April 9, 2019, Eastpointe, Michigan – Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP, received the Ruby Award from Soroptimist International-Grosse Pointe during a banquet March 13 at the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in St. Clair Shoes, Michigan. The award – which “acknowledges a woman who has made a significant difference improving the lives of women and girls” – includes a check for $500 for the organization in which the recipient works.
Sister Theresa received the award for her years of ministry at Gianna House in Detroit, which offers services and support to teenage and young pregnant women and mothers. The Associate Director of Gianna House, Sister Theresa has developed and now operates the outreach program.
Recently, Gianna House received the license to also function as a residence for up to 15 people – young teenagers or teen mothers ages 13 to 17 with their infants – and is expecting the first resident to move in soon.
Sister Theresa was nominated for the award by Carol Hofer, an Adrian Dominican Associate and member of Soroptimist International-Grosse Pointe.
“The whole spirit of the Soroptimists involves women helping women,” Sister Theresa said. After receiving her award, she gave a presentation on the work of Gianna House, which was established at the convent of St. Veronica Parish in Detroit in 2013.
Before the residential program was opened, Gianna House offered classes and support to young pregnant women and mothers. To date, Sister Theresa said, Gianna House has had 891 client visits, serving 118 women from throughout the Detroit area. “The majority of women we served were in their 20s and 30s, and some 35 and up,” she said. “Some were grandmothers taking care of their grandchildren.”
Gianna House offers core classes – considered the most important for the development of the mothers – such as prenatal and infant care, labor and birthing, parenting, personal growth, and spiritual journey. The women can also take a variety of enrichment classes, from sewing, scrapbooking, and crocheting to yoga and jewelry making. As the women attend classes, they earn “baby bucks” which are redeemed for items offered in the Gianna House store: diapers, wipes, baby and mom toiletries, and other items donated by the public.
Sister Theresa believes that these classes benefit the women – but also the world. “One thing I feel good about is that these women are learning to be better moms, and that should make an impact down the road.”
Attending the classes also gives the women a sense of community. “Mainly what the women like is being with other women,” Sister Theresa said. “Sometimes it’s good for them to have somebody to listen to them. We greet them with a hug when they come. They feel warmly welcomed.” For many women, time at Gianna House with other pregnant women or mothers is “me time,” Sister Theresa said.
Gianna House also garners much support and collaboration from the local community, especially in Macomb County, Sister Theresa said. During the first year, the county’s public health nurses gave presentations on topics such as sleep, car seat safety, breast feeding, and lead poisoning. Members of the behavioral office at the Michigan State University Extension Office offered a series of classes on stress management, anger management, and nutrition.
Sister Theresa said Gianna House has also received support from Knights of Columbus Councils and local parishes, who often host fundraisers. “Usually it’s the parish women’s group that will throw a shower for us and ask what we need,” she said. One member of a local parish women’s group was very active, often bringing a casserole to baby showers and volunteering at Gianna House. After she died of cancer, the women’s group in her parish organized a spaghetti dinner to raise funds for Gianna House in her memory.
Gianna House has also receives support from the Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates in the Detroit area, many of whom bring baby toiletries to the Fall Assembly of the Congregation’s Great Lakes Dominican Mission Chapter, based in Detroit. Sister Carol Weber, OP, Co-founder and Co-director of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, Michigan, donated sewing machines and fabric from her organization’s commercial sewing venture. One Sister volunteers as a receptionist every Monday, while others come to Gianna House to help with mailings.
Sister Theresa has learned much from her ministry at Gianna House. “I’ve learned about the struggles that many women on the margins go through – the huge number of women who have no support from the father,” she said. “They’re doing this on their own, many without a car, many unable to work because they can’t afford daycare.”
She described the women as valiant as they go through hardships such as psychological or physical abuse. “Some have no connection with their families [of origin],” she said. “Some are living with their mom or their grandmother, and some are living with the father of the child, sometimes in an abusive relationship.”
