By Jessie Box | email@example.com
Caroline Wolff, 78, believes she was put on earth to fight for the unborn.
Caroline Wolff and her husband, Al Wolff, had been looking for a quiet life in 1981 when they decided to move to St. Augustine. After eight months working at Leonard’s Studio, Wolff heard about a battered teenage mother while at work.
“When I went to visit her, I found her still crying,” said Wolff.
Wolff was unable to convince the girl, 16, to leave the abusive boyfriend because she did not have anywhere to go. Wolff shocked herself by offering the girl a place to live in her own home and left the girl with her phone number.
Wolff eventually got a call from the girl. The baby was in the hospital with a broken jaw after the boyfriend missed and hit the baby instead of the girl. Wolff brought them home when the baby could leave the hospital and found the girl work as a nanny.
Realizing that there was no help for teen mothers and battered women, Wolff gave notice at her job the same day she met the girl and set out to help these women. Three years after meeting the girl, Wolff and her husband bought property on U.S. 1. Twenty-eight years later, St. Gerard Campus is still helping teenage mothers raise their children and finish high school.
St. Gerard is nonprofit organization that helps pregnant teenagers earn their diploma at an accredited high school and continue after they have given birth. St. Gerard is a religious organization. Before a student is admitted into the school, she is fully informed that religion is part of the school.
“We honor everyone’s religion,” Cindy Zsolnai, assistant director and adoption counselor for St. Gerard Campus, said.
The students are required to pray out loud in the morning. The girls are free to pray for what they want and there are no guidelines for what the girls must pray about. The girls face no judgment for their prayer subject. When God answers the prayer, a marble is placed in a jar.
St. Gerard Campus has a capacity of 34 students and can house six students in quaint dorm-like rooms. The rooms only contain essential items such as dressers, a bed for the mother and a crib for the child. There are no televisions in the rooms.
The girls attend class and have their baby with them in the classroom. When the babies reach two months, they are placed in the daycare that is on campus. The boarding girls share a recreational room that has a television and cable for the girls to watch while doing homework and caring for their children.
“The students don’t have to pay a cent for anything,” Wolff said.
There is also a pregnancy center on campus that offers free pregnancy tests to the community. St. Gerard also offers free sonograms for pregnant women to see their baby. A couple of the volunteers operate the sonogram machine.
When the women come to them for help, St. Gerard is limited to what it can offer.
“We cannot give them any medical information, but we offer free pregnancy counseling and adoption counseling,” said Zsolnai,
All the adoptions are handled in house and the girls and women of the community are allowed to choose the family for her baby and the mothers can choose whether they would like a closed or open adoption. Open adoptions allow the mother to have contact with the child she is giving up and a closed adoption means no contact after the adoption is finalized.
The youngest girl to come to St. Gerard was 12 years old. Wolff researched the girl’s family and found her biological father. He was unaware that he had a child, much less a grandchild. The father moved his daughter and grandchild in with him.
“What we try to do is join families back together …,” said Wolff.
St. Gerard Campus has volunteers help in the front office answering the phone and handing out the diapers, baby wipes and baby food to people who come in. According to Zsolnai, there are 20 to 25 volunteers at St. Gerard Campus.
Rainy Glenn, 59, has recently been put on disability. Instead of staying home, she volunteers at St. Gerard Campus because she “feels a need to serve the world.” Glenn believes answering the phone is critical.
“This is the most important job because you could be saving a child’s life,” said Glenn.
Volunteers are in charge of answering the phone, answering questions or directing the caller to who can help them. St. Gerard Campus also helps the community by giving out baby items including food, diapers and diaper wipes. The volunteers help distribute the items to those who come in.