True Refuge for Mothers and Babies |

True Refuge for Mothers and Babies

by Lisa Gavon
R-C Alpine Bureau
Staff and residents at the House that Jack Built at City of Refuge.
Lisa Gavon

They are walking the talk. Out in the Pine Nut mountains there is a small group of people who are making history. They are proving that compassion is not a concept but an action filled verb.

Many here have heard people say that Christians encourage women to go through with their pregnancies, but yet do nothing to acknowledge the tough situations mothers can find themselves in. ”We are answering that need here at City of Refuge” says Mollie Nugent. There have been more than 200 mothers who have given birth while living there over the last 25 years. This underlines the high need for help that women with unplanned pregnancies require to be able to carry their babies to term.

Mollie and her husband Steve are the current Administrative Directors of City of Refuge. It is their deep faith that has allowed them to do this demanding work. So, along with all the other physical and social support they offer, they take the time to share the convictions that bring them that sense of peace, hope, and joy in their own lives.

After college, Mollie moved to Bridgeport with her son to accept a position as a school business administrator. Steve had three teenagers, and was the third generation of his family to run High Sierra Bakery. They met and fell in love. Mollie was an agnostic, but as they spent more time together, her belief began to blossom. They would listen to a program Diane Gamble hosted on Pilgrim Radio. When Diane talked about their project for mothers who were alone, it really captured their hearts.

City of Refuge had an empathetic start after Dave Gamble and his late wife Diane started taking pregnant women with no resources or support systems into their own home. The community rallied behind the Gambles concept of expanding the program with generosity, including the initial donation of 40 acres by Stoddard Jacobsen in memory of his wife Jewel. In 2006 the construction of a large new home was entirely paid for by an anonymous local contractor. This contractor reports that the Gambles were inspiring: they sacrificed and put others before themselves. The Gamble family has stepped back from their more hands-on role in City of Refuge, but still live on-site.

The Nugents originally came in 1999, first acting as weekend houseparents around their schedule running the family business. Part of their job is to set an example of what a good, respectful relationship can be like. Since retiring from the Bakery, they are able to work full time.

In a small swale between mountains, the location has a wildness and intense beauty. The quiet open space, punctuated by the laughter of so many children make it special. The buildings have had various uses over the years. Some have been temporary housing in times of need, set up for foster care, homes for property caretakers, or for special gatherings. There are counseling rooms and even a baby closet filled with necessities.

Everyone has a different story. They may be victims of rape, have difficulties with their families, be coming out of drug rehabilitation, or simply have no one to assist them. They may be young teenagers whose parents have kicked them out of the house.

It is a place where women can regain their balance: nurturing their life and the life of their unborn child. In the end, it is all about these new souls coming into the world: beautiful babies who are welcomed and cared for in a safe, protective environment, and mothers who are respected and given the shelter, love, and resources they need.

Churches in the area support the project financially by supplying clothes, diapers, and other basic necessities. People send in monthly donations or larger one time sums. There are lots of volunteers that provide the network supporting this benevolent undertaking. None of those who give are doing so for any sort of acknowledgement, but rather to make a real difference for mothers and babies.

Coming from a large single parent family where she helped take care of the other children, Ellie Mae Stankus said a fire was lit in her heart for both mothers and babies. She wanted to do something beyond the norm, and was motivated to take initiative. She met the Nugents when she was working for Blind Dog Coffee, and it became obvious to her where she belonged. She is currently the weekday houseparent, overseeing the daily needs of residents.

Ellie is studying to become a certified biblical counselor. She reports there were many factors that brought her naturally rebellious nature to this place of solid maturity at just twenty-two years of age. She says her aim is to “love, serve, and minister to each and every person who walks through these doors”. Ricardo and Joy Alvarez, along with Nena Leonard serve as the houseparents on evenings and weekends.

All the staff and volunteers work together to provide the opportunity to be part of a supportive family-like unit. They offer counseling, and guide the women with help in getting the resources they need, whether it is overcoming drug or alcohol addiction, getting a high school diploma, or learning the life skills necessary to be out on their own. At times it has also accepted foster children and at-risk adults referred for temporary shelter.

They nurture each woman just as any strong family would, acknowledging that everyone is unique, and responding to individual needs. They provide both birth and parenting classes, teaching them how to care for their unborn and newborn baby. They give them the stability to make a well-thought out choice whether to keep the baby or put it up for adoption.

You can be part of the answer by helping these mothers and their new little babies being born into this world. City of Refuge is a nonprofit organization, so donations are tax deductible. It is entirely funded by grants and donations. Many people make monthly contributions, and others give a one-time amount. Maternity clothes and reliable used vehicles are needed on a continuing basis. Call 775 782-2034 or email for more information on this safe haven for women and newborns during transitional times in their lives.