Sunday, August 7, 2011

Reaching Out In North-East Ohio

A guest post by Sarah Mindek

My personal experience with crisis pregnancy centers hasn't been the best, and I wasn't even going in to get help. After reading about the pro-life movement & hearing about the violence that is abortion, I knew I wanted to help. I felt a calling. I didn't want to just sit back & talk about how awful I thought abortion was, I wanted to do something to make it go away.

After graduating high school I did some research on local organization that were pro-life and helped women who were considering abortion. The first place I saw was a place called New Life Maternity Home. I thought this would be a wonderful place to give my time and be able to interact with women that were possibly going through a hard time, but trying to do the right thing for their unborn child. When I went for my initial visit of the facility and to get volunteer paperwork I was given a tour, and spoke with the director of the home. I was very excited to help, but I felt like my reception was less than welcome.

When I mentioned I wanted to help directly with the women who would be staying at the home, I was told flat out that I was too young (I was 19 at the time), and that the only jobs I could do were sort donations of baby clothes & products or help with meals ( both of which had no contact with the women). When I mentioned upon seeing the tutoring/school room of the house that I was very good at English and I would like to help the girls who hadn't graduated high school with English assignments so they could get their GED's I was again told I was too young to have any involvement with the women staying at the house no matter how good I was with English.

After getting home and looking at the volunteer paperwork I was required to fill out I was discouraged by the amount of personal and religious information I was required to put down. I felt rejected in a way, like I wasn't holy enough to be involved. All I wanted to do was help and share my talents with women who needed them. So I let the applications sit and eventually I forgot about them and they got thrown out or lost. I went on with my everyday life.

Then (a few years later) I heard about a CPC that was opening closer to where I lived (the maternity home was a bit further away) and I grew very excited. It seemed like the opportunity I'd been waiting for had finally come. I called "Your Pregnancy Resource Center" and set up an appointment to get a tour and the necessary paperwork to volunteer at the site. To my dismay when I went in I discovered the same woman who had been the director of the maternity home was now leading this CPC. I was shocked.

Everyone that was a volunteer (that I saw that day) had white hair & seemed extremely uptight. I didn't feel welcome at all. How would a girl my age feel coming in with an unplanned pregnancy?? She'd be surrounded by overly religious grandmothers who completely looked down on her and made her feel uncomfortable.

I didn't know what to do and I didn't want to be rude so I toured the facility, got my paperwork and left. Reading over this set of volunteer papers made me feel even less worthy to work there (and I'd felt pretty bad a few years ago). I wish I still had the papers because all I can remember specifically from reading them is the feeling of despair that washed over me. I wasn't good enough to help, I wasn't religious enough, I wasn't chaste enough, I wasn't old enough (still). It depressed me.

It also made me feel like this organization was out in our community making the pro-life movement look bad & probably not helping very many girls. It probably even helped to reinforce some of the girls who reached out to pro-choice beliefs. Maybe all some of the girls wanted was some tangible help to keep their baby & they went in and had a zealot shoving religion down their throat. I know how I'd feel if that were the case, it would drive me in the complete opposite direction! So again, that application and chance to volunteer got set aside and forgotten to other everyday things. Some more years went by and I'd almost given up hope for the local movement.

Then one day on twitter, Michael Homula contacted me & said basically he liked what I tweeted. We struck up a conversation and I found out he was the executive director of ICU mobile, an international mobile crisis pregnancy outreach organization based in Akron, Ohio. They get RV's and outfit them with an ultrasound unit and patient consult room which can then be taken and parked in front of an abortion facility, a campus, or anywhere else that women might be at.

I was extremely impressed with the way they executed their mission. While they are an evangelical organization, I felt no pressure or rejection to be something I wasn't, or bad about where I was at in my personal religious journey. I met with Michael a few times and he expressed interest at having me be a part of his team. When I told him about the previous experiences I'd had with my local CPC he was shocked. He didn't think I was too young to help out, in fact he said he thought my age was advantageous since I could more easily relate to the young women we were trying to help.

I was thrilled to finally be accepted for who I was and what I had to offer. Since I wasn't done with school to be a licensed diagnostic medical sonographer (I'll be writing another post specifically about that journey) I wanted to be a patient advocate & talk to the girls about what abortion is, what the procedure is like and why they should keep their baby. I feel that I have strong communication skills & some background in human sexuality and the human body (I've taken a few college classes specifically anatomy & physiology and human sexuality) so I'm not ignorant of what I'm talking about.

Well, the way things worked out, I wouldn't be able to get into ICU's training classes until the fall. Michael suggested that I check out the new CPC in my area until then. I asked "what new CPC?", and he said Bella Women's Center was taking over Your Pregnancy Resource Center. I was so pleased. I got the contact information for the new director of the center and was able to get a hold of her on the phone that very day. We had a long conversation about my past experiences & what I was looking for. I was very encouraged by her answers to my questions, so for the third time I agreed to go in for a tour & to get a volunteer packet. I was shocked by the renovations they had done to the building (it looked so much more inviting & professional) and speaking with the director I felt that our objectives (the CPC and my own personal) were not that different.

Like ICU, Bella Women's Center is evangelical, but I also didn't feel ashamed for my lack of faith. I understood their position and was able to express my concerns (and even felt very respected for my contribution & conversation). The facility just opened up to seeing patients last month so getting in to volunteer has been slow going, but unlike before, I'm not discouraged. There are still some kinks to work out in the way the site operates and I know that helping the girls that come to the center is the top priority. Unlike "Your Pregnancy Resource Center", Bella Women's Center is more medically focused.

They have an RN and a sonographer on staff, and test patients for STD's for free, offer pregnancy tests for free and free ultrasounds to determine fetal age. At Your Pregnancy Resource Center, they only offered store bought pregnancy tests for free. They seemed to be more focused on guilting a woman in to keeping her baby by pelting her with religious arguments rather than offering her medically accurate facts & tangible support. Bella Women's Center also offers adoption referrals which they aren't compensated for. If you'd like more information on what Bella offers & what they do in their own words, you can check them out here- .

So I got my volunteer packet all filled out for Bella, I just have to drop it off. I'm really hoping that the third time's the charm here & that I can finally have my actions  back up my words.

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