When Lori Lewis first met her daughter in June 2003, the nameless infant was two days old. The baby’s birth mother had taken her to Fire Station 66 in Palm Beach County, Florida, and firefighters contacted Kids in Distress (KIDS) and transported “Baby Hope” (as they referred to her) to the local hospital. KIDS then contacted the relatively new Safe Haven hotline, which placed the baby with Lori and Michael Lewis on Father’s Day, and Gloria Hope Lewis found her forever home.
Even though the Lewises had been foster parents in southern Florida for many years and had longed to adopt, they had never heard of the Safe Haven program or the Safe Baby Act until the day that “Baby Hope” came to be a part of their family. Now in Kentucky, Lori is an Ambassador for A Safe Haven for Newborns in order to spread the organization’s name and its success. Gloria serves as a poster child for the success of the program in Florida, and the twelve-year-old also enthusiastically spreads the word about Safe Haven.
A Safe Haven for Newborns was created in Miami, Florida, in 2001 by a man Gloria affectionately refers to as “Uncle Nick.” Nick Silverio created the not-for-profit organization in honor of his late wife because they were not able to have children of their own, but both had a “deep compassion and love for children.” As Silverio explains on the fliers that Lori distributes, “A Safe Haven for Newborns speaks up for these innocent precious newborns and is dedicated to reaching pregnant young women before they reach the crisis stage.” Gloria is living proof of his motto that “If only one life was saved, all of [Safe Haven’s] efforts would be worthwhile.”
Although Gloria was the tenth Safe Haven baby, “she was the first proof the law actually worked,” Lori explained. Other mothers had retrieved their babies within the thirty days allowed by the law. However Gloria’s birth mother, who had herself been adopted, recognized she could not provide for the needs of a newborn and wrote about this in the pages of a journal she kept throughout her pregnancy and left for her baby and her new family. Lori shared these pages with Gloria, as well as the scrapbook of newspaper clippings Lori saved when Gloria’s adoption garnered national attention. In June 2008, a grinning 5-year-old Gloria graced articles in the Tampa Bay Times and the Orlando Sentinel as they reported that 100 babies had been saved since Florida’s Safe Haven for Newborns law was passed eight years previously. The Lewises also appeared on national television, but Gloria explains they never did it for the fame or recognition, but “to save the lives of babies and keep mothers from making bad decisions or raising their babies in a bad environment.”
Since they moved to West Louisville in 2005, the Lewises have been spreading their message about Safe Haven to the Owensboro area but want their message to reach many more. Last September, the family educated the Owensboro City Commission about the Thomas J. Burn Safe Infants Act which was enacted in 2002 and allowed parents to leave a baby within three days of birth with emergency medical service personnel, firefighters, or police officers without fear of prosecution as long as there are no signs of neglect or abuse. With the help of Chief Steve Mitchell, the Lewis family placed signs with Safe Haven information and the hotline number in each of the OFD stations. Currently, this number (1-877-767-2229) directs people to the headquarters in Miami, but Lori would like to see a Kentucky hotline added in the near future.
The Lewises have many ideas for spreading information about Safe Haven, but they need funds and manpower to make Kentucky a satellite of the Florida Safe Haven headquarters as they continue to work closely with founder Nick Silverio. The extremely loving and ever-so-busy Lewis household is always open to foster children, and as Lori admits, she’s better at changing diapers than public relations. Her latest mission is to hang posters around the community that inform scared mothers about how Safe Haven can help with prenatal care, guidance, and health care, even if the mother is not thinking about placing her baby for adoption. Lori would especially like to see these in the elevators of area hospitals and doctors’ offices. She and Gloria have participated in a walk-a-thon and a fundraising gala in Florida, but Gloria would like to start their fundraising in Owensboro with a book sale. The avid reader and seventh grader at Burns Middle School lit up as she told of her plans to pass out fliers, vehicle stickers, and rubber bracelets as people came and bought used books, some of which she would eagerly donate herself.
For me, as an expecting mother and Gloria’s teacher, it is difficult to imagine the decision that Gloria Hope’s birth mother faced twelve years ago. And while Gloria admits she is curious and would like to meet her someday, the bubbly preteen knows from her birth mother’s journal that the Lewises have provided her with “the magic and the fullness of having a whole family” that she would not have had otherwise. Gloria and her parents give credit to A Safe Have for Newborns for helping to build this family and want parents in Western Kentucky and beyond to be aware of this outstanding organization.
A Safe Haven for Newborns
Confidential helpline: 1-877-767-BABY (2229)
Email: [email protected]
Lori Lewis: [email protected]
This article was published in the September/October issue of Owensboro Parent Magazine.