'Gimme Shelter' - Starring Vanessa Hudgens - Features Crisis Pregnancy Center
(CNSNews.com) – The movie "Gimme Shelter," which has a pro-life message, opens in theaters on Friday, and is based on the work of Kathy DiFiore, founder of Several Sources Shelters, a network of resources based in New Jersey for women in need including several shelters for unwed mothers and their babies.
Vanessa Hudgens of the "High School Musical" franchise plays a pregnant teen named Agnes “Apple” Bailey, who is abused by her mother, played by Rosario Dawson. She runs away from home in search of her father, played by Brendan Fraser, and encounters James Earl Jones, who plays a priest. Hudgens eventually ends up at the shelter run by DiFore, played by Ann Dowd in the film.
Ronald Krauss, writer, director and producer of the film, spent one year living in the shelter and recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with the residents, one of which was a young woman named Darlisha on which the main character, Apple, was partially based.
When Krauss first met Darlisha, he mistook her for a resident at the shelter and let her in, but was scolded by DiFiore. "'Never let anybody in the shelter who doesn't belong here,'" DiFiore told him.
But after interviewing the girl, DiFiore decided Darlisha could stay. When Krauss informed Darlisha of the good news, "This girl hugged me so hard, she almost knocked me over, sending like a jolt into my heart," he said.
"And I think it was from that point on that I realized that there are other people like her out here, more so than any other girl I interviewed, because it was so personal," Krauss said.
"And it turned out that she had walked about 25 miles to get to that shelter in the freezing cold, and she was three months pregnant. I found out, because she had to go to the hospital the next day, because she was in trauma," Krauss said, who added that the girl was okay. "I was at the birth of her child. Her child is in the movie. She's in the movie acting.
"She's great in the movie, and she's now, just passed her CNA to be a nurse. She works at the shelter. She helps others. She's a house mother there," he said.
Krauss said Apple was based on Darlisha and one other young woman.
"[Darlisha] was one of the girls, and the other one was of course based on the Brendan Fraser character, the real Tom, who was a Wall Street guy, whose daughter got pregnant and ended up at the shelter. I wanted to give sort of two different prospective backgrounds," he said.
Krauss didn't have a specific actress in mind for the role of Apple, because he didn't think any actress could play the role. He hadn't seen High School Musical or any of Hudgens' work. He only knew her from her audition.
"But it was really the girls at the shelter who in the end confirmed my choice in wanting to go with her, because I had put about eight different people mixed with real people and actors on a link, and I sent it to the shelter, and they picked her as well, and they didn't know who she was. So, they said this is the person who needs to play this role," Krauss said.
Once Brendan Fraser read the script, he contacted Krauss. "He really wanted to play the role," Krauss said.
Krauss reached out to James Earl Jones to play the role of the priest in the film.
"He's a very compassionate person. He's an icon. He's an incredible actor to have in the cast, and he had a similar background. He had studied to be a priest when he was younger," Krauss said.
Krauss also praised Rosario Dawson's performance in the film, calling it "just unbelievable."
"I think it's one of her best performances I think I've ever seen, and she understands poverty, and she had a very challenged childhood growing up in New York City," he said.
"And so I think there was like a common link with the people who worked in this film that they really wanted to do the film, that they understood the struggles and what the subject matter was and including like they did it for no money," Krauss said.
After the filming ended, Fraser donated his salary to the shelter, as did Jones and Hudgens, Krauss said.
'Make me a channel of your peace'
DiFiore was inspired to open a shelter after a series of life-changing events - an abusive relationship and a bout with homelessness.
Once she got a job and got back on her feet, she bought a house. Then her faith led her to her life's mission.
"And all of that was through my faith. I always felt God was helping me every step of the way to rebuild my life, but once I got my house, I had this compelling sense through the prayer of St. Francis, which is, 'Make me a channel of your peace.' That's what brought me peace," she said.
DiFiore said she was led by God to reach out and help others in need, not just through pregnancy shelters at first.
She volunteered at prison, setting up a pen pal program and even took in a woman who had adult acute leukemia, who was given six months to live.
"Instead she survived and she went on to take care of her mother and her brother, all because I want to do God's work," DiFiore said. "And then finally I took in these unwed mothers and their babies, and that's what everyone enjoyed. It was like focus on this, Kathy, and that's what I did."
CNSNews.com asked DiFiore if she has ever had any situation where she had to kick a teenage mother or someone else out of the shelter due to violence.
"We have our challenges. There's no doubt about that, but we never 'kick' anybody out. We always have a parachute. It's just: 'You're not ready to stay at the Several Sources Shelters,' so I set them up to go at another shelter, and sometimes I have to make a donation to that particular founder, and there's one or two that I like in particular, because they're very kind, but they [the unruly residents] don't want to live within our rules," she said.
Once at the Several Sources Shelters, the unwed mothers are told they can stay as long as they want. "That helps them to relax," DiFiore said.
The shelter holds nightly prayer and Bible study so they can learn about God and teach their baby about God too. There's also a licensed social worker that supervises all the shelters and a therapist, because the women receive counseling weekly and group therapy. Also, a benefactor pays for them to go to college.
"The best thing we have is each other. They trust each other. The women that have been in the program longer become mentors to the younger women that are just coming through the program, so they learn to trust us, because they see the senior mothers trust us," DiFiore said.
DiFiore's work has expanded beyond the United States. She was contacted to help open a shelter for unwed mothers in Uganda - a project that has been in the works for a year.
A young woman from Uganda, named Prim, who was going to school in the Ukraine, contacted DiFiore.
"And now she actually has two crisis pregnany centers in both countries, and we help fund it a little bit, and she'll tell us about the women's needs, and they're very unique than the United States, and I have two other African countries right now that have asked me to help open up crisis pregnancy centers there too," DiFiore said.
When asked if she plans to open pregnancy crisis shelters in other countries, too, DiFiore said, "I leave that up to God. I don't have a business plan. I always feel that whatever God brings my way I'm supposed to do, and I look at it as when I hopefully go to heaven, he's judges me, he'll say you did everything I asked you to do, so come on in."