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Pregnancy center provides support, opportunity for spiritual growth

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Thursday, January 20, 2011
By David Eck
CATHEDRAL DEANERY — At Old St. Mary’s Pregnancy Center women who are confused and overwhelmed can find help.
The center, which operates out of Old St. Mary Parish in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine, offers pregnancy tests, information about adoption, refers women to medical agencies for care throughout their pregnancy and then provides supplies to mothers once the baby is born. They also offer ongoing support to mothers with young children. The center even helps clients find shelter if they need it. On average the center performs 80-100 pregnancy tests and helps 200 families per month with supplies. Clients are typically in their teens and early 20s.

“We try to help them in various aspects of their life. We’re a safe haven for them. They kind of feel at home here,” said Terri Huwel, director. “We’re not just there to hand them [supplies]…we want to help them all the way around.”
In addition to a location at the parish, the agency runs a distribution center in rent-free space across the street. Clients can visit the distribution center once a month for items such as diapers and baby wipes, umbrella strollers, formula, baby bottles and new and used clothing. Clients hear about the center through word of mouth.
Huwel oversees a staff of about 15 volunteers, and clients often come back to volunteer their own time at the center. Volunteers help put away supplies and work with clients.
“They open up their heart to you,” said Veronica Cooper, who has been a client at Old St. Mary’s Pregnancy Center for five years. “When your family can’t help you, it’s good that you can turn to them.”
The operation runs on donations, mostly from parishes. Faith communities across Cincinnati and in northern Kentucky hear about the center and have included it on their giving trees. Old St. Mary’s Parish and individuals also contribute. Each week Huwel goes shopping to restock the center.
“A lot of churches have been very generous to us,” Huwel said. “They know we’re in the poorest part of town. We’re the only place in the downtown area.”
The center opened in 2001, a ministry of the late Father Albert Lauer, who was pastor of Old St. Mary’s Parish from 1998 until his death in 2002. Active in the pro-life movement, Father Lauer wanted to create a center that not only affirms life, but also helps develop its clients’ spirituality, Huwel explained.
 
As part of its mission, the center offers Bible study to clients and encourages them to develop a deeper relationship with God. They are encouraged to attend a church if they aren’t already doing so. Clients are a mixture of denominations, but they are mostly Christian.
 
“We feel if their spiritual life will fall into place, then other things will fall into place too. It leads to a conversion of the heart and seeing things the way God sees things,” Huwel said. “They have to realize their self-worth. God created them for a good purpose and we want them to have the best life they possibly can.”
A mother of nine who recently celebrated her 40th wedding anniversary, Huwel volunteered in the pro-life movement for 16 years. She counseled women who were going into an abortion facility and offered them rides to a pregnancy help center. “I would try to speak truth and love to [the] girls,” she said.
Huwel got to know Father Lauer through her pro-life work and left her job in Procter & Gamble’s customer service department to become director at the center when he founded it.
“Whatever you do to help somebody who is poor and has nowhere to turn, you get back 100 fold,” Huwel said. “The work that we’re involved in is one of the most important things we can do to affirm the civilization of life.”
David Eck can be reached at deck@catholiccincinnati.org
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