LifeCare Center for Women, a Christian-based, nonprofit pregnancy and parenting education center, will celebrate its 20th year in Ottawa Sunday. The center has seen much growth in the past 20 years, Leah Wray, the center’s director, said. Evidence of that growth can be seen hanging on the walls with photos of hundreds of babies.
“When you follow the Lord’s leading, He definitely provides for us to do what we’re supposed to do,” Wray, director for seven years, said.
LifeCare offers free pregnancy tests, ultrasound screenings, clothing and baby items, lay counseling, parenting classes, medical assistance, housing and adoption services. The mission is to provide pregnant women — whether teenagers, single or married — with alternative options to abortion.
Being a Christian organization, Wray said, the center promotes abstinence, but understands teen pregnancies occur. So while it’s difficult to see teens having babies at such a young age, center volunteers try to provide support for the sometimes frightened moms-to-be, Wray said.
Each case comes with its own set of challenges, and varying levels of support are necessary, she said.
“We try to provide support for them and the families, whether it be helping them choose an adoption plan or whether it be the material services and the education so that they can be as good of parents as they can be,” Wray said.
“Without a doubt, I knew I was going to keep the baby,” she said.
Powell’s boyfriend, Michael, who now is her husband of nearly 18 years, stuck by her side through the pregnancy, providing help and support.
Prompted by her mother, the teen went to the LifeCare Center as a means of support in 1995. The center’s assistance was invaluable, she said. Paula Paine, at the time a volunteer for the center, came to the young couple’s apartment to check on them on a weekly basis, if not more often, Powell said, providing counseling. The center also provided them with such baby care needs as diapers, formula and bottles.
“We had a great, positive experience with them,” Powell said of the center. “I don’t know if we could have done it without them. They were such a big support, not only just emotionally.”
She and her boyfriend knew, she said, their lives had changed forever once the baby arrived. They knew things would be much more difficult from then on, but they stuck it out. The new baby forced the pair to grow up fast, she said, but they wouldn’t trade their now-17-year-old daughter for the world.
Powell said she understands her case is the exception to the rule for many young mothers who don’t receive the level of support that she received from both her now-husband and mother. Some drop out of school and live on public assistance. Others work odd jobs struggling to support their families. Identifying herself as goal-oriented, Powell said she finished high school, married her boyfriend, graduated college, earned her master’s degree and now operates her own therapy and counseling practice where she occasionally counsels teen mothers.
“We are kind of like an anomaly,” Powell said. “You don’t meet too many people who have a baby together so young, get married so young and then are still together 17 1/2 years later.”
Powell and her husband not only have the one daughter, but they also have three other children, an 11-year-old, a 9-year-old and an adopted 3-year-old son. Her first pregnancy, Powell said, set the stage for it all, and was much less frightening thanks in large part to the LifeCare Center.
“I think what can make or break somebody is truly that support, I mean truly,” Powell said. “If it’s not family, it’s community resources. And Ottawa has a great resource for teen moms because it gives you a sense of hope.”
An increased number of teen pregnancies motivated the decision to open the crisis pregnancy center 20 years ago, Paine, now a LifeCare board member, said. The pregnant women were being told not to abort, but then they weren’t presented with any options for what to do instead, she said. That’s where the center came in.
“So what we realized is that we can’t just give that message. We have to put our action where our mouth is, and so that’s why the center was really born,” Paine said, adding that LifeCare aimed to provide mothers with the support and guidance they needed every step of the way.
In the center’s infancy, it partnered with the LIGHT House, a Christian home for unwed mothers in Kansas City, as a satellite facility. In just two years, the board of directors made the decision to split away from the LIGHT House and give the center its own entity, now LifeCare Center for Women.
In 2005, the center moved into its 121 E. Second St. location. The next year, LifeCare began offering ultrasound screenings in an attempt to let mothers see their babies and hear the accompanying heartbeats. Today, a nurse on staff performs the screenings using a 3-D ultrasound donated by the Knights of Columbus.
The volunteer-staffed center now operates with 43 percent of its donations coming from private individuals and 13 percent coming from churches, as well as donations from many other organizations in the area. The center has begun working with Franklin County United Way, where it gets about 10 percent of its funding.
In 20 years, the center has had nearly 20,000 visits, many of them referrals. In 2012 alone, the center saw 99 new clients, performed nearly 100 ultrasounds and 78 pregnancy tests, and provided more than 80 childbirth classes, according to the center’s records. Three women changed their minds about choosing abortion, center representatives said.
At LifeCare, the support doesn’t stop once the baby is born. The center offers parenting classes through the “Earn While You Learn” program. Parents learn valuable parenting skills through counseling, videos and worksheets and by completing the once-a-week courses. In addition, they can earn “baby bucks” which allow them to get something from the center’s store. The store is stocked with a variety of items, including diapers, strollers, car seats, donated clothes and baby food.
“The classes have gone over amazing,” Wray said.
Education is perhaps the most important aspect of the center’s services, Wray said, because LifeCare is involved with teaching parents at every stage of a child’s life. The center’s services are free, but the parenting courses help to dispel the idea that the center’s offerings are just a handout, Paine said.
“Earn While You Learn made it possible for them to see the value in working for what they got,” Paine said.
The program, Paine said, proves LifeCare’s mission is about more than just pregnancy, but also parenting.
As part of its anniversary celebration, LifeCare Center has planned a reception 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Carnegie Cultural Center, 501 S. Main St., Ottawa. The come-and-go reception is expected to include information chronicling the history of the center and client testimonials.
The center is asking for past clients, volunteers, staff members, as well as the public to come to the event.
Wray, Paine and Powell agreed they were astounded by the progress the center has made during the past two decades and look forward to the many years of faith-based support countless mothers are likely to receive in the future. Wray gives full credit to the Lord for the advancements the center has made, which Wray said is visible through the impact they’ve made with the clients.
An expanded Earn While You Learn curriculum, after-abortion counseling and abstinence education are on the horizon for LifeCare, Wray said.
“It’s exciting. We’ve come a long way in the 20 years,” she said. “If the next 20 years get as big as the last 20 years, it should be interesting.”