While volunteering for a pro-life fundraiser at St. Hedwig School in Los Alamitos in the 1970s, Theresa Sherrin was challenged by her daughter’s eighth grade teacher who asked, “It’s not enough to say you’re pro-life, what more are you doing about it?”
Theresa Sherrin reflected on the memory and recalls her reaction, “I thought, oh gosh, I thought I was doing quite a bit,” she laughed.
She and her husband, Don, took up the challenge and joined a local women’s center. In 1982, a girl had contacted the center in need of a place to stay. No other homes were available so the Sherrins allowed the young woman to stay with them until she found a place to live. For seven years, they continued to open their home to 44 more pregnant young women in crisis situations. At one point, three pregnant women needed a place to stay. In that moment they realized that there was a greater need. Sherrin reached out to friends at St. Hedwig Parish through letters and Christmas cards, asking for their support in creating a shelter for pregnant women in crisis. With the support of the community, Sherrin founded and opened the doors to Precious Life Shelter in January 1989 in Los Alamitos.
The first house consisted of six beds and two cribs. Today, the shelter has expanded to provide an Infant Care Center and a three-step program. The first step is the Emergency Program, a short-term solution that provides lodging for up to 30 nights and requires the women to participate in a job-training program. Next is the Transitional Program, which offers women a place to stay for up to two months after the birth of their baby. They are expected to participate in several personal and professional development classes. Each woman is also encouraged to reunite with her family and seek a support system for herself and her child. If this isn’t an option, the women can apply to the Single Parent Efficiency Program that allows the mother and infant to stay at the shelter until the child is 24 months old. The mother is expected to continue on the path to self-sufficiency.
“We were the only emergency beds until about three years ago when Casa Teresa opened their emergency beds. Otherwise, we were the only six emergency beds in Orange County from 1992 when we opened until about three years ago,” said Theresa Murphy, executive director of Precious Life Shelter. Emergency beds are available to women who come in on the day they call. There’s no waiting for an appointment. “If you’re on the street, you’re homeless and you’re pregnant, you need to be off the street. We don’t take repeats. We’ll give you a referral and try to get you into a family shelter but we are here to help you make changes in your life that will make you and your child successful.”
Lina Lumme is among the shelter’s success stories. At 23, she found herself pregnant and homeless in Los Angeles. She called a pregnancy service that said they had the perfect place for her. They drove her to Precious Life Shelter.
“They saved my life. They gave me a home and taught me how to budget, save and how to take care of my daughter,” said Lumme. “I never thought I would be in that situation. I had hit rock bottom. But Precious Life pushed me to be stronger. They would always say that it’s easy to fall and complain and feel sorry about yourself and that it’s hard to get back up and fight for my success.”
Today, Lumme is executive director of The Youth Center in Los Alamitos that provides educational and recreational programs to 30,000 kids each year. Her daughter is now 14 and Lumme is married with two more children.
“Independence and self-sufficiency. That has been the goal from the beginning. To help them address their crisis and then go from there so that they won’t be back in that crisis,” said Sherrin.
A large part of the shelter’s success story is due to donors, community partnerships and volunteers.
“We’re unique partly because we have a thrift store on our property that supports about 40 percent of our operational costs, that’s run by volunteers. It’s open six days a week and we coordinate about 300 volunteers,” said Murphy. “We still have a very small staff because we really believe our donors’ money needs to be used to try to make sure our women and babies have a safe place to stay.”
Precious Life Shelter continues to grow. Two new buildings are expected to be completed by early next year.
“Because it’s so expensive to live in Southern California, we wanted to build units for graduates who could have a safe place to stay after they graduate from Precious Life Shelter,” Murphy said. “They would be able to keep their job, successfully parent their child and not go back to the life that got them there in the first place. We wanted to make sure the child and mom are secure.”