Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — Kathy DiFiore has spent more than half of her life as the "shelter lady," taking vacant convents and other buildings in New Jersey and turning them into shelters for unwed pregnant women who see few other options available to them.
The work of DiFiore, now 67, was made into a feature film, "Gimme Shelter," which was issued on DVD earlier in the spring. Because she is credited as a producer of the movie, DiFiore will receive a Christopher Award May 15 in New York, as the film was one of four winners in the movie category.
"It's closer to 35 years as the shelter lady," she told Catholic News Service in a May 2 telephone interview before heading to one of the shelters. "I love my work."
Unlike some people who have winced when their life story was brought to the big screen, DiFiore liked "Gimme Shelter."
"I thought that the movie was a very excellent depiction of what these young women go through when they're traumatized with an unplanned pregnancy," she said. "They need a support group, love, confidence, and a direction so they can become good mothers." Writer-director Ronald Krauss, who spent more than a year visiting DiFiore's shelters, "captured it magnificently," she added.
Asked whether the need is greater now for the young women who enter her shelters, she told CNS, "I see the need as greater for them to be taught about God and his love. And I see the (women's) ability to transition and to think, 'yeah, there is a God,' and the ability to give God a try or the sense that the Holy Spirit can guide them. We give each of them a Bible, and their exposure to even that concept is, 'OK, I'm going to read this.'"
Entering a shelter, most women have "a lack of knowledge of God, but once they get into the shelter program there's the concept of grace -- that they are loved, and that God loves their baby, and that he is accessible to them. And that's a good thing, a good thing," she noted.
DiFiore said not all women take advantage of this opportunity. "Gimme Shelter" has one such character, who, according to her, "depicts a small quantity who doesn't like the shelter."
Despite the rigors of running the shelters, nothing prepared DiFiore for the pre-release publicity push for "Gimme Shelter."
She said she had told the producers she would be accessible "whenever they needed me." "They gave me an overview, but nothing they could say would ever, never -- ever, a thousand times ever -- (prepare her for) the amount of work and energy and time and focus that it takes to talk about a movie like this," DiFiore said. "My God! It was grueling, definitely grueling."
One such day: "I remember one time we were in a hotel and they had TV crews coming in to interview us. There was a light for the cameras and a clapboard. It would be like a four-minute TV interview. I was sitting with Ron (Krauss) in this large hotel room, right? And there were cameras, lights, right? And then we were told that each TV station would come in for four minutes and interview and then you'd get a 30-second break, and then the next TV station would come in and interview. The one station (that was an exception) was CNN; they got five minutes. It went on and on and on. I asked, 'How many do they got left?'"
DiFiore and "Gimme Shelter" are among 19 movie, TV and book winners of Christopher Awards. The Christophers, sponsors of the awards -- now in their 65th year -- announced two special awards May 1.
By EmmaLee Italia |Correspondent 3/13/2014
When Kathy DiFiore took that first pregnant teen into her home in 1981, she couldn’t have imagined she’d be attending a film screening years later about the work she would do with thousands of unwed mothers.
“I’m in a state of shock,” DiFiore said. “We just found out on Wednesday that the film would be shown at the festival.”
The film is “Gimme Shelter,” a movie chronicling the life of a pregnant teen trying to piece her life together after years of abuse and neglect. It will be screened at the Diocese of Trenton’s annual RE:IMAGE Film Festival, which takes place this year April 6 at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.
Not only will the film about her work be featured at the festival, but DiFiore will also be honored by the Diocese as this year’s recipient of the John Paul II Gravitas Award – recognizing a lifetime of celebrating the human spirit, and using creativity to give glory to God.
Art Imitates Life
“It’s a great honor to have ‘Gimme Shelter’ in a film festival in my home state, where Several Sources has been offering help to pregnant women and their children for 34 years,” DiFiore said.
More than 20,000 saved babies owe their lives to the intervention of DiFiore’s Several Sources Shelters - shelter homes in Ramsey that provide free housing and prenatal care to women in need. Thousands of young mothers, faced with the difficult decision to carry their pregnancies to term without supportive family or friends, have sought help from DiFiore.
