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 | By Joey Reistroffer

The Blessing of Babies and Volunteers Continue to Shine St. Clare’s

Babies are a blessing from God, and the folks at St. Clare’s Home want to ensure these itty-bitties remain special gifts to expectant mothers in dire straits.

The moms at St. Clare’s all chose life for their little ones, but are often destitute and without a roof over their heads. They have found a haven at this home. They also have found that St. Clare’s is where the hard work of motherhood begins.

Staff and volunteers offer women a crash-course in reality, including classes on prenatal care, parenting, faith and finance, cooking, cleaning up, gardening and more. Basically, they learn about everything it takes to run a home, raise a baby and create an atmosphere where they and their children can thrive. Along the way, many work on their education so they can find a job, get off the streets, provide for their babies and give kids the love it takes to succeed in life.

“You’re working with women who have a lot going on in their lives, and then they have a child coming into the world,” according to Karen Wippel, client coordinator at St. Clare’s. “They want to be good moms. They want their child to have a better life than them.”

“One girl told me her mother was a drug addict,” Wippel continued. “She told me, ‘We never knew where we were going to live.’”

Wippel said that bringing a baby into this world is “not always easy. It’s kind of stressful. It can be a struggle.” But the staff and these mothers don’t give up. They embrace the struggle because they see an entire community rooting for them, pitching in and lending a helping hand.

“Greenville supports it like no other,” Wippel said.

In fact, the annual Pink & Blue Gala in support of St. Clare’s held annually in Greenville raised over $400,000 this year in support of the home and its moms.

Still, St. Clare’s needs diapers, wipes, baby clothes, baby bottles, baby formula, lotion, toothpaste, toothbrushes, cribs, car seats and much, much more.

Wippel stated that the Greenville community and the Catholic churches step up. “The giving spirit spreads,” she explained.

Even the bishops are on board with supporting St. Clare’s. Former Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone gave the go-ahead and support for the home to open in 2021. Meanwhile, Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS, is working to add another St. Clare’s Home to the Charleston area.

“People are just so generous. The priests are so supportive, and Valerie works very hard to keep this place going,” Wippel said.

That would be Valerie Baronkin, executive director.

Baronkin said the home is full right now with eight women — some are pregnant and others are caring for their babies.

“They haven’t thought about their hopes and dreams,” Baronkin said. “Many come from broken families. It’s just hard to move forward with their lives.”

That is the beauty of this home.

She said that establishing a family atmosphere is important for St. Clare’s mothers.

“They have fun together. They work together. They eat together. The moms develop a relationship with each other,” Baronkin said. “It is a family.”

That family model allows moms the opportunity to hope and dream a little bit. But, it also requires discipline to thrive. So, Baronkin turns to two sisters from Nigeria to help establish that routine — Sisters of St. Michael the Archangel Stella Mary Okogie and Theresa Adeboye. They are house moms.

“They drive the moms to their appointments. They also organize baby showers and gender-reveal parties,” Baronkin said. “They are definitely part of the family. The sisters make sure that the house runs smoothly. You need to have order in your life. You can’t have chaos.”

Especially when it comes to cooking. Every mother must prepare one meal a week for the home.

According to Colleen Chmiel, volunteer coordinator, “Dinner is family style: 6:30 every night.” The moms “absolutely have to come together for dinner.”

And part of their daily routine is praying together before digging in.

“We will be talking about God in this house,” Baronkin said. “God is mentioned often.”

If the chef that day needs supplies, she can turn to Sister Stella Mary, or they can find what they need in their garden.

“Our produce was huge last year,” Chmiel said. “Our land is blessed. We are really fortunate.”

They are also fortunate to have so many volunteers willing to help.

“All the volunteers are important and vital. Everyone is giving what they can,” Chmiel said. “The love that they show is quite amazing. The volunteers are what make this house a home.”

“The volunteers are the heart of St. Clare’s,” Baronkin said. “We could not run without our volunteers.”

Those pitching in offer guidance on infant expectations, nutrition, first aid and so much more, Chmiel said.

“Sister Theresa organizes all the classes,” she said, and one of those classes is faith and finance.

Chmiel said classes are two hours a week for the 12-week course that is taught once in the spring and once in the fall. To attend, moms need babysitters, so Chmiel will put out the call for volunteers to watch the wee ones. The folks in Greenville are more than happy to answer that call.

“We have over 100 volunteers. Some come once a week or once a month,” Baronkin said.

Others pitch in with donations for supplies, Chmiel added.

Baronkin, Wippel and Chmiel agreed that the willingness to help is beautiful, but the needs remain great. Transportation is a big need.

“There are some moms that do drive, but they do not have a vehicle,” Baronkin said.

She was grateful when one woman from Columbia saw that need and donated a car.

Job openings are also on Baronkin’s wish list. She urges anybody who owns a company to help mentor one of the moms to kick-start her career. 

Baronkin praised Wippel for focusing the mothers on seeing a brighter future.

“They have different goals for their lives,” Baronkin said, and Wippel works to address those goals. “She helps them find jobs. She helps them with schooling. She works with them on housing. She makes sure they get the government services that they need. She is amazing.”

It’s not easy, and Wippel admits that she will go to the adoration chapel to pray when situations get frustrating. Baronkin understands.

“Some of the housing takes up to a year to get. The housing shortage really affects the women,” Baronkin stated.

Still, they know that Wippel is in their corner.

“She has a very mellow personality,” Baronkin said. “Her approach is perfect for these moms. They love her.”

Wippel wishes she could do more.

“The scope of homelessness breaks your heart,” she explained.

Because all of St. Clare’s eight rooms are full, Baronkin tries to help expectant mothers who are still on the streets.

“These are trying times. We are trying to help women outside the home. We have helped over 300. There are so many homeless people right now,” Baronkin added. “For a lot of them, I’m able to get them something. We don’t want to leave them totally destitute.

“I get four or five calls a week from women needing help,” she said. “I do have four moms on the waiting list, and I am trying to help them find resources.”

One of those resources is called Walking With Moms in Need, and Baronkin is grateful. The program is parish-based and meant to accompany women during pregnancies with various needs. It can ease some hurdles while pregnant mothers await an opening at St. Clare’s.

Mothers can stay at the home while pregnant and up to a year after their baby is born. St. Clare’s does a lot for mothers. Nevertheless, Baronkin wishes they could do more.

“If you can help a mom straighten out her life, you are also affecting that mom and that child and children to come. You’re affecting future generations,” she said.

Babies, indeed, are a blessing and a gift to those who look beyond the present hardships and hurdles.

Joseph Reistroffer is a long-time writer who teaches religious education classes at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg. Email him at