by Nancy Kennedy
(September 2004 – Volume 1 – Issue 2)
It had been a long, uneventful night at the fire station, and the late shift was almost over. Dawn’s light was just beginning to soften the night sky. Firefighter David C. was keeping busy, going over the inventory of supplies, when he heard light footsteps approaching. He turned. There stood a young woman, alone, looking exhausted and frightened. Her hair was long and uncombed and her face was streaked with tears. She was holding tight to some sort of small package, wrapped in what appeared to be a towel.
“Sir,” she asked in a trembling voice, “is this a safe haven?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Yes, it is.”
He extended his arms to her. The young woman lifted her warm little bundle and placed it in his strong waiting arms. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Please take good care of her.” And she turned and left.
A safe haven. That is what is being offered to young women, across Florida, who might otherwise abandon their unwanted newborn infants – an unthinkable act for most, but an act of panicked desperation to those mothers who perhaps believe themselves to be abandoned, without apparent support or resources.
Through the remarkably effective efforts of a four-year old program called A Safe Haven, twenty-one infants have been saved. They are infants whose mothers might otherwise have abandoned them, leaving them in garbage dumpsters, trashcans, or near the entrances of churches, usually resulting in death from hypothermia.
Nick Silverio, founder and executive director of The Gloria M. Silverio Foundation – A Safe Haven, with rescued baby, Gloria Hope.
Nick Silverio is the founder and executive director of The Gloria M. Silverio Foundation – A Safe Haven. He created the organization as a memorial to his beloved wife, Gloria, who was killed in a car accident in 1999. Nick and Gloria were married for 32 years, and although they had no children, they were devoted to children and served as godparents to fourteen.
“My wife was a beautiful person, devoted to helping children and the elderly,” says Silverio. “This is a way to keep her spirit alive. When she died, I felt like I had lost my life. I was shaken to the core and I knew I had to find a new meaning for my life. I asked myself, ‘Why are we all here?’ I knew it was to help each other.”
Silverio had no prior experience with social services or with mothers and infants. He was a successful businessman who owned a computer services and Internet provider company. The idea came to him one night when he could not sleep and tried reading to relax. He saw a small item in Readers Digest about an abandoned infant and began an Internet search that ultimately led to the creation of A Safe Haven.
From that humble beginning, The Gloria M. Silverio Foundation – A Safe Haven has flourished and is now a presence in 40 of Florida’s 67 counties. A Safe Haven has educated firefighters and other rescue personnel, social service workers, health care professionals, educators, politicians and the general public about the issue of infant abandonment and about their infant rescue program. Silverio gathered together a board of advisors of influential people who could open all the essential doors, creating a coalition of caring people who have achieved something that many once thought impossible – an effective program that allows mothers to easily identify fire stations in the community where they can safely leave their infants, without fear of retribution and with the knowledge that the child will be saved, cared for and placed with a loving family.
A Safe Haven has developed a strong affiliation with the Florida Fire Chiefs Association, a group that has enthusiastically endorsed the program. According to Silverio, “The firefighters are the key to everything we have achieved. They were completely willing to accept this role. We told them, ‘All we need are your arms,’ and they complied. Larry Scovotto, Executive Director of the FFCA, opened all the doors for us.”
1200 fire stations throughout Florida now have a specially designed “Safe Haven” metal sign on the exterior of the building. The sign consists of the Safe Haven logo and helpline number. In addition, the fire stations have received a procedure manual with guidelines for managing every contingency. The procedure guide has also been distributed to hospitals.
Silverio says that his long-term goal is to eradicate all infant abandonment in the state. To do so, he hopes to get the word out to everyone about A Safe Haven.
“Everyone needs to know about this, not just the young women. We have a grass roots effort underway, run entirely by volunteers in each of our 40 chapters. This is a goal that we can achieve, as a community! Our educational materials and videos are in every public school in Florida. We have flyers, brochures, the video, a TV commercial and billboards. Our goal is public awareness.
“We want everyone in healthcare to be informed and to assist in any way that they can, by distributing our materials, inviting us to present, giving us ideas for fundraising or grants and by helping us make connections to persons or groups who are in a position to help. Many hospitals and corporations are giving us support. We have membership in the South Florida Healthcare Organization, and Linda Quick, President of the SFHO, has been very helpful.”
Infant abandonment is an incomprehensible act and yet Silverio does not judge the women who do this.
“The problem is mind boggling,” he says. “These girls are in a state of such distress and despair – beyond what most people can imagine. They are in the deepest hole, at the very bottom. Our helpline has enabled us to understand that hole, to learn what they are experiencing. We care about them too and want to protect them from the lifelong guilt of having let their infants die. We give both the mother and baby a brighter future. We see this as a human problem and not a political one and we bring everybody together.”
Silverio understands that deep, dark and lonely hole, having endured profound grief following the loss of his wife Gloria. One day, not long after the program began, he received a call informing him that the first rescued baby, a girl, had been given the name Carol Gloria. Then another baby, left at a Safe Haven fire station and called Hope by the firefighters, was adopted by a family who decided to call her Gloria Hope.
Those coincidences reassured Nick Silverio, convincing him that their work was blessed. “It felt like a message from Gloria, saying that she was pleased with what we were doing in her name. It eased the pain of my loss. Now I am trying to help others ease the pain of a different loss.
“Once this program becomes self-sustaining, the foundation will search for a new unmet need of children or the elderly and focus on that.”
Nick Silverio can be reached at (305) 882-1304 Ext. 103. For more information about The Gloria M. Silverio Foundation –A Safe Haven visit www.asafehavenfornewborns.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .