Center Offers A Lifeline

Published 4:12 pm Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Pregnancy Support Center of Southside Virginia has a new look. In the past year, the Center has acquired a new director, a new brochure, and a new location in the former Farmville-Prince Edward Library building on Third Street. A sign on the building for an upstairs neighbor, Hope for Tomorrow Counseling Center, reflects their mission as well. Farmville's Pregnancy Center is there to offer hope – along with emotional, physical and spiritual support for those facing pregnancy issues and parenting concerns.

“I think we're one of the best-kept secrets in the area,” stated the Center's Director Cheryl Gowin. “That's my biggest challenge here – to let people know what we do and what services we provide.”

Farmville's Pregnancy Center, which will be celebrating its 30th anniversary next June, began with an invitation from Dr. Diane Fox of the Burkeville Medical Group to an organizational meeting in May, 1983.

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Dr. Fox's letter read in part: “We have been increasingly alarmed by the number of girls and women in our practice with 'crisis pregnancies' – women who are lacking the family support, finances or emotional resources to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term . . . As Christians, we believe that we need to offer the abundance and fullness of life in Christ to all our patients, including mothers and their unborn children.”

The Pregnancy Support Center that evolved from that first meeting continues to be supported entirely by churches, individuals and organizations within the community. The Center does not receive government funding.

“We're a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, so one hundred percent of our operating budget comes from donations,” Gowin noted.

Moving to a larger location allowed the Center to expand its hours of operation – from three days a week to five. It also offers evening hours on Tuesdays when the Heart of Virginia Free Clinic just down the road is open.

Volunteers, called advocates, comprise the workforce and facilitate the outreach programs.

“We call our volunteers advocates because we're really there trying to advocate for our clients to move in the right direction,” Gowin said. “Although our advocates are volunteers, many have degrees in nursing or social work. They really run the gamut of age, education, and background.”

The Center provides training for their advocates as well as continuing training and oversight.

“We desperately need more volunteers,” Gowin added. “Right now we're seeing a great increase in the number of people seeking our services. I don't want to have to turn someone away because we don't have the volunteers.”

The Center currently offers services from pre-birth to parenting.

“We really have three aspects to our program,” the director explained. “The first is our 'Choose to Wait' program. We go into the schools and churches and talk about abstinence to junior high and high school kids.”

This program is designed to tell the “other side of the issues.”

“The message our young kids are getting from the media and TV is all about sex,” Gowin continued. “So our Choose to Wait is geared to tell them – this isn't your only option. You can wait for a better time.”

An educational seminar on abstinence, led by an out-of-state facilitator, was held at the Center recently.

“We're trying to get more of the community involved in what we're doing,” Gowin related. “We applied for and got a grant from the Presbytery of the Peaks to bring this man here for a 'train the trainer' program. We had people attending from Maryland, North Carolina, and all over the state of Virginia. Several local school districts and several churches sent people for the seminar. Now we've got people in the schools and churches who have a better understanding of what we do. When someone in their school or church needs services they'll know what we offer.”

The second aspect of the Center's ministry is the Outreach Program.

“We offer free pregnancy tests and soon hopefully we'll offer free ultrasounds,” Gowin said. “We're here to help with that 'now what do I do' moment. Probably every woman who has heard she was pregnant has that same reaction. Our role is to say, ok, we'll help you. There's no reason to be overwhelmed. Let's figure out what you need, and we'll help you get it.”

To provide assistance to expectant mothers, the Pregnancy Center has affiliations with CareNet and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.

“These are Christian-based organizations that set professional standards to make sure we are providing services on as professional a basis as possible,” Gowin continued. “Obviously we are pro-life. We have various other partner groups like Liberty Godparent House. If you are a young mother and have nowhere to go, we have several adoption agencies we partner with.”

The third part of the Pregnancy Center's outreach is more family-oriented.

“If you decide to carry the baby to term we can help with prenatal training and nutrition classes,” Gowin related. “Once you have the baby we offer parenting classes, like 'Earn While You Learn' that provides 'mommy and daddy dollars' to use in our baby boutique, and '24/7 Dad' with male advocates to help fathers with parenting issues.”

The Center also assists with material needs.

“We had a mother the other day who kept pulling at her clothes, obviously uncomfortable,” Gowin said. “I asked her if she had any maternity clothes, and she told me she hadn't been able to find any in her size.”

The storage rooms at the rear of the Center's new location allow space for a variety of donated baby-related items.

“I walked into the back room and found a brand new pair of maternity pants and a brand new maternity blouse someone had brought in,” the director continued. “It was exactly her size – it fit her perfectly. God is great in that He just seems to put what we need here!”

Wearing a comfortable new outfit, the expectant mom left the Center feeling much better.

“How can you feel good about yourself if your pants are tied together with a rope?” Gowin wondered. “Our main focus is really to help both the moms and the dads feel good about themselves as well as to give them support in other areas that they need.”

While the Pregnancy Center does not offer professional counseling, they can refer clients to Hope for Tomorrow or other counseling centers in the area.

Gowin received her Master's in Counseling while in Florida where she worked with her husband who currently serves as director for the Hope for Tomorrow Center.

“We were living in Washington, DC, when my husband, an eighth generation Virginian from Buckingham County, came home one day and said, 'I want to quit my law practice and go to seminary.' We moved to Florida and ended up staying there 13 years, but our game plan was always to move back to this area.”

Originally from Minnesota, Gowin received her undergraduate degree in finance and economics from the University of Minnesota and her MBA while working in Dallas, TX.

Gowin took the position of director of the Pregnancy Center last November. Gowin and her husband had just moved to Farmville and were unpacking boxes when she commented, “We need to subscribe to the Farmville Herald.”

“In Florida we lived on a little island, and I just loved getting the local newspaper,” she related. “I believe it was in the second issue of the Herald that I saw an ad for executive director for the Pregnancy Center – so I applied for the job.”

To date, Gowin is pleased with both the Pregnancy Center and the Farmville community.

“This is a wonderful community,” she stated. “I do think the old saying is true – it really does take a village to raise a child.”

Since taking over as director, Gowin has also been gratified by the response from former clients.

“That's one of the encouraging things in helping young parents,” she stated. “To see them say – 'we'd like to give back. The Center was really helpful when we were at that stage, so we want to make sure other parents get that help.'”

Gowin cited a phone call she received last Christmas.

The mom, now married and living in another state, called to give a donation. She told Gowin, “If you guys hadn't been there when I got pregnant – the day I walked in I didn't even have any maternity clothes. This donation is payback.”

Gowin firmly believes in the words printed on the front of the Center's brochure: “We listen, we care, we empower.”

“Whenever we give a pregnancy test we always say – this is not the end,” Gowin affirmed. “It's only the beginning.”

For more information on the Pregnancy Support Center of Southside Virginia call 392-8483; the 24-hour helpline is 1-800-712-HELP(4357).