|Center offers hope for young mothers in need|
Residents of the Hope Center work on Christmas crafts that
will be given to people who have supported the home, which is in the
countryside near Riga, Latvia.
A UMNS photo by Håkan Wiik.
By Tim Tanton*
Dec. 12, 2007 | RIGA, Latvia (UMNS)
The love of her mother helped Rigonda Verdenfelde endure a rough
childhood. Today she is modeling that love for teen mothers with
Rigonda Verdenfelde, 29, is the house mother at Hope Center.
Verdenfelde, 29, is the house mother of The United Methodist Church’s
Hope Center, an outreach ministry in the remote countryside northeast
of Latvia’s capital city, Riga. Not much older than the girls who come
to the center, she understands the dysfunctional family experiences that
they share. She also knows most of the girls have not experienced a
"I very much want to give them a sense of what true love is about and a need to love their babies," she says in Latvian.
As she stands near the Hope Center’s kitchen, the sound of babies
crying punctuates the air. Verdenfelde’s translator, the Rev. Gita
Mednis, steps away to escort a toddler out of a cupboard under the sink.
At a table nearby, some of the young mothers are crafting Christmas
cards for people who have helped them.
"Some of these girls would not be alive today" were it not for the
Hope Center, says Mednis, district superintendent of Latvia’s 13 United
Methodist congregations and pastor of First United Methodist Church in
Riga. A few of the girls were living on the street, going up to
strangers and asking to go home with them, she says.
Signe came to the center after police found her living with her baby
in a tent in Riga. At the time, she was pregnant with her second child.
Today, her toddler, Lienite, ambles around the room, smiling widely at a
group of visitors and approaching one and then another with
outstretched arms. Baby sister Estere slumbers nearby.
For Signe, the center is a second home.
"I’ve learned a lot," she says through a translator. "I know how to take care of my child. I know how to cook."
Nestled off a dirt road near Straupe, about an hour and a half from
Riga, the center provides a quiet setting where the young women can
focus on caring for their babies. The church bought the unassuming brick
structure, originally conceived as a cheese factory, finished it, and
turned it into a group home with six private rooms plus communal areas.
Mednis wants to limit the number of mothers to six or seven in order to
maintain a family atmosphere.
Since February 2006, Hope Center has provided 13 girls with a temporary
home and equipped them with basic child care and life skills.
Katja, one of the mothers at the Hope Center, is planning on
moving out with her baby in December, when she turns 18.
A UMNS photo by Tafadzwa Mudambanuki.
"That’s our whole goal, to equip the girls to live on the outside,"
Verdenfelde says. She often has her own children and husband on hand to
Equally important, the center tries to build the young mothers’ self-esteem.
"Most of these girls suffer from terrible self-esteem because they have been told they are the lowest of the low," Mednis says.
In most cases, the children’s fathers are no longer part of their
lives, though Lienite is an exception. Her father and paternal
grandfather visit her and provide support not only for her but also for
her half-sister, Estere.
Leaving the center
The young women leave Hope Center when they turn 18, the cutoff age
for assistance from Riga’s social services agency. The agency provides
the center with 7 lats per girl per day—the equivalent of almost
U.S.$15. Kristine was the first at the center to reach 18. She left in
late November with her daughter, Karina. She will be followed by Katja,
who will leave with daughter Emilija in December.
Kristine attends school nearby three times a week and spends the rest
of her time with her daughter. Katja travels to Riga once a week for
classes in a special program. Otherwise she focuses on caring for her
daughter and seeking an apartment. Their future plans consist of living
with their boyfriends, finishing school and getting jobs.
Asked about careers, the girls shrug. Kristine says she thought about
becoming a chef or cook, but now is not sure. Katja says that she, too,
once wanted to be a cook.
A third mother, Julija, says she had considered police work. At 22,
Julija is the oldest of the women served by the Hope Center. She is now
living with two other young women in a second Hope Center home that the
church opened in the town of Liepa. That home serves young mothers over
"Before I got to the Hope Center, I was on the street with a child in
my hands," Julija says through a translator. "…I am not on the street
Trusting in God
For Mednis, the Hope Center ministry has been a journey of faith. The
journey began while she was pursuing the renovation of an old wooden
building next to First United Methodist Church in Riga’s old town area,
with plans to turn the structure into a center for young, pregnant women
in need who want to keep their babies.
Amid those plans, she says, the church heard God calling it to tackle
another problem: providing sanctuary and help for young mothers who
already had delivered their babies and had nowhere to go.
Young mothers (from left) Signe, Katja and Kristine have found refuge at the Hope Center.
"We were not ready," Mednis says with a smile, "but when God says, ‘This is what you need to do,’ we started doing it."
They joined efforts with Verdenfelde, who was already helping two
young mothers in trouble and wanted to do more. "It’s been my dream for
the last six years," she says.
Money remains a challenge. More staff is needed, and financial
support is critical for renovating the building next to First Church
Riga for additional Hope Center work. A Methodist orphanage in the early
20th century, the old building has been empty for many years. Mednis is
concerned that if improvements aren’t made soon, the government will
take it over, restore it and make the church cover the cost. The
estimated price tag for total renovation: about U.S.$1 million.
The Hope Center has had angels. A few years ago, the Methodist Church
in Great Britain provided a five-year grant of £36,000 (equal to a
little more than U.S.$74,000 today), which has helped cover some
staffing costs. Support is also coming through a nonprofit program
called Samaritan Hands, operated by Fairview United Methodist Church in
Maryville, Tenn. Hope Center is interested in becoming an Advance
Special of The United Methodist Church, which would enable it to be
promoted through the denomination’s second-mile giving program.
At times, Mednis has wondered how the ministry was going to come
together, but God has always provided, and she believes God will find a
way. "We’ve been running after God," she says.
On this particular day, that running has entailed bringing a group of
visitors to the center. Standing near two cribs, Mednis holds a baby
boy in her arms. He is the "miracle baby," she says, explaining that he
was born with his intestines growing outside his body. Surgery corrected
"He was not supposed to live," Mednis says, "but God made sure that he is not only living but is a healthy, beautiful baby."
Miracles are part of the journey.
*Tanton is director of United Methodist Communications’ Media Group, which includes United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Audio: The Rev. Gita Mednis
"The reason we started this …"
"Our goal … is to build self-esteem."
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