Washington D.C., May 23, 2023 / 13:34 pm (CNA).
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of reports by EWTN News detailing what U.S. Catholic colleges and universities do to support young mothers and students facing unexpected pregnancies. To see the full series, click here.
In 2019, Ashley Banks, from Hickory, North Carolina, was in her early 20s, destitute, and expecting her second child.
“There was no doubt in my mind, I thought I was going to get an abortion,” Banks told CNA. “I wasn’t really established as an adult; I didn’t have a steady job or anything like that. So, in my brain, my automatic thought was; ‘How am I going to take care of two children when I can’t even take care of myself and one?’”
With only two weeks until her unborn baby girl was due, Banks was given 30 days to vacate her home. Her car had already been repossessed, and she had nowhere to go and no money.
It was in this state of desperation that a friend told Banks about a maternity home called MiraVia next to the campus of a small Catholic school named Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina.
With no options left, Banks decided to try it out.
Once she set foot inside MiraVia, Banks told CNA, she felt welcome immediately. After deciding to live at MiraVia, her life was never the same.
MiraVia (which means “miraculous way”) provided Banks with a private suite, complete with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette. They helped her enroll in classes at Belmont Abbey, enabled her to get a job on campus, and, most importantly, empowered her to welcome her baby girl into the world.
Though she had initially been set on abortion, Banks said that it was her 1-year-old boy who convinced her to choose life for her daughter, who is just 15 months younger.
“Looking at my son … changed my mind about aborting my baby girl,” Banks said. “Seeing him grow, seeing his little personality and just thinking of what she could be.”
Though it was her son who convinced her to not abort, it was MiraVia that gave her a safe environment to begin raising her children.
Since its opening in 2013, MiraVia has been changing the lives of women like Banks from all over the United States.
MiraVia’s executive director, Debbie Capen, told CNA that their work is to help women avoid falling into the lie that having a child is the end of their dreams.
Capen feels especially called to this mission because she suffered an abortion while in college.
“I was away from my faith at the time, and I bought into the whole narrative out there that a child will ‘ruin your life’ or that you can’t achieve your goals,” Capen said. “What MiraVia provides is the answer to that. Once people see it, it alleviates so many of those fears and misperceptions.”
Since opening, the MiraVia maternity home has given more than 60 pregnant and parenting students a refuge, helping them choose life and provide for their children in a safe and loving environment.
The land the home is on was originally donated by the Benedictine monks who founded Belmont Abbey College. Today, MiraVia continues to work closely with Belmont Abbey.
According to Capen, students regularly volunteer to help with the cleaning, gardening, and at the donation center.
At times, entire Belmont Abbey sports teams have come to help with tasks such as re-mulching the grounds.
Capen recalled one semester in which a Belmont Abbey professor even assigned volunteering at MiraVia as a homework assignment. Belmont Abbey students also serve as staff in child care and in the kitchen.
A 10,000-square-foot facility, MiraVia can accommodate 15 mothers and their babies at a time. Each mother and her children receive three meals a day and a private suite to live in.
But rather than just giving a handout, MiraVia is dedicated to helping mothers and children achieve long-term success. With this goal in mind, the home provides free child care to allow mothers to attend classes or work.
During their stay, which can last the duration of their pregnancy and until two years after their baby is born, MiraVia provides mothers with regular counseling, helping them establish and follow through on short- and long-term goals.
All the mothers at MiraVia are university-level students, with 20% being enrolled at Belmont Abbey College and 80% at various other colleges in the region.
“We are targeting a demographic that hardly anyone else is,” Capen explained.
According to Capen, though there are several maternity homes in the Charlotte area, MiraVia is the only one specifically devoted to helping pregnant and parenting college students and serving their particular needs.
As a Catholic charity, MiraVia seeks to serve these college mothers both physically and spiritually. The home has a permanent 24/7 eucharistic chapel available to the women and staff and offers regular Mass, confession, and spiritual guidance.
Though Capen says the staff is respectful of other faiths, they “encourage all our moms to have a spiritual life.”
To better serve mothers’ and children’s material needs, MiraVia even expanded to open an outreach center in downtown Charlotte, which has helped even more women with pregnancy and baby materials such as cribs, car seats, strollers, and diapers as well as life-skills classes and more.
Women who go to the outreach center can join peer support groups and participate in monthly classes designed to help them prepare for raising a child.
“College campuses are ground zero for the culture wars,” Capen said, adding that what MiraVia is working to do is to “change the culture overall at colleges.”
“Colleges talk about being inclusive, but they certainly don’t feel inclusive to pregnant and parenting students a lot of times,” Capen said. “So, I think that while we are serving individuals, and each mother and each baby that we serve is the measure of our success, I think overall what we hope to do is to impact the culture.”
Besides providing a safe refuge, Banks shared that MiraVia helped her to grow her relationship with God and changed her perspective on the value of life.
“I am now against abortion because there are other options even if you decide to have the baby,” Banks said.
If confronted by someone considering abortion today, Banks said that she would simply sit and talk with them, listening and sharing her story.
“I believe this is part of my testimony,” Banks said. “I don’t mind allowing people to know what I went through because there is a way to get through even the toughest times when you feel like there isn’t a way.”
When it comes to her faith, Banks, who is Christian but not Catholic, said she never felt “forced into Catholicism.” Nevertheless, she did regularly attend Sunday Masses while she lived at MiraVia.
The eucharistic chapel also played a significant role in her faith life and even helped her to introduce her children to God.
“It just created a really good environment to show them whenever you’re trying to establish a relationship with him this is how we do it, this is how we go to him, and this is how we pray,” she said.
Banks now has graduated from Belmont Abbey with an associate degree. She works at a temp service where she helps other people get jobs and lives with her two children in a three-bedroom apartment.
“They brought us in, helped me out, not just with the children or with housing but they also helped me to get my education, they helped me to work,” Banks said. “MiraVia is amazing; there isn’t one bad thing you could ever say about MiraVia.”
But for Banks, along with many mothers like her, MiraVia did more than just provide a temporary shelter.
The way Banks describes it is that MiraVia helped her to “grow up,” to be capable of supporting not only herself but also her two children.
“I always tell people that MiraVia really saved my life,” Banks said. “[Without MiraVia] me and my children would have been on the streets. MiraVia was just like an open door for me, they accepted me, they didn’t judge me, they loved me, they loved my children like their own.”
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