Born to Serve
By Amelia Eudy
Photography by Scott Smith
St. Gerard Majella, a
Redemptorist missionary, was canonized by Pope
Pius X in 1904 and is the patron saint of
Amy Collins and her twin sons, Chris
(seated) and John, were given an opportunity
toward successful futures thanks to the support
Amy received when she was a teenager at St.
Gerard Campus, a home for unwed mothers in St.
Today, a maternity home and school in St.
Augustine named for the saint has helped more
than 26,000 women through the uncertainty of
facing pregnancy young and alone.
Twenty-one years ago, Amy Collins, of St.
Augustine, was a teenager, still in high school
and pregnant. Twenty-five weeks into the
pregnancy, she discovered she was having twins
and four weeks later her premature sons,
Christopher and John were born - an event, Amy
says, that would never have been possible
without St. Gerard Campus.
St. Gerard Campus, founded by Carol Wolff in
1981 and incorporated in 1983, was opened to
provide services such as health resources and
education for pregnant women in need in four
counties of Northeast Florida. Today, 1,500
women visit the campus every year and more call
to inquire about the unique operation with an
inner-faith Christian high school, licensed
daycare, residential program and outreach
services; a growth from 20 years ago when Amy
Collins became a resident.
&“I was very confused, of course,” Amy, now 37,
says remembering moving out of her parents’
house in January 1987 to St. Gerard’s so she
could have the opportunity to continue her
“I had a lot of people voicing their opinion
(about the pregnancy),” Amy remembers. “Some
were for abortion, some were for adoption.” But
after consulting with her parents and Carol
Wolff, Amy chose to keep her baby and pursue her
“I didn’t think that I necessarily had a choice.
It finally hit me that I could do this. I have
to do this one way or another,” she recalls.
She gave birth to twin boys in April 1987 and
spent each “emotionally-trying” day driving to
the hospital in Jacksonville, staying “sun-up to
sundown” and continued school. The one thing
that got her through was her sons.
“Here I was with these two little babies trying
to complete my education. Without the St. Gerard
[Campus] I wouldn’t have been able to do it,”
she confesses. “They not only gave me an
education, they helped me stay focused.”
Arbor House in Gainesville and Divine Mercy
House in Jacksonville are also places where
women 18 and older can find solace and
assistance during pregnancy.
Arbor House, founded in Gainesville in 1983 and
which will celebrate its 25th anniversary this
year, is “a home offering programs for expectant
and single mothers as they search for successful
plans for their lives and the lives of their
Volunteer coordinator and administrative
assistant, Andrea Pence, says this type of
assistance is vital in today’s world because
there is not enough support for single mothers.
“Daycare is expensive,” she adds. “We need more
places like this to support women who want to
With the help of programs such as, “New
Beginnings,” “Mom’s Place” and “Cottage
Industries,” women are provided temporary
housing, assistance to find permanent housing,
job training, guidance, support and counseling
while they complete educational degrees and find
work. Some of the home’s goals include helping
their clients find self-worth, financial
independence, learn stress management, develop
life and parent skills and find personal
spirituality. Education is also emphasized.
“We meet our residents where they’re at,” Andrea
says. “We help them earn a high school diploma,
a two-year degree or even a bachelor’s.” This
fall, an Arbor House resident who was homeless,
single and had a one-year-old son earned her GED.
“The more stories we hear the more we realize we
need places like this,” Andrea emphasizes. The
home can house 13 residents plus children and
more than 1,200 mothers and children have been
aided since the beginning.
Within the newly-constructed walls of Divine
Mercy House, a respect life mission of St.
Joseph Catholic Church, single, pregnant mothers
are offered an opportunity to fight abortion
statistics and bring their children to birth.
They are given a loving home, life skills and
practical instruction when their families
“cannot or will not offer assistance.”
“We provide a nurturing and loving atmosphere
where (women) are motivated to improve their
lives for the future,” says Dominican Sister
Anne Marie Lennon, the home’s executive
The new home, located on the parish property of
St. Joseph, opened July 1, 2007, and can house
up to five women. Last November, the home was
hosting its fifth and youngest mother, a
19-year-old. From initial goal-setting plans to
job skills training, the women at Divine Mercy
House are set on a path to success. Volunteers
show the girls how to cook, and community
support, like WorkSource of Jacksonville that
helps the girls find internships, is helping the
women toward successful futures.
