Helping single mothers choose life - Catholic Courier

Helping single mothers choose life

ROCHESTER — Indya, 17, a high-school junior, wants to go to college and someday teach history.

“I feel like history is suspenseful,” she said, noting her particular interest in both world wars. “It’s always growing, always expanding, like your mind.”

Indya, who asked that her last name not be used, has a challenging history of her own — she’s a single mother with a 3-month-old son. Indya found herself homeless a few months ago, stayed at a shelter and said she then was referred by the Monroe County Department of Human Services to Mercy Residential Services, located in a former convent on the grounds of Holy Rosary Parish.

Indya participates in Families First, one of four programs offered by MRS, a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy. The program offers independent community living for mothers under the age of 18 and their children. Each family has a private, two-room suite, and shares a common kitchen and dining area with the other families. Families may stay up to two years as they develop living skills and prepare to reside somewhere else on their own.

The program is located in the same building as Melita House, which offers group living for single mothers and their newborn children up to three months after delivery. Women have private rooms and share the responsibility of preparing meals and maintaining their living areas. Melita House celebrated its 25th anniversary with a reunion celebration May 18, according to Susan Aiello, executive director. Over the past quarter-century, Melita House has been home to more than 800 young women and their babies, she said.

MRS also offers emergency housing for pregnant or parenting teenagers and young women, and also maintains Catherine McAuley Housing, five apartments for mothers 18 and older, elsewhere in the city. The resident mothers receive such supportive services as education in independent-living skills and parenting, Aiello said.

According to its annual report, MRS is supported by federal and Monroe County funds, as well as private donations and other sources. MRS offers advocacy and case-management services, counseling, life-skills education and mentoring. MRS is always seeking donations of such items as furniture and linens; baby and hygiene supplies; paper products and household supplies; and such items as bus tokens, movie passes and crafts materials. MRS also seeks volunteers to teach residents skills and crafts; provide house-sitting and baby-sitting services; assist with facilities maintenance and repairs; and provide office and clerical support.

Typically, the women who use MRS’ services come from unstable family environments and/or are homeless, Aiello said. Many have suffered abuse or experienced poverty, and many of them lack support from the fathers of their children, she added.

“The fact that they’re having a baby is one tiny little problem in their life,” Aiello said of her clients.

MRS’ services grew out of Melita House, which was opened in 1980 at St. Michael’s Parish by Catholic Workers and Sisters of Mercy. Melita House moved to Holy Rosary in 1998. Over the years, Melita House and the programs it has spawned have changed focus from simply ensuring a healthy and safe delivery of a woman’s baby to helping the woman learn the skills needed in order to be independent, Aiello said.

“Our ultimate goal is self-sufficiency, so that when they do leave, that they are prepared to live on their own,” added Nikisha Johnson, MRS program coordinator.

On that note, MRS clients are encouraged to pursue their educations and/or get a job and to obtain child care on their own. Indya noted that she is going to school and recently started a part-time job. She is also arranging child care for her baby, she said. Indya noted her gratitude to the MRS staff for their help and said she has only one wish.

“It would be nice to get a night’s rest,” she said with a chuckle, noting her son’s early morning feedings. She acknowledged that it’s been a lot of work having and raising a child, but she holds out hope for the future.

“I’m happy,” she said, adding: “I’m sure, in the end, it’s going to be more rewarding.”

Serving the MRS clients is also rewarding, according to Johnson.

“Even though we don’t see the results immediately, we know that we’re touching their lives in one way or another,” she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about Mercy Residential Services, call 585/254-2175; e-mail; or visit

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