Cardinal Justin Rigali blesses the new Catholic Charities facility, located in the Crazy Quilt Friendship Center
By Dan McWilliams
Catholic Charities’ new Pregnancy Help Center in Newcomb fulfills a great need in a northern Campbell County area where expectant moms are often plagued by poverty and drug addiction.
Cardinal Justin Rigali blessed the new facility on his 82nd birthday April 19. Among those on hand were Sister Mary Christine Cremin, RSM, executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee; Sandi Davidson, Pregnancy Services Program leader for CCETN; and Esther Loudin, director of the Newcomb and LaFollette pregnancy centers.
The Newcomb center is in the Crazy Quilt Friendship Center, half of which is occupied by a food pantry and half by the pregnancy center. The pregnancy center half includes a store with baby clothes, diapers, and many other items.
Sister Mary Christine thanked the Newcomb center’s benefactors before Cardinal Rigali blessed the building with holy water.
“It’s a real privilege for me to be part of this today, because we think that this house here really is an expression of the presence of God in this community,” Cardinal Rigali said. “All the generosity that has led up to this day makes it possible for this new center to fulfill its purpose. And its purpose is the purpose of service. Given that purpose, which is so noble and so high and so beautiful, that certainly is accompanied by the presence of God with us today.”
The cardinal added that “each and every mother who will benefit will praise God for the help that is given to her. All of this is our prayer, and we offer it up to God, and we ask His help so that this beautiful project begun may continue for years to come and that all these children, all these mothers, all these families, and all these children of God will be able to fulfill their great destiny in this world.”
The Newcomb pregnancy center is CCETN’s fifth, to go along with the ones in Knoxville, Johnson City, Chattanooga, and LaFollette.
The Newcomb center, while in the same county as the one in LaFollette, saves area moms a more than 40-minute drive over the mountain to the center in LaFollette.
Ms. Davidson said the Newcomb center is partnering with a doctor’s office and a drug rehabilitation facility.
“Hopefully it will be a support for those drug-addicted moms and for the community in general, to help them with the supplies and education that they need to be good parents and to learn about their pregnancy and to hopefully give them the tools they need to move forward in their lives,” she said.
The new center had its origins some one-and-a-half years ago with Dr. Geogy Thomas, medical director of the Dayspring Family Health Center, which has offices in Jellico (near Newcomb) and Clairfield, Tenn., and in Williamsburg, Ky.
“It started with Geogy Thomas from the Dayspring clinic talking to Sister Mary Christine about the need for support for the drug-addicted moms, because he was seeing more and more in his clinic all the time,” Ms. Davidson said. “He actually gives out these little teddy bears with a heartbeat to help the moms understand that they are carrying a baby. They partnered with the drug-rehab place to help the women get off drugs before their babies were born.
“It’s taken us about a year and a half to get up the funds and get the community support, because it’s a small community and they have a hard time trusting people because there are so many things that have come and gone from this area. Once we told them what our plan was, they said, yes, there was definitely a need for this type of program, but also they were a little hesitant to get behind us at first, and then when they saw that we were progressing with it, the community has been a great source of support for us.”
There is only one small Catholic parish, St. Boniface in Jellico, in the area, but the Newcomb center has ecumenical support.
“It’s not about Catholic or Protestant; it’s about helping women and helping babies, changing the future generations for this community,” Ms. Davidson said. “Newcomb Baptist Church has already helped us with doing baby-bottle drives, and there are several other churches in the area that know about the program and are familiar with it and are wanting to get on board with helping with different things,” Ms. Loudin said.
Sister Mary Christine said there “most certainly is” ecumenical support for the new center.
“Catholics in this part of the state are few and far between, and so while initial funding has come from very generous donations within the Catholic community, the local community here and local churches here are willing to have baby-bottle drives. They are very open to the fact of wanting to support in whatever way they can.”
Ms. Loudin said that “we’ve never had anything like this [pregnancy center] in the community.
“This is going to be a way for us to work with pregnant moms and dads and families to help them become better parents and educate them on what to expect during pregnancy and after the baby is delivered.”
Drug addiction is a problem many new moms face in the Newcomb area.
“We have several moms that are in our LaFollette office and dads too that have come in who have had a past history of drug abuse,”
Ms. Loudin said, “and through our program and working with other programs in the area such as MIST [Mothers and Infants Sober Together] and then the Shepherd’s Home there in LaFollette, they work with women to try to help them get off substance abuse.
“We have moms who have gone through that program and are seeing us either with the pregnancy, or they have already delivered their baby.”
Ms. Loudin said that the LaFollette center sees more than 40 clients and expects the Newcomb center to have “a pretty good number.”
“We’re pretty close to Jellico Community Hospital, which is the only hospital in Campbell County that delivers babies, and they do deliver quite a few every year,” she said. “If we could just get a small percentage of those moms, that would be more than enough to keep us well staffed with clients.”
The Newcomb center will have an “Earn While You Learn” curriculum.
“What that means is that the moms and dads come in and we do classes with them, and then they earn ‘baby bucks’ for each class that they do and for the homework that they do,” Ms. Loudin said, “and then they get to spend that money here in our store that we have and purchase items that they would need for a baby from birth to 2 years of age.”
Sister Mary Christine called the Newcomb center “a very exciting step that we’re taking.”
“The Crazy Quilt building we have had for a number of years, but this whole half of the building has been empty,” she said. “When we looked at it, there is no other pregnancy center on this side of the mountain. The pregnancy center that we have in LaFollette is the only one in Campbell County—there’s nothing over here. Because of where Newcomb is located, it’s a very poor community.
“The rate of drug abuse, especially with opioid addiction, is significantly higher even than it is even in the higher areas of the state, and it carries with it all the problems that go with that: broken homes, domestic violence, prostitution—the whole gamut.”
The Newcomb center’s “educational model” lets “parents come and watch DVDs on everything from fetal development to breast feeding to discipline issues with toddlers to things like budgeting and relationship issues,” Sister Mary Christine said. “And we can follow them for two years.
“So we believe it gives young parents a stable point of reference where they can really learn the skills they need to become good parents, because in this part of the state unfortunately you have now two generations that are affected by drug abuse. Where you might have been able to rely on grandparents in the past, you really can’t anymore.
Our hope is that we can begin to establish a core of families who are equipped to raise their children well, with the requisite skills.”
To donate items or money to the Pregnancy Help Center in Newcomb, call the center at 423-784-7322 for the address, or send donations directly to the Catholic Charities office in Knoxville at 119 Dameron Ave.