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Bethlehem House successes to be shared at national rally

Gina Tomes has two minutes to tell a national audience about Bethlehem House in Omaha.

Tomes, program director at the maternity home, laughed at that notion.

“If you know anything about me, I’m a Chatty Cathy, especially when it comes to our mission and maternity homes,” said Tomes, who is scheduled to speak at the Jan. 20 March for Life Rally in Washington, D.C.

Tomes was interviewed by phone just days before the rally.

In her speech, she said, she certainly has to mention the successes at Bethlehem House, which aims to empower pregnant women in crisis, helping them to choose life for themselves and their unborn children.

Tomes said she’ll likely talk about the 96% of graduates who end a life of homelessness, the 86% who become free of addictions to alcohol or drugs, the 76% who no longer need government assistance and the 49% who are working toward a college degree or certificate or mastering a trade.

These women, who on average are 25-35 years old, have struggled.

Bethlehem House records show that 98% of the women have been chronically homeless, 40% have other children in foster care, 92% have had addictions, 86% have a criminal history, and all have lived below federal poverty guidelines.

Tomes, who helped found Bethlehem House 18 years ago, has been rehearsing her speech, working hard to hit her time allotment for the rally, which begins at 11 a.m. CST. 

Bethlehem House planned to air the speech live on its Facebook page.

Just three days before the rally, Tomes had timed her speech at three minutes and 11 seconds.

That’s close enough, she figured. “What are they going to do?” she laughed. “Pull me off by my hair?”

NOTRE DAME PARTNERSHIP

Tomes said she was invited to speak about a month and a half ago, mainly because of a research partnership with the University of Notre Dame. The research began two years ago and shows how effective maternity homes can be for the mothers and babies they serve. Five maternity homes nationwide were chosen to participate.

“Being at Bethlehem House since the doors opened,” Tomes said, “sometimes I feel like I am telling these stories of miracles. … But when you stamp it with third-party, causal evidence with a university such as the University of Notre Dame, it can bring more awareness about the effectiveness of what we’re doing, because we need to grow and strengthen what we’re doing.

“It’s been like a dream come true,” Tomes said. “I work on that research daily,” collecting data and “measuring concrete outcomes.”

The success of Bethlehem House has caught the attention of national news media and pro-life groups, including the March for Life.

“The stats are staggering,” Tomes said of the research compiled on Bethlehem House. “There’s a lot of exciting buzz going around.”

Tomes grew up in south Omaha, graduating from St. Thomas More School in Omaha and Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School in Bellevue.

She developed Bethlehem House’s family life and after-care programs, which have gained notoriety nationally because of their innovation and the long-term care they provide.

Residents receive instruction and help with parenting, wellness, financial literacy, faith formation, employment, higher education, transportation, housing and maternity and baby supplies.

Graduates receive the aid for as long as needed, including help to recover from relapses into addictions.

GOD’S DESIGN

Tomes said her Catholic faith guides her in her passion for serving the most vulnerable women and the babies they carry in their wombs.

She said she cried tears of joy when she was invited to speak before March for Life participants.

“It was overwhelming because the women that come through our program are like daughters to me. I live to do better for them and to provide awareness of the need for our services.”

Tomes said she’s reflected on how Bethlehem House is purely God’s design.

“It’s not mine,” she said. “It’s not anybody’s. The women are my teachers, and I’m just blessed to be in their lives. But it was all truly designed by God.

“I’m going to get emotional talking about it,” she said. “You’ve got to pray for me that I can get through two minutes without crying.

“It’s so unbelievable that we’ve grown so much and impacted so many lives.”

Even as she was talking on the phone, Tomes said, she witnessed a resident handing over her special-needs baby to an adoptive mother.

The birth mother had considered abortion, “but we were able to help her and she ended up choosing life and creating an adoption plan.

That very moment, Tomes said, “is what it’s all about.”