“Gimme Shelter” tells the story of Apple (played by Vanessa Hudgens), a teen who DiFiore says is a composite of two of the girls who have lived at her shelters. Apple’s drug-addicted mother (Rosario Dawson) is unable to care for her daughter, who has been turned over to a series of foster homes. Apple attempts to seek help from her estranged father (Brendan Fraser), who advises her to get an abortion after discovering she is pregnant. Upset, Apple flees his home, ultimately getting into a car accident. At the hospital, a chaplain (James Earl Jones) speaks with her, eventually convincing her to go to a shelter for pregnant teens. There Apple discovers a house filled with other young pregnant women and women with newborns, all with their own stories of desperation and hope.
“It’s become more than a movie. It’s become a movement,” said DiFiore. “People who have seen the movie come out feeling like they want to do something more with their lives. It makes us think about God and his work in this world in a different way. We realize that simple acts of kindness can change many lives.”
Many of the young mothers and their children featured in the movie are current or past residents of Several Sources Shelters. And one mother, whose life story inspired many events in the character of Apple, plans to attend RE:IMAGE alongside DiFiore.
In addition to the film’s screening, DiFiore’s recently published book will premiere at the RE:IMAGE festival. Entitled “Gimme Hope, Gimme Love, Gimme Shelter: The True Inspiration Behind the Movie Gimme Shelter,” the book includes the story of nine of the girls who lived at the shelter - nine “Apples,” DiFiore calls them.
“In every one of the chapters, I allow one of the girls to write part of it,” DiFiore explained. “A lot of them have grown children now. I learned from these girls. And all the proceeds of the book go to the shelters. I have high hopes - not just for the shelters, but also for anyone who knows a pregnant teenager - it’s gonna help.”
DiFiore remembers one baby who began her life at Several Sources Shelters. She and her mother, along with DiFiore, met Mother Teresa - who had been instrumental in helping change New Jersey law to allow DiFiore to operate the original shelter.
Now 25, the young woman recently asked DiFiore a poignant question.
“’Kathy,’ she said, ‘do you think some of Mother Teresa rubbed off on me?’” DiFiore admitted, “That’s one of the nicest questions I’d ever been asked.”
What You Do for the Least of These ...
DiFiore finds solace in the shelters she helped create, both because of the new life owed to them, and the spiritual connection she feels.
“It’s a deeply sacred, religious holy ground,” she recalled. “When you walk there, you feel not just inspired, but you feel the presence of God. It’s not like any place on earth. So many babies have been saved there.”
Herself a victim of an abusive marriage, DiFiore escaped in 1980 and found herself homeless. She eventually found a job and purchased a small home. But the experience of homelessness stayed in her mind and heart, making her very aware of what others in that same circumstance endure.
“No one can understand what that feels like unless they experience it,” said DiFiore. “But while I was homeless with only the clothes on my back and moving from friend to friend, I always had God in my heart. He was always walking beside me. It truly was the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi that comforted me most at that time.”
The life of St. Francis inspired DiFiore to take in a woman who had adult acute leukemia, and an elderly woman who needed a temporary place to stay.
“I thought, what better thing to do (next) than to take in a pregnant teenager - so I ran an ad in the personal column of a local paper: ‘Pregnant? Need Help? Call.’ And the pregnant teens started to call me for a place to live.”
DiFiore didn’t know the demand would soon outgrow her resources, and even the New Jersey legal limits.
In 1984, after sheltering several pregnant women free of charge in her home, DiFiore faced a fine for “operating an illegal boarding house.” A congressional bill was sponsored by state Senator Gerald Cardinale to exempt non-profit groups from the legislation. The bill, however, was slow to pass. DiFiore contacted Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was in New York accepting a United Nations award. A letter Mother Teresa wrote helped to convince those opposed to the legislation to change their minds. DiFiore and Mother Teresa remained friends from then on, exchanging several letters.
Across the decades the need for shelters kept growing - so DiFiore kept finding ways to open more. Currently Several Sources runs three pregnancy shelters. They also operate a daytime shelter called Ladies and Babies Rest in Newark, which complements the nighttime shelters in the city available for the homeless only to sleep. In the fall of 2012, Several Sources launched the Gift of Hope Sonogram Center in Englewood, where women can receive a free sonogram, counseling, and a direct contact with the other shelters and their resources. Parenting and chastity education are also key components of the shelter programs. The education even extends beyond the shelters, with a special kit instructing others in how to follow in DiFiore’s footsteps.
