Adoptive mom draws on personal experience in leadership role at Guiding Star Wakota

| October 16, 2020 | 0 Comments

Renee and Tim Skidmore are using their time and resources to help women, including pregnant mothers, find “life-affirming” resources. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Renee Skidmore knows what it’s like to be young, pregnant and scared.

In the fall of 1981, she was a sophomore at the University of Georgia with plans to get a nursing degree and work in the field.

A birthday celebration that went too far changed her plans. Weeks after her 19th birthday, she learned she was pregnant. The father was her boyfriend, Tim, who later would become her husband.

She felt pressure to get an abortion, but was too strong in her pro-life beliefs and Catholic faith. She chose to leave school and went to Illinois to take part in a program for unwed mothers run by a religious order of women. She delivered a girl, Christiane, May 26, 1982. The baby, born prematurely, died three days later.

But neither the infant nor the experience have been forgotten. They fuel a desire to help women in the same situation get the help they need to carry their babies to term and keep them if that is their choice.

Renee and Tim married in 1984 and adopted five children of different races. When they moved from Philadelphia to the Twin Cities seven years ago, they envisioned getting involved in the pro-life movement here. Little did they realize that Renee not only would volunteer at a pregnancy help center, but help lead an organization called Guiding Star Wakota that would break ground on a new, 10,000-square foot facility in West St. Paul just days after she became president of its board of directors.

The facility is part of a nationwide network of care centers called the Guiding Star Project, founded by Minnesotan Leah Jacobson in 2011 to provide what it describes on its website as “an empowering, wholistic healthcare alternative.”

Renee, 57, is doing this while continuing to help care for children ranging in age from 14 to 30, four of whom currently live in their West St. Paul home.

One of them gave birth to a daughter in June. A single mother, she got in touch with Guiding Star Wakota, formerly called Wakota Life Care Center. Staff gave her referrals for both a doctor and a birth doula, in addition to supplies like diapers and clothing.

The new facility, which had its groundbreaking Oct. 2, aims to be a comprehensive “womb to tomb” center that goes far beyond basic needs like diapers and clothing. Staff and volunteers will offer life skills classes, doula support, mental health counseling and support groups — and maybe even addiction recovery groups and programs. Wakota also plans to partner with a medical clinic to provide on-site, life-affirming health care services for entire families. Construction will be completed in about a year.

“We want Guiding Star to be a household name, not Planned Parenthood,” Renee said. “You can’t fix it all. What you can do is walk alongside people. I never want to see someone walk alone in this journey (of being pregnant).”

Skidmore said the face of the pro-life movement is changing, right down to the words used to describe it. She said people who support abortion can be triggered by the term “pro-life” when having a conversation about the subject.

“I much prefer to use the word ‘life-affirming’ because it allows you to have a conversation with anyone, acknowledging that most people wish for everyone to have a happy, healthy life,” she said. “Although we may have different beliefs about how to help people, I think most people have good intentions.”

Creating good will is especially important when the conversation happens with a pregnant woman who is scared and unsure about what to do with her unborn baby.

“Once there is a sense of safety in that conversation, that they feel a genuineness … and love, then that’s the atmosphere (where) good things can happen,” she said.

It’s all part of what she calls a “very bold mission” at Guiding Star Wakota, which hopes to address not only the needs of pregnant women and their families, but also reach out to men and young girls to teach them about their dignity and about responsibility.

“We want to help change the culture,” she said. “We want to build life-affirming networks to cover the entire United States.”

“It is womb to tomb,” she said of the services Guiding Star Wakota eventually will provide. “We are willing to walk that road with anyone, regardless of why they come to us.”

One of the things that drives her to be involved with Guiding Star is her faith. Both Renee and Tim, members of St. Joseph in West St. Paul and Community of Christ the Redeemer, regularly go to eucharistic adoration. Tim, a retired CFO of CHS who now works for St. Paul’s Outreach, works in the financial realm to provide funding for a variety of life-affirming efforts, including affordable housing and job creation. He became Catholic in 1990 and started a fund in honor of Christiane, managed by the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota.

Renee said that Guiding Star Wakota can be a way to share God’s love with those whom it serves, gently and without confrontation.

“You want to welcome people right where they’re at,” she said, “and by your love, walk with them through that journey (of pregnancy) so that they can have a home for their heart.”

She said adopting five children and helping one of them through an unplanned pregnancy make her prepared to help lead Guiding Star Wakota.

“Through all my life experiences, I know now that I was meant to step into this role as president,” she said. “He (God) prepared me to understand: What is it that’s needed here, on a human level? How do we reach out to lost souls?”


ADOPTION DREAM FULFILLED

Renee Skidmore was a middle child in a family of eight, and she traces her hope to adopt children to her younger sister, Michelle, who had Down syndrome. Michelle was 11 months younger and died when she was 9.

“We were very, very close,” Renee said. “She taught me more about love than anyone else in the entire world has ever taught me.”

This bond led to a desire she eventually fulfilled more than 20 years later.

“I can remember as early as 11 years old having it in my heart that I wanted to adopt children,” Renee said. “It was just a desire placed in my heart.”

Her wish came true just weeks after she and her husband, Tim, went to Medjugorje in fall 1989. He was in the process of becoming Catholic and had learned about the pilgrimage site in the course of taking classes for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). While in Medjugorje, Renee was encouraged to ask God for something specific. She was reluctant to do so at first, but eventually submitted a request.

“I said, ‘I want a baby for my birthday (Nov. 8), and if not for my birthday, then by Christmas,’” she said.

Renee and Tim, who were living in Delaware at the time, had tried to conceive for five years but were not successful. By that point, Renee had become “tired of waiting for a baby.”

Things changed within days of getting back from Medjugorje, when the adoption agency they were working with notified them that a woman had chosen them as adoptive parents. Her due date was Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, but she delivered a boy on Renee’s birthday.

Renee and Tim later adopted a girl in 1992, and three more children in 1996, 2006 and 2008.

Renee called her oldest child “a very special young man who we are very grateful for in the ways that he challenges us to grow in our faith.” She said she thinks he was one of the first African American children in Delaware to be adopted by a white family.

“Thirty years ago, adopting across racial lines was being fought by Black social workers,” she said. “The context was very different than what we think of today” with such adoptions now commonplace.

In the course of raising their adopted children, Renee and Tim have grown in their faith and in their understanding of the types of emotional wounds some people carry throughout their lives.

This gives them empathy for others, especially women in unplanned pregnancies. Renee’s compassion is further fueled by her own struggles, including seven joint replacement surgeries, four since moving to Minnesota seven years ago. The vulnerability of recovery, plus lots of time to reflect, deepens her desire to help create what she calls a “life-affirming” community at Guiding Star Wakota, where she serves as president of the board of directors.

It is part of her mission — and that of Guiding Star Wakota — to serve and support “people who are deeply wounded and are so fearful of being known and being rejected.”

“I want to create that community … that is welcoming to all people so that they can realize that, by our love, they’ll know that they can trust us,” she said.

This is what she has tried to do in her own home, a journey that has been painful at times, but deeply rewarding.

“We’re all broken,” she said. “Everyone is wounded in this journey. … At the end of the day, it’s about being loved and being welcomed.”

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Featured, Local News