Home That Built Me essay contest winner

Home That Built Me essay contest winner

The voting has been tallied in our “Home That Built Me” essay contest, and the winning entry of our five finalists comes from Cheryl, who wrote about her time in a Florence Crittenton home for unwed mothers in Ohio. It’s an emotional story of a woman faced with some tough decisions at a young age. We hope you’ll give it a read below. If you’d like to see all five finalists’ essays, please click here.

Cheryl’s story

It was 1977 and I had it all! I graduated from high school, had a summer job, my own car, a steady boyfriend that I loved dearly, whom I’ll call John, and I was going to start nursing school in the fall. Being away from my boyfriend and family was really hard. I was going to school right in my hometown, but it felt like another world.

I lived in the dorm and we were bused to the college campus for our classes. We were not allowed to wear jeans! We had to wear dress clothes (business casual) or skirts and dresses. When the bus pulled up to campus, other students would whisper sarcastically “Here come the nurses!” I was miserable and at the time, I had a strained relationship with my Mom.

In February of 1978, I found out I was pregnant. My nursing career was out the window, and we were two scared teenagers! How were we going to face our friends, worse yet, our parents? So, we made a plan and without telling anyone, John and I headed 2 hours away to Youngstown, Ohio.

We stopped at a church to find someone to help us, and I ended up in The Florence Crittenton Home, a home for unwed mothers. The house was a huge brick Victorian home. Upon arrival, I was put in a single bedroom all alone. I cried every day and couldn’t wait for the weekend for John’s visit. All of the other girls were together in one large room. They were friends that had shared several months together, and I was the new girl. Everyone at the home was very nice, though.

We had a head mother, a house mother, a nurse and volunteers that came in and did crafts and sewing with us, took us shopping and swimming at the YMCA. John never came that weekend. I wrote him letters every day and mailed them to his work. He would call every once in awhile. He only came to visit me once. I guess, to him, I was out of sight, out of mind.

Being at the home and spending time with other girls helped me decide on what I was going to do with my life. Most of the girls were giving their babies up for adoption and would head back to high school like nothing ever happened. It was their secret. But I was 19. I was done with high school. I admired them for not having abortions and for making the choice to let someone else give their child a life they could not provide.

I made the decision in that home that I couldn’t bear to give up my child. I spent a month at the Crittenton Home. I finally contacted my family and my sisters came to take me home. John was very upset that I didn’t continue to “hide out” at the home, but since I was keeping my baby, I might as well go home and prepare.

Without the Crittenton Home, I would have never realized my potential to be a single mom, to support us, to be a strong, independent woman or my purpose in life as a mother.

Where am I today? John and I stayed together for 5 years but did not live together or get married. I had my own place and a full time job to support myself and my son. John rarely gave me any help or money, but I stayed with him hoping we would have a future together. That never happened.

In 1983, I met and married another man and had 2 beautiful, wonderful, daughters, who are now my best friends. I am now a widow. I look back on those times and think how times have changed, how hard it was. The homes are no longer needed for unwed mothers because teenage pregnancy is more common today. And there are so many programs for assistance.

I thank God for the priest that pointed us in that direction. Without the Crittenton Home, I would have never realized my potential to be a single mom, to support us, to be a strong, independent woman or my purpose in life as a mother. The home not only built me — it saved me and my son.

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Chris Johnson
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Chris Johnson is the Director of Communications for The Fuller Center for Housing, a multi-award-winning columnist for the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer and author of 4 books.

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