Story by David Kilby, Correspondent
A mission of compassion started by a humble Franciscan Friar of the Renewal priest, Father Benedict Groeschel, continues through the work of Good Counsel Homes-South Jersey, thanks in part to its 11th annual fundraising banquet, which was held Oct. 26 in the Merion, Cinnaminson.
In the six years of its existence, more than 100 mothers have found refuge and 72 babies have been born in the Good Counsel Homes-South Jersey home in Riverside, which provides a loving home for homeless, expectant, and new mothers and their children.
JoAnn DiNoia, GCH-SJ program director, told the more than 300 people at the dinner that since its inception in 1985, 1,091 babies have been born in Good Counsel Homes.
“If it were not for Father Benedict Groeschel, none of us would be here,” she said, acknowledging the donors who make GCH-SJ a reality. “Tonight is a celebration of your devotion to God’s teaching of ‘love your neighbor.’”
At the banquet, one of the GCH-SJ mothers, Kailah Simms, shared the story of her journey to GCH-SJ and the love and support she found there for herself and her two children.
Adopted into a “very strict military family” at an early age, Simms ran away from home before her last year of high school to escape a hostile household. Soon after, she became pregnant with her daughter, Destiny.
After staying with various friends and family, she found herself homeless, and not long afterward, Destiny was removed from her care. While pursuing her GED, she became pregnant again and moved into a hotel, but she eventually found herself sleeping under a bridge.
She was referred to Good Counsel Homes and was immediately placed in Riverside, where she met Tara Ingebritsen, house manager.
“It has been nine months since I opened that Good Counsel door – and I should earn my GED by November,” Simms said, noting that Destiny has been returned to her custody as well. “This is only because of Good Counsel.”
“You have all given me my daughter back and my new baby daughter, Neshe, a place to live and a future I thought I would never have. Good Counsel is a safe haven for all of us, and I thank you,” she said.
Meeting basic needs
Founded in 1985 in Hoboken by the late Father Groeschel, Good Counsel Homes has five other homes across the country in addition to the one in Riverside.
Robert Dietrich, a Good Counsel Home board member, explained that the program provides parental care, food and nutrition, and teaches the mothers the technical and life skills they need to eventually provide for themselves.
Noting that the program is designed to help mothers become self-sufficient parents, Bill Klatt, founder of Good Counsel Homes-South Jersey, said GCH-SJ is 98 percent supported by individual donors. The organization receives no money from the state or federal government. There are currently 10 mothers, eight babies and two toddlers staying in GCH-SJ, which is a former convent on the grounds of Resurrection Parish.
Christopher Bell, executive director of Good Counsel Homes, told donors at the banquet that it costs $600,000 a year to keep the Riverside home open and functional. The annual banquet, which raises approximately $80,000 to $100,000 a year for GCH-SJ, is the home’s largest single-event fundraiser.
Father Fidelis Moscinski, CFR, who filled in for the planned main speaker – Father Andrew Apostoli, founding father of the Renewal Friars, after he fell ill the day of the banquet – spoke of Father Groeschel’s legacy.
“Father Benedict was always willing to see good in other people, even in crisis situations,” Father Moscinski said. “He was also willing to act in defense of that goodness, and that’s why we are here.”
He also said Father Groeschel strongly believed in supporting words of faith with action, even when that requires sacrifice. “Good Counsel Homes exists today because so many people like you made sacrifices to bring the homes into fruition,” he said to the supporters gathered at the banquet.
Two Father Benedict Groeschel Awards were given at the banquet, one to Mary Mother of Mercy Parish, Glassboro, for the work of its Respect Life Committee, and one to St. Luke Parish, Toms River.
In accepting the award on behalf of St. Luke Parish, Father Robert Grodnicki, pastor, reflected on having worked in child welfare for 15 years and how lack of funding affects families in need.
“The families get split up, and the children get placed in foster care,” he said, urging Catholics to support politicians who will in turn support organizations like Good Counsel Homes that recognize the God-given dignity of children and mothers.
To learn more about Good Counsel Homes and to donate, visit goodcounselhomes.org.