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Surrogate parents

"Surrogate parents" Continued...

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," April 24, 2010

"It's hard enough giving up your children to be married, but having to give up a newborn to a stranger. I can't relate to that, I can't imagine it," Barb Helmuth says. "So when I'm caring for a child, I try to be the same role model that I would want to be for my own children."

And after a year or more of caring for a child, it can be just as difficult for a nanny to hand the baby back to its mother. Joana Beachy, a nanny at Polly's Place, another New Horizons facility, still remembers the day she picked up "her" baby from the prison hospital: "I remind myself everyday that they aren't my children. You just have to keep reminding yourself, and trust that God will give you the grace to let go. It's not something that's going to be easy."

In the early years, Department of Corrections regulations stated that the child would be handed back to the mother immediately upon release, with additional regulations limiting prison volunteers from initiating contact with released inmates. So when a mother was released, she collected her child and moved on, often leaving New Horizons behind. But through years of working diligently with the state, New Horizons has been able to relax those rules. Now mothers entering the program sign a contract that gives New Horizons the ability to reintegrate the child slowly into the mother's life.

Reintegration starts with outside visits, then moves up to overnight visits before eventually the mother takes full custody. The mother must demonstrate that she has reliable housing, employment, and childcare before she can take full custody, and New Horizons is there with her every step of the way. New Horizons has become a licensed Child Placement Agency, allowing it to place a child into more permanent foster care, or even adoption, should the birth mother's situation warrant it.

Miller, the ministry's founder and still its executive director, calls this new phase of New Horizons ministry "completing the circle." New Horizons has recently opened a new facility called The Oasis, where mothers can regain their footing away from bad influences in their home towns. There they live with house parents, and eventually with their own children, attending Bible studies and parenting classes, learning how to be a family again. "We need to break the kind of thinking they take into prison," Miller says.

The last arc of the circle is the New Horizons thrift store, in downtown Cañon City. The facility and its sister branch in Penrose raise money for the ministry but also provide jobs for recently released mothers. Sherelle Brown works at the thrift store alongside Mennonite volunteers.

Brown gave birth to her son Macaiah in the Denver Women's Correctional Facility. When she found out she was pregnant, she was serving a three-year sentence for theft and possession of a controlled substance. Macaiah lived with a New Horizons nanny while Brown served 28 months of her sentence: The weekly visits with Macaiah helping her stay focused on her release. She was paroled before The Oasis opened, but New Horizons staff found her a residential program in Cañon City and gave her a job at the thrift store.

"[Without New Horizons] I'd probably be back in prison. I didn't have to walk all by myself," Brown says. "Nine times out of 10, I'd be back in jail." Now she has full-time custody of Macaiah (though the Helmuths still occasionally babysit him) and is taking classes in Medical Billing and Coding at a technical school: "I never thought I'd be telling my brother about my college classes. Usually when you get out of prison, you have to start all over. I wish a lot of other people could have the same opportunity."

With her family intact, Brown is looking toward her future. "I want to get a house, get a career established." She grins and points at the store manager, Nelson Hoover, who sold his construction business to run New Horizons' thrift stores: "I want Nelson's job!"
Click here to listen to WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky discuss with Alisa Harris the West regional finalists.
To view a video profile of New Horizons and of each of the other 2010 regional finalists and to read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2009, visit WORLDmag.com/compassion.

New Horizons Factbox

Location: Cañon City, Colo.

Founded: 1991

Mission: Prison ministry, inmate rehabilitation, short- and long-term foster care

Annual Budget: $425,000

Website: www.newhorizonsministries.net

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