“We do option counseling to help them make a choice on what they want to do,” says Bratta, who started officially with St. Mary’s in 2012, but has a professional relationship with the adoption agency stretching back more than two decades. “Option counseling focuses on what the woman wants, not what we want. We educate them about adoption and explain that it’s relationship based.”
For many young women, that’s a surprise and a relief: “That means that they will not lose touch with their child, but rather become a part of the adopted family’s life,” Bratta says. “We strive hard to make this happen.”
Bratta has Italian roots on both sides of her family from Ricigliano (a tiny town in the province of Salerno). She says that her home life prepared her well for her current line of work. “It was a lesson in culture, respect for myself and others and learning to laugh,” she says. “I learned to be affectionate, express my feelings and become social. Respect for others and embracing diversity helped shape the person I became.”
That quality of respect especially comes into play when helping the women who come to St. Mary’s for help. It’s a small agency, with roots in the Episcopal faith, though all are welcome; it has only four full-time and four part-time staff, along with a volunteer coordinator.
“We serve each family as if they were the only family that we are working with,” she says. “We have a totally different take than the larger agencies. Our families come to us because they want the personalized care. Our mission is, ‘Every child deserves a good home.'”
Bratta first came in contact with St. Mary’s as a school nurse at Rolling Meadows High School for 22 years, and coordinator of the Teen Parenting Program at Township HS District 214 for more than 20 years. “I had and still have the utmost respect on how the people that I referred were treated — with respect and kindness,” she says.
Bratta started at St. Mary’s in August of 2012 as the part-time outreach coordinator, but a year later was asked to take over as executive director. “I never dreamed that as a nurse and teacher that I would ever hold this type of position,” she says.
Yet Bratta’s credentials are solid. After graduating Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s School of Nursing, she earned her B.S. in Nursing from Northern Illinois University and a master’s from Northern Illinois University. “My Italian heritage taught me that education is the way to go. My Grandpa Iacullo told me, ‘Joanne, they can take everything away from you, but no one can take your education away.'”
For whatever Joanne Bratta has gained, she has given back much, much more to the clients of St. Mary’s.
Says Bratta: “I have always considered the best reward that I have ever received to be the joy and relief on someone’s face when I have helped them through an unplanned pregnancy, have helped give them direction, and assisted them in finishing high school and going on to college for a career.”
St. Mary’s Services is located at 300 E. Northwest Hwy., Suite 200, Arlington Heights, Ill. 60004. Phone 847-870-8181; the 24-hour hotline is 1-888-ST-MARYS (786-2797). Visit www.stmaryservices.com.