Smiles Keep Coming at Siena House
Smiles Keep Coming at Siena House
Hundreds of photos of moms with their babies hang on the walls of the kitchen at Siena House Maternity Home. What struck me, studying the photos during a recent visit, were the big smiles and tears of joy in the eyes of women who have reclaimed power in helping themselves and their children.
As a long-time REALTOR® Magazine staffer, I have been involved with the Good Neighbor Awards program since it was founded in 2000. I’m inspired by all the honorees. But one program that really spoke to me, as a single mom, was that of 2011 winner Wayne J. Shaffer of Santa Cruz, Calif. His nonprofit Siena House Maternity Home provides a family-style living environment for pregnant women in crisis.
I wanted to see it for myself, and in July of this year, I finally had the chance. Shaffer was hosting his annual BBQ reunion, bringing together past and current residents of Siena House at a beautiful 24-acre park he owns. On the weekend of the reunion, I boarded a plane and headed for Santa Cruz. Shaffer picked me up at the airport and gave me a room at Siena House. It’s an unadorned but comfortable home, accommodating up to 10 women. Women can stay at Siena House for up to three months. While there, they get pre- and post-natal care; counseling; baby care; and lessons in nutrition, parenting, and life skills.
“Each woman comes with struggles. Women need a safe place to care for their babies and themselves,” Shaffer told me, “a place where they feel is home.” Shaffer and his wife Jo live 10 minutes from the facility, and he’s often there to provide a helping hand—whether that means making repairs, moving furniture, or rocking infants to sleep.
Since receiving the 2011 Good Neighbor Award, Shaffer, broker-owner of Shaffer and Associates in Santa Cruz, Calif., has received media attention in newspapers and around his community. Not only did the exposure translate into monetary donations, but it also resulted in another award, the Santa Cruz Association of REALTORS® 2011 Community Service Award.
In the two years since Shaffer won the Good Neighbor Award, neither he nor the home’s volunteers have slowed down. Board member Donna Miller told me there are plans to open a second, transitional home that the young woman can move into “the minute [they’re] ready to move out of Siena House. We want to find a big house or a motel with many rooms—a main kitchen and a play area, and we want to provide daycare services to accommodate 20 women at a time,” Miller explained during my visit. “Although the women will depend on Siena House for shared living, they need goals and guidance on learning how to be independent and self-sufficient.”
Siena House Maternity Home operates with no government funding. Its ongoing needs include financial assistance, volunteers, food donations, baby items, and household items. All funding comes from generous donations and an annual auction dinner in October. Over the years, it has served as a nurturing way station for more than 350 women, and Shaffer is deeply moved by the realization that the home and its volunteers can profoundly affect the lives of residents.
Asmara Gebre was a teenager—pregnant, homeless, and coping with an abusive boyfriend—when she came to Siena House. Today, at 24, she is the proud mother of a 7-year-old daughter, living on her own and attending the University of San Francisco’s nursing program. She will receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in December 2014 with a focus on becoming a school or pediatric nurse. I had a chance to meet Gebre two years ago, when she and her daughter, then 5, traveled to the 2011 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Anaheim, Calif., to attend the magazine’s Good Neighbor Awards dinner, and it was a great joy seeing her again and talking with her at the BBQ reunion.
Gebre told me that Shaffer, who has two stepsons of his own, has been a real father figure. “Wayne and the Siena House Maternity Home staff gave me a great foundation,” she said. “They set me up to walk a successful path.”
That was a sentiment I could relate to. As a single mother of two beautiful teenage children, I am thankful for the way my own parents have helped me not only financially but emotionally. At Siena House, I witnessed the kind of love, hope, and support that will enable the residents to make positive choices for their children.
I continue to keep in touch with many of the former Good Neighbor Award winners and treasure all of the hard work they do. I am thankful to have had the privilege of seeing up close the enormous impact of one winner’s passion for helping others.
Learn about Shaffer’s long history of good works and his motivation for starting Siena House in REALTOR® Magazine’s 2011 Good Neighbor Award profile. Contact him at Shaffer and Associates, or via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find more information about Siena House Maternity Home at its Web site. Learn more about two other charities Shaffer is involved with, St. Francis Catholic Soup Kitchen and Jesus Mary Joseph Home, at their site.