By Heather Lusk
An old farmhouse in Whitestown will soon provide stability, education and resources for expectant women and their children.
Mountain House will be the first maternity house in Boone County. It helps women who are homeless or in volatile situations get back on their feet during the first year of motherhood.
Founded by Lori Buzzetti through her organization, So Big, Mountain House will provide shelter and food to expectant women for a year after their babies are born. Besides those basic necessities, the women also receive education, skills and guidance to plan their futures.
“Our goal is to be able to teach them life skills and get them connected with education and work so they can support themselves and their families,” Buzzetti said.
As an obstetrician, Buzzetti saw firsthand many women in “desperate situations.” In 2008, she started So Big to evaluate their needs and determine how best to provide support.
“When I was working at St. Vincent, God just laid it on my heart to create a home where women would feel loved, where they’d have a place to turn, where their families could be strengthened,” Buzzetti said. “There’s only so much you can do as a doctor. We would have women who were living in cars, or living from couch to couch each week, or some women who felt that abortion was the only option.”
It was after conversing with these women that she decided to create a maternity home similar to The O’Conner House in Carmel and Project Home Indy.
The Mountain House will accommodate four women at the Whitestown location and allow them to care for their infants while learning home management and financial skills. The women will be able to focus on a career or education knowing that their basic family needs are being met.
The house is on Main Street and owned by New Hope Christian Church next door. The 100-year-old farmhouse has served as a home for missionaries and foster care. Through contacts at the church, Buzzetti learned that the church wanted to find a more permanent resident, and the layout seemed to be an ideal fit.
Each woman will have a private bedroom with a shared bathroom. The house has a large dining area, a three-season porch, large backyard and community kitchen. A bedroom downstairs will meet disability needs.
While living in the house, women will receive child health and parenting advice from pediatricians and nurse practitioners. They also will learn to navigate food and medical resources and services.
Each will be required to participate in the Transform Program developed by Wheeler Mission to guide the women in areas of self-awareness, conflict resolution and finances. They also will be expected to assist with chores and find employment in the community.
“We want to work with them in identifying what their goals are, what resources and strengths they come with, and that may take some time,” said Jen Meyers,a So Big board member and clinical social worker at St. Vincent Primary Care.
Meyers said the women can discover a different direction in life as evidenced by success stories from other maternity homes.
“I think if somebody is given the opportunity for some stability, they’re able to focus on those things that can move them forward in reaching their longer-term goals,” Meyers said. “If you can give them a place where they feel safe, where their basic needs are met, they can start focusing on things more long-term than the next day.”
Prospective residents for Mountain House can be identified through social workers like Meyers or from life centers and other organizations.
Meyers said many of the women will form a bond, coming from similar situations where they might feel isolated or lonely. Many have lived their lives in foster care or in generational poverty.
“When you sit down and talk to these moms, that’s sometimes how they grew up,” Meyers said. “They generally do not share stories of stability.”
Buzzetti’s goal is that through Mountain House the women will receive education and life skills needed to support themselves and also wants them to find a relationship with God and discover a support system with their families and others.
“This is just about relationships, and that’s how you break that chain, is to pull people in,” she said.
The first fundraiser
For its first major fundraiser, So Big will host a formal event, Born to Sparkle, at the Cardinal Room Oct. 26.
The event also will serve as a celebration of the opening of Mountain House.
Funds raised from the ticketed dinner and silent auction will support the Mountain House. An anonymous donor will match what is raised up to $50,000.
“It’s a chance for people to find out the vision for what we want to do,” Buzzetti said.
The estimated annual budget for Mountain House is $200,000, which includes the salary for 24-hour staff, food, clothing and supplies for infants and mothers. The budget is based on expenses from other maternity homes, although some of it might be offset by donations of items like diapers or coordination with food pantries.
In addition to the silent auction, funds will be raised through a Balloon Pop. Balloons can be purchased for various amounts, then at one point during the evening everyone will pop their balloons simultaneously and will find a number inside. The number will correspond to a prize with a value similar to or above the amount donated.
A Fund a Need table will accept donations to purchase specific items, such as onesies or sheets.
Event organizer and board member Ashlee Brackett wants to also raise awareness and find volunteers to provide ongoing support for the house.
“If we can sell 300 tickets, that’s 300 people who are going to really have a firm idea of what we are about,” she said. “That’s 300 ambassadors that we can have then to spread the word because there are a lot of women in need, and we would love to be able to continue opening more houses. Lives are going to be changed.”
Most seats for the event have sold, but tickets and donations can be made through the website SoBig.org.
The event will take place at 6 p.m. with dinner from Maggianos at 7 p.m.