On the outside, Mary’s Inn Maternity Home in Dubuque simply looks like a house.

The outside features no signage of any kind. To the average onlooker, it is nothing more than a quaint, one-story home with a garage and a small garden out back.

Inside, though, is an operation working to change the lives of struggling soon-to-be or new mothers.

“We are not a shelter,” said Colleen Pasnik, director of Mary’s Inn. “When a girl moves in here, we are trying to give her all the tools that she needs to be the best mom she can be.”

Today, Mary’s Inn celebrates its fifth anniversary. Since opening in 2015, the faith-based maternity home has assisted 31 single mothers.

Unlike some shelters, most women who come to the home live there for more than a year and receive help as they prepare for childbirth or adjust to motherhood.

The inn also provides classes throughout the week on topics such as parenting, budgeting and cooking.

For the staff, each mother is a long-term investment, Pasnik said. The time spent at the shelter helps to ensure a brighter future for each mother’s child.

“We hope that they all know we love them unconditionally,” Pasnik said. “That’s the most important thing that we do. We love them like they are one of our own, so we will do whatever we can to put them on the right path.”

Pasnik and a group of fellow pro-life advocates first conceived of Mary’s Inn in 2011 after meeting a pregnant woman who was kicked out of her home because she refused to get an abortion and who had no place to go.

With the help of a local church and Dubuque County Right to Life, the group of women was able to assist the woman but soon found that she was not the only pregnant mother facing the same challenges.

Over the next few years, the group went to work on establishing Mary’s Inn.

In 2015, an anonymous donor gave $200,000 to the organization for the purchase of a home.

Later that year, Mary’s Inn began welcoming its first mothers.

Today, the nonprofit has 10 staff members and an assortment of volunteers who help mothers, some of whom are experiencing homelessness or drug abuse.

“They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and they are right,” said Mary Kay Mueller, lead house staff at Mary’s Inn. “It’s definitely a group effort.”

Along with classes, women also are expected to perform chores throughout the house and do their own shopping. Staff members also work toward establishing new family norms for new mothers, such as sitting down together for every meal.

By the end of their time there, the mothers leave Mary’s Inn with the confidence and training needed to raise their children, Pasnik said.

While the work can be challenging, Pasnik said she and her staff are guided by a desire not just to preserve life but to help it prosper.

“Pro-lifers always get a bad rap about only caring for the baby in the womb,” Pasnik said. “It’s a myth. We care about the newborn, the toddler and the mother. We care about the whole thing.”