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Nation's first college-based maternity center unveiled

071612-rati-openingRenowned pro-life leaders attend ceremony

BELMONT — "Congratulations, this day has arrived," Father Frank Pavone, president of Priests for Life, told those gathered to celebrate the realization of Room At The Inn's dream: the opening of the first college-based maternity center in the country, located on the grounds of Belmont Abbey College.

Well over a hundred people attended the ribbon-cutting celebration, held on the morning of the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16.

Room At The Inn has been assisting women of all ages in the Charlotte area facing unexpected pregnancies for 18 years.

The new 10,000-square-foot facility sits on four acres donated by the Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey and will house up to 15 mothers at a time, providing emotional support and practical assistance to unmarried college women facing unexpected pregnancies. Residents will be able to have their babies and continue their education at nearby colleges.

The building took just over a year to complete – "only one year and 26 days ago," said Jeannie Wray, executive director of Room At The Inn. "But who's counting?"

Room At The Inn has received a steady stream of inquiries from pregnant students from as far away as the Midwest interested in joining the program, she noted in her remarks during the opening celebration.

Further evidence of the need for these services has been the number of requests from around the world for Room At The Inn to build similar facilities in other locations.

"Over the past four months," Wray said, "I have been contacted by people in three foreign countries – Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Argentina – who want us to come there to build a facility like this there. This is in addition to the requests from seven other states."

Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life of America, was among the speakers at the opening celebration. Foster recalled having spoken at many of the nation's colleges and universities, and, she said, "I had never seen a visibly pregnant college student, or, for that matter, a professor. And that's when we started asking, 'Where have all the pregnant women gone?' Gone to abortion clinics, almost every one. Half of the abortions were performed on college-aged women." Why are college-aged women choosing abortion? Because of a lack of resources and support for them if they choose life, she said.

"Women deserve better than abortion," she proclaimed. "Today we are here to right a terrible wrong."

"Many young women in college facing unexpected pregnancies believe they have to give up everything to keep their babies - but they don't," Wray said. "Room At The Inn can give these young women the opportunity to continue their educations, have their babies, make a positive impact on society and fulfill their hopes and dreams."

Room At The Inn will offer its services for free to the residents, who can stay at the maternity center for up to two years. Young women do not have to be Catholic or attend Belmont Abbey College to participate.

"We don't serve them because they are Catholic, we serve them because we are Catholic," said Father Pavone. It was a happy return for the nationally-known priest, who has often visited the Diocese of Charlotte to encourage its pro-life efforts and who attended the ground-breaking for the maternity center in June 2011.

Expectant mothers interested in Room At The Inn must complete an interview and application process before being accepted into the free program, which Wray describes as "fairly stringent" and filled with classes and counseling to prepare young mothers with the skills they need to be successful in life.

"Many of the young women we see are frightened and they feel hopeless and abandoned and have no earthly idea what they are going to do next - they're just looking for the light," Wray said. "Room At The Inn can offer them help, hope and possibilities so by the time they leave, they are more prepared, more mature and ready to take that next big step. They may even come to our outreach program for continued assistance."

The new facility has two residential wings that will be home to 15 mothers, 15 infants and four toddlers. Each mother has a private bedroom and bathroom and shares the dining room and laundry room with other residents. The residents will be provided with food from a menu set by a nutritionist and prepared by staff. Administrative and counseling offices and quarters for residential managers are also on site.

While the facility is now open, it may not accept residents yet. Room At The Inn is still in the process of obtaining licensure with the state of North Carolina and will admit residents as soon as that process is completed, officials said.

Though this facility is the first like it in the nation, David Bereit, national director of 40 Days for Life, hopes to see it as a trend-setter. At the grand opening, he told the crowd, "You truly are lighting a fire of inspiration." Bereit, along with Foster and other pro-life campaigners, were also among those also returning to the opening celebration after helping to break ground on it in 2010.

Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari, abbot of Belmont Abbey monastery, spoke on behalf of his fellow monks of Belmont Abbey and the Belmont Abbey College community. He expressed hope that "this facility will be a witness to our own students."

Besides use of land for the facility, the monks of Belmont Abbey made one more gift to the organization for its opening: a statue of a young Blessed Virgin Mary standing with her mother, St. Anne.

Learn more about Room At the Inn and how you can support its pro-life work: www.rati.org.

— Christopher Lux, correspondent. (Photos by Christopher Lux and SueAnn Howell, Catholic News Herald.)

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