NEWBORNS FIND 'SAFE HAVEN' FROM ABANDONMENT THROUGH FLORIDA VOLUNTEERS
Tom Tracy/Catholic News Service
MIAMI (CNS) -- Formerly an information technology business owner, Nick Silverio doesn't sit still for long before thinking of ways to make it easier for women with crisis pregnancies to make good choices.
One of his initiatives is A Safe Haven for Newborns, a network of volunteers, hospitals and fire departments in Florida organized toward saving infants from the dangers of abandonment and an almost certain death.
Created in 2001 following the tragic death of Silverio's wife of 32 years in an automobile accident, A Safe Haven for Newborns has grown into a multifaceted ministry boasting 314 newborns saved from abandonment or unsafe situations in Florida — and 68 mothers steered toward placing a child in adoption over the years.
"If a baby is left on a doorstep, most of the time they wouldn't survive," said Silverio, whose volunteers help women think through their options and the ramifications of abandoning a child. Following his wife's death in 2000, Silverio saw a magazine article about child abandonment worldwide. He felt it was God suggesting a new purpose for the remainder of his life.
"We are finding now that if a mom abandons a baby in an unsafe place, quite often she is on drugs or there are mental health issues and that is very difficult to deal with," he said.
Florida's Safe Haven law allows mothers (or fathers) to take an unharmed newborn up to seven days old to a designated Safe Haven location instead of leaving them somewhere else or doing something they will later regret.
"The lifeline of our organization is our statewide confidential, 24/7 multilingual, referral helpline. We assist them as they make their decision in the best interest of their baby and themselves, whether with counseling, parenting, health related issues, adoption or confidentially placing their newborn with A Safe Haven for Newborns. Everyone is helped and no one is ever judged," Silverio said.
"We are creating greater awareness. We work with all the crisis pregnancy centers in Florida," said Silverio, a member of Christ the King Parish in Perrine, as well as the Knights of Columbus and the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, known as the Lazarists.
Now, Silverio is helping volunteers in other states build similar life-saving networks of their own.
"We have assisted Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, Kentucky, Wyoming and soon to be probably North Carolina and South Carolina in terms of consulting and providing all the ideas that we have," he said.
In keeping with his IT roots, Silverio has been rolling out a prototype mobile phone app. It encourages participating high school students in Florida seeking to earn community service hours to educate themselves and others about Safe Haven principles and the overall crisis of baby abandonment.
"It helps them to earn their volunteer hours without even leaving home," Silverio said. "They can create a smartphone video, which they can post on a social media campaign; join a speakers bureau; or create (relevant) artwork."
Silverio has kept in touch with several of the mothers and babies that Safe Haven has helped. To one youngster, Silverio is known affectionately as "Uncle Nick."
Fifteen years earlier, the child's adoptive parents felt called to welcome another member to their family even though they had four children of their own. Through an introduction made by Safe Haven, they adopted Kristopher.
"Having given natural birth before, this (adoption) was more like I had birthed someone into my heart, and he has been nothing less than one of the greatest blessings I have ever had," said Aja Terrell, a property manager in South Florida whose husband, Richard, was equally supportive of the adoption. They were inspired to share their blessings by a Christian retreat facilitator.
Kristopher, now 15, loves basketball and sees himself becoming a medical doctor, according to his mother.
"The powerful thing Nick has done has saved a life and blessed our family tremendously, and that is one of the reasons that we as a family will always be involved with Safe Haven," Aja Terrell said. "My son has grown emotionally, spiritually and physically, and has evolved into a person who strives to be a good man like Nick."
The ministry also has reunited mothers with their babies.
"Once the baby is healthy and released, the hospital contacts an adoption agency that has nothing to do with Safe Haven, and the mom has 30 days to change her mind," Silverio said. "We have helped five moms get their babies back. It brought the families closer together."
He said from the beginning that if only one life was saved, Safe Haven's efforts would be worthwhile.
But a successful Safe Haven intervention, Silverio explained, means not only that a child's life is saved, allowing them to grow to adulthood, but a parent also is saved from criminal prosecution and a lifetime of guilt, while the hopes and dreams of parents waiting to adopt also are fulfilled.