Providing Purposeful Community for Expectant Mothers

Rachel Hanus GS’17 is a Bethel grad, certified nurse-midwife, and co-founder of ESTHER Homes, a maternity housing program for pregnant women facing crisis or homelessness in St. Paul, Minnesota. She spends her days walking alongside women, providing support and creating a space for them to experience true community.

By Cherie Suonvieri ’15, GS’21, content specialist

November 11, 2021 | 8 a.m.

Rachel Hanus GS’17 at a birth that she attended as a midwife for an ESTHER Homes family.

Rachel Hanus GS’17 at a birth that she attended as a midwife for an ESTHER Homes family.

ESTHER Homes began with two friends and a shared passion for supporting mothers and families. Co-founded by Rachel Hanus GS’17 and Amber Hornsby, the organization exists to provide transitional housing for pregnant women experiencing homelessness in the Minnesota Twin Cities. “Our real passion is community,” Hanus says. “More than anything, community was meant to be the program’s outcome and the foundation of our home.”

Hanus and Hornsby met two women who would become ESTHER Homes’ first moms at a St. Paul food shelf. The women were both pregnant and living out of one of their vehicles, and one of them had a three-year-old daughter. “After that, everything came together very organically,” Hanus says. Hanus and Hornsby found a duplex unit to rent that would have enough space for themselves, the mothers, and the three-year-old child. Those in Hanus and Hornsby’s communities helped them collect furniture for the families, and they all moved in together. About five months later, in 2015, ESTHER Homes became an official nonprofit. 


A bedroom prepared for a new ESTHER Homes family.

A bedroom prepared for a new ESTHER Homes family.

Around the same time Hanus started the nonprofit venture, she began the M.S. in Nurse-Midwifery program at Bethel University. She’d earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing, and her interest in midwifery was sparked during her employment with a missions organization where she interacted with moms who expressed the loneliness of motherhood while serving overseas. She felt the need to support current mothers and future mothers—and so becoming a nurse-midwife seemed like a natural way to answer that call. 

Even after she graduated from the nurse-midwifery program in 2017, Hanus says she’s stayed in touch with faculty, and some have been involved in ESTHER Homes. “The relationships students can build with Bethel faculty and their availability to us is different from what I would have had in any other program,” Hanus says.

“One of my greatest takeaways from my Bethel experience was that while the information you’re learning or the work that you’re doing is important, it’s equally important to stop and invest in the people you’re working with.”

— Rachel Hanus GS'17

In its six years, ESTHER Homes has served 12 families, providing them with a safe space within a supportive community. Like when it first began, the home still has live-in staff to help facilitate that community feeling. The families meet with staff once a week to talk about goal-setting and accountability. They also have a weekly family night where they share a meal together and either play a game or have some sort of educational experience, like talking about how screen time affects kids, learning how to change oil in a car, or discussing birth plans. 


Rachel Hanus (second from right) with a group of ESTHER Homes moms and staff at a Mother's Day event.

Rachel Hanus (second from right) with ESTHER Homes moms and staff at a Mother's Day event.

Hanus says that in addition to providing community, a goal of ESTHER Homes is to ensure that the mothers have the resources they need to be successful when they leave the program, which they can stay in for up to two years. While at ESTHER Homes, mothers participate in a 30% savings program, where they put 30% of their income into a savings account reserved for when they move out. Mothers also have the opportunity to learn how to drive.

“We’ve found that being able to drive is really a game changer for families,” Hanus says. “Not only does this mean moms will be able to go and get groceries and bring their kids to daycare, but there are also many flexible jobs that you can have using your vehicle.” 

Image of Rachel Hanus in a car with an ESTHER Homes mom practicing driving

Rachel Hanus (left) with an ESTHER Homes mom learning to drive.

Being present as live-in staff has allowed for other organic and important educational opportunities. As a nurse and midwife, Hanus has been able to offer support for the simple things, like learning how to play and interact with your child, or more complex things, like when to call a pediatrician versus when to seek emergency care. 

“I remember learning that one of our moms took her son to the emergency department after he threw up for the first time when he was two,” Hanus says. “It’s things like that. When you have a background in trauma or you didn’t have parents around or anyone to call, that’s just kind of what you do.” 

A majority of the 12 ESTHER Homes moms aged out of the foster care system, so many of them don’t have strong relationships with other stable adults, Hanus says. “We kind of become those people for them. I think that, more than anything, sets them up for long term success. Whether it’s us, each other, or ESTHER volunteers—these moms now have people to call when they don’t know the answer. The social resource piece is just invaluable.” 

“My faith gives me hope on the days that I feel like I don’t know how to see hope for our families. Our families have been through so much trauma, and sometimes they respond so strongly out of that. I know that it’s God's love that fuels me, because it couldn’t be anything else.”

— Rachel Hanus GS’17

Hanus says that even though ESTHER Homes families didn’t all live in the house at the same time, they’ve built a special community. They typically all gather for holidays and have gotten to know each other’s children. “Even if they didn’t live together at the same time, they just love and trust each other in a really deep way,” she says.  

ESTHER Homes can currently serve two families at a time, but they’re in the process of expanding. The organization purchased their original St. Paul duplex from their landlord and are in the midst of renovating the basement to create space to start their new postpartum program. 

“During the pandemic, our regular referrals to ESTHER decreased—but the referrals we were getting were for new mothers who don’t have anywhere to go postpartum,” Hanus says. “This will be a space for mothers to get that initial support for a few weeks during those intense days with a newborn. They’ll get support with breastfeeding and have a space to heal and focus on bonding with their child. That’s what our next project and goal is.”

Hanus balances her commitments at ESTHER Homes with her work as a midwife at the Minnesota Birth Center, where she is in clinic and on-call two to three days a week. She sees her work at ESTHER and her work as a midwife coalesce in a variety of ways, and she holds a similar philosophy for each. “As midwives, we’re truly just walking alongside people during their pregnancy and holding space for them,” Hanus says. “And that really is what we’re doing at ESTHER, too. We’re just holding space for people to grow and to become moms, and we’re there to encourage them along the way.” 

Study nurse-midwifery at Bethel.

Through Bethel’s M.S. in Nurse-Midwifery program, you'll develop knowledge, gain experience, and refine your values so you can offer holistic care in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, primary care, prenatal, birth, newborn, and gynecological care. 

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