.- Opening the dioceseâs fourth Pregnancy Help Center was a perfect example of Catholic Charities of East Tennesseeâs mission: addressing the unmet needs of the most vulnerable.
"This is an unmet need," said Father Ragan Schriver, the agencyâs executive director, during the July 2 dedication of the Campbell County center. "And sheâs responding to it," he added, referring to Sandi Davidson, program manager for CCETâs Pregnancy Services, which also maintains a pregnancy help center in Chattanooga and two in Knoxville.
About two dozen volunteers and friends attended the dedication ceremony at the center, located in the old West End School building at 250 W. Beech St. in LaFollette.
"One of the significant things we do consistently throughout our area is provide services to people who are struggling with an unplanned pregnancy and people who are new parents who didnât know they were going to be parents," said Father Schriver.
"We feel the most important thing we can do is try to be there for people who are struggling, and thatâs what weâre trying to do with this new center."
He asked those gathered to "give a big hand" to Mrs. Davidson and to volunteer coordinator Jeanne Smith.
"What a gift you are to our agency," he said, in reference to Mrs. Davidson, then thanked Mrs. Smith "who has done so much to coordinate our day today and to help put this together."
"The greatest thing we can do is honor a place like this, a place of service, by calling upon the Lord to send his Spirit upon this center to make it a missionary place," said Father Schriver.
Like CCETâs other Pregnancy Help Centers, the LaFollette facility is available to pregnant women and new mothers of all ages who need assistance. There they can find a listening ear, baby and maternity clothes, diapers, formula, referrals to other community services, and more.
The local need is great, Mrs. Davidson said. Campbell County High School has the highest percentage of pregnant students among East Tennessee secondary schools, according to the Florence Crittenton Agency. And Campbell County as a whole ranks No. 23 of the stateâs 95 counties in the pregnancy rate of girls and women ages 10 through 19.
"Father Joe Campbell [the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in LaFollette] called me and said he needed help with an adoption, and the mother was in jail. So I came up, and we got to talking, and thereâs nothing here for pregnant women. That got the ball rolling, and he put me in contact with people in the community," Mrs. Davidson said.
"It just snowballed from there. It was amazing."
Although Father Campbell had originally offered space for the center at his rectory, she said the agency "didnât want anybody to get the impression that we were just Catholic."
Mrs. Davidson said Catholic Charities soon learned that the former school building, with a more central location, had space availableâand LaFollette mayor Mike Stanfield invited the center to locate there.
"I just love the process," said Mrs. Davidson. "You can see how God puts everything in place for you to complete his mission."
The Lordâs work is being accomplished with a whole lot of local helpers. "We got a huge grant from the LaFollette Medical Foundation, and thatâs why weâre able to offer brand-new baby items," she said. "St. Maryâs Hospital gave us funds, and the Campbell County Commissioners are paying our rent."
Mrs. Davidson also mentioned another grant that "weâre not advertising" but that is allowing the purchase of other essential supplies.
A number of churches in the community are on board as well.
"Baptist, United Methodist, Community Hope Churchâit doesnât matter what religion you are," she said. "Everyone has the same goal: to save babies, help babies, and help women."
A member of LaFollette United Methodist Church, Mrs. Smith said the weak economy is increasing local need for the centerâ"especially for women whose husband or boyfriend is out of work, and they canât afford to buy things."
"Maternity clothes, baby items, diapersâthose things cost so much," she said. "This has really filled a gap. We have formula if people need it. If they need jobs, we can refer them to the Job Center, if they need help with food or other needs, we have resources and can take care of those needs. We have counseling if they need it."
Since early April, when the center opened its doors, more than 50 women have already come for help. About half are pregnant and half are new mothers, said Mrs. Smith.
She said her own church community has been "very supportive" and recently held a baby-bottle drive that raised "quite a bit of money to help start the program."
Working for the center has been very rewarding, she said. "Itâs a great opportunity for me to feel like Iâm giving back a little."
Six volunteers, Mrs. Smith, and an intern staff the facility, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
To reach Pregnancy Services, call 877-990-4673. CCETâs Pregnancy Help Centers provide pregnancy testing and education, referral services, adoption help, mentoring, and post-abortion healing and recovery.
Printed with permission from The East Tennessee Catholic, newspaper from the Diocese of Knoxville.