"Sometimes you have to leave home to find your family."

A pregnant teenager comes to embrace this important lesson after fleeing her unhappy life with an abusive mother and ending up homeless, before finally discovering the true meaning of “family” in the new film “Gimme Shelter,” a touching tale about survival, the power of love, and the importance of hope.

Inspired by actual events, “Gimme Shelter” --- which opens Jan. 24 --- tells the story of 16-year-old Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens), whose life has been a constant struggle, from living on-and-off with her drug-addicted mother June (Rosario Dawson), to being shuttled between unsafe foster homes. Finding herself pregnant and on the streets after escaping her mother, Apple briefly finds refuge in the home of her biological father Tom (Brendan Fraser), a wealthy banker living in a New Jersey mansion with his wife and two young children.

But Apple’s refusal to terminate her pregnancy soon forces her to flee again. In her darkest moments, desperate and alone, Apple meets a compassionate stranger (James Earl Jones) who leads her to a suburban shelter for homeless teen girls --- based on the real-life Several Sources Shelters in New Jersey founded by Catholic activist Kathy DiFiore --- where she begins a journey of healing and redemption.

“I hope and pray that anyone watching this film, regardless of their age, regardless of the reason that they’re watching, is inspired by little Apple to turn to God when they need help, which is what she did,” DiFiore told The Tidings. In her own life, “It’s my faith that gets me through everything,” including her own escape from years of abuse (from her spouse), which left her homeless and alone.

“Through [it all] I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed, and God got me through it, St. Francis got me through it, and eventually I got a job and a small house,” recalled DiFiore.

As she launched a new chapter of her life in 1981 at the age of 33, she decided to open up her home to help others --- a pregnant teacher, an elderly woman and others. Despite facing numerous bureaucratic and financial obstacles over the years, today there are currently four Several Sources Shelters operating in New Jersey: three live-in maternity homes and one daytime shelter for homeless women.

Seeing “Gimme Shelter” come to life on the big screen has been an unforgettable experience for DiFiore, who praised everyone involved in the production, for their commitment to the project and their generosity. Brendan Fraser donated his entire “Gimme Shelter” salary to Several Sources Shelters, and James Earl Jones donated a significant portion as well.

She also lauded the “powerful” acting performances, especially Vanessa Hudgens’ “remarkable transformation” for her role as Apple.

For Hudgens, acting in “Gimme Shelter” was an eye-opening and heartwarming experience. To research the role, she spent weeks with many of the real-life shelter moms and their babies, getting to know them one-on-one and learning their stories.

“I think this film is so important,” she said, “because it opens our eyes to the world around us” --- to issues of homelessness, teen pregnancy, physical abuse, and dysfunctional homes. By exploring these realities, noted Hudgens, all might better understand and help out their neighbors, or learn to face and heal their own wounds.

The highlight of filming? The scenes with her on-screen baby, she said.

“There’s nothing more magical in the world than seeing a human being in the tiniest package possible,” said Hudgens with a smile. “It’s so amazing.”

Award-winning writer and director Ronald Krauss wrote the original screenplay for the film while living in one of the shelters for pregnant teens for a year, and based the screenplay on the life experiences of several of the shelter mothers. Much of the story “was evolving around me as I was writing,” recounted Krauss.

“These girls trusted me to do a good job, to tell their story and their struggles to help others, so that other people can see this film and get inspired to reach out to people --- to open shelters or just to [practice] general acts of kindness,” he said.

“This isn’t just a movie, it’s a movement --- a movement [encouraging] people to help people,” explained DiFiore. “That’s what God wants us to do.”

For those who are inspired to support the “movement,” DiFiore provides an overview of Several Sources Shelters on her website --- SeveralSources.net --- including a link at the top right-hand side of the homepage titled “How to open a shelter.” She also launched LifeCall.org, which offers information for an estimated 2,000 crisis pregnancy centers and 550 shelters nationwide, listed by state.

“There are people all over this country who are willing to help,” she said.

And for DiFiore, extending a helping hand is second nature; it goes together with her indomitable Catholic faith. “It’s part of my DNA,” she said with a laugh. When asked to estimate the number of teens, women and babies she has helped over the last 33 years, she paused for a moment --- then described her wish for the afterlife.

“I will ask [God], ‘Can I have pictures on my walls of all the babies and the mothers and the homeless women that I have helped?’ and at that point I’ll do my count,” she said. “Between now and then I just want to focus on doing the work.”

For more information about the film, go to: GimmeShelterTheMovie.com. For shelter and crisis pregnancy resources, go to: SeveralSources.net or LifeCall.org.