Table of Contents
Questions & Answers with Christopher Bell
An Interview by Joe Quattrocchi
Q: This anniversary must be a little bitter sweet not having your friend and co-founder Father Benedict Groeschel with us. What might he say if he were here?
Far be it from me to say what Father Benedict would say if he were here. But, I know he'd grateful to God for the mothers and babies our little mission has been able to serve. Please God, he'd want people to continue to support helping the poorest of the poor, as he would say, "A baby waiting to be born whose mother is homeless, perhaps mentally ill, and no one who cares." That's why Good Counsel is here, to offer the material and spiritual support a baby and mother needs at that most critical time.
Q: Father Benedict helped open many doors for us at Good Counsel, what can you share in how he helped get the ministry started 30 years ago?
He said he'd help and he did everything he could. Most importantly, looking back, I can see how he let God lead us. I'd propose a location, and he'd ask, “Who is the pastor? Is he supportive?” Those were signs if God was approving. In the very beginning, one place didn't work out and I recall him saying, "It's God's will." Then, almost immediately, another location opened up. "This is where God is leading us,” he would say."
If people opened a door, we'd walk through. If they closed a door, we'd go to another. He knew many, many people and even those that didn't know him personally, when I'd mention his name, they'd at least give me a hearing because, I think, there was just something about saying, "Father Benedict." What a help, I didn't realize at the time, but know now that if it were not for his help, support and guidance, Good Counsel would not be here today. Our homes may never have existed.
Q: When Good Counsel began back in 1985 what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
I thought it would be money, but learned it was hiring the right staff. Good staff are most important. The Lord has sent us many, many outstanding, wonderful, committed staff. People who will go out in the middle of the night to pick up a mother on the street. People who stay with a woman in labor for 36 hours. Staff who work in the office in Hoboken, receive a call that a mom needs food or clothes or toys, and they'll drive right to the door, even if an hour away. You can't pay for that kind of commitment, you can't pay for someone's faith and determination. Thank you Lord for good fellow workers in this area of Your vineyard.
Also, I think, in many ways, the biggest challenge truly is to trust God and to not listen to negative voices from within or outside. I was probably the last person people thought would open a home for single pregnant women and their children. I was single myself back in 1985 with no children of my own and I did not have much experience with changing diapers. Still, I believed this was a ministry that was very much needed and so I just started asking people to help and God kept sending people. Over the years the challenges changed and we have been blessed to be able to adapt and add all kinds of things, like Life Skill Programs, educational and vocational testing, personality tests, qualified people to help us evaluate. God simply has given us more tools, more importantly, qualified people who can help us so that we could address the many challenges our mothers and children face.
Q: Thirty years is a long time. What are some of the significant changes that have occurred at Good Counsel?
The needs of each baby, each mother. A mom who comes in who's been told her baby is going to have severe, life-threatening ailments. With all the pre-natal tests, tests which even good doctors will tell you are spurious at best, because the science is just not that accurate, even today, scare women more than help them. Too many women are told, "There's a problem with your baby." Many times there is not. This happens all the time now. It didn't too many years ago.
Also, we are working with moms who have many emotional challenges. We are probably better at recognizing these difficulties, too. Many moms are suffering post-traumatic stress, PTSD, as if they had gone through a war. You can understand why because of the abuse and neglect suffered at such an early age.
We are doing online tests when moms come into our homes in order to better know their educational levels and vocational proclivities. Additionally, we're better at assessing through tests and one-on-one counseling, a mom who may not have been diagnosed for a mental health challenge, but has one. Working with good local mental health practitioners, we can better address these needs.
Q: I know there is no such thing as a "typical" Good Counsel mother. All are unique individuals with their own stories but have you noticed any general traits that show up? Any changes in some of the mothers over the last three decades?
Families are in much more difficult circumstances these days compared to 30 years ago. Hence, children are in worse shape today. Most importantly, what hasn't changed, is that we know, what Father Benedict did on his doctoral dissertation, that the most important factor in changing the life of a person in trouble is having another person care. If someone believes in you, really cares about you, that can make the biggest difference in your life. With God's help, that's what we strive to do. That is sharing God's love.
Q: What is the biggest challenge a mother faces when she comes into Good Counsel?
