MORRIS, Minn.—The majority of crisis pregnancy centers are located in populous, urban settings. So, finding a small, two-room office located on the prairies of western Minnesota might first seem a surprise.
Don't let the size fool you.
Morris, Minn., population 5,000, sits on the state's western edge, in Stevens County, 180 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, and just 30 miles from the South Dakota border. It's the largest town in a 50-mile radius. Home to a University of Minnesota campus, it has a student population of about 2,000.
The Morris Life Care Pregnancy Center, established in 1997, serves the town as well as six communities in four surrounding counties. The center's mission is to minister, free of charge, to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of pregnant women, their families and friends, as well as those suffering the repercussions of abortion.
“We exist to offer ‘real’ choices for women in crisis pregnancies and those considering abortion,” according to center director Patty Borman. “We encourage women to choose life and we bear witness to the community.”
The center serves any woman in need by providing counseling, mediation, pregnancy and birth education, educational materials, health care and social service referrals, financial planning, relationship counseling, housing referrals, baby care items such as cribs and clothing, and follow-up care.
“When a woman comes in, my goal is to determine her greatest needs, worries and concerns,” Borman explained. “During that first interview we identify those needs and then work to meet them.”
Care and support doesn't end when the baby is born. The center also does as much follow-up care as the mother requires. “We have one mother, with a 1-year-old child, who still comes in to talk and pick up diapers,” said Mary Odegaard, a pregnancy counselor. “We try to be what the extended family used to be.”
There's a tendency for some to think that crisis pregnancies don't happen in rural areas. Borman has the statistics to prove otherwise.
During the center's first year of operation, it served 67 women from four different states. Half of the clients have been non-college students.
“That surprised us,” Borman said. “One in eight of the women were married.” In addition, the center played a part in saving 11 babies over that same time period.
An additional 23 babies, who were not in danger of abortion, were born to women served during that time. Of the babies born, one was placed for adoption; the other mothers have chosen to keep and raise their children. “Clearly, our work translates into lives,” said Borman.
There are approximately 60 crisis pregnancy centers in the state. The Morris center is one of 22 Total Life Care Centers in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Total Life Care Center is based in the Twin Cities and supports regional offices by offering practical assistance, counselor training, shared resources, liability insurance, and limited financial support.
“It is through TLC that we learn to do what we do,” Odegaard said.
The center requires about $1,500 per month to operate. So far it has received considerable support from the community. Fifty-four local businesses took part in the center's Walk for Life fund-raiser last year, and helped to raise $2,600 for the center.
The center is also unusual in that it receives a great deal of ecumenical support across the community. At least seven churches, Protestant and Catholic, in the Morris and surrounding area support the center financially. Various church groups help by fund raising or sorting baby items.
In addition to donations from churches, about 50 to 60 individual donors financially support the work of the center. Borman is the center's only paid employee. She works 20 hours per week, often answering phones at odd hours at home. She was raised on a farm near Buffalo Lake, Minn., and she and her husband, Tim, have three teenage children of their own. The center is volunteer-run with the help of more than 15 volunteers and seven active counselors.
Many Stories to Tell
The center has many stories to tell. Odegaard related one.
“One college senior, after discovering she was pregnant, went to the university health care center,” she said. “Her doctor suggested that her only ‘wise choice’ was to abort the baby. Thankfully, she sought a second opinion and was referred to us. We offered her an alternative, and two weeks before graduation she gave birth. We were not only able to provide emotional support, but we provided child care so that she could take her finals and graduate with a degree.”
A thank-you note, from another mother, exemplifies the center's work.
“I want to thank you,” wrote the woman, “ … first for the cookies and the photo album and the visit at the hospital.
Next I want to say thanks for all you've done and for all the times you've ‘just been there.’
“I was so scared about becoming a mom and being in a strange town. It would've been so hard without having the center to help out with baby sitters, diapers, the medical book, and just plain support! “You'll be forever remembered, for helping me and my son get off to a good start. Words can't hardly say thanks enough for all you've done!”
Added Odegaard, “That mother recently went through counselor training so that she can help others who come to the center.”
Said Borman, “I believe it's important to offer women a real choice so that they can make a courageous decision. At universities, in particular, there is enormous pressure for women to abort their baby. Virtually no one is supporting her to have the baby. When given support, the vast majority of women will choose life,” explained Borman.
“We're filling a need,” she continued. “The Salvation Army, Stevens Traverse Public Health and Stevens County Social Services have each sent us people who have needed help.”
In fact, the center expected its numbers to be down during the summer because of the lack of university students. Surprisingly, Borman noted, the appointments were more sporadic yet the counselors ended up seeing more people from surrounding communities.
“The word is out that we take care of women and their children,” she said.
Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.
The Morris Life Care Pregnancy Center can be reached at (320) 589-0300 or (800) 285-0712.