Ave Maria University’s Pro-Life Students Make Good Use of ‘Campus Care’ to Help Student Parents

Pro-life students at the Catholic school developed a network of empowering resources for young moms and dads on campus by recognizing the need, one mom at a time.

2023 Ave Maria University graduate Mary Pogasic celebrates graduation with her husband, Marcus, and three children. The Campus Cares program helped her finish her nursing degree.
2023 Ave Maria University graduate Mary Pogasic celebrates graduation with her husband, Marcus, and three children. The Campus Cares program helped her finish her nursing degree. (photo: Courtesy of Mary Pogasic)

Hadleigh Thomas felt a call to action her freshman year at Ave Maria University in 2017, after her roommate at the time confided in her that she was pregnant. Around the same time, Thomas became inspired at a Students for Life conference with the group’s efforts to help pregnant students on college campuses. 

“It was a collision of worlds,” Thomas told the Register, in that she saw “this happens on our campus,” and “resources are super necessary.” 

Thomas was on the board of the Ave for Life group, and they began expanding resources after the conference by offering students free rides to a local pregnancy clinic that provides free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and peer support. Thomas’ freshman-year roommate returned to campus with her little boy after taking some time off from school to give birth.

“She was the impetus for a lot of the further resources that we offer,” Thomas said, “because she came back as a single mom and was like, ‘I want to get my degree, but where am I going to live?’” That question spurred an arrangement with the administration, where she and her young son were able to have a suite in the dorms with more space and quiet. 

The need for childcare amid a busy class schedule led to the system of student volunteer babysitters, which Campus Care, the program for parenting students which Thomas co-founded, has in place today.


Embraced by the Campus Community 

“We did a little bit of a training; and very quickly, we had a couple dozen babysitters, and that number just continued growing,” Thomas recalled. “People were so excited and loved it so much and wanted to support this mom and her baby so much. … There would be multiple babysitters [for] a time slot.” 

“Within a year or so of that first mom coming back to campus,” Thomas said, “there were a few more couples that got pregnant unexpectedly, and we were just able to walk with them in various ways.” She and other pro-life students felt the necessity of their work for these student parents, so they had all the resources needed to choose and support life.

so the one outdoors is from the Campus Care BBQ
Hadleigh Thomas holds one of the children whose parents have benefited from Campus Care.(Photo: Courtesy photo)

“The way that we looked at it, especially when we were building it from the ground up, with one particular person,” she said, “was if we can support one mom and baby, this is worth everything. The program needs to exist for as long as Ave exists because these resources need to be available.” 

Some of the student couples who became pregnant got married and continued pursuing their degrees while trying to support their young families. Thomas said that the married couples needed a good amount of support, as typically the dad would go out and work on top of being a full-time student.

“At the beginning, it was certainly just: ‘How can we get enough babysitters to fill all of their class times?’” Thomas said. “But then it became these moms and these dads, they deserve community, rest, prayer, all of these things so, ‘How can we provide some of that?’ It kept expanding as needed and was really beautiful to just watch people step up to the plate.”

Thomas thinks setting up resources like childcare, living spaces, and community for student parents is very doable, even at smaller colleges. “It took work to set up, and it took work to recruit volunteers,” she said, “but it was really well supported by the students; and, honestly, so well supported by the staff.” 

She described working with the school to give priority to the young, recently married student parents for off-campus townhouses since the college has single-sex dormitories. She said there were many such instances of utilizing existing resources.

The wider campus community also embraced the program. “At first, everyone starts staring and they’re like, ‘Why is there a baby in the cafeteria?’” Thomas said, but it quickly shifted towards “completely embracing them, and all the time I would walk by the cafeteria and see a football player throwing a ball around with this little toddler. Everyone knew his name; everyone loved him.” 

In what Thomas called a “full circle” moment, that first baby to benefit from Campus Care was the ring bearer at her wedding.

She said it was a blessing to see the campus “accept and really rejoice in these little lives and the sacrifices and the bravery of these moms” and “how it changed everyone’s days and brought them out of themselves.”  


A Mother’s Experience of Support

Mary Pogasic is one of the student moms helped by the program. She found out she was pregnant the second semester of her freshman year at Ave in 2019. She described a haze of panic — and then, in the midst of that, seeing Campus Care signs with an offer of someone to talk to confidentially and how to obtain resources. 

