New executive director looks for crisis pregnancy center to become more visible
Reach Out Crisis Pregnancy Center, a private group which helps mothers and expectant mothers with practical and emotional needs, has a new leader.
Barbara Flagg took over as executive director earlier this summer, and she said that what she wants to do now is raise the profile of the group, which puts a spiritual spin on the support it provides free of charge to anyone and everyone who wants help.
"It's really my desire to see this ministry better known," Flagg said Monday. "More open. More visible."
Currently, the group is situated in a long one-story building on the outskirts of Gulf, in Chatham County, just over the Lee County line. She said she's looking at expanding awareness, first through making connections with leaders of other organizations who work with mothers or children and then, possibly, by setting up a Sanford office.
Flagg and the rest of the center's small core of staff and volunteers are also unabashedly Christian, offering their support with a strong pro-life, pro-abstinence message. But she said while volunteers should have a religious background, she said, all clients are accepted. Offering compassion is the main goal, she said, and everything else, including preaching, comes after that.
That's perhaps best exemplified by their ultra-sound machine. They don't offer any medical or diagnostic help, only the chance for pregnant mothers considering an abortion to see their baby and its heartbeat. Republican politicians in some states have tried to force all women considering an abortion to undergo similar ultrasound procedures first, earning scorn from women's rights advocates and others.
But Flagg said no one who comes to the center will ever be forced into anything — just given the opportunity to learn about all their options.
"I don't think any women actually want an abortion," she said. "I'm not one to minimize any of that. I know it's a hard decision. We just want them to slow down, take a deep breath.
"That's just empowering her to make an informed decision," Flagg continued. "But ultimately, the choice is hers."
People who have previously chosen abortion are still more than welcome, she said — whether it's for help with their current pregnancy or young children, or the evening Bible study classes for those who have had an abortion.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released numbers through 2011 which showed a steady decline in the nation's teen birth rate over recent years, culminating in a record-low rate in 2011. But the South still leads the rest of the country, and nationwide black and Hispanic teens have babies at about twice the rate of their white peers. Flagg said the average age of the mothers she has helped so far is probably 18.
Many observers blame the abstinence-only sex-ed programs prevalent throughout the South for its particularly high rates of teen pregnancy. Flagg does advocate abstinence for every unmarried person — even for people who have had partners before; something she calls second virginity — but she also tells people all their options, even if it's hard to reach people before they're already pregnant.
She said the group doesn't do much outreach work in local public schools, since its religious background and message would present constitutional issues. But at least one school official, Lee County Board of Education Vice Chairman Mark Akinosho, is a big proponent of the center — he has served on its board of directors since it was founded about 15 years ago.
"As a member of the school board, I would love for teens to have good health so they can get a good education," he said.
Flagg said they're there to promote hope and health. The center, located at 1565 Gulf Road, is open for appointments and walk-ins from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays. There are counseling, tips, referrals for medical services and even a play area for youngsters as well as a closet full of blankets, diapers, clothes, bottles and more that people can get by cashing in the points they receive every time they come for a session.
Said Akinosho: "We give them help. We give them clothing. We support them until we see they don't need our help anymore."
Like the nascent Bible studies, Flagg said she's also hoping to start Spanish-language services soon, as well as a men's group. But she needs volunteers for both.
"Men are the other half of the equation," she said. "But really, in this context, they are never thought of. And that's ridiculous. We want to help them become better dads, better men."
Anyone who wants to learn more about the group's confidential services or volunteer opportunities can call (919) 898-2923 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.