Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blessed 1st Way's new facility 4,800 square-foot building in a ceremony Oct. 18. (Kevin Theriault/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blessed 1st Way’s new 4,800 square-foot facility in a ceremony Oct. 18. as Bob Bevers (at left) looks on. (Kevin Theriault/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bob Bevers never used to have a stance on right-to-life issues.

“I never really gave it much thought — it was a battle that I wasn’t involved in,” Bevers said.

That changed when his wife Donna became a member of the board of 1st Way Pregnancy Center.

“I really saw what was going on. I looked into some of the books she brought home and I became angry that this was going on, and there weren’t a lot of organizations like 1st Way.”

Bevers credits pro-life issues with bringing him into the Catholic Church 18 months ago. “I now often get so worked up about right-to-life issues it brings me to tears,” Bevers said.

Seeing how cramped 1st Way was in its small 1,700-square-foot pink building, Bevers knew he had to do something to help. When the Bevers pulled into the lot of a two-story building on 16th Street, the mission was clear.

“I said, ‘1st Way has to be here.’ Donna agreed, so we bought it,” Bevers said. “This is one time where I saw I really had the ability to step up, and my wife completely supported me, and we did it.”

Over a period of five months, Bevers and a couple of other men performed a complete rehab on the building with help from general contractor Tom Bilyea of Broadleaf Building Corp.

The new, 4,800-square-foot facility at 3501 N. 16th St. in Phoenix opened for business Oct. 1. The larger space has given 1st Way the breathing room needed to expand its services.

“We have doubled our counseling, doubled our ultrasound rooms and tripled the space we’ll have for classes,” said Christine Accurso, director of the facility for the past 14 months.

A large sign with florescent lettering at the sidewalk offers free pregnancy tests, and the majority of the business at 1st Way is walk-in clients.

“Everything here is free,” Accurso said. “Nobody ever pays anything.”  1st Way provides information and truthfully discusses every option with the women, she said.

Walking into the lobby, clients are immersed in a mural of peaceful rose garden imagery created by local artist Sheila Adamo.

“I felt compelled to surround the families that come in with the garden of Mary, that with the roses, it would just be a blessing for them and help save some babies’ lives,” Adamo said. Each room in the clinic features her gentle, hand-painted murals.

1st Way first opened in 1973, and occupied the pink building for over a decade.

“The first day when we opened up the new facility we served 19 people: 11 women and five men and three ultrasounds,” Accurso said. “We had to do a bit of work, but everyone looked within themselves to see what gifts they had, brought it to the table, and that is what built this place.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blessed the new facility in a ceremony Oct. 18.

“This place and everyone who has contributed to make this place possible and who contribute to make it possible for it to continue its work, day after day, is contributing to the creation of a place of great beauty,” Bishop Olmsted said.

He described the clinic as a place “badly needed in the battles that are taking place in our society, especially those that have to do with the dignity of human persons, the institution and sacrament of marriage, and that is what this building witnesses to, and everyone here witnesses to.”

A room stocked full of donated baby clothes for every season, diapers and blankets gives a sense of the encouragement and hope 1st Way offers its clients.

“When someone has a positive pregnancy test, we usually give them a little welcome gift, and they can come back three times during the pregnancy for maternity clothes,” said counselor LeeAnn Abel. Often, items are available for free outside the doors of the clinic to women in the community.

Classes are held at the facility every Saturday for women in all stages of pregnancy, including classes related to decisions about becoming a parent, domestic violence, single parenting and breastfeeding. A dozen rotating classes encourage women come back from week to week.

“We’ll be able to handle a lot more clients to come in and to help men and women. Women bring the father of the baby too, and we need to counsel them to help them to be the fathers and husbands that they are called to be,” Accurso said.

The increased space at 1st Way has also allowed the center to increase its outreach to men. Male counselors speak with expectant fathers and also offer a range of classes.

“It is a wonderful new addition to the work that we do here,” said Abel. “Men talk to men differently than women would talk to men, so they have more open discussions here.”

The men, many of whom never had a male role model, are shown a path to responsible parenthood.

“We need places of great welcome and places of great beauty, but especially we need persons who can welcome whoever comes and who can offer those who come a glimpse into the beauty and goodness of Jesus Christ. That’s why I am so grateful for 1st Way,” Bishop Olmsted said.

“I put a lot of time, and blood and treasure into it,” Bevers said, “and I don’t regret any of it.”