“More than 70 people have contacted Several Sources for our ‘How to Open a Shelter Kit,’” DiFiore noted. “They are from all over the United States and as far away as Ireland. We can’t keep up with the number of people.”
The shelters operate through the generosity of fundraisers and of private donors , many of whom DiFiore meets in churches across the state. As shown in the film, DiFiore travels to various parishes to tell them about the mothers and children being helped by the shelters, often bringing a new mom and baby with her for the presentation.
About 20 years ago, Several Sources board member Robert Hoehn, a parishioner of St. Paul Parish, Princeton, offered to speak with then pastor, Msgr. Walter Nolan, about having DiFiore speak at his parish. Since then, DiFiore was invited back to speak at St. Paul’s on numerous occasions.
Msgr. Nolan’s television and radio program, The Catholic Corner, will feature DiFiore in a broadcast scheduled to begin running March 16. They had the opportunity to record an interview with her at one of the Ramsey shelters this week.
“It’s just excellent,” said Msgr. Nolan, of the work DiFiore has accomplished. “My feeling is ... miracle of miracle of miracles. Not only are the young ladies here experiencing love and being loved, but they are realizing that they are doing it themselves (for their children), and that is absolutely a gift of God.”
Honoring God’s Work
The RE:IMAGE Film Festival committee selects a person to honor with their Gravitas Award, which is inspired by the example of Blessed Pope John Paul II, who at one time was both an actor and playwright. He encouraged artists to use their talents as gifts from God - and the Gravitas Award seeks to celebrate someone who does just that. According the the RE:IMAGE website, “Gravitas - which in Latin means a quality of substance or depth of personality - carries with it a sense of the importance of the matter at hand, as well as responsibility and earnestness, dignity, seriousness and duty.”
DiFiore has allowed her life story to become a vehicle for proclaiming the sanctity of life, and how we as Christians should embrace our fellow human beings in all stages and circumstances.
“In my heart I just felt that this award was special and a holy confirmation from our dear Lord that soon-to-be St. John Paul II was indeed . . . very pleased with the film and its message.”
DiFiore will accept the award at the RE:IMAGE festival, accompanied by Darlisha, one of the mothers who inspired the movie’s character of Apple.
“My heart sings every time I think of it. I will cherish this moment and this honor as I share it with the young mothers who continuously choose life for their innocent preborn babies,” DiFiore said.
Early in my career with the Register, I interviewed Kathy DiFiore about her work founding the Several Sources Shelters, maternity homes for pregnant teenagers. Little did DiFiore realize, then, that her work would inspire a future Hollywood film.
That film, Gimme Shelter, from Roadside Attractions, opened in theaters last week. It tells the story of Agnes “Apple” Bailey (the almost unrecognizable Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical), a pregnant teen from an abusive home who finds herself homeless and alone.
Here are my eight reasons to see the movie before it leaves theaters.
1. It's a true story.
Given the other options available in theaters right now — and there aren’t many that merit viewing — Gimme Shelter is a heart-moving and inspiring drama that rings true because it is. The writer was inspired by the work of DiFiore, but also by the young pregnant mothers he met through DiFiore’s Several Sources Shelters.
Don’t expect a saccharine Christian film. Gimme Shelter tells a gritty true story that reflects the story of many young pregnant women. It presents a side of life many of us seldom see. Apple’s mother (played by Rosario Dawson) is cruel, abusive and violent; she is a drug-user and a prostitute. The film does not glamorize these lifestyle choices or life on the street. Still, there’s value in seeing the consequences of such choices.
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis says, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets.” Gimme Shelter clearly shows us a Church that is out on the streets.
2. It's respectful of faith.
As depicted in the film, there can be no doubt that faith is what drives DiFiore to do the work that she does. She’s shown speaking at a Catholic parish. Priests support her work. The maternity home is filled with reminders of faith — a Sacred Heart statue, a rosary and a photo of DiFiore with Mother Teresa.
In 2001, DiFiore told me that it was her faith that led her to begin her work with pregnant teens.
“At Mass one Sunday, the Gospel reading was from Matthew 25, ‘When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was in prison, you visited me.’ Here, I had been saying a prayer, asking God what he wanted me to do for him. This reading was like a Divine two-by-four over my head,” DiFiore told me. “It was as if God was saying, ‘This is what I want you to do. I’ve been telling people this for 2,000 years.’”
