On Your Corner: Volunteer coordinator shares home with homeless mom

On Your Corner

ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Ardy Berens sat on an oversized recliner in her living room — a baby in one hand and a full heart in the other. Berens has been sharing her once empty house with a young woman who was a stranger half a year ago.

“I believe that God sends people into your life for a reason,” Berens said, bouncing the baby on her lap. “I think this reason, I think we both needed each other right now.”

Berens was forced to retire from a career in computer science. She traveled the country frequently, putting out computer problems at banks. She jokes she got a computer science degree before there was the internet. But a chronic fatigue disability has kept this once globetrotter a little closer to home.

These days, that’s the Family LIFE Center of West Michigan in Allendale, a Christian organization that gives homeless pregnant mothers a place to live.

“It becomes part of your family — the children and the women. They all do it. It’s a family,” Berens said with a smile. “You get a lot out of it. I get a lot out of it. A lot of love.”

She says you get more than you give. That’s saying something because Ardy, has given the center an awful lot.

“I got into it by just taking care of a baby for three hours a day, one day a week,” Ardy said about the ad she answered for a volunteer need. “I did it on Wednesdays and the housemother at that time was getting just overwhelmed, so she asked me to be the housemother on Wednesdays, and I said, ‘sure, I can do that.’”

Berens says the first day was like a substitute teacher — the four girls that can stay in the house pulled every trick they could on her. But from there, her love and devotion for the center, the mission and the people only grew. She became the volunteer coordinator. And this fall, she took her calling a step further.

The home for women had decided they needed to rebuild and renovate the inside. That meant closing it down for the young mothers in the interim. They could relocate one mother. But another young lady didn’t have a safe space for herself or her daughter until the volunteer coordinator volunteered her house.

“We really didn’t think about it too much. I asked her and I talked to Rochelle (director of FLC) and it was like within a matter of a couple of days, she moved in and now I have a changing table in my dining room,” Berens said with the 4-month-old still in hand.

This is not where she thought she would be a year ago when she was pregnant and moving back home to Grand Rapids from Memphis, alone. Though, it is a far cry from where she’s been over that last year.

Ardy Berens sits with Sophia Coleman while baby Jamia is beside her.
Ardy Berens sits with Sophia Coleman while baby Jamia is beside her.

“It was kind of frustrating being pregnant and having to deal with some of the same issues I grew up dealing with,” Coleman said. “I just was staying in hotels for a while. Then COVID came, and I just didn’t really know where to go, so I just started looking online for pregnant assistance.”

Coleman found the center, and within a matter of days, she started the process to move in.

The two say their relationship was an effortless blossom. Berens had invited Coleman back to her home one evening when there was an issue with another resident. They started talking, getting to know each other. By the night’s end, they were kayaking and eating pizza. So, when the proposal to move in together was brought up, it just made sense.

“I definitely think it’s a gift to be a part of the Family LIFE Center and to be in Ardy’s home, we do so many things,” Coleman said about their friendship. “We’ve gone on diets together, that’s been a goal of mine. I go to her family’s for Sunday dinners, and they’ve invited me to things like that. So, it’s definitely been a gift to get to know her and everybody that’s a part of her life.”

Berens is teaching Coleman the basics of a newborn — tricks to help calm down a crying 4-month-old Jamia, nutrition and care. But she’s also helping her get out on her own feet. Berens is helping the 28-year-old learn how to drive. She’s got a job and eventually will look for a permanent place to live.

“Sophia’s got a social work degree and I really dream that she will get a job as a social worker and be able to move out on her own. And I hope we have a relationship. I want to be Grandma Ardy to Jamia too,” Berens said. “I hope she grows and becomes an independent woman who’s a single mother who loves her daughter.”

Berens says that there’s more to get from the center than to give. But it feels like for her and Coleman, what they got and what they gave was exactly what each one needed.

“We both needed each other right now with COVID,” Berens said. “I stay pretty much alone, I don’t go out much, and having Sophia around, it’s just great.”

The Family LIFE Center hopes to have its remodeled home back open by January. The center also has emergency support for any mother who needs help with supplies like diapers, wipes, bottles, clothes and anything pertaining to a baby. It’s accessible 24 hours a day. You can learn more online.

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