a pregnant woman holding her belly in her hands
The Gabriel Project in Key West provides support for new moms and babies. CONTRIBUTED

A 14-year-old Key West High School student from Haiti found herself pregnant and scared a little over three years ago.

She had little support at home and no money for iron supplements, which were crucial in her third trimester.

That girl — and soon-to-be-mom — became the first client of Key West’s Gabriel Project, a division of the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea parish that exists to “support the dignity of life” by helping pregnant women and new mothers.

“The good thing about us is we have no red tape,” said Robert Wright, principal of Mary Immaculate Star of the Sea school, who also administers the Gabriel Project.

Wright launched the program three years ago when the founders of a similar organization, called New Beginnings, were forced to retire in their 90s.

“Jim and Jean Maun, longtime parishioners and volunteers, ran New Beginnings, which collected and provided baby clothes, strollers, car seats, basically baby shower types of items that new moms will need but can’t always afford,” Wright said. 

When the Mauns retired, Wright saw a need that the Gabriel Project could help fill.

“But we also want to ensure that our moms are also helping themselves. We’re a small, volunteer organization with no overhead. So when we help them, we also make sure they’re registered with the larger, better-funded assistance programs, like Healthy Start Coalition and WIC (Women Infant Children).

“The mission of the Gabriel Project of the Lower Florida Keys is to offer support to pregnant mothers and their infants by providing for their spiritual, emotional and material needs,” states the Gabriel Project website at gabrielprojectkw.com. “This mission is accomplished through the work of compassionate and selfless volunteers, who assist through mentorship, prayer and the distribution of gifts. Our objective is to see that every mother and child who seeks assistance is provided the opportunity to experience authentic care through compassionate and necessary support.”

Wright has a special place in his heart for new mothers, as his own mother was raped and had him when she was just 16.

“My mom wasn’t perfect, but she gave me life and she didn’t have to,” he said. “So I said I’d handle the administration and do the legwork for the Gabriel Project, but I’ve recruited some amazingly compassionate and competent women to help our clients directly, because a lot of them may not trust men for whatever reason.”

Despite its connection to the Catholic Church, Wright emphasized that the Gabriel Project is not about condemning or judging unwed mothers. “We don’t focus on what’s already happened, but rather what’s best for the mom and the baby going forward,” he said.

The Gabriel Project recently funded the new Keys to Hope program with the Healthy Start Coalition. Keys to Hope provides support and grief counseling following the loss of a child, a miscarriage or a stillbirth.

“It’s such a devastating experience for parents, but one that our hospitals aren’t necessarily equipped to handle with the time and compassion needed,” Wright said.

So Keys to Hope provides grief and mental health counseling as well as assistant programs that occur while the mother is still in the hospital following a miscarriage or stillbirth.For more information, or to make a donation or seek assistance, visit gabrielprojectkw.com.

Mandy Miles
Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.