Fire leaves teenage mothers and their babies homeless

The fire-damaged interior of Mother’s Refuge in Independence. A fire Oct. 8 destroyed the bedrooms and hall of the teenage moms and their babies who live there. They have moved to a cottage at Drumm Farm until Mother’s Refuge can be rebuilt. (photo courtesy of Robert Zornes)

INDEPENDENCE — A fire destroyed the bedroom portion of Mother’s Refuge on the evening of Oct. 8. Mother’s Refuge, a homeless shelter for pregnant teenagers and babies, at 3721 Delridge, is the former convent of Nativity of Mary Parish in Independence. The fire has left young mothers and babies homeless once again. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Robert Zornes, Executive Director, said Mother’s Refuge has provided a home for more than 1,250 young women and babies since 1987. He explained that they receive about 50 calls a month from pregnant women seeking services.

Zornes and his staff were able to quickly relocate the residents, babies and programs to an empty cottage at Drumm Farm on Lee’s Summit Road in Independence. Residents, babies and the programs will be housed there until the current faculty can be rebuilt.

It was heart wrenching to watch the young mothers and babies leave with only the clothes on their backs and a gift card from the American Red Cross, Zornes said. “As the girls and babies drove away in our van to the home of one of our dedicated staff members to spend the night, one young woman said to me, ‘I now have no home again.’”

Mother’s Refuge has focused on helping the most vulnerable; young women age 19 and younger often have the least amount of options available. All clients of Mother’s Refuge must continue their education and attend an array of practical educational classes in parenting skills, nutrition, job interviewing skills, money management, resume writing and other classes that prepare them for independence.

The mission of Mother’s Refuge is to “teach our girls to fish, instead of just giving them a fish for the day,” said Angel McDonald, Program Director.

Services are open to any young woman in the greater Kansas City area. Zornes said that many of those who have called Mother’s Refuge shared with him that it was the first place they could fall asleep at night knowing that they were safe from sexual molesters, drugs and crime.

Mother’s Refuge has already received donations to help them continue the program. The first two donations Zornes received after the fire “were extremely heartwarming.”

First came a telephone call from the Women’s prison in Chillicothe. Several of the women prisoners had watched news coverage of the fire on the television and wanted to donate $500 from a special fund to Mother’s Refuge.

The women sell different items to add to the fund but also gave from their 35 cents an hour wages to make the donation. They told Zornes that they plan to knit baby blankets and booties to send to the young mothers and babies.

The donation from behind the prison walls to help homeless, pregnant teenagers and their babies “is truly a gift of the widow’s mite,” he said.

Zornes said the second gift arrived the afternoon after the fire. A cute, six year old girl strolled into the Refuge office carrying her “money box.” She had watched the news Monday evening, then “quickly jumped off the divan and ran into her bedroom. She brought back her ‘money box,’ telling her mother she wanted to give her money, totaling $61.40, to help the babies. She encouraged her sisters to also donate their banks. Less than 24 hours after the fire, the children brought all their money, along with food items, to help the babies who had lost their home to fire.

“The fire may have destroyed our house, but it has not destroyed our zeal for our mission to provide a home for those less fortunate. The need is just too great,” Zornes said.

Donations to help Mother’s Refuge continue may be given on-line at or by mailing to: Mother’s Refuge, 14400 E. 42nd Street, S., Suite 220, Independence, Mo 64055. Donations of $100 or more are eligible for an additional 50% Missouri Tax Credit.



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October 21, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph