By Jeff Fox

As a ceremony Tuesday approached, Mother’s Refuge Executive Director Robert Zornes began reaching out to some of the 1,350 mothers and babies the program has served over the years.

Maybe you could come by, he would say. But few could. Most had to work. That was a little sad – for a minute, he said.

“That’s great. That’s what our program is about, and they’re working,” Zornes said.

It was a year ago Tuesday that a fire struck the facility at 3721 Del Ridge, near Nativity of Mary Catholic Church in Independence, with which it has a long association. The facility housed 12 mothers and children, and it’s generally full.

On Tuesday, there was a ceremonial beginning of demolition of that facility, which will make way for a new one, designed by Jim Gamble of Independence. It will house 14 and have changes to come into line with building codes, which change over the years. Officials hope to open it by Mothers Day next year, and they are still raising money.

One mom who did make to Tuesday’s ceremony was Davette Alford.

“Words just can’t express how grateful I am for Mother’s Refuge,” she said.

She graduated from William Chrisman High School in 2010 and had plans for college. Then she found out she was pregnant. Abortion was never an option, she said, and that August she came to Mother’s Refuge. She had a daughter and put her up for adoption.

“I was blessed,” she said, “to have someone my age to talk to about my decision.”

Zornes said he firmly believes a tragedy such as the fire leads to one of two outcomes: It can destroy you, or it can make you stronger. Mother’s Refuge will continue its work, he said.

“It’s about the 15-year-old girl who came here, who was living in her car with seven cats and her mother,” he said.

“It’s about helping these young people and giving them a chance.”

When the fire happened, people sprang into action. Staff members took girls and babies home for the night. Within a day, Drumm Farm in Independence offered space, and that worked for several weeks. Then the Remnant Church, which has a facility at the old 4-H site on Missouri 291, offered to house moms and babies – and it still is doing that.

Are any of the single events of the last year a miracle? No, Zornes said. But collectively, yes, it adds up to a miracle, he said.

“Through the past year, we’ve had so many people come to the rescue, really come to the rescue,” Zornes said.

More are lined up. Someone at Home Depot read about it in the newspaper, and now 20 to 25 volunteers are lined up for two or three days of work.

Mother’s Refuge – about $150,000 shy of what it needs, even with an insurance settlement – is having a fundraiser next month. It’s a dinner, billed as a “Taste of Compassion,” from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Truman Memorial Building, 416 W. Maple. It’s 25.

Go to, call 816-353-8070, or look up the organization on Facebook.