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Project Cuddle is a charity that helps women of all ages with unexpected or unwanted pregnancies.  They give any woman who calls their hotline help at whatever point they are in their pregnancy, from finding them an obstetrician to guiding them step by step through their pregnancy to finding them a home for their baby.  Love and Water sat down with CEO and founder Debbe Magnusen in an extremely moving interview about how she began this incredibly effective and fast-growing organization in her living room.

LOVE AND WATER- Can you tell us the story of how Project Cuddle began?

DEBBE MAGNUSEN- I was a foster mom and I always thought that I would get the abandoned babies, but in 1983 when I went to foster care I got the babies who were drug exposed.  And so I fostered 35 of them over the years and adopted five of them, and I still kept hearing about babies being abandoned and so I said, “we gotta stop this, but how can we?”  I just couldn’t understand why a mother would abandon her baby.  And it came to me one day, start a toll free number.  So I started in the corner of my living room, with seven children running around, and within 12 hours we had our first call.  A woman who was pregnant.  And we began by helping her.

L&W- That’s amazing.  And how many babies have you saved since you began in July of 1996?

DM- Since we started the hotline, that’s 13 years, we’ve rescued now 638 babies- a little girl who was number 638 was just born this last weekend.

L&W- What are some of the programs you offer to young people to educate them about your cause?

DM- John Stamos, Paula Abdul, a few other celebrities and I put together a high school video that we offer to any school at no charge.  We just sent them out to the entire state of Florida, we’ve sent them out to six states now, and we’ll send them to any school throughout the country who calls and asks us for one.  On top of that we have trading cards that we hand out at school assemblies; I’m meeting with school nurses to do some lectures, letting the nurses know how we can assist them because they deal so much with the kinds of situations young girls get into that we can help with.  Also we have a public service announcement; that’s another thing we do.

L&W- What are some of the ways you are able to assist with young girls and older pregnant women in need?

DM- For example, this last mother, when she was nine months along she had no prenatal care.  We found her an obstetrician, got her into the hospital, had a coach to guide her and be there with her during the delivery, and we helped her find an adoptive family that was ready to take the baby right after delivery.  We also help any woman, no matter her age, get her GED, we get tutors for them, we help them get their drivers’ licenses.  We help call their families if they’re pregnant, and give them shelter if they need it.  We’ve even done weddings.  We did a wedding for one of the birth moms; my daughter was a bridesmaid, my son was the ring bearer, and my mother did the wedding cake.  And I did the flowers.  So we’ve done just about everything!

L&W- How can a family become a rescue family?

DM- They just need to go online and on the left side it says “Rescue Family” and they can click and download the information so they can fill it out. Once that is done they can submit the paperwork along with a photo and a birth mother letter, and a home study course.  Then they’re in the process, hoping of course that they are willing to accept a mixed-race baby.  We often don’t know the race of the baby, because in a lot of cases it could have been a number of different men who turns out to be the father.  So if they’re open to that and not knowing if it’s a boy or a girl, and if they’re willing to take a drug-exposed baby; just anything; there is a higher chance that they will be called upon ealrier than someone who says they need to have a blonde-haired blue-eyed girl.  Basically they have to be ready to rock and roll, on a moment’s notice.

L&W- What are some ways that people can volunteer for Project Cuddle?

DM- We have volunteers that we always need to help with the girls hands-on.  We also need volunteers from California to be phone operators- we give them training and they take a 12 hour shift in their home.  We need volunteers to get online for our online auctions- we’re doing a celebrity auction so we need volunteers to come help.  And if they know somebody who knows somebody who is a celebrity, getting an autographed item is helpful.  Coming to our events- we have an October 17 event at a winery in Malibu, we have one on March 6 in Long Beach, and we always need extra hands.  So there are many ways to get involved.  And of course getting the word out to people in their communities.

L&W- What is the next big step you’d like to see Project Cuddle take on the path to fulfilling its mission?

DM- I want to see a Cuddle House eventually.  And that is the house where girls can come who are hiding their pregnancies and have nowhere to live- maybe they have another child- and their parents have said “shame on you.  If you have one it’s ok, but if it happens again you’re kicked out the door.”  That’s one of my dreams.  The other dream is to have Project Cuddle so well known that it’s a household word.  Everybody knows Red Cross; I want Project Cuddle to be out the so when a girl gets pregnant and doesn’t know what to do she automatically knows she can call Project Cuddle.

L&W- The mission of Love and Water is “every drop counts,” meaning that we believe a lot of a little adds up to a lot very fast.  Can you give an example of how that concept has been true for Project Cuddle?

DM- A couple years ago I went on the Oprah Winfrey show.  It was awesome, because my friend took me to an undisclosed destination in a black stretch limo, and when they opened the limo door, there was Oprah Winfrey.  But on top of that, they brought 171 of the babies and the families that we had rescued.  Those little drops made a huge pool, and it was like the feeling that I had knowing I had made so many lives so full was just incredible.  It was the best day of my entire life.

L&W- And it was by doing what you’re doing on a daily basis all added up.

DM- And never stopping.  As hard and as lonely as it can be at times and as frustrating as it can be, knowing that you have made a difference and knowing you are not just changing one life, you are changing hundreds of lives.  Because not only are we saving the babies, we are also saving the birth mothers from breaking the law, and on top of that we are placing babies with adoptive families so we are helping those families as well.

L&W- Is there anything else that you want people to understand about Project Cuddle?

DM- I want people to know that we are basically volunteer-driven, and that every little bit helps.  It’s only through the community volunteers that we have been able to keep our hotline open and every call and every preganacy is kept confidential and we are there if you need to call at 888-628-3353 for the help that they need.

L&W- I thank you so much for this, Debbe, and I’m so excited to post this interview.  I thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.

DEBBE- You’re so welcome.  Thank you.

Project Cuddle is a 501(c)(3) organization based in Costa Mesa, CA.  Their next event is on October 17, 2009, Malibu at Sunset.  Debbe Magnusen has been featured on Oprah Winfrey, and is working on saving baby number 639.