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Cindy Willich, left, performed an ultrasound on Molly Murphy of Caledonia, Missouri, on June 3 at Caring Hearts Pregnancy Resource Center & Medical Clinic in Potosi. Patty Robinson, center, was learning to use the new machine.
Cindy Willich, left, performed an ultrasound on Molly Murphy of Caledonia, Missouri, on June 3 at Caring Hearts Pregnancy Resource Center & Medical Clinic in Potosi. Patty Robinson, center, was learning to use the new machine.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Archdiocese forms new partnership with only pregnancy resource center in Washington County

It had been a few decades since Bonnie Gardner, 60, had a baby in the house.

So when she gained custody of her granddaughter Rarity at just two days old, she knew she needed help.

Gardner turned to Caring Hearts Pregnancy Resource Center in Potosi, which offers not just help to pregnant women but a wide variety of services to parents and grandparents. The staff at Caring Hearts helped set her up with a car seat and other baby supplies, and Gardner started attending regular parenting classes to update her knowledge of current best practices.

Patty Robinson pointed to the screen of an ultrasound machine June 3 at the pregnancy resource center in Potosi.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
“They’re there when you need them. If I call and say, ‘Hey, I need help with this, I need to talk about this,’ they’re there,” Gardner said. “They really are helpful, understanding, blessed people…I never dreamed I’d be raising a baby at 60, but here we are, kickin’ it.”

Caring Hearts, a faith-based nonprofit, is the only pregnancy resource center in Washington County. This spring, it partnered with the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate and found support from other Catholic entities.

Becky Howell, a parishioner at St. James in Potosi and Caring Hearts board member, made the connection to the archdiocese through the Southern Vicariate staff, who immediately responded by visiting the center and reaching out to archdiocesan agencies. The Annual Catholic Appeal approved an emergency grant of $25,000 to help address a budget shortfall at Caring Hearts. The RLA also helped obtain for the center a $5,000 LifeLine Coalition grant, a restricted fund established by Archbishop John L. May in 1986 to assist pregnant women and preborn children with practical needs.

“It makes all the difference in the world for them to be able to keep their doors open,” Howell said.

Brian Thouvenot, chief community officer at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, found a private donor to cover the cost of a new ultrasound machine for Caring Hearts, replacing an older, broken model.

In-house ultrasounds allow Caring Hearts staff to confirm positive pregnancy tests and let pregnant women see their babies for perhaps the first time, said Mande Robinson, Caring Hearts executive director.

“We’ve had some come in that we knew were abortion-minded, and they were pretty much open about that,” Robinson said. “And when that’s the case, I want them to hear a heartbeat and to see that they have a precious life inside of them that is full of promise and hope.”

She recalled two women in the past year who shared that they were considering abortion but changed their minds after seeing their unborn child. The ultrasounds can motivate women to make prenatal care a priority, Robinson said, and to grow the connection they feel to their unborn child. When Caring Hearts was without a working machine for about eight months, they had to recommend clients visit the next closest pregnancy resource center, 45 minutes away in Farmington.

When Caring Hearts was established 10 years ago, it focused on helping younger, first-time moms or those who were abortion-minded, Robinson said. Over time, the team learned that wanting to keep the child was often not the biggest obstacle; it was any number of other circumstances and hardships facing parents both during pregnancy and as their children grew.

Many clients need help getting their homes ready to safely welcome a baby, so Caring Hearts sets them up with equipment, diapers, hygiene supplies and more. Caring Hearts refers them to the health department to register for Medicaid, WIC and other social services, if needed. If a client doesn’t have a medical provider, Caring Hearts helps find one — and has volunteers to drive clients with transportation barriers.

Washington County is among the poorest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, with a 19.6% poverty rate. The county has a teen (age 15-19) birth rate of 42.9 births per 1,000 female teens, nearly double the Missouri average of 22.7. It also has an above-state-average rate of low birth weight infants, substantiated child abuse/neglect cases and child food insecurity.

To support parents and caregivers after a child is born, the center hosts classes for parenting and life skills through different developmental stages. It offers support groups for substance addictions, grief, sexual trauma, postpartum depression, past abortions and more. Male volunteers mentor a growing number of single fathers seeking support. The center has worked with clients on job interview skills and finding affordable, stable housing.

“We’ve grown in our area because we’ve discovered that these are some of the root issues that are causing our parents to continue the cycle they’re in. And so to break that cycle, we need to help them overcome these things that they’ve been dealing with in their lives,” Robinson said. “…We just find ourselves filling the gap in whatever way we can so that they can be successful adults, successful parents.”

Chris and Kayla Wallace were connected to Caring Hearts through the Missouri Department of Social Services Family and Children’s Division about two and a half years ago. They had lost custody of their son, Liam, and needed to address some issues to be able to parent him again.

After growing up in an abusive home, Chris became withdrawn, bottling up his emotions and turning to substance use. Through parenting classes at Caring Hearts — alongside addiction recovery — he learned that it’s possible to find joy in fatherhood and family unity, he said.

Liam has been back home with his parents for about six months now, and they’re getting ready to celebrate his third birthday in July. The Wallaces continue to attend classes at Caring Hearts and stay in touch with the staff, who “are like mentors to us,” Chris said.

The Respect Life Apostolate is helping to connect Caring Hearts with the regional pro-life network, adding the center to its Walking With Moms St. Louis resources and connecting them with similar organizations. The RLA also gave them diapers collected by archdiocesan employees during the permanent deacons’ diaper drive.

“As many people from as many faith traditions and corners of the world that we can unify to work together to promote the dignity of preborn human life, and to help pregnant and parenting mothers, the better,” RLA director Mary Varni said.

>> Caring Hearts Pregnancy Resource Center

To learn more about Caring Hearts, the only pregnancy resource center in Washington County, visit caringheartsprc.org or call (573) 436-2000.

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