A Mission to Love

By Brad McEwen

Few subjects inspire such impassioned and oftentimes divisive reactions than the seemingly ever-present debate around unplanned/unwanted pregnancy and abortion. Just a cursory visit to any social platform will likely bring with it a cacophony of voices—each vehemently arguing (sometimes respectfully and sometimes in a downright nasty way) for what they believe is right.

That noise can seemingly get so loud, that it’s quite frankly easy to forget what really lies at the root of the entire debate—human lives.

While I would never attempt to justify any of the arguments being made by those who feel so strongly one way or other, I do have to admit that the frustration that usually boils up in me whenever I stumble into a shouted debate about this subject, was quelled recently after spending an afternoon with Executive Director Kim Bell and several of the board members currently guiding the Pregnancy Resource Center of Lee County.

Not only did my time spent with these fine people tamp down my own reactions to this subject, I found myself inspired and uplifted when learning more about the message of love being espoused by the Lee County-based non-profit that seeks to offer guidance and support to the women and their families who are facing the challenges of pregnancy—whether wanted, planned or not.

“We have several goals, but one of the things that we want these young women to know is that we’re not here to judge them,” explained Kim a few minutes into our Beyond the Bank interview. “We are here to love them.

“That is what we want them to feel.

“We want them to feel safe. We want them to feel loved. We want them to know that we’re not telling their business all around town, that it’s just us and them and we just want to be here for them. That’s our heart.”

That heart, which Kim referenced repeatedly during my visit to the center’s new location on Peach Street in Lee County, was first revealed back in 2010, when several members of First Baptist Church of Leesburg decided to do something about the growing numbers of unplanned pregnancies and abortions happening in the area.

As Kim explained it, one of the founding board members (who has since moved from the area) had become a mom when she was 16 and was subsequently thrown out of her home by her parents and that experience eventually led her to join with others who had “a heart” for that subject, and for saving lives. And thus the ministry was born.

“It really started with a handful of people that just felt like there was a need in this community,” Kim explained. “Of course we’ve got Alpha Pregnancy Center in Albany that’s been here I believe since the 90s, so they’ve been around a good while. Then there’s Hands of Hope in Americus. So we’ve got them on either side of us. But they saw a need here. I don’t know if they saw like a statistical need or if it just was the Lord who laid it on their hearts, but the people who have served on the board over the years, they just have a heart for what this ministry is about and saving lives.”

While Kim made it a point to emphasize that the pregnancy center does not intentionally steer women away from having abortions—explaining that the organization simply provides information and most importantly love to the women, regardless of their choice—the reality, according to founding board member Bill Sandefur, was to try and limit the number of abortions being performed.

“Really, this is God’s ministry,” Bill said. “It’s all about saving babies. So originally we started out more about trying to put a dent in the abortion issue. But it grew from that to be a ministry not only about babies, but also about the families.

“For every baby, there’s a mama and a daddy somewhere. And then when you figure the mama and the daddy, they have mamas and daddies, and they’re all affected by this issue. There’s probably not a single person in this room that doesn’t know somebody or has a relative or somebody that’s affected.”

It’s with that mindset—that everyone involved, either directly or indirectly with an unplanned pregnancy needs support—that the organization has evolved in the last few years to taking an approach that’s less about stopping abortion and more about spreading love, regardless of the outcome.

To that end, the Pregnancy Resource Center of Lee County, through its two paid positions and its group of loyal volunteers, offers numerous programs, all provided free of charge and all geared at simply offering love and support to these women and their families.

Some of these programs include pregnancy testing, referrals to other community resources for help with medical care, counseling and mentoring, prenatal classes, parenting classes and post-abortion support.

Kim and the others made it a point to emphasize that they offer post-abortion support, because the board believes it’s critical to not pass judgement on a woman’s decision and to continue to offer love and support regardless of the outcome.

“Not everybody who walks in our door is abortion-minded,” Kim said. “We have a wide range of ages and needs that come in. But we do have quite a few that come in and they see abortion as their only option.

“What we’re here to do is not try to coerce them, or deceive them.

“We acknowledge it’s their choice, that they do have that choice. However, we want them to make an informed choice. We want to give them as much factual information as we can.

“We want them to know the truth about what abortion is and what the physical effects could be, what the emotional effects could be,” she continued. “When you make this decision it’s forever.

“Even then, we definitely let them know that if they walk out that door and that’s the choice they’ve made, that we’re still here for them afterwards. We have abortion recovery programs that we are willing to walk through with those girls and it might be years later that they feel the effects of that and we want them to know we’re here for them.

