MANITOWOC — Since joining The Crossing of Manitowoc County as its executive director 10 years ago, Sue Tomasik has talked with hundreds of women who are pregnant and/or have a young child.
“And the message I’ve gotten over and over again is that they want to make life changes to improve their current status,” Tomasik said. “They want to be independent and not living off of government support.
“We’ve heard their struggles and saw that these women have goals they’d like to reach and they really could use a hand up, not a hand out.”
Providing a “hand up” is possible now thanks to The Crossing Home, which welcomed its first resident on Jan. 31, two days after dozens of community members toured the renovated two-story home at 419 Park St.
The Crossing Home is affiliated with The Crossing of Manitowoc, a non-profit, Christian-based organization that opened in 2006 and offers free pregnancy support services, counseling and education. The Crossing and the home receive support from various religious entities in the community, including parishioners from St. Francis of Assisi in Manitowoc, St. Peter the Fisherman in Two Rivers and St. Thomas the Apostle in Newton, among others.
Residents of The Crossing Home primarily will be young women who are pregnant, have a young child or both. They will be screened and carefully selected by administrators at The Crossing. One of the bedrooms is designated for home director Angie Bontempo, who’ll be living on site for the first several months. There are three to four additional bedrooms, depending on how the family structures of the residents are configured.
While living at The Cross Home, residents will learn and share life skills like housekeeping, meal preparation, budgeting and child-care duties. It is expected that they will transition to their own homes/apartments within about a year, give or take a few months. Someone will be at the home 24 hours a day to assist the mothers. Among those providing guidance will be St. Francis of Assisi parishioner Karen Bouril, a retired professional counselor.
Administrators at The Crossing emphasize that the home isn’t a homeless shelter or a site for crisis management, because the community already offers those resources. Rather, The Crossing is designed to “serve well-intentioned, ambitious, hard-working young moms who are facing a life-disrupting incident. They need somewhere to go, to have the opportunity to reformulate and redirect their lives and their children’s lives,” according to an informational pamphlet about the Home.
Bontempo said the home’s first resident is a 20-year-old mother and her child who was born about six months ago. The resident has a job but had been living with her mother.
“This will be a good next step so she can learn important life skills and create a life of long-term change to avoid going into poverty,” Bontempo said. “This will be a nurturing environment that will enable her and the other residents who come here to be independent adults and assets to the community.”
Bontempo, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2015 with a degree in social work, previously worked for The Salvation Army and said she enjoys helping others.
“I really do love people,” Bontempo said. “I just know this is where God called me to be. Faith is my number one thing. I just want to serve God and help people in any way I can. It’s exciting for me to be here because of all the positive work The Crossing does. I like that we empower women — that’s why we say we are helping them with a hand up and not a hand out.”
Many hands worked together to make The Crossing Home a reality since the idea was conceived several years ago.
A big step forward came in the spring of 2014, when Gary Underwood, the husband of a Crossing volunteer, was so inspired by the home’s mission that he purchased the residence on Park Street for The Crossing to utilize. Renovations started the following year.
“Structurally, the home was in good condition, but it needed a lot of loving kindness,” Tomasik said. “It was amazing to see so many people help and volunteer their time to make this a reality.”
In particular, Tomasik mentioned Underwood (who also served as the project manager) and Lori Nichols (interior design manager), as well as handymen David Dvorachek, Len Gatien, Greg Waak, Richard Wagner and Dale Barns, and St. Francis of Assisi parishioner Stacey Soeldner, who served as chair of the ad hoc committee for the Home.