High school is challenging. It’s even tougher when you have a baby.
During 2005-2006, her first year at Fort Osage High School, junior/senior English teacher Anne Farmer had six pregnant students in class. District-wide, 27 students either had a child or were expecting.
At the time, Farmer was raising two children herself, a 3-year-old and an 8-year-old. “Being a mom is an amazing experience, but it’s also the hardest thing ever,” she said. “I was a mom. I was married. I had a good job – a good-paying job. I had a husband who supported me. I wasn’t doing it by myself.”
But many of these girls were. Some were kicked out of their family homes. Some lived with boyfriends, but most were alone. Childcare prevented many from continuing their educations. “With no one to watch their babies, they couldn’t come back to school,” Farmer said.
The plight of these young women plagued both Farmer and Juli Yocum, then-president of United Methodist Women’s group in Buckner, Missouri. On the car ride back from an out-of-state conference, ideas started flying between the two friends. “The whole premise of the conference was, ‘Why are we here?’” Farmer said. “God has a plan for your life. Are you doing what He wants you to do?”
With a sense of empowerment from above, Farmer and Yocum created Baby Grace, a nondenominational nonprofit serving needy young moms and dads, plus unprepared caregivers like grandparents suddenly raising their grandkids or foster parents accepting an emergency placement.
The Baby Grace chapter at Buckner United Methodist Church is the mothership of the ministry. Since its birth 14 years ago, Baby Grace has expanded to 19 more locations around Missouri. (See www.babygrace.org/contact/locations.) Each location sets its own event schedule but operates under the same core beliefs that every baby is a gift from God, every baby is created equally, and God has a plan for every baby.
“He doesn’t say, ‘I only have a plan for children born into a married, stable family,’” Farmer said. “This is a no-judgment ministry.”
At the beginning, Buckner Baby Grace put together laundry baskets full of donated items like diapers, baby wipes, lotions, baby blankets, and fuzzy socks. English teacher Farmer tucked in hardback books. Board members and volunteers prayed over the laundry baskets, then delivered them to moms either in the hospital or at home.
Buckner Baby Grace partnered with Parents as Teachers, parent educators who met with moms and kids at the high school, providing free childrearing advice, parenting tools, and assessments of each child’s overall development. “To this day, a parent educator comes to all our events,” Farmer said.
Word about Buckner Baby Grace spread. “We eventually got to the place that we had so many moms and so many referrals, we couldn’t deliver all the baskets.” Open houses were scheduled at the church once a month. Setting out donated items, moms were encouraged to come take whatever they needed for their babies.
In 2019, Buckner Baby Grace went to a quarterly schedule of open houses for registered families, holding free events on the second Saturday in March, June, September, and December. At each event, Buckner Heart of God Fellowship rolls out a hearty breakfast and Mid-Continent Public Library brings its Reading Rocket Bus, giving away free books.
Buckner Baby Grace solicits donations throughout the year so that when events roll around, there’s plenty to share. Diapers and pull-ups are a constant need, especially for the chronically poor. As bad as it sounds for a baby to wear the same diaper all day, some desperate young moms resort to plastic grocery bags. Already this year, Buckner Baby Grace has given away 4,375 diapers and pull-ups.
“There was a particular mom – I can still see her,” Farmer said. “When she realized she was going to get free diapers from us, she immediately started crying. As I hugged her, she said, ‘You have no idea how you’ve answered my prayer. I told God I could not do this on my own. I heard about you but didn’t believe it was true. I came doubting but I’m walking out of here with just what I prayed for.’”
Farmer cried, too.
“There are some moments over the years with Baby Grace that are indelibly marked on my heart and my spirit,” Farmer said. “Not a single person is perfect, and every one of us has found ourselves in a place where we need help. That’s where grace comes in.”
Juli Yocum serves as Baby Grace’s executive director; Anne Farmer is director of Buckner Baby Grace. Current Baby Grace board members are Joyce Wheeler, Ashley Kallas, Rosie Farmer, Kathleen Mais, Joann Peck, Gail Stringer, and Jodi Borron. Mark Hanks, one of the original Baby Grace dads, oversees the annual Dads Retreat at Wilderness Camping and Retreat Center in Lawson, Missouri., site of five different Baby Grace summer camps.
To learn more about Buckner Baby Grace, register for an event, make a donation, or volunteer your services, visit http://www.babygrace.org/buckner-2/. Buckner Baby Grace Christmas Open House will be held at Buckner Town Hall, 32 S. Sibley St., between 9 a.m. and noon on Saturday, Dec. 14. Registered moms can select new toys from the Christmas Toy Shop to take home for Christmas morning. Drop off new, unwrapped toy donations at Heart of God Fellowship (www.heartofgodfellowship.com; phone 816.650.9673) prior to the event or at Buckner Town Hall on Friday evening during setup for Saturday’s festivities. Feel free to stay and help decorate!