Six years ago, 17-year-old Brandi Moore lay in a hospital bed after a 30-foot fall over a highway overpass onto concrete — an unsuccessful attempt at suicide. The woman who had found her sat in a chair beside Moore in the hospital. When Moore woke, the woman handed her a teddy bear smiling brightly and whispered, “You are a miracle.”
Those four words shifted Moore’s perspective on life forever.
Moore’s father had left before she was even born. From her earliest years, Moore’s mother was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. At 9, Brandi was placed in foster care and moved to over 25 homes within seven years. But the foster homes weren’t any better. Brandi remembers one foster mother forcing her to bathe outside so she wouldn’t use the house bath.
By age 17 she had been in five different high schools and juvenile detention four times. She was suffering severe depression. Life seemed to have no value, so she decided to end it. But things didn’t go according to plan.
“March 17, 2010 changed my life. That day woke me up and made me realize that I’m on this earth for a reason,” Moore said. “That day made me realize that I have a purpose and I just had to figure it out.”
Six years later, Moore stood in front of a crowd of over 20,000 at OneLife LA touting the significance and value of human life. Moore’s entire existence has been a glimmering lesson in the miracle of life, survival against the odds and the power of redemptive suffering.
“The definition of survival is to continue to push through life in spite of what you’re going through. Take your pain as an opportunity to grow, to achieve, and succeed,” Moore said. “I learned to value my life because of people around me who valued me.”
The people who “valued” her include the woman who stood tearfully next to her on stage, the one she has come to call “mom,” Tracie Shepard.
Shepard, Corpus Christi Respect Life Ministry Coordinator in Pacific Palisades, met Moore through an event organized by KidSave, an organization that pairs foster teens with families who want to adopt or mentor them. Moore will never forget the moment they connected.
“I was complaining about being shorter than everyone in the room and without a thought Tracie just took off her wedge heels and let me wear them,” Moore said.
It was through this moment that an unlikely friendship between a ward-of-the-state teenager and Palisades woman ensued. For six years, Shepard mentored Moore into adulthood doing everything from raising her eyebrows at less-than-ideal boyfriends to helping her buy her first car.
The two got ready for Moore’s prom together. Shepard helped Moore graduate from high school and get certified for skilled nursing and Moore is a regular guest in Shepard’s home for Sunday dinners and holidays. This relationship took a girl just two months from being pushed out the foster homes, a girl who believed her life had no value, and showed her that she was valuable, she was beautiful, she was loved. It summarizes what Shepard, believes being pro-life is all about.
“The elderly, an unborn baby, a foster child, they all need the same thing,” Shepard said. “They all need God. And God is love.”
Shepard, has been called “the pro-life behemoth,” “wonder woman,” and, “the queen of the L.A. pro-life movement” by fellow Corpus Christi parishioners. When Shepard first came to Corpus Christi parish in the Palisades, she saw a parish with an incredible philanthropic spirit and great potential for a robust Respect Life Ministry. Shepard and Corpus Christi’s Msgr. Liam Kidney started tackling as many pro-life issues as they could fit in a two-page bulletin — from diaper drives and 40 days for Life to bingo with the elderly and “Sunshine for Seniors.”
But by far, the ministry the parish has become most passionate about has been working with the organization that first led Shepard to Moore. That’s how Corpus Christi became a welcoming home to foster teens with KidSave.
On Oct. 23 Corpus Christi parishioners sat in Mass listening to the first reading from Sirach 35:13, “[The Lord] hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan.”
After Mass, parishioners filled the gym only to add to the joyful cacophony of the parish’s fifth annual KidSave Halloween Party. Foster children, adults interested in adoption or mentorship, and parish volunteers piled into the Corpus Christi gymnasium to offer a celebratory space for teens to find a mentor or parent.
The party offers a low-key setting for youth and adults to interact and get to know each other. At the end of the event the youth will write down what adults they would like to see again and KidSave contacts the adults to see if there is a mutual interest.
Hundreds of orange and black balloons covered the ceiling, dozens of pumpkins were carved into jack-o-lantern, and roughly 40 awkward, fidgety, teens transformed into spunky social butterflies, forgetting their isolation for at least a few hours. Surveying the joyful cacophony, Msgr. Kidney spoke to the full spectrum of being pro-life.
“This is what being pro-life is. The idea of living has to be more than just ‘I’m breathing.’ It should be ‘I’m living this unbelievable gift!’ We need to help people to live their gift,” Kidney said. “People tend to think that being pro-life is about protecting the unborn, or the elderly, or getting rid of capital punishment, which is all true. But I think it’s a lot more than that.”
In the midst of staggering numbers of foster teens and a gymnasium full of lively, eager faces — the majority of which will never be adopted — KidSave co-founder, Randi Thompson, stays motivated by remembering former teens like Moore.
“It’s hard to believe Brandi was once in this room, a shy, combative girl in the corner refusing to get her face painted,” Thompson said.
She was once bearing wounds alone. She was once struggling to value her life. And the shining brilliant woman she is today is a testament to what simple love can do.
“I’m a survivor because of all of these wonderful people who’ve been around me. They made a difference in my life,” Moore said. “All of us can make a difference in the life of a child like me.”
For the parishioners of Corpus Christi, for the pro-life Catholics living in Los Angeles, for all who read or hear Moore’s words, it’s a reminder of the impact that one life can have in imbuing dignity in the life of another.
In the month devoted to respecting life, there are few pieces of advice more profound than Moore’s, “All of us can make a difference.”