Still, Sister Theresa derives a sense of satisfaction from her ministry at Gianna House. “What gives me a lot of joy is to know that we are helping women in ways that they need or appreciate – whether it’s a sense of community, whether it’s knowledge, or whether we’re giving them time for themselves,” she said.
Feature photo: Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP, speaks about the service of Gianna House after receiving the Ruby Award from Soroptimist International-Grosse Pointe. Photo Courtesy of Renee Rodriguez Photography
By Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP
Sister Theresa Mayrand wrote the following article for the newsletter of Gianna House Pregnancy and Parenting Residence, whose mission is to serve as “a sacred sanctuary for its residents, each of whom deserve to continue the life of her unborn child in an environment imbued with spiritual grace, emotional and social support, and knowledge.”
January 9, 2017, Detroit – As Gianna House prepared to host a holiday shower for 25 expectant and new mothers on December 19, untold people showered us with gifts of their time, talent, and treasure!
Their incredible goodness enabled us to offer a wonderful evening of enrichment for the mothers, who enjoyed a meal, beautiful raffle gifts, a large infant gift bag, a gift bag for themselves, a presentation on the importance of reading to infants, and a tote bag with children’s books.
To prepare a festive Christmas environment, 20 teens belonging to Students for Life at Grosse Pointe South came on December 4 to decorate, make name tags for the infant gift bags, fill the moms’ gift bags, and sanitize donated used plastic toys. In addition, they contributed $310, which they used to purchase new toys.
Gianna House Partners Donna Neuman, Patti Ralko, and Sister Helen Susalla, CSJ, spent much time on the phone taking and confirming reservations. The infant gift bags were all filled by Gianna House Partner Christie Burley-Lietzow, who took great time to ensure that each infant would receive clothing and other gifts of appropriate sex and size. Each infant received four outfits, blankets, hooded towel, bibs, hats, diapers, wipes, baby wash and shampoo, and a stuffed animal. All items were new and most had been contributed from parish giving trees and showers hosted by Daughters of Isabella and other organizations. When the supply of baby soap and shampoo had run low, several Adrian Dominican Sisters contributed more of these items.
Gianna House Partner Bonnie Garofalo sent out a Facebook SOS for toys and collected four boxes of new stuffed animals and other toys. Others also contributed toys. Several Gianna House Partners, as well as the visiting teens, had spent many hours sanitizing all used toys.
Many unique gift items, which had come in during the year were beautifully wrapped in bows and sprigs by Gianna House Partner Sister Helen Susalla, CSJ. Each mom received a gift of her choice during the evening’s raffle.
Toiletries donated by many individuals and groups over the year and were used to fill the mothers’ gift bags. Christmas footies brought unexpectedly by four individuals the week before the shower were added to each bag. Also added to each bag was a $15 gift certificate donated by a group of women gathered together via Facebook by Dominican High alum Katy Walsh, a former student of Sr. Theresa.
Michelle Block Garr, organizer of the Slippers for Mom project, brought 30 pairs of new slippers. These and many crocheted scarves, hats, and headbands made by numerous women were special treats for the guest.
The evening began with an icebreaker, followed by a presentation on the importance of reading to infants by Cathy Rostoni, a reading specialist from St. Clair Shores Lakeview Schools, who also contributed a book to each of the 25 reading tote bags donated by Macomb Intermediate School District.
After prayers for both infants and mothers, all enjoyed a meal prepared by 12 Gianna House partners and served by five others. Eight partners served as elves in the family room, helping with the raffle and gifting, and four others set up an amazing toy shop in the dining room after the meal. Board member Tom Masson was on hand again this year to take portrait photos of each mom and her infant.
Our holiday event was truly a feat of amazing gifting!
To read an article about this event, published in the Macomb Daily, please click here. Also please note that, while this article refers to students of Dominican High School, the women involved in Gianna House are actually alumnae of Dominican; the school closed several years ago.