EAST CHICAGO, Ind. — When Angela Moore held a 2-month-old baby at Nazareth Home in 1997, she was simply doing what she’d always done: volunteering where help was needed. As a young, single woman just finishing grad school, “I had no intention of adopting. But his eyes seemed to tell me, ‘Okay, what are you going to do with me?’”
It’s a question most children at Nazareth Home are too young to formulate, but 20 years ago, Sister Kathleen Quinn heard it clearly. With John Birdzell, then CEO at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago, she founded Nazareth Home, a ministry of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. The original mission of caring for HIV-positive infants in Lake County has expanded to nurture children from newborn to 6 years old, many of whom have been removed from their families due to abuse or neglect. Many have medical and/or emotional and developmental issues.
“To provide them with a loving home is crucial to their well-being and development,” said Nazareth Home Director Jean Bowman. “When children have a sound, stable home they become better individuals and citizens.”
With Nazareth Home’s 20th-year anniversary as the theme, a gala fundraising event Oct. 10 will be vital to continuing the foster care for abused and neglected children, said Bowman. Since 1993 Nazareth Home has cared for more than 170 children, with the goal of nurturing them and reuniting them with their families.
“While they’re with us, their families (through the Department of Children’s Services) are working to improve and grow. A large percent of the children are being reunited with the family,” said Bowman.
Volunteering in Nazareth Home’s cuddle program to hold the babies and play with them, Moore saw firsthand the excitement for each new arrival, fueled by Sister Barbara Kuper’s passion for healing hurt children.
Having spent 20 years in another ministry, Kuper figured there would be some adjustment when she was asked to be a foster mother. “But when I walked in and saw how happy the kids were, I wanted to be a part of it.” That was 18 years ago. Kuper admits the hardest part is when a child leaves — and it’s also the best part, “seeing how fragile they are when they come here and how much they’ve grown and how happy they are by the time they leave.”
But not all families can demonstrate readiness to parent again. When all attempts for reunification have been made, the adoption process begins. For Moore, it began the moment that baby looked up at her 16 years ago.
“I don’t believe in coincidence,” Moore said. “A lot of people thought, ‘What is she doing? She’s young, now she’s a single mother?’ But I knew God had a plan, and it’s been a wonderful blessing to be Bobby’s mom.”
For Nazareth Home to continue, funds are essential, Bowman said. A licensed foster home in East Chicago, Nazareth Home can accommodate up to five children at a time, the maximum allowed by the state. The children are wards of the court, often in desperate need of love, attention and medical care.
Bowman recalled a fragile toddler, “so severely neglected she couldn’t talk, couldn’t eat well. After intensive therapy she didn’t even look like the same kid.” Such transformations happen in a house in a residential neighborhood, “a pretty unique situation for a service of this kind.”
John Birdzell’s wife, JoAnn, continues to support the home in various ways, but the annual gala is the primary funding source. Just 10 to 15 percent of support for Nazareth Home comes from state assistance, so “We rely on the gala to sustain us,” Bowman said. “The evening will be wonderful. Dinner will be stations with a variety of menu options, and that makes it more fun.” Wine is included, and there will be a cash bar.
After dinner there will be a silent auction. A special presentation will honor St. Catherine’s Hospital, founder Quinn, foster mother Kuper, and Moore and her son. There will also be a live auction, with some “really nice, big items,” said Bowman, adding there are surprises in the works for the evening.
Individuals and companies can sponsor a table and be included in the printed program. The fund-raising goal for the event is $125,000.