Post Falls church creates Pregnancy Support Center to assist mothers
By Kaye Hult
The Pregnancy Support Center is one of several outreach ministries St. George's Catholic Church in Post Falls has created, because Fr. Timothy Ritchey encourages parishioners to open their hearts to God and follow through to create a ministry when they feel called.
Joan and Tom Neary started the Pregnancy Support Center because they felt called to work with pregnant women.
"Each North Idaho and Eastern Washington mother who comes to us has a different story," said Joan, who has a nursing background. "When they come, they usually have done pregnancy tests and seen a doctor.
"Our mission is to offer assistance," she continued, "such as mentoring, spiritual support, material assistance, referrals to other helping agencies and ongoing support. We offer free pregnancy tests and referrals for sonograms, if needed."
Pregnancy can create emergent situations for some people, Joan explained. It affects an expectant mother's ability to work. If she loses hours, she earns less to pay her bills.
The center's clients include women who are pregnant or have children under two years old. If the women begin when they are pregnant, and are committed to bettering their situation, the center works with them even after their children are older than two.
The center refers the mothers to Early Head Start to give their children a strong beginning to their education.
They also refer women to places that teach them skills, such as North Idaho College's Qualified Worker Retraining Program," Joan said. "They can move ahead and earn a higher income.
"While we do not give money to clients outright, we pledge funds for electric bills, heat, rent, car bills and such. When they come back with proof they have raised enough from us and other sources to pay what they owe, we give the amount we pledged to the utility, landlord or car company," she said.
The Pregnancy Support Center tried referring clients to local parenting programs, but the women did not attend, so they created their own parenting program.
"We show about 15 to 20 videos that go with a curriculum," she said. "We offer the incentive of 'Mommy Dollars,' which can go towards free gas or food. We have an agreement with a nearby gas station and grocery store."
Joan sees generational poverty, where agencies, including their own, try repeatedly to help, but clients dig themselves deeper into trouble.
Many clients succeed, such as the family that drove to see them last October. In their small car were four children. One was a new baby. They had left Arizona with all their possessions.
"The family had nowhere to stay," Joan said. "We gave them three nights in a motel until the weekend. Another program of St. George's, the Mission of Charity, gave them another two nights to cover the weekend."
The family ate home cooked meals Thursday evenings at the Friendship Kitchen, another outreach program at St. George's. The kitchen serves about 200 meals Thursdays, beginning at 4 p.m. The church has run it for more than 20 years in conjunction with other congregations in the community.
"We then referred them to Family Promise in Coeur d'Alene," she continued. "They stayed in that program while they sought jobs."
The center continued to assist by providing baby supplies and a deposit on an apartment, because the parents had a plan to pay the rent and utilities.
By Christmas, the family moved into a place in Hayden, and both parents were working. The children settled into school there.
"Everyone reached out to the family at Christmas," she said. "They called in January to tell the center they were doing okay."
The Pregnancy Support Center is open on Tuesday mornings at 2004 N. Lucas St. in Post Falls. Usually six volunteers, out of a pool of 12 women, are available to serve women who come. They also have a hotline women can call to make an appointment to meet with someone on another day.
"We have six active mothers," Joan said. "We offer free diapers and other material assistance. We aren't counselors, but we listen to them as women who have been mothers."
Volunteers also organize baby clothes, work on a Facebook page and facilitate the parenting videos.
Rosemary McDougall, St. George's Parish visiting nurse, is on the support center board.
Joan, who was the oldest of seven children, grew up in St. Mary's Parish in Moscow. After high school, she graduated from Sacred Heart School of Nursing in 1967.
After she married Tom in 1968, they moved about in the Air Force for 30 years. He retired when they were in Cheyenne, Wyo., where Joan was a hospice nurse. They moved to Virginia for Tom to work with a Pentagon contractor, and Joan continued in hospice nursing.
They led Bible studies through those years. Joan said studying Scripture is an anchor for her.
While she and Tom were in transition, a friend invited Joan to volunteer at a pregnancy support center, introducing her to a program like the one she now manages.
In 2006, they moved to Liberty Lake because their children live in the area. They began attending St. George's.
"Faith is my foundation," Joan said. "It allows me to deal with crisis experiences, such as Tom developing ALS. Because of ups and downs in my life experiences, I drew closer to God.
"Throughout Tom's illness, I had peace beyond the circumstances. God provided for and transformed us. Tom died in 2007," she said.
When Joan was a teenager, getting pregnant out of wedlock was seen as a crisis. In contrast, the women and girls she meets now through the Pregnancy Support Center "offer no apologies," she reflected. "It is what it is. God uses those experiences in them. God calls us in different ways. I've learned not to be judgmental. They are on their own journey dealing with many different struggles. Our support and care for them is fulfilling.
"We never know what part of our ministry will touch someone," Joan said. "It's in the surprises that we see how God makes things happen."
For information, call 208-449-8512 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2019