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 | By Kiki Hayden | Correspondent

St. Austin Parishioner Serves as ‘Angel’ for Moms in Need

For 12 years, Carmen Adams has served pregnant and new mothers through the Gabriel Project at St. Austin Parish in Austin.

Joining the St. Austin Parish Gabriel Project in 2010 “was a calling,” Adams said. Stacia Demkowicz, who coordinated the project at the time, welcomed Adams to the team. The timing was perfect, because a Spanish-speaking family had just contacted them, and Adams is bilingual. She was assigned as an angel, as Gabriel Project volunteers are known.

“I started with one family,” Adams said. “Eventually I took on another family … And then I became the Gabriel Project coordinator.”

Adams is passionate about the project’s mission to provide “educational parenting classes, emotional support and spiritual support” to families experiencing crisis pregnancies. During her tenure, she was a leader not only for the St. Austin Gabriel Project, but she also helped other Gabriel Projects get started around the diocese.

Adams forged connections with other St. Austin Parish ministries that help spread the word about the Gabriel Project. “The Knights of Columbus … bought our first ever GP banner to display in front of the parish office,” Adams said. She also mentioned other ministries that support and sometimes refer families to the Gabriel Project: the parish priests and staff, Thursday Outreach ministry, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Prayer Blanket Ministry. 

One of the primary ways expectant mothers (and fathers) learn about the Gabriel Project is through an online search, Adams said. Many referrals come by word of mouth. Some call a parish-wide hotline, where they receive referrals to the nearest Gabriel Project to help them. “Each parish has ZIP codes they handle,” Adams explained. The St. Austin Gabriel Project often takes on extra ZIP codes to meet the needs of mothers and children.

Within the Diocese of Austin, there are 26 Gabriel Projects, each associated with a parish, said Karen Candelas, who oversees the St. Gabriel's Pregnancy & Parenting Program at Catholic Charities of Central Texas (CCCTX). 

Once a family has contacted the Gabriel Project, if their needs are best met by the Gabriel Project, they are assigned a parish and an angel “to embrace them, and love them, not judge them, and walk with them in their circumstances,” Candelas explained. The angel checks in with the family frequently.

Angels are volunteers, thus they schedule their check-ins around both the client’s schedule and their own. They help mothers find health care by assisting them with Medicaid paperwork and helping them find doctors. They connect mothers with resources to assist with paying rent. Angels serve like case workers and advocates, providing education, emotional support and spiritual support through regular check-ins, parenting classes and offers for prayer and connection to community. 

As a bilingual Gabriel Project volunteer, Adams’s help has been essential. 

“She’s the hands and feet,” Candelas said.

As a parish organization, the Gabriel Project connects families with their local parish, where they can find material support and another crucial ingredient for successful parenting — a community and a support network. 

Every check-in begins and ends with an offer to pray for the family. “Ninety-nine percent of them say yes,” Adams said. “It really becomes a friendship.” 

She bubbled with excitement describing some of the gifts that each St. Austin Gabriel Project client receives, such as basic baby supplies and care packages with blankets, hats, diapers, onesies, books, etc. Adams also gives each family a Bible with a prayer card tucked “in Luke where the Annunciation is … so they can relate with the Blessed Mother.”

Through the new Earn While You Learn program, the mother takes classes to earn “points” that she can exchange for larger baby items. One mother recently “earned with her points a crib, a car seat, everything she needed for that baby,” Adams said. “They didn’t have to buy one thing.” The money saved from those expenses was available for other expenses such as rent, she said.

In 2019, Adams took the Earn While You Learn program online — only months before the pandemic hit. Adams attributes this success to the intercession of the Holy Family: “The Blessed Mother, the Holy Family have been … providing for our every need.” 

Candelas began working at the St. Gabriel Pregnancy and Parenting Program of CCCTX during the pandemic. “I’ve turned to Carmen quite a bit,” Candelas said. With input from Adams, Candelas revised the handbook for Gabriel Project volunteers. Adams has also accompanied Candelas to speak with new Gabriel Project coordinators at other parishes “to be able to answer from the perspective of a coordinator what the role entails.”

As Adams has retired, Kristen Dempsey Pasyk, the director of social justice ministries at St. Austin Parish, has taken over the reins of the parish Gabriel Project. 

Adams hopes that all parishes will know what a critical ministry the Gabriel Project is.

“I desire that everyone know about the Gabriel Project,” she said, “that they can be a part of it too (as volunteers, donors, etc.) — part of Christ’s love to families, to serve his kingdom here on earth.”

Anyone interested in volunteering for the Gabriel Project or wishing to contribute donations can contact Karen Candelas at (512) 651-6176 or Expectant mothers or parents of young children seeking assistance through the Gabriel Project can call (512) 656-6100 (Austin area) or (979) 822-9340 (Brazos Valley area) or send an email to

Kiki Hayden is a freelance writer living in Bryan who enjoys writing about human connection and human dignity. She has been writing for the Catholic Spirit since the spring of 2022.