On the eve of this past Thanksgiving, 44-year-old native Alaskan Brenda Kolerok-Schott of Anchorage walked unannounced into the offices of Catholic Social Services to write a $10,000 check to the organization. Never before had she written such a large check. But this gift to Catholic Social Services’ pregnancy support program and Brother Francis Shelter was a deeply personal one for the once pregnant, homeless teenager.
Young, homeless – and pregnant
In 1983, 16-year-old Kolerok-Schott was pregnant. And her family was homeless. After a house deal fell through in Wasilla, they passed from hotels to friends to even the crawl space in a relative’s house. Finally, the family – with four children – moved into a one bedroom, one bath apartment. It was “heaven,” Kolerok-Schott told the Catholic Anchor.
Nevertheless, things were getting harder. Five months along, Kolerok-Schott could no longer hide her pregnancy from her parents. Upon hearing the news, they were upset and “really ashamed” about her situation, recalled Kolerok-Schott. And the father of the baby was in the midst of a divorce from his wife.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Kolerok-Schott explained.
The power of 'True Christians'
Then a high school counselor told the girl about Catholic Social Services (CSS), the social services arm of the Archdiocese of Anchorage. Founded in 1966, the agency serves the needy through emergency shelters, a food pantry and other programs, including those geared to expectant mothers in crisis.
Kolerok-Schott said that within two days of connecting with CSS, a home for her was found with a young Catholic family. It was a haven for the girl in distress.
“I really found out what true Christians were like when I was placed with a Catholic family that took really good care of me,” she said.
They provided a safe and comfortable home for her. Soon, Kolerok-Schott was earning straight ‘A’s in school for the first time.
And they helped her sort out the “pros and cons” of raising her child versus placing the baby for adoption.
Then, in November, Kolerok-Schott gave birth, a month-premature, to a five-pound baby boy.
She said that all of her previous calculations – based in part on her youth and her desire to go to college and enter the Navy – had pointed to adoption. But she “fell instantly in love” with her son. She made the decision — mother and child would grow up together.
As is often the case, the baby’s birth “brought my family together” again, added Kolerok-Schott, whose parents returned to her after a long absence.
The young mother and baby continued on with their Catholic Social Services family until she was able to secure a stable job and they could be on their own.
'Vital' pregnancy support
Kolerok-Schott never forgot how Catholic Social Services had come to her aid during her “darkest hour.” Across the years, she has worked and saved to give something back to the organization that helped save her and her baby – and helped keep them together.
“I am so thankful to God,” Kolerok-Schott said of Catholic Social Services.
“He showed me his true love through Catholic Social Services and showed me that there are true Christians out there who are Catholic,” she added.
Kolerok-Schott believes the type of support she received from Catholic Social Services is “vital” to pregnant girls in crisis.
“There are so many people out there, so many young kids out there who are just like me,” she observed. They need to know there are people who will help them, she explained – whether they place their child for adoption or choose to parent.
“Pregnancy support doesn’t exist to support women that are making only the plan of adoption,” said Catholic Social Services executive director Susan Bomalaski.
“We want to support all women who’ve chosen a life option for their unborn child in whatever way they want,” she continued. That may entail providing a mentor family, housing support or diapers. But right now and with its current staffing, Catholic Social Services can’t provide the “full spectrum of services,” said Bomalaski, without greater financial and volunteer help from the community.
Alaskans have begun to feel the pinch of lost jobs, static wages and rising costs, she noted. As a result, giving to the social services agency is down 20 percent.
But funding and volunteers translate to positive outcomes.
Kolerok-Schott is married, has a second child, and works as a realtor. Her son – who was conceived, born and expected by some to grow up in turmoil and poverty – is now 28-year-old Christopher Kolerok, graduate of University of Alaska, Anchorage, a worldwide college debate champion and recent Master’s Degree graduate of Harvard University.
He also is engaged to marry UAA senior Michaela Hernandez, a parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Anchorage. For Kolerok-Schott, who was helped by Catholics 28 years ago, it comes “full circle” that her son marries a “beautiful, beautiful Catholic girl!”
She sees her son’s joy as part of a happy ending that she believes every young, pregnant teen deserves to find for herself and her baby.
Kolerok-Schott hopes her story will encourage other young, pregnant, teenage girls to choose life for their babies. She wants them to know “that there is hope out there, and if I can do this, then they can do this, too, and that God will always be with them, and to always make the right decision.”
“Even if your pregnancy could be difficult and hard and embarrassing,” she added, “there are people out there willing to help you.”
Printed with permission from CatholicAnchor.org, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.