PREPARES: Changing the debate on abortion

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Options United is changing the way we look at abortion prevention by uniting pro-life groups and making their services more available to women in need. The future of the pro-life movement lies in unification — we are stronger together.

In our efforts to continually unite pro-life movements, we wanted to highlight the work of the PREPARES (Pregnancy and Parenting Support) program of the Washington State Catholic Conference.

WSCC is the common voice of the Catholic Bishops of the Archdiocese of Seattle, the Diocese of Spokane, and the Diocese of Yakima. PREPARES is a ministry designed to honor families who have chosen life by walking with and supporting them through pregnancy up until their child’s fifth birthday.

As we have talked about on the blog before, fighting abortion means creating a societal shift to create a culture of life. Options United creates this change through digital marketing and outreach. PREPARES works to change the culture on a grassroots level, parish by parish.

The initiative began in the spring  of 2013 with a task force …task force led by the Bishops of Washington State. In response to the growing need for pregnancy and parenting support in the state, the bishops conference asked the three Catholic charities across the state to create, implement and oversee a program to meet the demonstrated need. Lisa Green, the program director, described the final product, PREPARES, as a way for parishes to “honor” the life-affirming choices of mothers, fathers and families in need.

PREPARES is run on a parish level with support and oversight by program coordinators from the three Catholic Charities. There’s currently 51% participation: a full 152 parishes through the Archdiocese of Seattle host a PREPARES program. With 1,000 volunteers, they have served 8,300 families since 2014.  

The strength of PREPARES lies in the community-support. Because it is implemented by and in local parishes, they are best situated to help mothers and fathers in need. Their programming encompass the whole family and intentional engages fathers as well. Parishes hold baby showers and provide ongoing material support — things like diapers, wipes and food — while also offering emotional accompaniment and parental support groups as the children grow. They seek to holistically serve the families that have chosen life.

According to Lisa, the beauty of the ministry comes to light when PREPARES volunteers make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable families they serve.  Catholic communities have embraced families who have chosen life and have committed to walk beside them in their many times difficult journeys. Through their work, PREPARES volunteers have encountered the obstacles families living in poverty face.

At the heart of PREPARES is the core belief of unconditional love and support. As Lisa describes it, it is through accompaniment that PREPARES volunteers come to understand the struggles of food insecurity, poverty, lack of essential childcare items, and an absence of healthy family models.  PREPARES parishes work to address these hurdles by providing basic childcare needs such as diapers, wipes, and clothing, as well as providing emotional support through mentorship with family companion teams.

Additionally, PREPARES is changing the culture.  “Most women who make the choice of abortion are doing so out of desperation, isolation, and feeling unwanted,” she says, “If we as a Catholic community can change that, if we can make sure all women who find themselves with the gift of life know they and their child will be supported, those feelings can change.  We need to be a part of dignifying their life and their child’s.”

The work of dignifying these families is not limited to people within the parishes — in fact it is not limited by religion at all. “We’re doing this work not because we want them to be Catholic but because we are Catholic,” says Lisa. It is through these genuine encounters of PREPARES that the evangelization becomes real, “how do you not encounter someone who genuinely loves you and cares about you and not feel that love of Christ? It happens! Without even speaking words to them…it’s by showing them that they matter.”

In reflecting upon the last four years, Lisa focuses on the “unexpected” joy of these encounters for the parishioners themselves. They have been “changed” says Lisa, by being in relationship with the “beautiful mothers and fathers and babies…people they may have never met if not for this program.” “It’s a gift, it’s humbling, to encounter these core values of our faith. They [the parishioners] encounter the idea of being asked to be the hands of Christ…by accompanying and standing next to those who may makes us feel uncomfortable.”

The unique collaboration among parish, diocese and Catholic Charities agency allows them to share resources and to more effectively serve those in need. To the best of their knowledge, no other program like PREPARES, that is built on parish-diocese-agency collaboration, exists.

In order to connect women with their programming, they rely on parish referrals, are opening channels of communication with Catholic hospitals and pregnancy centers and even go to Women, Infant and Children (WIC) centers that serve vulnerable mothers and children.

As the program looks ahead to the next 5-10 years, they hope to be able to keep scaling, to keep serving and to keep saving lives. If they can get the funding necessary to expand their staff, they want to keep expanding the program so that more parishes will be able to implement PREPARES programs in their communities. This program is actively “changing the cycles of abuse and poverty” by creating community and bringing love and support.

This is the future of the pro-life movement in the United States, where bishops recognize the needs of the flock and parishioners work hand-in-hand to care for vulnerable mothers and families in their own communities.

As Options United has witnessed to with our own call-center, saving lives starts with a conversation.

PREPARES takes those conversations and converts them into companions and communities that strengthen families for years. If we continue to think holistically and work together, women will never feel the need to choose abortion again. The end of the era of abortion is near.

To learn more about the work of PREPARES, visit their website here: http://www.preparesforlife.org/

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