Ministry at Birthright a blessing for those who serve there
September 26, 2011
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
ARCHDIOCESE — “God’s presence just surrounds everybody.”
|Chris Schuermann and Gloria Ionna post for a photo at Truly Blest. (Courtesy Photo)|
That’s how Gloria Ionna describes the ministry of Birthright of Cincinnati, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year of offering life affirming hope and real alternatives to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Its roots are in Birthright International, founded in 1968 as the first pro-life pregnancy help center in world by Louise Summerhill of Toronto, Canada, due to her own personal experience. At age 45, Summerhill, married and already the mother of five, found herself unexpectedly pregnant with twins. Recognizing the need to help women in crisis pregnancies, she founded a small, pro-life, non-profit organization in her own community. The local chapter was founded by Peggy Becker Jackson who was active in area charities. Originally located on Fourth Street in downtown Cincinnati, the Birthright office is now on Beechmont Avenue in Mt. Washington. It is one of more than 450 Birthright centers in North America.
For Ionna, a member of St. Francis Seraph Parish in Over-the-Rhine, ministering at Birthright has been a blessing. She is a past board member of the organization and founder of a resale shop, Truly Blest, proceeds from which benefit Birthright.
The same holds true for Chris Schuermann, who has served as executive director since May 2008. A special education teacher by training, Schuermann began volunteering with Birthright in 1979, serving with the Dayton and Columbus chapters before returning to Cincinnati, her hometown, with her husband and children.
“I signed up right away as a childbirth instructor,” said Schuermann, who served in that capacity for 15 years. “Birthright has always been near and dear to my heart because of the people I’ve met and its lived mission.”
She attributes her dedication to that mission to her late mother, Mary, who introduced Schuermann and her siblings to pro-life issues as children. “Mom was always very involved,” she recalled. “She was passionate about it, but stayed more behind the scenes. She really modeled her faith for us.”
Her longtime involvement in Birthright is deeply rooted in her own faith, said Schuermann, a member of All Saints Parish in Kenwood. The interdenominational, volunteer organization is dedicated to helping women cope with their pregnancies, offering pregnancy tests, referrals for medical care and counseling, maternity and infant clothing, support groups, child birth and pregnancy classes. All services are free and confidential. In 2010 Birthright of Cincinnati served 3,558 clients and helped save the lives of 26 babies, Schuermann said.
The organization has seen a 40 percent increase in the number of clients this year, she noted. “We’re seeing more clients who haven’t been poor before. They’ve always been working class. They don’t know where to go for help. Our volunteers know the system and can help them navigate it.”
“The mission of Birthright is so very pure. Our focus in on the women and their unborn babies,” said Ionna, who, motivated by a love of retail and a desire to help other mothers, opened a children’s resale shop in Loveland in 1993. She co-managed the store, called Twice Blest, for eight years with her sister, along with listening to the women’s stories and helping them in any way she could. She went on to open a second store in Mason, but after the birth of her first grandchild in 2000, knew it was time to move on to the next stage of her life. She sold the Mason store, and at her husband’s urging, decided to donate the Loveland shop to charity. Birthright took over Twice Blest in 2001 and renamed the store Truly Blest.
“Birthright came into my head because my parents supported it for as long as I can remember,” Ionna said. “I thought maybe that was God’s plan all along. Now that I’ve seen what it’s accomplished, I know it was God’s plan.”
God’s plan, presence and providence are evident every day at Birthright, said Schuermann. “We have so many providential moments. We run on a shoestring budget, but if we have a need, it’s met. Our supporters are wonderful.”
She also credited the faith and dedication of Birthright’s volunteers, saying, “They show the clients the face of God amid their problems.”
One example of how Birthright was able to touch the life of a client is that of a young college student who found herself abandoned by her boyfriend and facing an unexpected pregnancy. With support from Birthright, she chose life for her child. She went on to enroll in a graduate program at Xavier University and obtain a position with a local non-profit organization. She has also taken the lead in organizing community forums focusing on the factors contributing to low birth weights in babies.
Recently, the young woman donated baby clothing to Birthright — an expression of gratitude for the help she received.
“We see that so much, people just showing their thanks that we were there for them,” Ionna said.
Both she and Schuermann stressed Birthright’s ongoing need for volunteers, including serving as childbirth instructors, assisting in the office or helping out at Truly Blest. Training is provided.
Upcoming events to help support Birthright include Sunday Supper, Oct. 9, 4-9 p.m. at Slatts Pub in Blue Ash. Call the restaurant at 513-791-2223 for reservations, mention Birthright and the organization will receive 20 percent of the dinner bill. In addition, Charming Charlie at Rookwood will host a Jewelry Party for Birthright in honor of its 40th anniversary on Nov. 20.
For more information about these and other special events, or to volunteer, call 513-241-5433.