Herself. Just like you or me, our biggest obstacle is overcoming our own fear or selfishness. She needs to let go and fall, head first, into the arms of God. Yes there are other issues like trust and there may be personality clashes but each mom needs to make a decision that says: “Yes I will choose life, a better life, for me and my baby.” Eventually the other challenges of following the house rules, and completing the chores, and following directions take care of themselves once she makes that decision to put God first.
Q: What can you say about the staff who work for Good Counsel and what makes them special?
Good Counsel staff are the most important element in what we do. The Lord has sent us many, many outstanding, wonderful, committed souls. People who will go out in the middle of the night to pick up a mother on the street. People who stay with a woman in labor for 36 hours. We have staff who work in our administrative office in Hoboken, receive a call that a mom needs food or clothes or toys, and they'll drive right to the door, even if an hour away. You can't pay for that kind of commitment. You can't pay for someone's faith and determination.
Good Counsel has been blessed to have incredible professionals from many different backgrounds who have brought their skills to us on so many levels, and in a number of cases, we have also had individuals, like Sandra Jones, our Chief Operating Officer, work her way up through the ranks. Thank you Lord for good fellow workers in this area of Your vineyard.
Q: Good Counsel has a special home in Harrison, New York called Daystar. How did the idea for such a program come to fruition?
From the beginning women with a mental health history were coming to Good Counsel. When one mom left a baby on a closed toilet seat, I thought, "We can't take care of women who are coming from mental health group homes or hospitals." I regret having made that policy.
Many years went by and this troubled me because who needed a home more than a mother with a psychiatric disorder. Finally, we decided to open a home just for moms with a diagnosed mental health challenge. Father Benedict referred me to Dr. Dick Milone at St. Vincent Hospital in Harrison, NY, a premiere institute helping those with psychiatric illnesses. When I called Dr. Milone he paused for a long time. Then he explained that he had just written down his goals for this year and on the top was to help mothers. We saw God's hand in this. I saw again, very clearly, how God had used Father Benedict to point the way.
We opened our Daystar home on the grounds of St. Vincent's Hospital in Harrison, on December 8, 1999, making it an extra-special feast day for us and Our Lady.
Q: Good Counsel has had a post-abortion healing program called Lumina for over a decade. Why did you start it and what does it do?
Very early on I began to hear many Good Counsel mothers speak about past abortion experiences and it was very difficult to hear their pain. I knew that we needed to do something because this was an area, Post Abortion Stress, which many in the mental health field were unwilling or incapable of addressing.
It took some time but we started a program named Lumina which means light. Lumina offers healing retreats for women, men, siblings and those who aborted because of an adverse diagnosis. In addition, Lumina provides training for clergy members and mental health professionals in Post Abortion Stress.
We have a network of women and men who have walked through the pain of abortion who are also ready to accompany individuals through the darkness, into the joy of a renewed life. Theresa Bonopartis is our Lumina Director and does an excellent job. She receives hundreds of calls a year (877-586-4621) and thousands of hits on the Lumina website (PostAbortionHelp.Org) with people looking for help and emailing (Lumina@PostAbortionHelp.Org). Theresa always says in a very comforting manner, “Take heart, there is Hope!”
Q: How long do you think Good Counsel will be around?
As long as the Lord wants.
Q: I know that you would like this 30th anniversary celebration to focus more on Good Counsel's mission than on you personally... but do you have a memorable accomplishment over the years that you would like to share?
Simply that God's mercy is all we have to rely on. Good Counsel's moms and babies have shown me how loving and merciful is the Lord. No matter what has been done to someone, I don't even want to describe how horrible a young life can be destroyed of its innocence, the Lord can lift up any soul. Even mine who's failed Him countless times. Still, the Lord shows love and mercy.
Q: Finally, for those of us who only see Christopher Bell at work...what do you like to do for fun or how do you relax?
Being with my family is my favorite pastime. Relaxing is very important but it is not always possible with so much going on at Good Counsel and with the children my wife Joan and I have. Sometimes it is just fun cooking some Italian food for my family. I find visiting friends immensely enjoyable too and catching up on their stories and finding out what is happening in their lives. God has certainly blessed us, my wife and I, our family, our friends and all at Good Counsel. We’re blessed beyond measure.