by Shelli DeRobertis
More than 1,200 people sought services from the Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center (FPRC) in 2014, and many first-time visitors were apprehensive about what to expect. But the faith-based atmosphere at 113 E. Hawthorne St. is filled with caring and knowledgeable staff and volunteers.
Melanie Bonenfant, receptionist, has witnessed reactions from people who seemed nervous while waiting in the lobby, only to see them leave feeling relieved after they learned what FPRC could do for them. “It’s like a 180 – they come out relaxed,” Bonenfant said. She said the majority of the people say they’re very glad they came in.
Forty-percent of the center’s clients are teenage girls, and the rest consist of first-time parents, single women, or couples looking for financial help or assistance figuring out what to do next after learning about an unexpected pregnancy.
Fallbrook’s only pregnancy resource center offers free pregnancy testing and a limited ultrasound scan, and provides ongoing parenting education classes for those who have babies up to two years old.
The classes come with a bonus: free baby stuff.
“One of the benefits we have here is the ‘Earn While You Learn’ program,” said Carolyn Koole, MPA, executive director. “By taking classes here they (clients) earn what we call mommy bucks.”
Nearly 100 classes are offered from topics that range from “Bonding with your Baby,” “Discipline with Love,” “Apartment Renting 101,” to “Time Management.”
The center currently has two small client rooms, and aims to schedule no more than two to three clients an hour to maintain an intimate setting. “Each class is a half-hour to an hour. They watch a video, complete video work and take a lesson plan home,” said Claire Cheely, program services director. As an example, she said part of the “Labor and Delivery” series includes putting together a birth plan.The homework for those sessions are to ask the doctor questions and write his responses, which can help women prepare for the birthing process. Other classes offer helpful tips and information on topics such as “Crying, Colic and Sleep,” “A Look at Adoption,” and “Toilet Training.”
An average of four to five classroom visits earns a couple about $20 in credits, which is enough to purchase a brand new crib with a mattress, Cheely said. The mommy bucks can also be exchanged for baby clothes, maternity clothes, diapers, wipes, formula, toys, strollers, and other baby necessities that are displayed in the center’s boutique room.
The boutique room is the result of six years of volunteer work by Frances and Tom Pyle, who organize donations and personally deliver and set up the new cribs. “We try to give hope to the women, so they know if they have the baby they have the resources to take care of the baby,” Frances Pyle said. But the baby goods are just one aspect of what expecting mothers can find at FPRC.
“The thing we offer is support through the whole pregnancy – if they choose to parent,” Koole said. “We don’t want them to feel like they’re ever by themselves.” One of the things they do is help make sure every pregnant mother has a doctor.
The site offers abortion education, abstinence encouragement and referrals to agencies that support pregnancy and early childhood care. But Koole said that the center’s goal is not to tell the girls what to do but to be there to listen. They do this by catering to clients’ emotional and spiritual needs. “The girls can come if they need to just sit and talk for an hour, and unload on what’s happening in their lives,” she said. “It’s all about having relationships that are lost in society,” she said. Trained volunteers become advocates, or personal role models, for pregnant women or new moms.
“If you have a mom who found out she is pregnant with a special needs child, we have an advocate for them,” Koole said. Another example, she said, is that there have been mothers who were clients of the center who have gone through stillborn births, and later became trained volunteers to help other moms who have faced the same tragedy. Koole, who works on the administrative details that run FPRC, said that because the center is a nonprofit organization, faith-based, and non-medical, it does not qualify for government funding.
Since they are a non-medical clinic, they also do not refer clients for abortions or birth control. Koole said the center describes itself as the arm of a local church, yet it doesn’t matter what denomination its clients may belong to. The important thing is connecting them to a circle of care, she said.
Since FPRC’s inception in 2001, in a tiny exam room of a local doctor’s office, it has changed names twice and moved locations; yet again it is evolving with the need for a larger office. FPRC’s demand for services has outgrown its 1,650-square-foot office, and the center has immediate plans to move to a larger space. Part of those plans include at least a 5,000-square-foot place, and furthering the organization to become a free, licensed medical clinic.
Currently, four registered nurses are training in the center’s exam room to provide full-service free ultrasounds for when the center is licensed. Their ultimate goals are to also offer S.T.D. testing, well-mother checkups, G.E.D. and E.S.L. classes.
FPRC relies heavily on donations from annual fundraising events to keep the center operating, Koole said. The six annual events it hosts have helped make them known in the community. “It really forces us to be friends with individuals and churches and companies in the Fallbrook community, and the Fallbrook community is just remarkable,” she said.
For more information about pregnancy services, volunteer opportunities or internships, call (760) 728-4105 or visit www.pregnancyfallbrook.com.