To someone like Martha who has spent her life in service to others, nothing beats restoring hope. She has been to developing countries such as Sudan and Somalia to help struggling people get back on their feet and find stability in their lives, despite the war raging around them. Martha is no stranger to suffering; where she gets the bravery to face it all with unwavering faith is a miracle in itself.
Martha Ryan has an oasis of love in her heart; so great is her capacity to feel compassion and genuine care for people she does not know. This love would be tested and put to action when she founded the “Homeless Prenatal Program.” A nurse by profession, she knows the absolute importance of prenatal care. And it’s certainly not only the mother’s concern; women who don’t receive prenatal care are most likely to give birth to unhealthy babies, who would then depend on aid and government subsidies. We can spare the state from healthcare expenses that could be prevented if mothers get the prenatal care they need.
Mothers who are homeless or suffering from addiction are most likely to raise children who would take after them. Helping women turn their lives around can help improve countless lives in the future – those of their children and generations to come.
Martha and the organization she founded look beyond prenatal care. To make a real impact on the lives of women who are pregnant while facing abuse, addiction, poverty, homelessness or terminal disease, they have to think long-term. What happens after she gives birth? Will it change things for better or worse? Another mouth to feed is not always good news to people who hardly have enough for themselves.
So, the Homeless Prenatal Program conceived initiatives to help mothers start anew and give them the emotional support they need. They are provided basic necessities, from home to food, and are educated about how best to handle finances and care for their children. It’s a holistic program that nips poverty in the bud, if you will.
Poverty can take many forms – impoverished mind, body, heart and spirit. With the help of kindhearted donors and volunteers who press on despite the job’s emotional demands, the Homeless Prenatal Program has now been running for 25 years.
The program has earned accolades from many organizations, private and public, for its achievements. But that is just icing on the cake for Martha, whose real happiness comes from the many lives her organization has helped turn around. It’s even better that some of the people who help achieve, used to be clients. What better testament to their mission than once-hopeless people who now help those with the same struggles?
Today, we honor a true hero, not only because of what she has accomplished, but also for her unparalleled faith in humanity.
Martha Ryan did not dream of working in the field of medicine. What she was sure of, though, was her passion for serving others. She completed her degree in Foreign Languages (majoring in French) at the University of San Francisco.
Following her college graduation, she left for Ethiopia and taught English as a member of the Peace Corps. Long before she joined as a volunteer, she had always wanted to do something truly profound with her time and skills. Martha’s priorities were clear to her; it was not just about practicing what she studied in the university, but also about sharing the gift of knowledge with people who are less-privileged in life.
It was a noble thing to do, and Martha was fully committed. It certainly was not easy, since voluntary work for the Peace Corps required being in an area of conflict. Martha was focused on changing the lives of as many people as she could, though, so she did not mind. In the 1980s, Martha found herself in Sudan and Somalia, helping women care for their young ones, and that was when she realized the importance of the woman’s role in society. Women are the ones who carry the next generation and have such great influence over their youngsters’ attitudes and beliefs.
She was compelled to pursue a Masters in Public Health at UC Berkeley, hoping to volunteer as a nurse in developing countries where help was urgently needed. While still completing her Master’s, she left the U.S. to volunteer in three African countries for six months each. She was particularly proud of how the volunteers were able to teach the African women how to mitigate deadly epidemic diseases, which are a major problem throughout the continent.
Founding the “Homeless Prenatal Program”
Upon completing her Master’s, she worked as a volunteer at the Hamilton Family Shelter, where homeless people were admitted and given a roof over their heads. She initially planned to leave after gaining more nursing experience to help pregnant women in third-world countries.
She did not intend to stay, thinking that her country was home to privileged people who have access to basic needs. But then, one night, she met three homeless women who were all pregnant. Homelessness, of course, does not disable a person from procreating. Even if women are not living securely, sometimes battling addiction or even deadly diseases, they can still get pregnant.
Martha believes that no mother wants to harm her unborn; it’s her circumstances that sometimes change things. Some women who themselves were neglected or unwanted may struggle with caring for their own children in the future. Martha then realized that she didn’t need to leave to do what she hoped to do for women; there was a developing world at the very heart of the city where she had spent most of her life.
She considered various approaches to caring for women and their babies. She believed the best way was to set up a charitable organization, like the Hamilton Family Shelter, but this time specialize in caring for pregnant women and their families. She wrote a proposal to the San Francisco Foundation and applied for a grant, even without the money to do so.
She was initially given 52,000 dollars, which she used to set up the Homeless Prenatal Program in 1989. Beginning with a staff of only three, the organization tended to 73 pregnant women in its first year. At the time, their office was a room slightly bigger than a closet.
The first employee she hired was an addict who was just beginning to recover. Martha believed that, in order to effectively help the women they were preparing to help, she needed people who would understand their situations.
Below are their organizational values for working with clients:
• We believe that people can change and they want a better life for themselves and their children.
• Every mother wants to deliver a healthy baby and become a good parent.
• We are committed to providing a non-judgmental, motivating and empowering environment that builds trust and strengthens the family.
• We show respect to every client and treat them with empathy and compassion.