“Really we just want to make that connection with women in the community, whether they are in a good place and that baby is wanted, or if they’re in a difficult place and they are scared to death and don’t know what to do.”

While the pregnancy resource center doesn’t minimize the issue of abortion, or take such a firm stand against it that it alienates people, the board members did make it clear that they would prefer abortions not be so frequently used as contraception or to simply make a perceived problem “go away.”

That’s why the center, since its inception, has remained fully funded by private donations from individuals, businesses and churches.

“If you compare what we do to Planned Parenthood, they’re one of the government’s largest funded organizations, so they don’t have to ask for money,” said board member Sandy Bowden, who spearheads the organization’s fundraising efforts. “They have a blank check, so that’s what separates us. We survive yearly on donations and we don’t accept any kind of government funding so that we’re not regulated. That’s the last thing God’s ministry needs to be.”

While the board sees its lack of governmental funding as a bonus, having to exist solely on private sector donations does come with its challenges.

“It takes money to run a ministry,” Sandy said. “It’s like we’re always talking about how to get money, how to financially survive. And we would love to be a part of more of the community outreach stuff. We do have an assistant director now (Kim Eason) who is trying to handle that aspect of being in the community and just giving back to the community and being present in the community.

“Our goal is to be completely funded by donors so that we’re not constantly planning fundraisers. We would love for our fundraisers to be opportunities to honor our donors and celebrate them.

“Hopefully our budget will be fully funded. We’ve got to appeal to churches and donors to do that so that the pledges just come in automatically. And then when we do ask for money through a fundraiser, it’s for special projects that the center needs, not that we have a $150,000 budget that we have to try to meet in one fundraiser.”

“We’re limited by what’s in the hearts of the people who are in the community,” added Bill. “We don’t get $500 million a year from the government to run our organization. And quite frankly we don’t want it, so nobody tells us what to do. So it’s individual donations.

“Everything we get comes from individuals and then some churches that are supporting us monthly. It’s truly God that’s doing that. It’s all about the Lord. He’s providing the money and He’ll continue to do that as long as He wants us open. If He wants to shut us down, that’s okay too. It’s His ministry.”

By all accounts the Pregnancy Resource Center of Lee County has indeed been blessed. After starting in an old dilapidated house on the campus of First Baptist Leesburg, which the church donated for the center’s use free of charge, the ministry has now moved to a much nicer facility in an area of town that provides more privacy for the clients and which quite honestly just has a more welcoming feel to it.

The down payment for that facility came through donations and thus far donations have allowed the organization to hire Bell a little over two years ago and Eason just recently.

In fact, while I was there visiting with Kim Bell and the board, a volunteer stopped by the office to drop off two baby bottles full of money as part of an ongoing campaign to raise funds through area churches.

“We have little baby bottles that we send out to churches and they distributed them to their members and generally from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day—sometimes it’s extended—they collect cash, change, checks in those bottles, and the members bring them back and the churches bring them back to us.

“It’s a great fundraiser for us every year and a good little awareness program for us to kind of let people know a little bit about who we are and what we do.”

Although that awareness is crucial to the organization’s mission, the funds collected in the bottles are vitally important to the organization, especially when it comes to one of the main services the pregnancy resource center is proud to offer to its clients—the Baby Boutique.

“We have what we call an ‘earn while you learn’ program,” Kim explained. “The women can earn points when they come for their visits. Their sessions are video driven and they have lessons that they can do and homework that they do and they can bring the father of the baby with them or another supporter with them and get points for that. So there are different ways they can earn points for that program to use in the Baby Boutique.

“In the Baby Boutique we have clothes and bath items and diapers and wipes and all kinds of baby items for them, so I think that’s a big draw that we can help with that. But we have some women that simply just come for the education. In fact, we had a caller today, she has two children but they’re older and this was a surprise pregnancy and she’s like, ‘I just need a refresher.’

“Some people have feared that we would become a diaper service and I get that, but my heart is, if we can get them in the door and we can educate them—because we really do have some good information back there for them—and help them and see them grow, then that could be some preventative medicine for other unplanned pregnancies. That’s the goal.”

Along those same lines, Kim said the center is also getting involved in more activities to educate young people about the potential consequences of unplanned pregnancies. To that end, the organization is joining with more than 20 area churches next month to host a community-wide rally at Lee County High School August 16 from 7p.m.—10 p.m. called “Transformed.”

Kim said through efforts like that, they hope to cut down on the number of women who need the pregnancy resource center’s offerings in the future, although she and the rest of the board understand there will likely always be a need.

