Baby, we’re back in business

The Catholic Charities Pregnancy Help Center in Chattanooga has some news, and it wants the world to know: It’s back, it’s updated and it has big plans for the future. With the help of two grants, the center reopened in May at 859 McCallie Ave. after two years of inactivity. It now focuses heavily on helping new and expecting parents figure out parenthood.

“There are different types of pregnancy help programs, and what I love about this one is that it has an educational focus,” said coordinator Sheri Fava, who was hired in February. “I truly believe that if we can help women become more involved in their children’s lives, then in the long run that hopefully is going to decrease the chance of that child becoming a pregnant teen facing an unplanned pregnancy. So, in the long run, we’re hopefully helping the community by helping them.”

Fathers also are strongly encouraged to take part in the Pregnancy Help Center program with the mothers.

A grant from the St. Mary’s Legacy Foundation of East Tennessee covered the cost of hiring Mrs. Fava as coordinator, as well as the setup and supplies for educational rooms. A second grant, from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, funded the purchase of educational materials and items for the baby store.

A focal point for the reopened center’s educational services is “Earn While You Learn,” a national curriculum that includes videos, worksheets and discussions on a multitude of topics.

Clients can learn about a variety of topics specific to pregnancy and newborns, including pregnancy health, budgeting, menu planning for a toddler and even the expected emotions encountered during an adoption process.

Clients (mothers, fathers, or both) can come in on a weekly basis, watch two videos, fill out a worksheet on what they’re learning and then engage in a one-on-one discussion with a volunteer.

They’re sent home with homework to be completed and returned at the next week’s meeting.

None of these steps is required, but each one — each video watched, each worksheet completed and so on — earns the client a credit called a Baby Buck.

These Baby Bucks can be used in the center’s store to purchase supplies such as diapers, formula, baby clothes and car seats at 20 percent to 25 percent of their retail price.

“That’s why I love the ‘Earn While You Learn’ program. It helps with some of the financial strain of having a child, in addition to having a larger impact on their life and on the community,” Mrs. Fava said.

Since the Chattanooga center’s reopening, Mrs. Fava and five volunteers have worked with seven or eight clients.

“It’s been slow,” she said. “We really need to get the word out that we are here. Mostly so far, we’ve advertised through church bulletins, and I go to a lot of meetings and luncheons, letting them know about the program.”

While seven clients may not sound like many, it’s a good start for a brandnew program, said Sister Mary Christine Cremin, RSM, executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee.

“They’re coming on a regular basis, and that’s great,” she said. “Sheri’s also reached out to other social-services programs; it’s a very effective way to get Catholic Charities better known in the community, specifically as a program that fosters life.”

Pregnancy Help Centers in Knoxville and LaFollette have been using the “Earn While You Learn” curriculum since 2014, and the results have been encouraging,

Sister Mary Christine said. The Knoxville center has seen 244 new clients since

March 2014.

“The general trend seems to be that people begin the program for what they get out of it: tangible supplies,”

Sister Mary Christine said. “But they get hooked on what they’re learning and they want to learn more, so most of them are coming back again and again. It’s been very positive.”

The Hamilton County Health Department has the Chattanooga Pregnancy Help Center’s flier in a folder of resources it gives women when they find out they’re pregnant. But this may be where the

Catholic Charities Pregnancy Help Center in Knoxville has an advantage: Its location at 119 Dameron Ave. is across the street from the Knox County Health Department, which points pregnant women in the center’s direction.

“Word of mouth is huge,” said Sandi Davidson, the Knoxville center’s coordinator. “Someone tells somebody else, and then we have a new client.

And that’s in addition to the Health Department across the street sending us women.”

The CCETN Pregnancy Help Center in LaFollette is located at 300 W. Beech St., where Laura Seymour is the center coordinator. It, too, is relying on community networking to spread the news about its services.

Mrs. Fava is communicating regularly with another Chattanooga-area social service, Choices Pregnancy Resource Center, and said it’s already proven helpful for the two services to work together.

“We are both here for the crisis pregnancies,” she said. “Catholic Charities in Knoxville has Project Rachel to help with abortion recovery. Project Rachel is wonderful, and I will refer clients to them, but if someone is in urgent need, Choices also offers counseling and resources, and it’s easier for someone to get there because it’s local. They also use the ‘Earn While You Learn’ program, but it’s only for first-time parents, so they will refer second-and-third-time parents to us.”

Mrs. Fava hopes that the near future will see even more community outreach; for example, bus passes for clients for whom transportation is an issue. Bringing the “Earn While You Learn” program out into the community, particularly to pregnant teens without the means to get to the McCallie Avenue location, also is in the planning stages.

And if the results she’s seen so far are any indication, Mrs. Fava believes there are great things ahead for the program.

“I know we don’t have that many clients yet, but there have already been times when I’ve thought, ‘Yes! I’ve helped someone!’” she said. “You really do feel like you’re making a difference.”

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