BY: MIKE CLELAND
Rebecca Young, founder of New Life Beginnings in Long Beach, takes a picture of Laura and her six children. “One, two, three…” said Rebecca, and the kids chimed “Jesus!” in replace of “Cheese.” The kids are visiting for her birthday. NLB is fighting hard to get them out of foster care and into the program with their mother. Rebecca walks them outside and watches Laura say goodbye to her kids before they are driven away. There are long hugs and tears. New Life Beginnings, a non-profit, non-government funded homeless shelter for pregnant mothers and their children, is located in downtown Long Beach off 6th and Olive Street. The building stretches a few blocks and is three stories high. The mothers inhabited in NLB seek refuge from their hardships to make a better life for themselves and their children.
“I hope we can get them (the kids) here,” said Rebecca. “The courts decide next week. We’re all praying it goes well. It’s incredible what she has gone through. Now that she’s (the mother) safe here I can’t see any reason why they would reject us.”
Laura comes back inside and Rebecca gives her a hug. “It’ll be fine. Chin up now, it’s your birthday!” Laura manages to smile and walks into the kitchen.
Founders Rebecca Young and Bonnie Beardslee have harnessed thousands of pregnant mothers since their opening in 1984 and have seen them grow into independent and responsible adults capable of supporting their own children.
In the kitchen, three live-in mothers are cooking dinner, and one of them is baking a birthday cake for Laura, a long time live-in mother. A baby lies in a cradle asleep in the corner as they cook.
“The kids aren’t allowed into the kitchen, but if the mother is keeping an eye on their child, they are allowed to be inside,” said Rebecca.
She walks over to the counter where a mother is baking.
“We call her the queen of burning cakes.”
The mothers laugh.
Cooking is a daily task for the live-in mothers. They are up at 6 a.m. and make breakfast for themselves and their children. The women usually take turns cooking for the families, meanwhile building friendships and teamwork. After breakfast, they have three hours of chores. Until dinner, which they also prepare themselves, the woman engage in either school, job training, in-house classes, or volunteer work. After dinner, the women are able to hang out and get some much-needed rest.
“They have to work for their stay here. We are loving, but of course tough as well. If the women here can’t follow the rules, they are asked to leave. All the women that have completed the program wouldn’t have had it any other way,” explained Rebecca.
Upstairs a handful of toddlers are playing around in the kid’s room. Children’s books, board games, and toys are scattered throughout the room. One little boy is riding around the carpet in a toy car. A volunteer is supervising them. Volunteering is what sustains NLB. Aside from helping at various functions, the mothers, and especially the children, interact with the volunteers, providing a positive influence over them. Over 15,000 volunteers donate over 22,000 hours annually to NLB.
Down the hall in the learning room toddlers are sitting down with a volunteer tutor. If the kids are in school and having trouble, volunteers are readily available to help them.
“College and High School students come and help tutor almost daily. Many of these kids didn’t have the structure at home as they do now, and re-learning how to learn is important. We go through great lengths to make sure our children improve in school.”
Aside from opening its doors, NLB has reached out to mothers in danger. In the program, Alternative to Jail, NLB has recruited pregnant mothers who are currently in jail.
Walking down the stairs to dinner, Rebecca said, “We could always use donations. That’s how we survive. Right now we can use some new bunk beds and diapers, we’re expecting some new company.”
NLB has made an extra effort to keep the community involved in their service. Food drives, school supply drives, clothing drives, etc. have been advertised and set up in the past. NLB does not expect everyone to seek them out, so constantly working for support is necessary. High School and college students volunteer, local churches set up drives and donate supplies. NLB has a current thrift store location on 1178 E. Anaheim Street where donations are accepted and greatly appreciated.
After sending a prayer up for Laura in hopes of reuniting with her six children, Rebecca comes out with the birthday cake. The mothers and children have finished their chores and are seated around the table, clapping hands, and grateful that food is on the table. Before Laura blows out the candles, Rachel, a live-in staff member said, “Everything you see here is given to us. Without the community we wouldn’t be here, and believe me, we stretch every penny.”