On a blistering hot day more than a week before beginning his sophomore year at Seton Catholic Preparatory, Rocco Gump, 15, donned the red polo shirt and dark shorts that comprise his school uniform.
It was more than just getting ready for school: He was on a mission of mercy.
Seton requires its students to give 20 hours of service to the community each year. But for Rocco, that commitment began long before he started at the prestigious Blue Ribbon school in West Chandler.
Back in sixth grade, Rocco was looking for a way to help others. He and his grandmother discovered Maggie’s Place, a network of homes that provides a loving and stable environment for pregnant women who have nowhere else to turn.
Rocco found his cause. The Elizabeth House in Tempe, one of several such homes in the Valley, currently houses six moms, two babies and four staff members.
Laura Magruder, director of Maggie’s Place, said the women live in a supportive community where they learn what a healthy relationship is while getting connected to counseling, prenatal care, education and other services. They’re also given chores and held accountable for their actions.
Pointing to a colorful chart at The Elizabeth House, Magruder described how guests are encouraged to grow as individuals and celebrate various milestones.
“Every mom gets a fish when she joins the house. And then as the babies are born, the babies get bubbles for rolling over. The moms get bubbles for x-amount of days, weeks or months of sobriety or for filling out a resume or getting a job interview,”
Magruder said. For Rocco, The Elizabeth House represents something he cherishes.
“A big part of my interest with them is that they give second chances. That’s something that really appeals to me,” Rocco said. “I make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes and it’s really important to get a second chance. I don’t think somebody should be defined by one mistake that they made or one choice that they made.”
Rocco also serves at The Elizabeth House in other ways. He established a vegetable garden out back— they’ve grown tomatoes and potatoes—and he and his grandfather wash cars there once a month.
The family also prepares a monthly meal for residents of The Elizabeth House.
Along with his 12-year-old sister Bella, a seventhgrader at St. John Bosco School, Rocco was able to secure a $5,000 donation from the Mesa Hohokams for The Elizabeth House.
Last week, Bella and Rocco, accompanied by their mother and grandparents, presented the check to Magruder. The funds will be used to help with programming, repairs and other needs at the home.
“You never know what it’s going to go to, in all honesty. Ideally it would be to support programmatic things that happen here but sometimes we wake up in the morning and, well, there’s a nice little flood in the kitchen,” Magruder said.
The needs go deeper than simply the material though. Bella has made it her job to recognize the birthdays of the women who live at The Elizabeth House.
Her grandmother, Terri Lisi, recalls one such celebration.
“Bella handed the cake to her and she said, ‘This is the first birthday cake I’ve ever had;” Lisi said. Pregnant women can join the house at any time during the pregnancy and can stay for 9-12 months after the baby is born.
Photo below: a Maggie’s Place mom residing at Elizabeth
House cuddles her baby. — Photo courtesy Maggie’s Place