Watching pregnant women walk into the ABC Pregnancy Care Center looking for help is a surreal experience for Hazel Streiff — one that prompts her memories of being young, terrified and pregnant.
Sixteen years ago, Streiff walked into the center, recently divorced, feeling alone and needing information about how to care for herself and her unborn son, Dakota.
Now, she’s learning to help others who find themselves in a tough spot, striving to provide the same warm and non-judgmental environment she said she found when she needed support.
“I was afraid. I didn’t think it would happen to me. I almost didn’t want it to be true because I wasn’t ready for kids,” she said. “I’ve been with one client so far. I got to be on the other side and help somebody else in that situation. It was just, it was amazing.”
It isn’t unusual for center volunteers to be people who have had help in the past, said executive director Colleen Ward.
Of the 30 or so volunteers involved with the center, most have been affected by unplanned pregnancy in some way, she said.
“Maybe their children were there or their mothers had to come in or something,” she said. “A lot of people come whose lives have been impacted in some way through the center.”
While the center isn’t affiliated with any particular church in the area, it is supported by several and most volunteers come from local churches, Ward said.
Staff members at the center will also offer faith-based counseling to those who are open to it, she said.
Both Ward and Streiff said staff members were careful not to push their beliefs on women who came in looking for help.
“I was in that situation same as they were,” she said. “It was a crisis and I know what they went through. I didn’t have an abortion, but I know people who have and I know the kind of feelings that they’ve had. So I can could help in that aspect. Not that I’ve had one, but through the experiences of another person.”
Streiff said she felt being pro-life and volunteering at a center that didn’t judge women for choosing to have abortions could run side-by-side.
“Because we’re a faith-based organization we have to look at it like Jesus would look at it and no matter what we have done we are human,” she said. “We all make mistakes. That’s not for us to judge, that’s for him to judge so I would be able to counsel somebody with them making that choice and me not making that choice myself.”
Ward said training for volunteers was based on gentleness.
“We’re very careful not to coerce in any way. We respect that people’s choices are their own and we believe the best decision is an informed decision,” she said. “If they make a decision we don’t necessarily want to make and then they come back and need services, we’re more than happy to do that.”
Streiff stood at a table at the Soldotna Bible Church on a recent weekend, helping people register for the center’s annual Celebrate Life! 5k run and walk.
The run, one of four annual fundraisers for the center, brought in 201 participants and raised about $6,000 for the center.
Those funds, Ward said, were used on things like pregnancy testing and ultrasounds at no-cost to women who needed them.
She said the center is completely dependant on donations and is looking to expand soon.
“One of the things that we’ve determined is that in this area there is a huge need for parenting classes,” Ward said. “We’re fortunate that a lot of women in this area choose to keep their babies but ... they don’t come with training manuals.”
Streiff said she is now happily remarried and has two children, something she never thought she’d achieve after her first marriage.
“I would always tell everybody that I didn’t want kids and then it happened but there was nothing I could do at that point but accept it,” she said.
But, as her kids have grown older, she found herself coming back to the idea of helping other women like herself.
“It was a long road back and I’ve been through some rough stages in my life, as anybody would be,” she said. “I accepted the lord back into my heart in 2008 and even before then I would always think ‘you know I should go back over there and see if that lady is still there and, if she is, just say thank you’ and see what I can do for them just to pay it forward.”
Officially, she’s a client advocate and she’ll volunteer once a week trying to help in the same way she remembers a woman named Nancy helping her.
“I went back after I had my son, showed (Nancy) and I thanked her for all the kind words and for the encouragement she gave me,” she said. “It wasn’t judging me, they didn’t judge me, they didn’t sway me one way or another. They were just there to help me with what I needed help with.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.