Cleveland, Tennessee, maternity home prepares for increased demand with change in abortion laws

Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / Daramie Craigmiles works on a thank-you card for volunteers of Foundation House on Tuesday. The Foundation House is a nonprofit ministry that helps expecting and current mothers with issues such as addiction and homelessness.
Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / Daramie Craigmiles works on a thank-you card for volunteers of Foundation House on Tuesday. The Foundation House is a nonprofit ministry that helps expecting and current mothers with issues such as addiction and homelessness.

A Cleveland, Tennessee, maternity home is expecting to receive an even greater increase in demand for its services than the 200% jump in calls the organization experienced in the past year, according to Suzanne Burns, the organization's founder and executive director.

Foundation House Ministries is a nonprofit organization and maternity home that serves women with newborns and pregnant women who are unemployed, homeless or struggling with addiction.

With Tennessee law banning abortion after six weeks in most cases following the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, the need for the organization's services may grow as women's options shrink.

"The vast majority of our moms that call us don't want an abortion in the first place," Burns said in an interview. "They want their lives to look differently. So that's what we do; we help them craft something different."

Foundation House offers a residential program as well as parenting classes, basic social services and baby supplies such as formula, toys, clothing and bottles free of cost.

Operating the organization requires about $300,000 a year, and Foundation House is hoping to drive up donations to help shoulder the costs of the increased demand.

"Our whole goal for each of our clients is to get her to a place of sustainable stability," Burns said.

The organization has served 120 residential clients and 600 nonresidential clients in the eight years since it was founded, Burns said.

Ninety-five percent of participants graduate from the program with stable housing and employment, according to the organization's website.

The organization also offers nonresidential services at its Ooltewah satellite location, which opened in May.

The residential program is 10 weeks long, and staff members continue to follow up with participants for as long as they allow. Two former participants are now on staff.

"That to me is the greatest testimony to the process, that not only are they able to do the job, but they want to," Burns said.

Cleveland native Morgan Stevison graduated from the program in September and continues to live on-site, serving as a resident adviser and property manager. Last week, she acquired a position through the Americorps Vista national service program that allows her to learn skills such as grant writing while continuing to work at Foundation House.

"I grew up in a good home and had money and all that but still got lost and went on the wrong path for many years," Stevison said in an interview.

Like almost 90% of program participants, Stevison was a drug user. She had been in bad relationships with the wrong men and felt like her life had no purpose, she said.

She was referred to Foundation House by hospital staff when she delivered her daughter. At the time, Stevison was living with her mother and sister in a house where drugs were present, and she didn't have any money or a car.

"They didn't want me to leave when I explained my situation," said Stevison, who called Foundation House and moved in two days later. "I was like, I'm going to do whatever I've got to do to keep my child."

She's one of the organization's successful graduates, but she struggled to get to that point.

Three months after moving in, she went back to using marijuana, fentanyl and methamphetamine, Stevison said. She lost custody of her child, and she's worked hard to get it back, Stevison said.

At 28, Stevison is older than the typical client age of 18 or 19. The extra life experience can be credited for some of her success, but the biggest factor was her renewed faith in God, which she'd lost around age 10, she said.

Foundation House isn't affiliated with a church, but it's a faith-based organization, Burns said. Program participants aren't required to attend church or be religious, but they are presented with opportunities to do so.

Burns found herself pregnant at age 18 while she was attending Lee University. She was drinking and using illegal drugs, and she didn't stop until her son was 2, Burns said.

After a divorce, a second marriage and a second child, she started volunteering at a pregnancy center in Cleveland and stayed for seven years before starting Foundation House.

She was motivated by a young mother who was struggling to find a job. Burns asked about her recent job interview, and the woman told her she thought it didn't go well because she had to take her 3-month-old infant with her since she didn't trust her boyfriend to be alone with the child.

It took three years to get a charter, put together a board and raise enough funds to get Foundation House off the ground. The organization operates on donations and proceeds from sales at Healing Spirits Gifts, a gift store in Cleveland where program participants also receive job training.

For more information about Foundation House or to make a donation, visit

Contact Emily Crisman at or 423-757-6508.

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