Pogasic was struck with how the student who responded “first sat me down and gave me a big hug and just said, ‘Congratulations,’” saying, “That was really moving for me because, with it being an unplanned pregnancy and me being so young, she was actually the first person who had said, ‘Congratulations.’”

“The biggest thing that she said to me was, ‘If you want to stay here and you want to make this work, we can make this work,’” she recalled.

Ultimately, Pogasic and her now-husband, Marcus, took time off in which she had their first son and the two married. “Once we came back with our son, a whole new door opened,” she said. “We were provided with support through babysitting, and there were other student parents on campus, so they would put together events for all of us to get to know each other, and all of the kids could play together.”  

When the family returned to campus, they opted to live in the off-campus townhomes, which Pogasic said gave them what “we needed.” 

“Campus Care has done a million and one things for us,” she added, recalling how anonymous donors would step up to provide laundry detergent, diapers and clothing and even ask Campus Care if there were any particular items that the families in the program needed.

The couple now has three boys; the youngest arrived last November, ahead of Pogasic graduating with her nursing degree in May. Marcus graduated last year with an economics degree and worked in the area while she finished the nursing program. 

Ave Maria University nursing
Mary Pogasic attends the Ave Maria University nursing pinning ceremony with her family.(Photo: Courtesy of Mary Pogasic)

Witnessing her fellow students volunteering their time to assist her growing family was part of “the true beauty of the Catholic faith,” she said. “These people are really living their pro-life beliefs by saying, ‘We’re not just going to pray for the end of abortion or go stand at abortion clinics’; while those things are incredible, they’re showing that ‘We still care, and we still are going to help with and support these parents after they make that decision and after they bring that life into this world.’”


Passion for Mission in the Post-Roe World

Thomas has had the hope since helping to expand resources at Ave that “as more people hear about it, more campuses will adopt them.” She has heard about “different campuses that are implementing and considering these resources.” Among them are The Catholic University of America, University of Mary and Belmont Abbey College.

She said the Dobbs decision overturning Roe has brought “a positive wave in the pro-life movement that’s starting to say, ‘Okay, so what are we going to do about this now?’” and, “We finally got this overturned, and now we need to just step up and help these people.”  

Sarah Roche, a rising senior, now heads Campus Care. She started out as a volunteer babysitter with the group, saying she was “really excited that there was an opportunity to babysit on campus.” She added that “as a college student when you’re needing money the most,” it was encouraging “to see these students offer their time to babysit for free for these families who need it.”  

Okay, they are a couple and their baby that received assistance from Campus Care
A couple holds their child who received assistance from Campus Care. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Personally, she said, the student parents “have just taught me so much about what it means to really obey your call in life and be obedient to the Lord.” 

“They’re students, but they’re serving their kids,” she said, “they’ve got so much more life going on than just school.” Working with the program has also strengthened her in her pro-life mission because “seeing their need and being able to contribute to them is really beautiful, and it’s always the question of, ‘If you’re not going to do it, who’s going to do it?’” 

Roche believes the Dobbs decision “set a fire to continue to encourage this generation of college students and young people to go out and keep fighting; and especially at Ave, we have a lot of mission-oriented people. The decision really encouraged us that we’re called to mission and that it is attainable.”

Pogasic said, post-Dobbs, she’s seeing “other universities recognize amongst their college-age group that we need other options, so we can show them that abortion is not a solution at all and that we have other ways that we can help each other.”

“As colleges have become more and more secular, they’ve removed this component of community,” she reflected. “When we remove that element, then it really does leave these people feeling alone and isolated without any help. And that’s when they feel like their only option is abortion.”

She emphasized, “If you continue to have these groups and develop these groups like Campus Care, it really does show people that they absolutely can do this.” 

“I was able to graduate with a nursing degree; and my husband and I, we were both students at the same time, and we still were able to be a family, have our kids, and we didn’t live a miserable life at all,” she said. “We were still very happy, even though things were hard, because we had people supporting us and helping us along the way.”

Following graduation, she is poised to become a labor and delivery nurse at a Florida hospital, pending board examinations — work that she felt drawn to, given her own experiences and conversations with mentors at school where they highlighted the need for strong, Catholic nurses.

Pogasic knows of a rising senior in the nursing program who just had a baby and is receiving support from the university. She said, “It’s really beautiful to see some of the conversations that were started because I was the first student parent in the nursing program.”