[Editor’s Note: Carey Dougherty joined Malta House as Director of Development and Strategy in March 2017 and was appointed Executive Director on January 1, 2019. Malta House is the only home for pregnant women above the age of 18 in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and one of a limited number of programs for young homeless mothers and their babies. Before joining Malta House, Dougherty founded and served as Executive Director of Her Haven, a nonprofit that designs trauma-informed spaces of healing and hope for women and families in need. She spoke to Charles Camosy.]

Camosy: Can you tell us a bit about your own personal story and how it led you becoming executive director of Malta House?

Dougherty: I am blessed to be part of this beautiful work and to have a “front row seat” to the transformative power of God’s love, but my path to Malta House was definitely not straight or predictable! While my varied background appears unrelated — as a teacher, sales executive, interior designer, development director and founder of a nonprofit that designed spaces of healing for women and families in need — each were steppingstones that I believe led me right where I am today.

Of course, I never could have predicted that serving as Executive Director at Malta House was where God had been calling me all along, but in hindsight I believe all of my twists and turns were breadcrumbs leading me here. Beyond the practical skills I have learned over the years in areas of fundraising, nonprofit management, team building, working with at-risk individuals, and creating trauma-informed spaces of healing and hope, being mother to my two daughters and wanting every woman to know the life-changing grace of bringing life to this world and seeing themselves as God does are what most motivate and inspire me.

Tell us more about Malta House. It sounds like you do more than merely house people but actually are motivated by a particular mission and vision. A friend of mine suggested it is “a bit of the Montessori classroom and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd” put together. Can you say more about this?

Founded in 1998, Malta House is truly unique in the state of Connecticut, and one of only about 400 maternity homes throughout the country. We provide wrap-around, supportive services in a loving home environment for up to 18 months for both mothers and their babies. This includes support in core areas of parenting, childcare, health and nutrition, budgeting and finance, employment coaching, education, individual therapy and spirituality. Our network of active and dedicated volunteers allows us to extend the love and support we provide, modeling healthy relationships based on treating others with dignity and respect. We are also unique in that we continue to support our families who transition to independent living in order to ensure their continued and long-term stability. We say, “Once a Malta House mom, always a Malta House mom”, and we strive to forever serve as a loving, healthy family for our mothers and their children.

Carey Dougherty. (Credit: Malta House.)

We were founded upon and guided by our Catholic faith, but our doors are open to any homeless, pregnant or parenting woman who needs a “room at the Inn.” No woman should be faced with the unthinkable alternative because she doesn’t have a safe place to care for her baby, and no woman should have to stay with an abuser because it’s the only home she has.

The most exciting development in our 22-year history is that, after 18 months of construction and a $4.5 million capital campaign, we are packing our belongings and will be moving in March to a home that allows us to expand our capacity by 50 percent. We will have more classroom space, offices and bedrooms, a spacious nursery, family suites that allow us to welcome a mother with two children, a beautiful Chapel for reflection, prayer, adoration and Mass, and open space for fresh air and playtime for the little ones.

One of the positive moves I’ve seen in the pro-life movements after the last several years is a focus on abortion “demand” and not just “supply.” What do your experiences tell us about where there the demand for abortion comes?

Sadly, most of our mothers come from fractured families, abuse, and unspeakable trauma. I think many can’t imagine how they will be able to bring life into the world when they are so unsure of their own place in it. Honoring and serving our mothers the way Christ asks of us and opening our home and our hearts to them is an important part of them seeing and valuing the sanctity of life. I think it is hard to convince a woman that the child she is carrying has dignity and was chosen by God when she herself feels abandoned, discarded, and unloved.

Recently, one of our former mothers came to our home to volunteer. I noticed how radiant she looked, and when I mentioned it, she said, so joyfully, “Yes, I am getting more beautiful every day!” I asked what her secret was, and she replied, “Malta House taught me to begin to love myself. I didn’t give you anything, but you welcomed me and helped me get on my own two feet. I know God has a purpose for my life, and that look you see is the simple joy that I am here.”

Are there particular policy prescriptions that are in order to address these problems? 

We are proud to be a founding member of the National Maternity Housing Coalition, which aids in opening new maternity homes, as well as shares best practices to strengthen programs and better communicate the important role that housing programs play in supporting pregnant women. Respecting life means also respecting and honoring the mothers we are asking to bring life to this world. We need more Malta Houses in this country, more safe and loving places where a woman can go to leave an abusive situation or get off the street. We can’t just ask people to say “No” to something without offering a safe and healthy alternative and something to say “Yes” to.

And what about the Church? Where would you suggest we put our energies in light of these issues? 

I ask all people of good will — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — to make room in their hearts and wallets to support homes like Malta House. Supporting mothers and children to live healthy, independent lives leads to a healthier community for us all. In the words of St. Teresa, “If there is no peace in this world, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” If this global pandemic has taught us anything, it is how connected we are to one another. My hope and prayer is that we take the challenges of this moment in time and remember that we do, indeed, belong to each other.