For most couples, pregnancy is a cause for celebration.
For others, however, due to adverse circumstances, the prospect may be far from welcome. Assisting those individuals at this difficult time is the mission of the Pregnancy Care Center in Denver.
Under the guidance of Crystal Regan, the center's executive director, the nonprofit center is now in its 11th year of operation, serving clients in Lincoln and surrounding counties. All services are provided free of charge.
The youngest client served by the center is only 13 years old, and the oldest is 41. Some clients are married, others are single. What they have in common is confronting the challenge of an unplanned pregnancy.
The center relies on the financial support of more than 20 churches in the area and has connections with more than 35 churches. The beginnings, however, were modest enough.
"In 1998, Susie Sherrill stood up in the service at Westport Baptist Church and said she wanted to establish a crisis pregnancy center in Denver," said Regan, 42.
The congregation raised $3,000, and the center was started in the church basement.
The Pregnancy Care Center will soon move from leased space in the Robert J. Brown Attorney building on N.C. 16 to a more spacious location in a converted house on N.C. 16, close to the Denver Methodist Church. Renovations are underway, with labor and materials provided entirely by volunteers from local churches. An open house is scheduled for March 4.
In the beginning, news of the center and its services was made available through the local Rotary Club and other organizations, and it is a partner agency of the United Way of Lincoln County. While some of the center's funding comes from the United Way, fundraisers and donations account for most of the agency's budget.
One fundraiser, the "Baby Bottle Boomerang," raises $10,000 a year. Baby bottles are distributed to parishioners of local churches on National Sanctity of Life Sunday, as well as on Mother's Day and Father's Day.
"Congregation members fill the baby bottles with loose change for two weeks, and then 'boomerang' the bottles back to us," Regan said.
Other fundraisers include the "Walk For Life," held the second Saturday in September, and a coffee house held every spring. The center's fundraising goals have increased in order to be able to support the additional clients who seek assistance in the face of the current economy.
Clients who come to the Pregnancy Care Center, most of them young and often unmarried, are offered a variety of services, such as pregnancy tests, pregnancy education, relationship management tools and parenting education. In addition, they can earn "points" with which to "purchase" items such as car seats, diapers and baby clothes by completing pregnancy and parenting educational modules.
The modules include videos and worksheets on nutrition, parenting skills and child development. The center also hopes to add modules on budgeting, resume building, conflict resolution, anger management and communication skills.
"They can't stay with us forever," said Dana Gasperson, the center's client services director, "so our goal is to help them become self-sufficient, productive citizens."
"It's a hand up, not a handout," she adds. "We give referrals to all county services, such as United Way, Lincoln County Social Services and East Lincoln Christian Ministry."
With reference to their affiliation with local churches, Regan says, "Our ministry is not here to judge, but we do evangelize and share the gospel." She adds, "I tell my volunteers that you may be the only Bible that someone ever reads."
This philosophy is supported by April, 23, a Sherrill's Ford resident and a client of the Pregnancy Care Center.
"This center has been amazing, a blessing for me,"April said. "My daughter's father had lost his job. My mother passed away four months ago. I didn't have any support in dealing with the overwhelming events in my life." Unemployed as a result of transportation and child care problems, April now volunteers at the Center.
"I work for my diapers," she adds with a smile.
Regan and Gasperson can't help but smile. The mission that began in the basement of Westport Baptist Church 11 years ago is summed up in the life of April and countless other mothers, fathers and their babies.