By Celine Klosterman
CLINTON – Shanna, a client of The Pregnancy Center in Clinton, was just 13 when she discovered she was expecting a baby.
Her mother told her about The Center’s Smart Women program, which offers parenting classes and the opportunity to receive diapers, formula, food, child clothing and personal items for a new mother. Though initially skeptical of the need for classes, Shanna signed up.
“The people there were so nice to me,” the 16-year-old told about 300 people at a fundraising banquet for The Pregnancy Center Oct. 21. At the facility, Shanna said, she met other young women in her situation and learned skills to be a better parent to her son, Emmett.
Shanna received a standing ovation at the Tuscany Special Events Center at Rastrelli’s Restaurant for her testimony. She was one of two clients who spoke during the banquet, which was supported by a donation from Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.
Tammy Walker of DeWitt also spoke, sharing how she had locked herself in a “prison cell” of depression and guilt after having two abortions. But a 10-week program The Pregnancy Center offers for post-abortion healing helped her experience Jesus’ love and forgiveness, she said. Now, she’s training to be a counselor at The Pregnancy Center.
The Center strives to help women like Walker and Shanna, Executive Director Merri Harridge told supporters, including Catholic priests who serve at Prince of Peace and St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. Now in its 24th year, the center provides counseling, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting classes, baby-care items, adoption referrals and information on Christianity, abortion and sexual health.
“This ministry is founded on God’s word,” Harridge said. Most clients come seeking only a pregnancy test, but leave with more — often with knowledge of Jesus and the realization that they and all lives are precious, she said.
Harridge told of one pregnant client who had looked into RU-486, the abortion pill, and called the center to hear about her “options.” The woman and her baby’s father talked at the center with a counselor, who explained the baby’s development and then described abortion procedures. “We’re not doing THAT,” the father responded.
The couple then visited the ministry’s boutique filled with baby-care items, and showed enthusiasm for the Smart Women program, Harridge said.
“With that divine appointment, we saved a baby,” she said, to applause.
Later, Bev Callison, CEO of the Pregnancy Information Center in Aurora, Ill., asked banquet attendees what God was calling them to do to help women and unborn babies.
“There are a lot of hurting women in our (Christian) church, and we need to be mindful of that,” she said. “… It rips our heart out as counselors when we hear, ‘I can’t have the baby because my dad will kill me.’” Or, as one grandmother told her unmarried, pregnant granddaughter, “You shamed me.”
Women need support from ministries such as The Pregnancy Center, Callison said.
She also stressed a need for such ministries in a time when “70 percent of college students are sexually active,” and sexually active single parents don’t provide chaste role models for children.
Pray, and if possible, volunteer or donate, Callison urged. “It’s your job to be good stewards of what God has given to you.”
Father Paul Connolly, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, then led supporters in prayer and asked God to bless the ministry’s work.
St. Joseph Parish has been supporting The Pregnancy Center with collections and fundraisers for years, the priest told The Catholic Messenger. “We need to have a pro-life presence that offers a positive alternative to the choices out there,” he said. “This gives the child a fighting chance to live.”
“I think The Pregnancy Center has been doing a great job,” said Father Joseph Nguyen, parochial vicar of Prince of Peace Parish, who also attended the banquet. “Yes, abortion is morally wrong and we must highly promote respect for life. However, at the same time Jesus taught us not to condemn others — our Christian virtue is to condemn the sin but not the sinner. The work of the staff at The Pregnancy Center is to help those who attempt to have an abortion realize what they would be doing is wrong. But also, even more important is to give a healing process for those who by any circumstances have committed abortion.”