By Cathy McLeish
FORT WAYNE — Warm, cozy and inviting, the three Women’s Care Centers of Fort Wayne are modeled similarly to the additional 23 centers across the country. In the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, there are nine centers. “Our earliest facility opened in South Bend in 1984,” shared Anne Koehl, director of the Fort Wayne centers.
She said, “When we later opened the first Fort Wayne location in January of 2004, we worried if the two-hour distance between centers would make operation difficult. Today, we have centers running strong as far away as Florida!”
Their threefold mission has the Women’s Care Center focused and thriving. “We support pregnant mothers as they choose life for their unborn baby, enable them to experience a healthy pregnancy, and provide tools for them to be educated and confident parents,” Koehl explained. Free medical grade pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and physician contacts are among the innumerable services available to expecting mothers.
“Typically, a client facing an unexpected pregnancy may come to us in her fourth or fifth week. If she can experience an ultrasound, seeing the image and hearing the heartbeat of her unborn child, 96 percent of our women choose to carry their babies to term.” Ultrasounds are available for clients at all facilities in the diocese and the test has been a crucial benefit in beginning the bonding of mother and child.
Frequently referred to as “the best kept secret in Fort Wayne,” the Women’s Care Centers of Allen County are presently servicing over 800 clients. “We served 2,400 unique women last year ranging from age 14 to 40. Our growing word of mouth referrals account for 55 percent of the clients we serve,” said Koehl.
Every service at the Women’s Care Center is attached to coupon incentives, which can be redeemed on site for diapers, sleepers, etc. Warm-hearted Christ Child Society volunteers supply and organize donations from the local community, making them available to new moms. The coupons serve as a positive motivation for mothers to attend approximately 10 classes that will prepare them for labor and delivery, breastfeeding and care of their newborn. Clients have the opportunity throughout their pregnancy to earn from 30 to 40 coupons, with 30 coupons being the cost for a new crib. Fathers and other committed birth coaches are encouraged to attend classes and are included in the incentive program.
Weekly parenting sessions are an additional resource and often become social avenues for peer support and friendships. Information presented may cover anything from grocery shopping tips and healthy food preparation to direction for employment or furthering education to become more self-sufficient financially. On an individual basis, one-on-one instruction with a life-size doll baby is an available option enabling new parents to feel confident with anything from diapering to bathing their newborn.
“During this temporary crisis, we want to reassure women who may be apprehensive or fearful. They can be good parents, connect and utilize social services, and even make and meet educational goals. We care about their individual needs and we are here to give them a hand up rather than a handout,” Koehl explained fervently.
Within his homily at St. Peter’s Basilica announcing the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis predicted, “I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.” This joyful consolation is delicately woven through the fabric of the Women’s Care Center’s ministry.
The unconditional love of dedicated staff and volunteers enables these mothers to realize their own self-worth and ultimately the dignity of the life of their child. “Having women come to visit with their new babies and share their joy is the highlight of our life here,” Koehl shared passionately. “We have never experienced a mother who returned to tell us she made the wrong choice.”
Being 100 percent donor funded, Koehl said the Women’s Care Center is blessed and excited about its newest location at 4600 West Jefferson in Fort Wayne to be opening as early as this February. “A southwest Fort Wayne location has been on our radar for quite some time. With 70,000 cars driving past this new center daily, we will provide an increasing number of women with safer options,” said Koehl.
Volunteer opportunities include, but are not limited to, childcare providers for parenting classes and helping with quarterly mailings. Their open door policy allows anyone to visit, tour and become an enlightened support through word or deed.
When asked to share a closing thought, the byproduct of her 13-year commitment, Koehl reflected, “Letting our young women know we believe in their strength and ability to abstain is instrumental. Assuring them they can turn to us for loving support if they or someone they know is ever in crisis is equally important.”
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