Pregnant Teens Find Help, Plan A Future
By TAYLOR GRIFFIN
Somewhere between Gilmer and Longview, a winding dirt path that splits from a paved country road leads up a hill to a fairly new house. The lawn around is neatly mowed into a circle around the home.
On the outside, nothing about this house seems different than any other, with flowers planted out front, a porch with an awning, and several cars parked under the shade. A woman in her 60s opens the door and greets all who visit with a bright smile and an inviting hug.
But this is no ordinary house.
If the walls could talk, they would reveal a much different perspective than what the world sees from outside. In fact, no one -- except for the Woodalls -- lives in this house for more than a few months.
Countless misconceptions and turned-up noses have shied away from taking a further look inside, but Glennis Woodall, the matriarch of the household, has seen worse -- a lot worse. She gets it.
"I can understand them. They just don't understand us," she said.
Nestled in this quiet, countryside home lays the brainchild of Gary and Glennis Woodall: the Hannah House Maternity Home. But they won't let themselves take a bow for it.
"It's nothing we do. I don't take any credit. It's all God," Mrs. Woodall said. "He's the one that fills us up, and we pour into them."ALL GOD'S PLAN
With more than 25 years of experience helping pregnant teens and young women, the Woodalls -- under their business, Promiseland Ministries, Inc. -- opened the Hannah House two years ago to help girls in the most difficult and scariest time of their life.
"Basically, we want them to make a plan while they're here for their life and their baby's life," Mrs. Woodall said. "The whole purpose of the Hannah House is to be an alternative to abortion and give them a safe haven."
With roots in Houston, the idea for a maternity home came from a personal experience with teen pregnancy.
Mrs. Woodall remembers her daughter, Sheila, whom they took in their guardianship, discovered she was expecting only a few months after she was placed in their home. From there, research about counseling, doctors and adoption flooded their home. While it was a shock them, it was not a shock to God, she said.
While her four biological children went to school, Mrs. Woodall stayed home with Sheila to clean house, cook, go to doctor's visits and counseling, and study for her GED. In those days, girls couldn't go to school if they were pregnant, and there were no charter schools.
In her seventh month, Sheila chose to place her baby for adoption. She chose to give her baby to one of their neighbors who had dreamed of having children but was unable.
During a "celebration of life" held for the new family, Mrs. Woodall felt God tugging on her heart to open her own home for girls just like Sheila.
"It was as if God captured my heart and my attention, and it was like, 'I have to do this,'" she said. "It was then that He planted within the next few weeks a vision of having a large house for a lot of girls."FULFILLING THE PLAN
Within six months after the baby was born, the Woodalls became house parents at a local maternity home. In 1993, they moved to Glen Rose, where for six years, they said God nudged their hearts to start their own maternity home through several instances.
Finally ready to take on the mission, they founded Promiseland Ministries, Inc., in 1999 and found a property in January 2001. Four years ago, they began Chosen Child Adoption Services, an agency that selects adoptive Christian families for their babies.
For 11 years, 116 girls went through the Woodalls' program, five at a time. During that time, Mrs. Woodall felt the need to expand and help more girls. They saw a great need in the East Texas area and found the property in the Gilmer-Longview area: the Hannah House, named after the story in the Bible.
On the 14 acres they purchased, they hope to build a director's home, an after-care house and the Elizabeth House for 18- to 29-year-olds in the future.
The entire ministry is completely nonprofit and does not receive governmental funding. They receive most of their finances through donations and individual services, but Mrs. Woodall admits that the current economy has not always been kind to nonprofit organizations like hers.
"A lot of my friends' maternity homes have been shut down because of lack of funds," she said.
With God's help, she said, the ministry has become much bigger than just a worldly experience.
While at the Hannah House, which holds four to six visitors at a time, the girls will attend personal and group counseling, go to doctor visits, have Bible studies in the home and at church, attain basic life skills such as decision-making, budgeting, cleaning, and cooking, and seek alternatives like adoption.CHANGED FOR THE BETTER
Just down the road, the Maryhannah House helps girls older than 18 who have placed their baby for adoption acclimate back in to the real world and move past the grieving process of losing a child.
For Heather Toro, 22, who lives in the house, the pain of giving up her baby still hurts, but with the help and support of both houses and God, she feels stronger than ever, admitting that she would have been in jail or dead had it not been for their love. "I feel like since I came here, they've opened my eyes to what love really is. My life is completely turned around in the opposite direction, and it's just great," she said.
Currently living in the Hannah House since April, Amber Dyer, 17, of Longview, said her pregnancy was unexpected, and her mother felt this home would be the best option. Recently, she signed her adoption papers and knows for certain that she has chosen what is good for her child.
"I just wanted it to have the best life it can," she said. "I just can't care for a baby right now, and I know there's somebody else out there that can."
Some girls that come into the house are not as easy to acclimate. Admittedly, Tabitha Byerly, 15, of Dallas was not on-board at first until she saw the difference the atmosphere played on her life. They welcomed her with open arms, she said, when she arrived on Valentine's Day.
"I think the one thing that really helps me is they listen," she said. "They don't judge you. They try to understand where you're coming from."ALL ABOUT LOVE
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 800,000 abortions occur in the United States every year and Mrs. Woodall said about 1.1 million couples are waiting to adopt. About 40 percent of the 50,000 teen pregnancies will end in abortion in Texas. Additionally, 400,000 children are in the foster care system.
"Unfortunately, our society has gotten to a place where it's acceptable, and so it's almost like they think it (raising a child) is a fun thing," she said. "What happens is when it's not fun anymore and it gets to be hard work, grandparents or CPS end up raising the baby."
With her quintessential mom's heart, Mrs. Woodall, her husband, and her staff want to give more mothers a second chance, a safe place, and a healthy pregnancy -- and not just become another statistic.
While they all come in pregnant and with a lot of baggage, Mrs. Woodall said, each girl has a special place in her home and her heart.
"It's all about love. It's not about love that has certain expectations. ... It's about loving them right where they are -- warts and all."
For more information about the Hannah House and Promiseland Ministries, please contact Glennis Woodall at 903-238-5940.