Pregnancy center offers array of aid

October 24, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Some of the clients who come to the Alpha's Glory Crisis Pregnancy Center are young, pregnant and frightened about the future, unsure whether they want to have the baby.

But many are not.

Some come to take pregnancy tests, while others venture in to partake of the free diapers and baby clothes. And though some are teenagers, most are in their 20s and 30s.

The center, an outreach ministry founded by Harford County churches in 1990, exists primarily to counsel women during an unwanted pregnancy. But its services also include pregnancy tests, post-adoption and post-abortion counseling, referrals to other agencies and classes for parents.

In August, the center saw 49 women, said Karen Wilson, its executive director. Of those 49, 11 came in for pregnancy tests, and 25 wanted clothes and diapers.

Eleven of those clients were between the ages of 15 and 19, Wilson said, looking through her records. Twenty-one were between the ages of 20 and 24; 10 were between 25 and 29; and seven were older than 30.

"Our main goal is to be a support," Wilson said.

Only one of the women who took a pregnancy test in August was pregnant, Wilson said.

In the case of an unwanted pregnancy, the center's trained volunteers explore options with the client that include adoption, foster care and raising the child.

Abortion is also discussed as an alternative. "We explain the types of abortion, we explain the medical facts," Wilson said.

However, abortions are never recommended, according to the center's literature.

The center will not give referrals to doctors who perform abortions, though it does give referrals to adoption agencies. But counselors don't try to scare clients away from abortions by showing graphic photographs or telling horror stories, Wilson said.

It is hard to determine whether counselors at the center talk many young women out of having abortions. In many cases, the client leaves and the counselors never find out what decision was made, Wilson said.

In cases where a pregnancy test comes back negative, the counselors will discuss sexually transmitted diseases and encourage clients to practice abstinence.

However, no birth control is dispensed, center officials say, and birth control is not recommended.

"If we were to go around and give out condoms, that would be giving a double message," Wilson said.

The center on Philadelphia Boulevard recently relocated from a building down the street. Though the new location is not much bigger, the space is better, said Wilson.

The old space had one counseling room; the new one has three. One of the rooms, in which women take pregnancy tests and receive counseling, has two comfortable chairs and a television. The other rooms are larger, for women who arrive with children.

The largest space is the supply room, stocked with diapers, containers of formula, maternity and baby clothes, toys and strollers, all donated by churches or individuals. Clients can come in as often as once a month to stock up.

Windows are covered with stickers that look like stained glass, to create a church-like atmosphere and to provide privacy for clients.

All services are free, and clients can make appointments or walk in.

When Wilson took over as executive director about a year ago, she expanded the center's hours to six days a week -- up from one -- so more people would take advantage of its services. The center is open Monday through Saturday, with evening hours Mondays and Thursdays.

Wilson spreads the word by speaking at churches. She recalls one case of a girl who heard her speak at church and brought several friends.

(Because of confidentiality issues, no clients were interviewed for this article.)

Linda Baker, one of the center's 15 or so volunteer counselors, said she became involved about three years ago because her experience as an adoptive mother had reinforced her belief in the sanctity of life.

Baker tells clients about adopting her son, now 19, and tells them that a mother and father somewhere would be thrilled to have their baby.

"I'm thankful every day that his birth mother made that decision, or I wouldn't have a son," she said.

One of Baker's most memorable clients was a pregnant woman whose boyfriend had died in a car crash. The mother of that man brought the client to Alpha.

"We didn't really do much pregnancy counseling in that case," Baker said. `This woman just needed another mother around her age to talk to, a shoulder to cry on.

"I think I was definitely a help to her."

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