CONWAY — A Loris woman’s concern for others is taking shape as a new maternity home for pregnant teens in Horry County.
Lorretta Keeling founded Horry County Teens and Infants Shelter Home to fill the need for a female-only shelter for teens and their babies. She and a group of volunteers are turning a house on University Forest Circle into a safe haven for teenage girls who are pregnant and homeless, with its opening set for Sept. 2.
“These girls don’t necessarily start out homeless. A lot of these girls have a home, but then they’re dating their boyfriend, get pregnant, and they get kicked out,” Keeling said. “It doesn’t take Albert Einstein to fix this. We just need enough people to care.”
South Carolina has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, and Horry County has one of the highest rates in the state, according to the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. In Horry alone, about 28 teens from 15 to 19 years old give birth every month.
Keeling said shelter homes in the county are either co-ed or for boys only, and the closest true maternity home for teens can be found more than 100 miles away in Charleston. Elissa Viele, supervisor at Bethany Christian Services in Myrtle Beach, agreed, saying teen maternity services found in Horry are minimal.
“There are not true shelters for young pregnant girls here in Myrtle Beach,” Viele said.
Keeling wants that to change.
A longtime child advocate, she said she has raised funds for other shelters in the area and was first made aware of this problem around Christmas in 2010, when she was delivering holiday items to an area shelter. She began doing research on the subject, reached out to people via Facebook and, about a year ago, began taking action.
Keeling formed the Horry County Teens and Infants Shelter Home, which has a six-member board. She said the paperwork has been filed for the organization to obtain nonprofit status, and they’re waiting for it to be finalized, which should occur before opening day. Almost two weeks ago, Keeling used her own money to rent the Conway house, which she said was going into foreclosure after having been used as a women’s shelter.
Volunteer Bob Scherdel was painting at the house on Tuesday after having patched holes that had been left in the walls. There are three bedrooms and 1½ baths, which will accommodate five teens and five infants, and new flooring was already in place that had been donated by a local company.
Scherdel said he was working around some floral wallpaper that was in the den, where Keeling already had begun decorating with religious items and mother and child statuettes. Volunteer Justine Simone arrived bearing baby clothes for newborns up to 3 months old.
“I spent way more than I meant to - I couldn’t help it. This is so close to my heart,” Simone said. “We’re getting everything we can to make the house a home.”
Keeling said the first eight months of planning consisted of baby steps, but things have been moving swiftly in the past few weeks. She said initially, she will handle the majority of tasks, getting referrals from a local ministry and evaluating each participant. She said no drugs or alcohol use will be allowed, and teens who come to the new home will be taught parenting skills and helped to continue their education.
Plans for the future include a bigger and better site with full-time staff, but for now, Keeling must focus on getting the Conway home in operation. The effort needs more volunteers – especially skilled laborers – as well as monetary and material donations.
Orlando Brockington, a board member for the home, said some of the proceeds from this weekend’s “ ’80s, ’90s Myrtle Beach Old School Reunion” events, which are being held at 2001 nightclub and Zulu Lounge and Bistro in Myrtle Beach, will benefit the new maternity home.
“We want that to be the beginning of year-round, fundraising efforts,” Brockington said. “[The home] is something we desperately need in the county.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.