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Expectant moms to have a refuge in College Point

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Eleanor Ruder gets a lot of phone calls.

“I got a call from a woman, 19,” said Ruder. “She was going to college in Brooklyn, living and working in Queens. It was just she and her dad. She was a month pregnant. The baby’s father had a drug problem. Her father handed her a wad of bills, saying, ‘You get an abortion, or you don’t come home in the evening.’”

The woman ended up moving out for a few weeks. Her father eventually allowed her back into the house, and she had the baby.

“[The father] took her home and helped her,” said Ruder, who noted that many women in similar situations were not always invited back to the house.

Ruder is the founder and executive director of Bridge to Life, a non-profit organization designed to help pregnant women get by. For years, she had operated out of Bayside, helping distribute clothing to pregnant women and new mothers in need.

In early September, she closed the Bayside location and opened up administrative offices in Fresh Meadows. In October, she opened up the new center in College Point.

But Ruder decided that distributing clothing was no longer enough for her organization. The College Point center, a former convent located at 124-15 14th Ave., is expected to open as a home for pregnant women and new mothers in about two months, while clothing distribution will continue in the basement of the building.

According to Ruder, the Bridge to Life center will be the only home for pregnant women and new mothers in Queens.

“I saw the need a few years ago, and we’re finally getting it going,” she said.

The center will be a home for nine women, accommodating both them and any children the women may already have. Two house mothers will live with the women 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The women will be allowed to stay at the home for a year.

But the center is not simply a place to escape to. All women accepted to the home are required to either attend school or work a job. The center will take one-third of the residents’ income as rent, and it requests that another third be set aside in a savings account. Residents are expected to keep the home clean, cook and buy their own groceries.

The center will also feature a computer room, where residents can learn computer skills. Ruder said she hopes to prepare the women to live on their own once again.

Irene Mistretta, the head of the College Point location, works with Bridge to Life’s 100 volunteers, helping bag layettes for new mothers.

“I love it,” said Mistretta. “It’s not just a job with me. I like working with the women. I’m doing work that has meaning behind it.”

Mistretta estimated that 75 percent of those who seek clothing from Bridge to Life are from Queens, but people have come from as far away as Staten Island. She said she is kept busy.

“In October alone, we had 50 women come in,” she said.

As suggested by its title, Bridge to Life is a pro-life organization. According to Ruder, the goal of the group is to make it easier for women to have a child and not an abortion.

“I feel that if you ask a woman to choose life, you’d better be there to help her,” she said.

Nevertheless, Ruder said the organization does not preach its message to women.

“We don’t proselytize here,” she said. “I tell a woman to talk to God in any way she knows how. But I don’t suggest anything.”

Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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