Kip Moffett and Danielle Merritt-Sunseri, St. Francis Gabriel Project ministry leaders

Kip Moffett and Danielle Merritt-Sunseri, St. Francis Gabriel Project ministry leaders

By Sheila Read

Sometimes the most difficult experiences of our lives become the gift we have to offer others. That’s the case for some of the women who joined the Gabriel Project ministry at St. Francis. Gabriel Project “angels” help women experiencing crisis pregnancies by providing friendship and assisting with material needs of mothers before and after a baby is born. What makes the pregnancy a crisis is usually the combination of poverty, youth and being unmarried.

The ministry is currently assisting three young mothers in the Raleigh area. One of the mothers, Jada*, 22, has a new baby born earlier in January. She lives with her mother and several other siblings. She also has two other young children. Jada is employed but cannot afford to live on her own.

Jada’s pregnancy became a crisis because, living in an already overcrowded house, she was afraid to tell her mother she was pregnant again. Michele Laurer, a Gabriel Project volunteer, recalls that Jada called crying, saying her mom had found out she was pregnant and was angry. “She was at the point she was considering taking her daughters and moving to a homeless shelter just to get away from her mother,” Michele said. “I was able to put a little bit of water on the flames to cool them down.”

Michele is able to relate to young mothers in crisis because of her own life story. “I know what it’s like,” she said. She was married at the age of 16 and at age 17 became a mother. Her mother has custody of her two oldest children, now 18 and 16. Michele said that she can understand the needs and emotions of young mothers and that giving to them has been a healing experience for her as well.

Kip Moffett and Danielle Merritt-Sunseri started the Gabriel Project ministry at St. Francis in 2012. The Gabriel Project began in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1991 and has since spread to other areas of the country. The ministry takes its name from the archangel Gabriel, who appeared to the unwed Mary to announce the birth of her child and said, “Fear not! Rejoice!”

The ministry aims to make it easier for pregnant women to choose life for their child by offering emotional support and assisting with other needs, such as baby items, medical care, food, housing and transportation. The Gabriel Project assigns two volunteers to each mother, who are referred by Raleigh’s Birth Choice. Volunteers receive some training in reflective listening and provide mutual support for each other, which is important because working with people in crisis can provoke strong emotions.

Kip said she became part of founding the ministry here because of her 7-year-old daughter, who Kip and her husband adopted when she was 3 months old. “Our daughter is a beautiful gift that we never expected. The Gabriel Project Ministry was something I felt I wanted to be involved in, to offer back,” Kip said.

Danielle also feels a strong connection with mothers in crisis pregnancies. “I was one of these moms. I got support from one of these agencies in working through things when the people closest to me were angry and not wanting to talk with me,” Danielle said.

Kip said the most rewarding thing about participating in the Gabriel Project is “knowing that by our support we helped these moms birth their children and choose life.”

Five women make up the team at St. Francis, and Kip said the Gabriel Project would like two or three more women to join. Personal experience with crisis pregnancies is not necessary to be an “angel.” The qualities most needed in volunteers are a compassionate heart, open mind, good listening skills, and a willingness to spend time with somebody else who is in crisis. Volunteers spend an average of an hour a week on the ministry, though that varies depending on client needs.

Interesting in learning more? Contact: Kip Moffett, kiplyne.moffett@gmail.com or 919-846-1743.

*Jada’s name has been changed to protect her confidentiality.