By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
EDINA, Mo. -- Amy Ackman is an expectant mother, but she's not waiting for her own children.
Amy and her husband, Jeff, have three empty adult beds and three empty cradles at the Genesis House in Edina. The large Victorian house will serve as a safe haven for up to three pregnant women in need of a home. The couple moved in as the ministry's house parents in October, and looks forward to welcoming the first woman into their family.
"We love being a family, and we both just feel like that's who we are," Jeff said. "If someone desires or needs that, we want to assist on that and be a part of that."
The Genesis House has been an ongoing community effort. A Kirksville couple has leased the home to the ministry for a $1 per year. Businesses and organizations adopted and decorated rooms for the women. The program will require about $60,000 per year to operate at full capacity, and the money comes primarily from donations and fundraisers. Before the Genesis House opened, the nearest maternity homes were in Kansas City, St. Charles and Fulton.
Jeff and Amy came to the Genesis House from Rushville, Ill. Amy owned and operated a Christian bookstore and Jeff worked in management at DOT Foods. While they've never worked in ministry before, their careers helped deepen their compassion. Amy became a listening ear to anyone who wandered into her bookstore. Jeff watched his employees struggle to make ends meet as young fathers and mothers. Their desire to help young parents fits the Genesis House's mission of providing young women in pregnancy crisis a safe place to live and the life skills needed to raise a child or to prepare for adoption.
"As a manager, I would see 19-year-old kids who were making mistakes and trying to figure life out," Jeff said. "There's an element these kids didn't have that my parents gave me. They didn't have anybody to go to. They were dealing with it on their own."
The Ackmans' sense of compassion for unwed mothers grew with the births of their own adopted children. The Ackmans adopted Elizabeth, 1, and Lucas, 5, as infants. Jeff said watching Elizabeth's birth mother struggle through the adoption process even further softened his heart for unwed mothers.
"You can't help but hurt for them, when they're going through all that," Jeff said. "They made a decision not to abort and then further made a decision to give that child up and let someone else raise their child. We love moms."
The Ackmans will raise Elizabeth and Lucas in the Genesis House. They hope to serve as a positive example a strong marriage and good parenting.
As they've waited for the first woman to arrive, they've worked on integrating themselves into the community. Jeff has started substitute teaching for the Knox County R-1 School District. Lucas attends the Head Start program. The family has become involved in the Life of Christ church in Edina. Neither Jeff nor Amy plans to work full-time. They expect shuttling the young women to doctors' appointments and work, as well as keeping the household running, will consume much of their time.
"Unless they have their own cars, we are their cars," Amy said. "Just like any other family that has older kids, you do a lot of taxiing around."
But like any family, this one comes with rules. The program is based on a home for unwed mothers in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. The Genesis House board offers the women a free home as long as they continue moving through the program.
"You're taking someone that's more than likely in a fairly out-of-control environment and putting them in a very controlled environment overnight," Jeff said.
The young women must contribute to chores and cooking as well as maintain a job or pursue an education. The board requires the women to attend a church of their choice, weekly in-house Bible studies and in-house life skills classes.
Eventually, the Ackmans expect that word of mouth will serve as the ministry's best advertiser. Once women begin having positive experiences in the home, it will pave the way for more women to seek out the service.
"There's no history here yet, and so a girl has to be willing to take that leap," Amy said.
The Genesis House accepts pregnant women from all age groups and from any community. Any pregnant woman in need of a safe place to stay may call 660-956-0662.