Today at St. Gerard Campus, 31 girls (with 22
babies) are being offered classes, daycare, free
ultrasounds, adoption counseling and
transportation to the hospital and school. Seven
women are currently residents at the home. The
school has been ranked third of the 60 private
high schools in the State of Florida that were
rated in Florida Monthly Magazine in 2003. The
campus is for teens, but the outreach is for
women of any age, Carol Wolff says. St. Gerard
Campus also provides baby clothes, diapers, food
and counseling. There is a chapel on the campus
and teens are encouraged to spend part of each
day in prayer. Carol, who is Catholic, has
always begun new ventures with Adoration of the
Blessed Sacrament and is very devoted to the
rosary. She has spent 25 years of her life
helping her students make their prayers come
When women arrive at St. Gerard Campus they are
“hysterical,” Carol says. “They’re scared and
don’t want to tell their parents (that they are
pregnant). They would rather go to an abortion
clinic then face everybody. They know they’re
“I don’t think there are enough places like
this,” Amy Collins says by phone at St. Gerard
Campus. “It’s a scary place to be a (pregnant)
teen and not know where to go. You have a lot of
questions when facing a decision like that.”
Carol Wolff, founder of St. Gerard
Campus in St. Augustine, is proud of the
achievements young mothers in her care have
After the birth of her twins, St. Gerard Campus
helped Amy find housing and put her in touch
with people who could help with the babies that
needed round-the-clock care once they came home.
Two decades later, Amy, who also has a
19-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, is
extremely proud of and amazed by her first-born
“I didn’t have a whole lot in my corner when we
started this 20-years-ago. Somebody did a good
job,” Amy says, slow to give herself credit.
“They are both amazing children.”
The twins, who will turn 21-years-old in April,
have become leaders in their community. Chris
has worked as a St. Johns County Sheriff’s
Deputy for almost two years and John, who
finished Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
school in the fall, is due to begin the fire
academy in February to become a firefighter.
“Everyone always jokes about us - [Chris] being
a cop and me a firefighter,” John says. “I just
like helping people.”
The boys say they were always close growing up
and have always felt a need to help others. John
credits leaders in the Explorer program -
provided through the St. Johns County Sheriff’s
Department - who helped him learn about a career
in law enforcement. As he embarks on his career,
Chris is already thinking about the future and
possibly teaching at the fire academy one day.
These courteous, modest men have a lot to give
others now, 20 years after their mother’s
decision to give birth to them. The twins say
they were aware of the help their mother
received from St. Gerard Campus but it wasn’t
always discussed. “We knew it wasn’t easy her
being young,” Chris says.
“I knew she spent time [at St. Gerard’s] and had
a lot of help [there],” John acknowledges. “She
had a lot to deal with. It’s not easy having
kids - having twins - when you’re 16-years-old.
She’s special for doing that.”
Amy praises the twins for being “contributing
members of society,” but Chris and John give the
credit back to her. “She definitely helped us
out …kept us in school and made sure we got our
high school diplomas,” John said.
“It was courageous, definitely,” Chris says of
Amy’s decision to raise her sons so young. “It
was a task, but I’m glad she did it or else I
wouldn’t be here.”
“They’re well aware it was a struggle to get
them where they are today,” Amy says simply. “It
wasn’t always easy.
“Nobody thought I could do it or if these kids
could grow up to do anything for the community.”
Both, Amy states, “have become great young men.”
For more information or to help one of these
special homes for unwed mothers, please contact
the following organizations.
St. Gerard Campus
Carol Wolff, director
Gwen Gadaire, executive director
Divine Mercy House
Sister Anne Marie Lennon, executive director
How your money helps saves lives
On Jan. 19-20, a Respect Life
collection will be taken up in all parishes of
the Diocese of Saint Augustine. Up to 20 percent
of the collection can remain in the parish to
fund Respect Life efforts. The remaining 80
percent is sent to the bishop who distributes
the funds to a variety of pro-life efforts in
the diocese, most especially to crisis pregnancy
centers and maternity homes. To be eligible for
funds, a center or maternity home must operate
in full conformity with Catholic teaching.
Past grants have included: $30,000 to A Women’s
Answer in Gainesville to help them open their
doors as a medical model crisis pregnancy
center; and $50,000 to St. Gerard Campus in St.
Augustine to assist them in a building expansion
and to purchase ultrasound equipment.
Funds from the Respect Life collection are also
used to support pro-life media campaigns,
post-abortion recovery programs and chastity
For a list of crisis pregnancy centers in North
Florida, visit the diocesan website:
Click on the Ministries tab and scroll down to
the Respect Life Office. Or call (904) 308-7474.