From left, Dominique Coston-Oliphant, current house manager of Good Counsel-South Jersey, JoAnn DiNoia, founding program director, and “Abigail,” a former resident, reflect on the many accomplishments of the organization’s 10-year history. Mary Stadnyk photo
From left, Dominique Coston-Oliphant, current house manager of Good Counsel-South Jersey, JoAnn DiNoia, founding program director, and “Abigail,” a former resident, reflect on the many accomplishments of the organization’s 10-year history. Mary Stadnyk photo
When “Abigail” arrived at Good Counsel Homes-South Jersey, Riverside, more than three years ago, she was a single woman who had emigrated from Haiti; she was unemployed, pregnant and did not speak English.

But once inside the building that serves as a safe haven for pregnant women left homeless for reasons such as abandonment or domestic violence, she knew she had found people whom she could trust.

“They became my family, and they helped me,” Abigail said, thinking back to when she lived in the facility that had once served as a convent for the Bernardine Franciscan sisters who staffed the former St. Casimir Parish and School.

She is now a U.S. citizen, living on her own in a two-bedroom apartment, employed as a supervisor and is the proud mother of three-year-old Arianna.

Abigail is one of more than 150 women who have received help from Good Counsel Homes-South Jersey since it opened April 4, 2011. As the organization prepares to mark its 10th anniversary, staff and volunteers cited highlights of the past decade – which include welcoming 87 babies into the world and helping mothers learn the skills they needed to care for their children and themselves in order to live independently.

An online event celebrating the 10th anniversary will be held at 7 p.m. April 22, which will include a video message by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

“I can’t thank Bishop O’Connell enough for his prayerful support and sharing in our mission story over the years,” said JoAnn DiNoia, the South Jersey home’s founding program director who now volunteers. She also appreciates opportunities to visit parishes to speak about Good Counsel Homes.

A Remarkable History

Good Counsel Inc. is a Catholic organization founded in 1985 by its president, Christopher Bell, and Franciscan Friar of the Renewal Benedict Groeschel. The organization cares for single, homeless, pregnant women and those in crisis before, during and after the birth of their babies. In addition to Riverside, there are four homes in the greater New York City area. Good Counsel also provides counseling to women and men dealing with abortion, and assists other maternity homes across the country.

“We have mothers who come from all over … for a fresh start,” said Dominique Coston-Oliphant, house manager of Good Counsel Homes-South Jersey. “I love being part of the mothers’ experiences and giving them the love and support they and their children need.”

The residents are referrals from local social service agencies and through the agency’s main helpline, which screens and places clients.

“We are a family, and we want to keep a family atmosphere,” DiNoia said, recalling a time several years ago when a newly arrived mother joined everyone for dinner – the first time the woman had ever had dinner in a family like setting. “I’ll never forget that. We were all together around the table.”

Once mothers take up residence, they have assigned chores and, under the direction of resident assistants, learn household maintenance skills such as budgeting, and planning, preparing and cooking meals.

The residents also participate in weekly workshops on parenting, education, nutrition, child growth and development and job skills such as filling out applications, preparing a resume/cover letter, interviewing and appropriate attire.

At the onset of the pandemic, adjustments were made, including scheduling dinners in shifts for social distancing and placing new residents in a bedroom with its own bathroom for a two-week quarantine.

Supporting the Ministry

While those affiliated with Good Counsel Homes-South Jersey are thrilled that the actual date of their 10th anniversary falls on Easter Sunday, Oliphant said the milestone will be observed March 26 with a pandemic-safe, outdoor drive-by celebration from 2 to 4 p.m., followed by the online event in April.

The eight mothers and four children living in the residence will be outside, and all GCH supporters are invited to drive by and exchange greetings from their cars.

Good Counsel Homes-South Jersey does not receive state funding, and the facility operates entirely on private donations and monies generated through fundraising events, with an annual banquet serving as the major fundraiser.  ecause of COVID, this year’s banquet was held online and GCH fell short of its $100,000 goal. The operating expense for 2021 is $495,000.

In addition to its staff, the South Jersey home is grateful for its army of volunteers, one of whom is Therese Garbett. Of her 10-year volunteer experience, Garbett said, “[It] has provided me with an opportunity to do something small that becomes part of the bigger picture or tapestry of someone’s life.”

“The moms come with little or nothing, but they leave with a great deal,” said Garbett, of Sacred Heart Parish, Riverton. “They go out into the world with a new level of hope, more self-esteem and confidence.  They become part of society as nurses, essential workers, pharmacy technicians – but most importantly they become good moms.“