“The heart behind it is to reach out to the youth in the community and let people know who we are and what we do, but this is more of a purity event,” she said. “Definitely not trying to drum up business, but more preventing you know.

“And just letting people know that we’re a safe place and that if you do find yourself in that situation, we’re here.”

Fairly soon, the pregnancy resource center is also hoping to make a pretty significant announcement that through the generosity of the community, it will be “going medical,” as Kim put it.

“We have a volunteer nurse that comes just by appointment and she does a variety of different classes like car seat safety, infancy CPR; she has a new class that she’s doing on SIDs (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and she actually did that class last Monday and three of our girls came to that and it was just awesome to see them working together and kind of connecting with each other, things like that,” Kim said. “It’s great to be able to offer that as part of our program.”

But once they “go medical” Kim said those kind of things will soon be expanded to include more medical-related resources.

“We have just received notice that we’re getting some grant money and that will allow us to start the process of going medical,” she explained. “That way we can have a nurse on hand to do ultrasounds and administer pregnancy tests and all of these services are completely free.

“We’re excited about the prospect of going medical just because of being able to have that stuff on-site. Alpha Pregnancy Center has been wonderful to us the entire time that we have been in business. They have done our ultrasounds for us and we’ve been so thankful for that.

“But being able to do those on-site I think will just increase our credibility. And what I’m hoping is it will keep people coming back.”

Of course Kim acknowledged what a strange concept it is to think about increased traffic to the pregnancy center.

At first blush it would seem counter-intuitive to want to see an increase in this kind of traffic, but the reality is, even if the overall numbers of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies go down, there’s enough anecdotal evidence that shows the pregnancy center doesn’t see as many women as there are women dealing with that reality.

“Some months we may have a dry month and we see six or seven people and then some months we may see 20, so I would say in the past few years we’ve kind of averaged in the mid-30s,” Kim said of the numbers of women they typically serve in a calendar year. “We’ve had years where we’ve had 50 to 60 clients.

“I’m hoping, and I always hesitate to say it this way because you don’t in this kind of business wish for more customers, but the thing is, we know that they’re out there, so we want them to know that we’re here and we want them to come.”

Sandy looks at it another way, saying that in her mind, as long as the numbers of abortions being performed stay at current levels, that just means the resource center isn’t seeing as many people as it could be, despite her understanding that not everybody feels the same way she does about the issue.

“At its core, this is God’s ministry, but there’s this issue right now that is a universal issue,” she said. “So how do we appeal to even the nonbelievers and the people who aren’t faith-based? So we do try to exist in a way that we are non-judgmental and they’re not hit over the head with the Bible when they walk into our center. Hopefully it’s just a welcoming atmosphere to any walk of life, so that there is a judgement from the girls that come here, that they can come in here abortion-minded just as well as the ones that just want to know how to utilize our resources.

“So that’s one of the main things I would love for the community to know about us is we’re not a branch of the church. Obviously we offer Bible classes and we would love to minister to them, but we just meet them here.

“We need them to know about us and we need funding to be able to exist because the abortion numbers Bill talked about are really high. But our numbers are not that high. And they should be. They should be equal to the abortion numbers, or be at least half.”

While the group of board members never shied away from their personal stance on the abortion issue, with each of those present—Kim, Bill, Sandy, Yolanda Thacker, Sally Sandefur, Alice Jolley and David Anderson—expressing their personal beliefs, it was abundantly clear that the Pregnancy Resource Center prefers to leave the policy to debate out of what the organization is trying to do and instead focus on the need for love.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are, how young you are, or what color you are, it doesn’t matter,” said Bill. “You come in through that door, you’re welcome, you’re family. And we’re going to take care of you to the best of our ability.”

Or as Kim put it repeatedly, “we’re not here to judge them; we’re here to love them.”

As I left my sit-down with Kim and the board, I’ll admit I was struck momentarily by a twinge of fear, knowing it could be difficult to write about a topic that can be as explosive as unplanned/unwanted pregnancy. But just as soon as that trepidation crept into the back of my mind, that message of love came filtering through the fog of my thoughts and I knew that as long as the message is truly about spreading love and compassion in a world where those concepts are easily forgotten or dismissed, things would work out just fine.

Which is also why I feel confident that the Pregnancy Resource Center of Lee County will continue to have a powerful and positive impact on lives that truly need shelter from what can be difficult and personal storm.

To learn more about the Pregnancy Resource Center and its many programs visit https://www.prcoflc.com/ or call 229.814.1072.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen 

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