• We are committed to providing a culturally sensitive environment and services to all families.
• We recognize that people have strengths and do not need to depend on us or any other agency or system.
• We never give up on anyone; they are always welcome to come back.
• We believe in the importance of building a sense of community among families who have no other source of support.
• HPP honors diversity and respects the culture and dignity of each family. (SOURCE: Homeless Prenatal Program)
With Martha leading a competent team, the Homeless Prenatal Program soon grew its staff to more than 60 employees and reached an annual budget of over five-million dollars. They are no longer stationed in a closet-sized office, but are now settled in a decent home, the “Barry and Marie Lipman Building.” Interestingly, about half of their employees are former recipients of the program’s help. Since their past clients’ new lives commenced, they became eager agents of change themselves.
The Homeless Prenatal Program looks beyond helping homeless, pregnant women. They provide a housing program which aims to settle families in a comfortable place they can call their own. They also have a “Community Health Worker Training Program” which enables people to secure jobs in the caring department. It works like paid-job training, in which trainees experience what it’s like to work for a caring facility. Martha knows that, for families to thrive, there must be a sense of balance and conscious effort to make it work. Under this program, the recipients are given:
• Mental Health Wellness
• Domestic Violence Services and Referrals
• Child Welfare, Family Unification and Substance Abuse
• Childcare Services for Clients
• Emergency Needs
The Community Technology Center enables women to use technology to their advantage. There, they learn how to use computers to create resumes and social networking accounts. The project aims to beat computer illiteracy among the homeless and the poor.
Lastly, they have the “Family Economic Success Program,” in which services in tax computing and education are available. For families to be self-reliant, they must know basic information about taxes and how best to manage their finances.
We could say that the Homeless Prenatal Program is a one-stop organization which works primarily because of its leader, who truly believes in the inherent kindness of the human race.
“Every day we see miracles happen. We see women who have the courage to change their lives. Women who have very little hopefulness, yet they have the courage to look inside themselves, find their strengths, and move forward so they can be the best possible parent to their children. We see this happen and that is what keeps me motivated.” (SOURCE: University of San Francisco Magazine)
Organizations and Programs Supported
- Homeless Prenatal Program
- Tipping Point
- San Francisco Foundation
- Hamilton Family Center
- HPP – The Wellness Center
- Community Health Worker (CHW) Training Program
- City and County of San Francisco Human Services Agency
- Child Protective Services
- San Francisco Food Bank
- Community Technology Center
- United Way of the Bay Area
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program
- Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC)
- San Francisco General Hospital
- San Francisco Community Agencies Responding to Disaster (SFCARD)
Awards and Achievements
- 1989: Given a grant of 52,000 dollars to start the “Homeless Prenatal Program”
- 2002: Won the “San Francisco Foundation Community Leadership Award”
- 2003: Won the “Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leadership Award”
- 2006: Started the “HPP Housing Program”
- 2010: Honored as one of two “Art of Activism” award recipients by the Redford Center
- 2010: Declared May 22nd as “Martha Ryan Day”
- 2011: Received the “James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award”
- 2013: Included in CNN’s list of “Heroes”
- 2013: “HPP” was named one of the Bay Area’s “Best Places to Work”
- Received “HERO Award” from Equity Advisory Committee of San Francisco Human Rights Commission
- Honored as a “Local Hero” by Bank of America’s “Neighborhood Excellence Initiative Awards”
- “HPP” was honored at Tipping Point Community’s Third Annual Awards Breakfast
- Holds an Honorary Doctorate from the University of San Francisco
Facebook (Homeless Prenatal Program)
Homeless Prenatal Program (Mission)
Homeless Prenatal Program (Message)
Homeless Prenatal Program (Housing)
UCSF (Martha Ryan)
Homeless Prenatal Program (Prenatal and Parenting Support)
Homeless Prenatal (Community Health Worker Training)
Homeless Prenatal Program (Stabilizing Families)
Homeless Prenatal Program (Community Technology Center)
Homeless Prenatal Program (Family Economic Success Program)
CNN (A way forward for pregnant, homeless women)
The James Irvine Foundation (Martha Ryan)
Life Site News (Martha Ryan: helping the pregnant homeless)
Community Health Leaders (Martha Ryan)
USF Magazine (Breaking the Cycle)
Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP’s Martha Ryan Awarded Honorary Doctorate from USF)
Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP Awarded 2013 SFHRC “Hero”)
Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP Selected as Bay Area Best Places to Work)
Homeless Prenatal Program (Home Is Where the Heart Is)
Homeless Prenatal Program (Watch Our Video from The James Irvine Foundation)
Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP Founder Martha Ryan Honored as “Local Hero”)
Homeless Prenatal Program ($20,000 Wells Fargo Grant Presented at CHW Graduation)
Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP Founder Martha Ryan Honored at Redford Center Event)
Homeless Prenatal Program (The San Francisco Foundation Will Grant HPP $25,000 to Provide Essential Services Following A Disaster)
Homeless Prenatal Program (Tipping Point Community Awards HPP with $50,000 Grant)
San Francisco Gate (S.F. photo exhibit of women who found self-worth)