National News

‘Safe Haven for Newborns’ Founder Honored for Catholic Faith, Legacy Saving Infants

Carol City firefighters Janice Matos, left, and Felicia McNair, right, flank Nick Silverio, founder of the nonprofit Gloria M. Silverio Foundation and its A Safe Haven for Newborns program, and Carol Gloria, the first of 381 Safe Haven babies, at the Miracle Theater in Coral Gables, Fla., Aug. 24, 2023. The theater hosted the world premiere of the documentary “Uncle Nick,” about Silverio and his organization, which helps promote Florida’s Safe Haven laws allowing parents to surrender their unharmed newborn not more than a week old into the custody of personnel at fire stations and other facilities recognized as a safe haven under the law. (Photo: OSV News/Leigh Osgood)

By Laura Dodson

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (OSV News) — A beautiful, 22-year-old woman approached the podium on stage at the Miracle Theater in Coral Gables Aug. 24 as she was being introduced as “Carol Gloria — the very first A Safe Haven for Newborns baby.”

Her appearance was the culminating surprise of an evening dedicated to honoring Nicholas “Nick” Silverio, founder of A Safe Haven for Newborns.

Standing arm-in-arm with Silverio before hundreds of civic leaders, firefighters, hospital administrators, media moguls, volunteers and major benefactors — Carol’s appearance was a living tribute to Silverio’s mission, and the gathered community erupted in a prolonged standing ovation.

Silverio had founded the Gloria M. Silverio Foundation and the nonprofit’s program, A Safe Haven for Newborns, in memory of his wife of 32 years who was killed in a car accident Dec. 7, 1999. Silverio was a successful businessman, the owner of a data processing and internet firm. According to Silverio, he and his wife were soulmates who longed for children, but had experienced two devastating miscarriages.

Losing Gloria, however, plunged him into darkness. As Silverio tells it, one sleepless night while flipping through a magazine, he saw a story about infant abandonment and realized God was calling him to this new purpose.

In 2000, Florida enacted its first Safe Haven law. Silverio contacted René Garcia, a state lawmaker in the state Legislature at the time who is now a District 13 Miami-Dade County commissioner. Garcia, who is committed to “helping those most in need,” also worked to improve the law which allows parents to surrender their unharmed newborn not more than a week old into the custody of personnel at any safe haven facility recognized by the state laws without fear of prosecution. Garcia also assisted Silverio in his campaign to get “A Safe Haven for Newborns” signage on every 24/7 staffed fire station and medical facility in Florida’s 67 counties.

To date, Safe Haven for Newborns says through its assistance, 381 babies have been saved from the tragedy of infant abandonment and more than 6,000 women have been helped through a staffed 24/7 multi-language hotline, and in person with medical services, counseling, referral services and resources to assist the mother and baby in need.

Garcia was instrumental in organizing this event to honor Silverio and stood in the vestibule of the theater greeting guests as they arrived for the world premiere of the documentary “Uncle Nick” produced by Accord Productions, whose founders and producers had also been with Silverio from the beginning of his mission.

“It is amazing that we are here for the documentary of our work that started in 2001 and the 381 little souls we have saved,” Garcia told OSV News. “It is a testament to the work from our hearts. When we put God first, this is what we can accomplish.”

Max Wyler started Accord Productions with his brother 35 years ago and met Silverio through a mutual friend in 2001.

“I remember, Nick was so excited,” Wyler told OSV News. “He was going to save babies by bringing women to the fire stations. I didn’t understand. I didn’t think it would work and if it wasn’t for Nick’s spirit, I wouldn’t have joined in.”

Wyler indicated that working with Silverio they learned early on their preconceived ideas about the target audience for getting out information about Florida’s Safe Haven law did not grasp the full picture. It wasn’t just a young unmarried woman — it could be any woman, different ages, education, socioeconomic backgrounds. It could be a mother with three or four children who felt she just couldn’t raise another child.

“We started doing different videos to get the message to those who might need help,” Wyler said. “Then as the Safe Haven children got old enough, we did videos of them in their loving households so troubled mothers could see they didn’t have to be concerned.”

Eventually Wyler realized that producing a documentary about Nick would better explain A Safe Haven for Newborns.

“Nick didn’t want to do it — didn’t want the focus on him,” Wyler said. “But I explained it would help Safe Haven and he agreed. We’ve called it ‘Uncle Nick’ — it’s the name so many of the Safe Haven children like to use — they very much recognize him as part of their family.”

The documentary touches briefly on Silverio’s early life — his love of family and sports, the values he learned and discipline he gained.

“My first memory of prayer was after hearing my parents discussing divorce when I was 8 years old,” Silverio told OSV News. “I prayed every night, down on my knees at the bedside. My parents tried for six months to work it out. After the divorce, they both continued in their care of my brother and me. God is always speaking to us — unless we connect with him, we’re not going to have a relationship with him and it’s just you, but not with God.”

Silverio considers it a huge blessing that he attended Catholic elementary and high school where they continued to teach the values his parents and family already modeled — to be kind and caring with humility and compassion and help people.

“It was a good part of my life, an excellent education,” he said. “Our teachers believed in us, encouraged and complimented us. They loved God for sure and they passed that on to us. We were taught to strive for excellence for the right reasons, that the measure of a person’s character is by what they do when no one is looking.”

Silverio’s education and formation prepared him for the purpose God planned for his life. But it was Silverio’s wife — the gift of her life and the subsequent loss — that provided the motivation.

“Gloria was an awesome human being — always kind and caring, never a bad word about anyone and with a particular love for children and the elderly,” Silverio explained. “And every night, we got down on our knees beside the bed together to pray.”

Silverio said that after Gloria’s accident, he asked for a priest to come and was waiting for his father to arrive. The doctor told him there was nothing more they could do to save her life. “We prayed and I heard her say, ‘I’m OK, honey, I’m OK,'” he said.

Carol Gloria was born Sept. 14, 2001, brought to a Carol City fire station and placed by her mother into the arms of firefighters Janice Matos and Felicia McNair.

“I was so nervous for the mom; scared for her,” Matos told OSV News. “We just kept saying she was making the right decision.”

McNair added, “We named the baby Carol Gloria, because we were in Carol City and Gloria (meaning) ‘to God be the glory.'”

Carol Gloria was then adopted by parents — her mother is a University of South Florida sociology professor and her father is a cytogeneticist — who gave her the name “Leah.” Today, she is a college senior completing two bachelor’s degrees in public health and health science and a master’s in public health through the University of Miami’s 4+1 program, and hopes to enter medical school following graduation.

“It was particularly important to me to meet Felicia and Janice,” she told OSV News, “and especially to learn that the woman who gave birth to me brought me to the fire station and placed me in the loving arms of Janice and Felicia because she loved me and cared about my well-being and future.”

As Silverio reflects on his life’s work, a quote from Mark Twain comes to mind.

“‘The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why,'” he said. “I found out why.”