Eight months pregnant and running away from an abusive boyfriend, Donna found refuge two months ago at Precious Life, a temporary shelter for homeless pregnant women in Los Alamitos.
At that time, she was certain she would give her baby up for adoption once it was born. Now, as 22-day-old Brandon sleeps peacefully on her lap, she is certain she won't give him up. She feels energized now and ready to face the world again.
The difference, she said, is the "love, comfort and support" provided by the residents and staff of Precious Life. "I'm on my way to getting healed," said 30-year-old Donna. "I'm a better person after what I had gone through. I'm so thankful I got here."
Donna shares a cottage with Melinda Perez and two other women at the four-building facility on Reagan Street. There are 11 other women, four babies and two toddlers in the shelter.
Melinda, 28, has a month-old baby, Robin, and has been in the shelter since August. A college graduate, she decided to keep the baby despite losing her job and against the will of the baby's father, whom she was engaged to marry.
Her parents live in Guam and didn't know she was pregnant. With no one to help her, she said, "I dialed a bunch of 800 numbers . . . and I ended up here."
Precious Life was founded in 1988 by Theresa Sherrin and her husband, Don. It provides a temporary home for expectant mothers, 18 years old or older, who are in financial, physical or emotional crisis. It provides an alternative to abortion, Sherrin said.
If the mothers-to-be choose to have their babies, the shelter provides housing, food, medical care and other necessities for up to two months after birth. In the meantime, the shelter helps them look for jobs or move into apartments.
For years, Theresa Sherrin said, she and her husband have been foster parents, and over a period of seven years have helped 44 homeless pregnant women in their own home.
"Babies are my business," said Sherrin, a spry 56-year-old who has six children of her own and 13 grandchildren.
In 1988, with the help of friends, the Sherrins bought the half-acre lot where the shelter now sits. Through donations and additional funding from federal, state and county grants, the facility has expanded over the past four years. It now consists of a two-story emergency shelter, two so-called transitional homes and one building for a pilot program that will provide long-term housing.
At full capacity, the shelter could house 18 women, six babies and two toddlers, according to Sherrin, who acts as executive director. The staff is mostly volunteer. Residents do their own cooking, laundry and cleaning up. This year's budget is $140,000, Sherrin said.
The women are usually referred by local churches and service clubs. Some are referred by welfare agencies, while others simply walk in. From January, 1989, to December of last year, the shelter housed 72 women and 36 babies.
"We only insist that they are drug- or alcohol-free," Sherrin said.
Some women find the situation so comfortable that they don't want to leave. "We have to evict some a couple of times," Sherrin said. "We don't want to be their permanent crutch. We just want them to get back on their feet."