through play and exploration.

“It’s not just for the women being served by St. Raymond’s,” said Smith. “We want to encourage people in the community and bring their kids there. It’s a good way for the women we serve to socialize with others from the community.”

“It fits our mission of doing what’s best for the mom,” said Smith. “We did it because the moms need it.”

“And it’s allowing us to give something back to the community as well,” Hentges added.

St. Raymond’s continues to operate its home in Jefferson City, which is smaller, quieter and especially suitable for women who need a discreet location, mothers who have babies with special needs or mothers considering adoption.

“Whether in our homes, program or preschool — in all we do — we are focused on the mother. Conveying the support St. Raymond’s offers is at the core of our mission to help pregnant mothers-in-need say ‘yes’ to life and to motherhood,” Hentges said.

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