So DiFiore placed a classified ad in the newspaper that read: “Pregnant? Need Help?” As she told me in 2001, the first girl who stayed with her was 15 years old.
The film doesn’t ignore DiFiore’s faith. It doesn’t denigrate it or poke fun at it. It doesn’t preach or proselytize or attempt to make the viewer come to Christ. It simply portrays DiFiore as a woman of faith and leaves the viewer to make the connection.
3. It has a talented cast.
From Vanessa Hudgens to Rosario Dawson to Brendan Fraser and James Earl Jones, the film pulls together a talented cast. No one character overshadows another, but all play their parts in a very realistic, believable way that makes the film approachable. Fraser does a good job as the father who hasn’t been in Apple’s life. Dawson is a very convincing — and difficult to watch — abusive mother. Hudgens demonstrates her considerable talent as Apple. James Earl Jones, while not on the screen a tremendous amount of time, adds gravitas to the film and provides a spiritual center as Father McCarthy. Long a favorite of mine, he’s always enjoyable to watch and has some of the best lines in the film.
4. It positively portrays the priesthood.
Here in Minnesota, for the past five months, we’ve endured a regular barrage of reporting by public radio and newspapers of alleged priestly wrongdoing. It wears even on the most faithful.
In Gimme Shelter, Jones plays the likable, though not soft, Father McCarthy, a chaplain at the hospital where Apple ends up after an accident. The portrayal is a welcome one from Hollywood, not known for its recent positive portrayals of priests. The film is a great reminder of the good work that priests do — and that we cannot let the grievous errors of a few sully the reputation of the priesthood as a whole.
5. It's unapologetically pro-life.
I’ve written a lot about pro-life films — everything from Bella to October Baby and the short Crescendo, but Gimme Shelter is one of the most unapologetically pro-life films I’ve ever seen. Again, it does so without preaching.
Early in the film, Apple’s father and his wife urge her to abort her child.
“Just turn the page, and you’ll have forgotten it ever happened,” counsels her father.
“Like you did with me?” responds Apple.
After Apple has an ultrasound, she protectively carries the ultrasound image of her daughter with her everywhere. It is that image that ultimately propels her to run out of an abortion business, where her father and his wife have set up an appointment for Apple.
This film shares a pro-life story in a way that can’t help but inspire others to support the cause.
6. It shows us how to love one another.
Early in our marriage, my wife, Mary, and I opened our home to a young pregnant mother through the Share-a-Life program. The young mother gave birth and placed her child for adoption with a couple we knew who were unable to have children of their own. I later wrote about that experience, saying that to share a life is to save one. The Jewish proverb reiterated in the film Schindler’s List is: “He who saves one life saves the world entire.”
Gimme Shelter demonstrates the power of radical love in action. Through DiFiore’s response to the Gospel message, the lives of thousands of women have been improved and the lives of tens of thousands of children have been saved. This is no small achievement. The lives of each of those mothers and their children have ripple effects. Every life is precious and sacred. Every life has a purpose. Every life touches many others.
This movie clearly shows us how to love as Christ loved, by laying down our lives for others.
7. It highlights the work of pregnancy centers and maternity homes.
I’ve served on the board of our local crisis-pregnancy shelter, helped raise funds for them and spoken at their annual donor dinner. No one does more on-the-ground work in the pro-life movement to help women and their unborn children than crisis-pregnancy centers and maternity homes. This film highlights and celebrates the work of so many, as well as the fruit of such work.
If the early part of the movie is an example of how no one is there for Apple, the latter half of the movie demonstrates how people with absolutely no biological connection to her offer the prayer, support and love she most desperately needs. In them, she finds a family and a home that she never had. It’s great to see these organizations receiving some well-deserved attention for their life-changing work.
8. We should support the films we ask for.
It’s amazing that a film like this was made and is currently in theaters. As Christians, we often regret our lack of genuine choices when it comes to entertainment. We sit at the kitchen table or in our living rooms or workplaces and whine that we wish there were more options available; and yet, when positive films are created, we often don’t support them. Hollywood, like any business, responds to the market. Film companies produce and distribute films that they believe will make money.
