Recently, Bill McGurn, Columnist for the Wall Street Journal, visited our Bronx home to find out what goes on at our very special “inn.” Case Manager Tameika Davis shepherded Mr. McGurn through the home offering an up-close look at how a Good Counsel home works, how our mothers, babies, and children live, and how our residents and dedicated staff work and grow together living out an enlightening and timeless Christmas story each and every day. Good Counsel was featured in Mr. McGurn’s weekly “Main Street” column in the WSJ.
Room at the Inn
December 20, 2016
For women with no place to turn, today’s Bronx outshines ancient Bethlehem.
Just a few evenings from now, children badly costumed as shepherds and angels and wise men will appear in nativity pageants the world over. Even the worst of these performances will underscore the hope and humbleness of that first Christmas, when a Jewish woman with child brought forth her son in a stable because there was no room for her at the inn.
More than two millennia later, the Bronx has improved on ancient Bethlehem. Here at Fulton Avenue and 167th Street, in one of New York’s toughest neighborhoods, a pregnant woman with nowhere else to turn will always find what she needs most: an open door and a caring heart.
Welcome to Good Counsel, a network of six homes plus a 24/7 hotline. They are the life’s work of Chris Bell, a lean and gentle 59-year-old husband and father whose story could never be made for the big screen today because only Jimmy Stewart in his prime could do him justice.
Way back in 1985, Mr. Bell had complained to a priest that no one was doing anything for homeless pregnant women. The priest in effect responded: “Hey, pal, what about you?”
Not long after, Mr. Bell co-founded his first Good Counsel home with the help of that same priest. The home was opened in a former convent in Hoboken, N.J., which turned out to have been part of the parish where Frank Sinatra had been baptized. So when a Daily News columnist named Bill Reel wrote a Mother’s Day piece on this struggling new enterprise, Mr. Bell soon received a call from Old Blue Eyes himself—along with a $10,000 check. Three decades on, the need has not abated.
“I was scared when I first came here,” says Monique Campbell. “But Good Counsel teaches you what you need to be on your own, whether it’s how to cook or the training you need for a job.”
Ms. Campbell, 21 years old, came to Good Counsel earlier this year after her family threw her out upon learning she was pregnant. Her daughter, Kimberly, was born this past summer, so mom is now finishing her GED while also working to become a certified nursing assistant.
There are 15 women in this house, eight of whom are expecting, and 15 children, some born here and others who are siblings. For in addition to helping women keep their babies, Good Counsel lets them stay a year afterward—to finish school, train for a job and learn how to care and provide for their babies.
Make no mistake: No Good Counsel home will never make it to the cover of House Beautiful. Because Mr. Bell takes no government money, his will always be a shoestring operation. With all those moms and babies, moreover, chaos is a feature, not a bug.
But the homes are warm. They are safe. And the folks who staff them count it a good thing when a young woman with an unplanned pregnancy who prefers to keep her baby actually has the choice to do so.
Janelle Washington, a Vassar graduate whose son Izen (the name means “never give up”) was born in October, says that such has been her experience with Good Counsel that her goal now is to get a job as a counselor for women like herself. “So I can give back,” she explains.
The most extraordinary thing about Good Counsel?
“That it exists,” says Jozylyn Perez. Earlier this year Ms. Perez found herself pregnant, with three other children to feed—and no apartment. “When I had no place to go they didn’t ask me any questions about who I was. They said ‘this is your room’ and ‘we’re going to take care of you until you can take care of yourself and your child.’ ” Ms. Perez’s daughter Aurora was born in July.
The good people at Good Counsel do what they do for moms like Monique, Janelle and Jozylyn because they regard every life as unique and precious. They cling happily to their faith. In the dominant script of our day, this oddly makes them part of the war on women.
But up close and personal, this doesn’t look anything like war. It looks like love. For Chris Bell and his merry band, no heavenly choir of angels could ever appear quite as glorious as a Good Counsel mom softly humming a lullaby to the little life in her arms.
Right now we are closing in on Christmas, and here in the Bronx the women have decorated appropriately. Come Sunday morn, they know, there won’t be much for them under the tree.
But there will be joy. Because Good Counsel is about life, and hope, and respect. As well as the promise that, with love and hard work, happy endings are still within reach even for those who have made some bad decisions.
And especially at Christmastime, Good Counsel wants that troubled young pregnant woman who thinks she’s all alone to know: There’s always room at this inn.
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