ST. GEORGE – The Hope Pregnancy Care Center was created seven years ago to meet a crucial need in the community, and continues to go above and beyond to support mothers facing a crisis or unplanned pregnancy.
Prior to the establishment of Hope, a facility to assist women facing an unplanned pregnancy did not exist in Washington County. Merry Jo Cook discovered this when she moved to St. George in the early 2000s. A retired high school teacher, Cook had witnessed firsthand the impact that teen pregnancy had on her students’ lives. Several young women looked to her for support; though able to offer little, the desire to help others in a similar situation stayed with her long after.
In February 2004, nine members of local churches, including Cook, bonded together to form a committee whose aim was to assess the need for a pregnancy care center in the area. Once determining there was indeed a need, the committee partnered with Care Net, a nationwide organization of care centers.
Hope Pregnancy Care Center opened its doors on Jul. 26, 2005. The center employed an all-volunteer staff of nine and was open a scant 16 hours each week. Funding was limited, as were services; Hope provided mothers with little more than free pregnancy tests and education about their options.
The center of today is virtually unrecognizable when compared to seven years ago. Though still a nonprofit organization funded mainly by grants and donations, its staff has expanded to four part-time employees and 15 regular volunteers; Cook now serves on the board of directors.
Hope offers comprehensive education and support programs that can be utilized from the time a client learns they are pregnant until their child is a year old. These programs provide weekly meetings with a client advocate, lessons on everything from nutrition to car seat safety to postpartum depression and financial assistance for doctor’s visits and baby items.
Hope leads Operation Keepsake, an abstinence education program that is now administered in 10th and 11th grade health classes in all Washington County schools; and, Hope offers PACE, a post-abortion counseling program for women struggling with a past abortion decision – this program is the only one of its kind available in the area.
In 2009, the center opened The Hope Chest Thrift Store at 74 East Tabernacle in St. George. Revenue from the store accounts for 50 percent of Hope’s budget, while donations and fundraising events provide the rest.
A faith-based organization, Hope emphasizes the preservation of life but acknowledges all legal options available to a client, including abortion. But, Hope does not provide or refer for abortion or contraceptives.
Their goal is to support expectant mothers and couples through the trying situation of an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, no matter what the end decision is.
“Hope offers practical, emotional and spiritual support,” center director Shannon Gerber said. “(We believe that) every woman should be able to have adequate time and access to the information she needs to make an informed, positive choice.”
After diligently saving for all seven years of Hope’s existence, Gerber and her staff were finally able to purchase a new facility. Located at 391 East 500 South in St. George, the building provides twice as much space, is conveniently located near the Southern Utah Women’s Health Center and has already benefited the center’s operations a great deal.
Like Hope itself, the process of remodeling the new center was community-driven. From the start of renovations on Aug. 30 to finish on Oct. 10, 65 volunteers contributed over 500 man-hours. With the amount of material and monetary donations received, the cost of the entire project remained 20 percent below the allocated budget, which Gerber said is “amazing.”
The center is now fully operational and open for tours. On Jan. 20, 2013, Hope will hold a grand re-opening ceremony to coincide with Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. All members of the public are encouraged to attend and celebrate this important milestone in the center’s history.
Hope has lent its services to over 840 clients since its inception, some as young as 13 and some as old as 48, some with supportive families and some who are completely alone. Had Cook not been so dedicated to providing support for mothers in need, the future of many local families may have been forever altered.
“Hope provides this community (with) a safe, compassionate place for women and men who are facing an unplanned pregnancy,” Gerber said. “It is our goal that every woman (who) comes to us leaves knowing she has value and (that) her future is full of hope.”
Contact Hope Pregnancy Care Center:
Editor’s revision 6:52 p.m: clarifying Hope’s counseling includes legal options, including abortion. Hope does not provide or refer for abortion or contraceptives.
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