Joanne Keel made her way in July 2018 to Our Lady of the Angels Maternity Shelter in Temple by way of Families in Crisis in Killeen, and stayed until November 2018.
She had her son, Ex’jahia Dream Keel, and then moved back to the shelter in early January because she was experiencing post-partum depression. She moved back out in March.
Our Lady of the Angel Maternity Shelter provides housing to pregnant homeless women ages 18 and older. It also provides wrap-around support services designed to give these women the tools to become self-sufficient and develop healthy relationships with their children.
The shelter’s annual benefit banquet is set for Jan. 24 at the Frank W. Mayborn Civic and Convention Center, 3303 N. Third St. The theme this year is Life is Precious. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the program will begin at 7 p.m.
The Rev. Brian Eilers of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Taylor will be the guest speaker.
Individual tickets are $60. A table for eight is $450. For information on the fundraiser or to purchase tickets, visit www.ourladyoftheangels.org or call 254-742-2340.
Keel said she knew well in advance about her son, because God provided her with visions years before she gave birth.
“God showed me all of my children when I was 15 years old,” she said.
Keel has two daughters who have been adopted.
“They are doing good and are well taken care of,” Keel said.
Ex’jahia is a loveable little boy and he’s now mobile, which keeps his mama on her toes.
Though Keel has moved out into her own home, she visits the maternity shelter often and doesn’t hesitate to share its phone number when she meets other women who might benefit from the resources the shelter provides.
“They are great people,” Keel said of the shelter’s staff. “They can provide you with referrals for things you might need.”
When Keel arrived at the Our Lady of the Angels, she had a mission.
The shelter is an emergency shelter for pregnant women. As soon as the prospective moms arrive, they develop a plan of action with the help of a case manager.
The goal is to get qualified for resources the mother and the baby will need to be self sustaining in about 30 days.
Keel’s birth certificate had to be ordered from Louisiana, which caused a delay. The birth certificate was needed before she could get a Social Security number and identification.
Ex’jahia is in day care and Keel walks an hour each way from her home to drop him off and pick him up.
“I trust them and that’s why I do all of that walking,” she said. “They send me updates on him — videos, pictures — throughout the day.”
Keel’s next step is to get a vehicle and put aside money for regular expenses.
She has plans to get her GED, go back to school and eventually attend college.
“I want to go to work for people who will appreciate what I have to offer,” she said. “I like to meet new people and stay busy.”
Keel said she wants to work in an office.
Cynthia Martinez, a volunteer at the shelter and a Temple College math instructor, tutors Keel.
“I learn best one on one,” Keel said.
In addition to stable housing, residents at the shelter are provided with parenting classes, access to medical care, mental health services, job readiness training, life skills building and more.
The shelter provides counseling and educational care on fetal development, nutrition, breastfeeding, car seat safety, baby milestones and more.
The organization also offers after care, continuum of care and referrals to community resources.
Georgette Greenwood, executive director of the maternity shelter, is a social worker who has 30 years of experience in running emergency and residential facilities.
Greenwood said she recognized a lot of opportunities that Our Lady of the Angels Maternity Shelter residents could be offered.
She said she wanted to put a stop to whatever crisis the residents are in, understand what put them in that crisis and give them the tools to do something better.
“I want this to the last shelter they are in,” Greenwood said. “If they get out of Our Lady of the Angels and they go to another shelter, I don’t feel like I’ve done my job.”
When a woman is pregnant, she’ll likely want to change her life for the better for the sake of her child.
“It’s the perfect time to not just change one person’s life, but to offer their child something different,” she said. “That can be starting-over time or getting-more-skills time, and we give it everything we’ve got.”
Keel was Greenwood’s first client when she became executive director at Our Lady of the Angel’s.
“We continue to walk along with her as she becomes successful and recovers from the traumas she experienced,” Greenwood said.
Keel said she is looking forward to the banquet because it’s there she gets to meet and share her story with the individuals in the community who support the shelter that has served her so well.
In the foster care system from age 3, Keel said and she wanted the cycle of neglect she experienced to end with her, but she also likes to receive that maternal love she gets when she comes back to the shelter to visit.
“They feed me, they give me hugs and they love me,” she said.
Hattrice Freeman, case manager at the shelter, said she considers Keel to be a shelter veteran and one of the program’s biggest supporters.