If we truly want more palatable entertainment, entertainment that highlights rather than denigrates the faith and the faithful, then we need to support such films when they come along. Here’s a film — not unlike The Blind Side of a couple of years ago — that tells an inspiring story of self-sacrifice, is respectful of faith and has an overwhelming pro-life message.
This film is so much better than the latest action-oriented superhero movie or raunchy comedy because it’s true and inspiring. We should be supporting it and encouraging others to support it.
Listen to the February, 2012 radio interview:
From the Christopher Closeup website:
The Choice to Save Mothers and Babies
In 1981, Kathy DiFiore reached a defining moment in her life. The NYU graduate with an MBA and a successful career as a Wall Street executive was feeling spiritually unfulfilled. Raised in a Catholic family, Kathy was especially influenced by her grandmother who always taught her to keep Jesus at the center of her life.
One day, Kathy asked for God’s guidance while praying the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”). She felt inspired to learn more about the saint’s life, and discovered that he took Jesus’s words and the call to live them out very seriously – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless. As Kathy recalled to me on Christopher Closeup, “It motivated me to do something unique.”
With a heart for the unborn – and an awareness that many families would throw their daughter out of the house when they discovered she was pregnant, Kathy decided to offer her New Jersey home as a shelter for a pregnant teenager. After taking in that first girl, Kathy believed she had found the right mission. She put an ad in the local newspaper with her phone number and the message, “Pregnant? Need help?” Sure enough, she got numerous calls and welcomed more young women over the next several years, helping to care for them materially, emotionally and spiritually. She credits the growth of the project to a higher power than herself, saying, “I guess it’s something God wanted to happen…The next thing I knew, people at work and my family were stepping forward [to help] because – who doesn’t like babies?”
In 1984, her mission hit a speed-bump when the state of New Jersey fined her $10,000 for running an illegal boarding house. Kathy tried to show the government that she was running a shelter, not a boarding house. At first, it looked like they might pass a bill that would exempt her from the rooming and boarding-house laws. Then, Governor Tom Kean said he would veto the legislation because most people don’t have the kind of heart that Kathy does. Kathy explained to me what happened next: “I said my morning prayers, and in my prayers I heard a voice that said ‘Contact Mother Teresa.’ I did. I knew someone who worked at her soup kitchen and he put me in touch with her. She said that she would help me…Eventually, she and the Governor got into a head-to-head…and [Mother Teresa] won out.” Thankfully, Gov. Kean also became one of Kathy’s supporters.
In the ensuing years, Kathy’s personal project grew to become the non-profit, Several Sources Shelters. They own and run five New Jersey facilities that have saved thousands of babies while sheltering young mothers, and providing them with education, ongoing support and guidance on making healthy life choices like chastity.
In addition to Several Sources Shelters, Kathy also founded a national pro-life website, LifeCall.org. It lists contact information (phone, email, web address) for shelters and crisis pregnancy centers in every state in the U.S. and offers a toll-free number of its own: 1-800-NO-ABORT (662-2678). Kathy declares, “Let’s become an army of baby-savers and promote this website.”
One example of how LifeCall.org is saving lives comes from this past Christmas. An 18-year-old girl’s mother threw her out of the house when she discovered she was pregnant. Forced to sleep on a park bench on a frigid December night, the teen went to the guidance counselor at a local high school the next day and asked if she could use his computer to look for help. Kathy says, “She found [us] through LifeCall.org. It was an hour-and-a-half drive for us [to pick her up]. Now she’s living with us and her baby is due in the spring…Once that baby is born, her family’s going to want her back. There’s nothing like a baby to heal the wounds.”
One of the things that Kathy has learned over the past 30 years of pro-life work is how to counsel girls who are considering abortion. It’s advice that anyone can follow. She says, “I always feel the best way to resolve the conflict is spiritual. God tells us…that His laws are written on our hearts. So I always say, ‘You know in your heart God doesn’t want you to [have the abortion]. If you’re reaching out to us, you’re reaching out for a reason. And there are people who will help you. Not just me. I love you and want you to have your baby. But there are [also] tens of thousands of people out there that will help you. God has brought you to us for a reason, and now He’s going to bring even more people to you and surround you with His holy angels so that you can have your precious baby.’”
On November 16, 2001, Kathy Difiore was honored to receive a National Caring Institute Award.
3 Star Rating 2014
Several Sources is a registered 501-C3 Charity.