Gianna House, a home for pregnant teens, sees increased need, plans for expansion

One of the mothers who lives at Gianna House, a residential facility for pregnant teenagers and new mothers, plays with her baby at the Eastpointe residence, which is housed in the former convent of St. Veronica Parish in Eastpointe. After opening in May 2019, Gianna House hopes to soon expand to serve mothers up to age 25. (Photo courtesy of Gianna House)

After being open for 18 months, residential facility in former St. Veronica convent plans to serve additional mothers up to age 25

EASTPOINTE  For 18 months, Gianna House in Eastpointe has been a place to go for young expecting mothers with nowhere else to turn. 

The home for pregnant teenagers, ages 13-17, in the former convent of St. Veronica Parish in Eastpointe is a safe space for young women to live, learn and adjust to motherhood both during and after their pregnancy. 

When it opened in May 2019, Gianna House was the first residential home for pregnant teens in the state. Now, however, the Catholic-run ministry is expanding that mission to serve mothers up to the age of 25, said Jennifer Brubaker, Gianna House’s executive director. 

“A majority of our calls have been women ages 17-25 who are either pregnant or recently have given birth,” Brubaker told Detroit Catholic. “Our mission is to provide a safe residency to young women, young mothers, while providing spiritual or educational parenting support and resources to those who are underserved. We are really dedicated to wanting to help young mothers who have chosen life for their children.” 

While living at Gianna House, young women are encouraged and helped to plan their lives and career goals, learning the essentials of motherhood and the important life skills they’ll need to succeed.

A mother reads to her young daughter at Gianna House. To date, the program has served 19 teenagers, but staff has seen a greater need in the community to expand to older mothers, too. (Photo courtesy of Gianna House)

To date, 19 teenagers have been served by the program, but there are more young mothers out there who need help, Brubaker said, and Gianna House has the capacity to expand to older mothers who are ready to accept the program. 

“There are a lot of girls out there, ages 13-17, who are pregnant and need our support,” Brubaker said. “We are seeing, unfortunately, sometimes legal guardians who don’t want to sign off and allow their child to be part of this really important program.” 

The reasons can range from mental health issues on the part of the parent to embarrassment, Brubaker said. 

“Sometimes, they feel like maybe they have failed their child, and they don’t want them put up in a place like Giana House,” she said. 

Brubaker said the Gianna House program can be a bit of a “wake up call,” literally, for girls in the program who might not be used to a regimented life — Gianna House has specific wakeup and bed times — along with assigned chores around the house and an expectation to be present for “family dinner” at the house. 

Just as with the younger moms, mothers in the 18-25 age group will be expected to follow the same rules — although they’ll live in a separate wing of the house. 

Jennifer Brubaker, executive director of Gianna House, stands in one of the residential rooms. Brubaker said mothers in the program are given support, community, parenting and career help. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

“Our rules and expectations are not any different than those living in a family-style setting,” Brubaker said. “We expect them to be up at the same time, clean their rooms, make their beds, have breakfast at a certain time and come down to participate in community activities such as parenting classes. We make sure they are attending their schooling online, helping out with community dinner and finishing chores.” 

Brubaker expects older girls who have experience in a workplace setting might have an easier time adjusting. Older mothers who have not completed high school will be expected to take online classes to obtain their GED, and may be encouraged to go to trade schools or career preparation classes while living at Gianna House. 

In order to house the older mothers — Brubaker said the goal is to house four to five mothers who are 18-25 — Gianna House is launching a $100,000 capital campaign to establish a separate wing. 

Besides new rooms for the additional mothers, the first project will be improving the heating and cooling systems in the former convent, which is more than 80 years old. 

“The second floor is all (residential) rooms and staff offices, so we need to provide a huge relief to the boiler system, which is extremely old,” Brubaker said. “We need a new system to ensure we are warm during the winter months, but also that we stay cool in the summer months. We have no air-conditioning right now, so being pregnant in the heat is very hard for our moms.” 

Gianna House staff and residents spend time reading in a common area. The former convent, which is more than 80 years old, needs significant renovations, including upgrades to its heating and cooling systems. (Courtesy of Gianna House)

The campaign also will fund much-needed updates to the entire Gianna House facility, making sure it meets Michigan residency regulations and is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

In the 18 months since Gianna House opened its doors, the staff have learned more about the needs and challenges both young mothers and their babies face. To meet those needs, Brubaker said, Gianna House has cultivated an army of donors and supporters in the local Catholic community.  

“We do a lot of grant writing to support Gianna House; however, during the COVID-19 pandemic, grant writing has become very difficult,” Brubaker said. “Organizations and businesses are looking to support causes, but they want to do more than just help four residents at a time. Realistically, it costs $15,000 to care for a child and her baby year-round, so we look to every source of revenue, from fundraising and appeal letters throughout the year.” 

With the planned expansion, the need for funds is even greater. Brubaker said Gianna House plans to launch its capital campaign at the start of 2021, with a goal of beginning expansion work by the summer. 

“Gianna House exists because we have a great, dedicated following of pro-life Catholics in the community,” Brubaker said. “We have amazing support from Catholic churches and businesses and individuals who are consistent supporters who believe in us and believe in our cause.” 

Gianna House ‘Live Nativity’

On Sunday, Dec. 13, Gianna House will host a live Nativity scene from 4 to 7 p.m. at its location, 21357 Redmond Ave, Eastpointe. For $25 per car, people can experience a live Nativity scene, complete with music, animals and carolers. If they feel comfortable, guests are invited to go outside with their masks on to greet the Gianna House staff who make the program possible.