Susan Shirley Program for teen moms closes doors in Smiths Falls

Posted on: January 31, 2017

Sarah Nelson

Nichole Anderson, co-founder of The Susan Shirley Program in Smiths Falls, says that there are many different ways of mothering, but it’s the quality that counts. The program, which closes its doors today, Jan. 31, provided parenting skills, life skills, and supported housing for young mothers in the Smiths Falls area. It was founded by Anderson along with her husband Ryan.

Named as a memorial to Susan, Anderson’s childhood mentor and a youth leader who raised eight children, and Anderson’s own mother Shirley, a nurse who had two children, the program used the two women’s different approaches to parenthood to show that there is more than one way to be a good mother.

The program consisted of a maternity home with 24-hour support, a second-stage transition home called Grace’s Haven, and the Duchess Boutique, a store that offered employment experience and training to young mothers while raising funds to support the program. It served young pregnant women and new mothers between the ages of 15 and 25, with eligibility being decided on a case by case basis. “It really depend[ed] on their particular situations, and the needs that they had,” Anderson explained. In its almost five and a half years of operation, the program helped support 54 young mothers and their babies.

Anderson declined to share the specifics of why the program had to close down, saying that she needs to protect her family members. Over the past year or so, she said, her family has gone through a series of circumstances and changes that resulted in “a perfect storm of issues.” The couple had a series of conversations with the program’s board of directors about possible alternatives, but were unable to come up with a solution.

“At this point,” Anderson, said,” there is no way for us to go forward. We have to close.”

Crowns of Life, the registered charity that operated as an umbrella organization for the Susan Shirley Program, will continue to operate in Hamilton, Ont. where the couple is relocating.
Anderson said that someday they might start a Susan Shirley-like program in Hamilton, but not right away; the city already has two similar maternity home and support programs. For now, Crowns of Life will shift its focus to a consulting program which will help other non-profit organizations to improve their operating efficiency, public image and visibility.
There are already two organizations in Hamilton that the couple will be working with through Crowns of Life. The charity will still focus on at-risk youth and people who are homeless. “All the same issues we have tackled here [in Smiths Falls] and even some new ones,”Anderson said.

With a voice that sounded like she was choking back tears, Anderson expressed her gratitude for all the support that she and her husband have received over the years from donors, businesses, the town of Smiths Falls, and Lanark County, saying they couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support.
“I would like to express how appreciative we are,” she said. “We’re really going to miss doing what we did. It wasn’t an easy decision, not one that would have been made if the circumstances were different.”

Information will be mailed to donors in February 2017 outlining the details of the continuing work of Crowns of Life. Any donations received in 2017 will go towards this work helping other non-profits.

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