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City of Refuge: A place for unwed mothers to stay

Linda Hiller

Motherhood. The word means something different for everyone.

At the City of Refuge home for pregnant girls and women, it means options: a safe and healthy pregnancy, a place to go when there’s nowhere else, people to talk to. Maybe an adoption, but never an abortion.

Diane and Dave Gamble, two of the founders of the home, fell into the creation of the City of Refuge serendipitously.

“We had always supported pro-life movements with money,” said Dave Gamble, one of two Douglas County District judges. “Then one day, someone asked us, ‘what about all the girls with babies that will come out of this if there are no abortions?’ and that really got us thinking.”

Eventually, deciding to put their actions where their money was, the Gambles registered as “shepherding adults” at the Community Pregnancy Center in Carson City.

After housing two pregnant mothers in their home in Genoa, the Gambles decided that what they were doing “felt right.”

But they wanted to be able to operate on a larger, more permanent basis.

Two years ago, they sold their large Genoa home and moved into a four-bedroom trailer on 40 acres in the Pinenuts west of Gardnerville.

The land was donated by Gardnerville rancher Stoddard Jacobsen in memory of his wife, Jewel. Their children were adopted.

“The phrase ‘City of Refuge’ actually refers to a passage in the Bible where people could find protection when they’d accidentally made a mistake,” Dave explained.

The actual building that houses The City of Refuge finally opened just weeks ago. Inside and out, you’ll find a donation from of practically every Valley business, not to mention a few from Carson City and Reno.

The sheets and towels were donated by the Carson Valley Inn, beds by Jim Winans and Sealy Posturepedic, furniture by Circus Circus via Step Two in Reno. The Carson Valley Quilt Guild offered a quilt for each bed. Jerry Keenan from Green Valley Garden Center is donating a tree for every baby born. Orthodontist Vincent D’Ascoli donated a piano and window coverings are by Lummus Draperies. Flooring was made possible by a $5,700 donation from the Soroptimists, plumbing by Jackrabbit Plumbing and building supplies from Copeland Lumber. Attorneys Kelly Chase, George Keele, Herman Herbig and J.D. Sullivan gave free legal adoption service.

A few obstetricians help with prenatal care and delivery, and on and on.

“These are just a few of the generous donations we’ve received from people and businesses locally,” Dave Gamble said. “I can’t possibly mention them all here, but we do thank each one in our newsletter.”

The front lawn is still a pile of manure, the nail holes still show on the outside siding, waiting to be painted over, and the house smells of new construction, desert air and of course, babies.

There are essentially three parts to the new building. The great room in the center is open and homey, with a rock fireplace, piano and plenty of comfortable seating. The room includes the open kitchen, where everyone – including the expectant and new mothers – pitches in for daily meals.

Conspicuously missing is a television set. “We’re pretty far out here anyway, and we purposely don’t have a television,” Dave said. In the evenings, Diane – or whomever else chooses to – might play the piano for entertainment. One TV set may be added to the library in the future for watching selected videos.

The other part of the home is the wing for the houseparents, with a master suite and guest room.

Houseparents Gene and Judi Applegett heard the Gambles speak about the City of Refuge at their church in Markleeville one day last year.

“We prayed about what to do, and then I got fired,” Judi said with a laugh. “We took it as a sign.”

Gene is a long-time employee at Raley’s in Gardnerville and said he felt the same way as his wife. To test the waters, they volunteered to take one girl in.

Before long, the Applegetts also knew it “felt right,” so they turned their own home over to Gene’s son, and moved into the houseparent wing at the City. Gene still works at Raley’s.

“We love being here,” Judi said. “We’re committed to this.”

“I don’t know where these girls would go if we weren’t here,” Gene said as he began to prepare the evening meal – his sauerkraut-sausage-apple specialty.

The opposite wing of the City of Refuge houses the moms-to-be. The seven rooms are semi-private.

As of Wednesday, just under a dozen girls and women had come through the process of having their babies, adopting them out or keeping them and moving on .

“The minute they get here, we start training them to leave,” Dave said. “We want it to be comfortable and educational and supportive for them here, but not so comfortable that they think about coming here again.”

That day, there were three women and two babies at the City of Refuge.

A woman in her 40s, who said she is a a rape victim, had positive things to say.

“I like what they’re doing here,” she said. “I want women who have been raped and then become pregnant to know there’s an alternative to having an abortion. To me, abortion is murder, so I didn’t consider it.”

She said she has already selected the couple who will adopt her baby boy, due this summer.

“There’s a lot of compassion here.” she added. “They didn’t judge me.”

Another resident, Tibby Walker from Carson City, became pregnant at 15 after already having an abortion. Her mother told her to either have an abortion or move out.

“I knew I didn’t want another abortion,” she said.

Walker had been in the Carson City juvenile court system and was referred to the City of Refuge by her probation officer, June James.

Now a sophomore, she has decided to keep her baby girl, Audrey, who is 6 weeks old.

“I thought it would be too hard for me to give her up,” she explained as she cradled her quiet daughter.

“I have found a place in Oregon, where my father’s from, that will take us both until I am 20,” she said. “I’m just waiting for an opening so we can go there.”

“Tibby, on her own, has found this home in Oregon with the help of her grandmother,” Dave said. “She has amazed us.”

While she has been at the City of Refuge, Tibby has attended Opportunity School to stay up with her high school class work. Most, if not all, of the younger girls who come to the City will be attending school.

A third girl at the City of Refuge took part in the passing of a baton of sorts from mother to mother on Wednesday.

Tiffany Williams, 16, bestowed her 11-day-old baby to a couple who had been trying to have a child of their own for 14 years.

Rob and Lori Dupriest from Loyalton, Calif. were beside themselves with joy at the prospect of taking home their 7-pound, 8-ounce miracle.

“For the last 13 years we have been undergoing some sort of infertility procedure,” Lori said as she gazed at her new daughter sleeping peacefully in Diane Gamble’s arms.

Brooke Taylor Dupriest’s nursery had been ready for months.

Lori, 32, and her husband Rob, 39, had come in contact with the City of Refuge by sending out letters during the last two years to anyone who might be able to help them find a baby to adopt.

“A lot of it was word-of-mouth and networking,” Rob said. “We tried everything. Eventually our letter came here.”

Meanwhile, months ago, as the Dupriests were desperately searching for a baby, Tiffany found herself in trouble with the law and pregnant in Carson City. Now a high school junior, she, too, was referred to the City of Refuge by her probation officer, June James.

Tiffany did not want an abortion. She knew that for sure. After deciding that adoption was the best thing for her baby – and for her future, too – Tiffany was allowed to select the parents for her child.

“I talked to one other couple, but I liked these guys right away,” she said.

After meeting in December, the birth mother and adoptive parents got to know each other, had outings together, and last month Lori came to live at the home.

The resemblance between the two moms is noticeable, which Diane said is one of the reasons the pairing between Lori and Tiffany was so special. Wednesday afternoon, the Dupriest family – all three of them – set out for home.

“There are 1,100 people in Loyalton, and 400 of them are going to be on our front lawn when we get there,” Rob said. They were anxious to go, yet the break was obviously hard for everyone. At one time or another, each person there cried.

Gamble said he has been very careful to separate his work as an attorney and judge from the workings of the City of Refuge.

Also on the board of directors and co-founders of the home, are Minden attorney J.D. Sullivan and his wife Christine.

The home is set up as a non-profit organization and no one owns it and never will. No money changes hands. The mothers stay free. Adoption is free. Funding is through grants, donations and a variety of small sources.

“The girls and women who come here definitely need us,” Gamble said. “If they had other resources and support systems, they wouldn’t come here. We make them do chores and educate themselves and hope that we send them away better off than they came in.”