By Jeff Grant
PHOENIX — Unmarried, alone and pregnant.
Three words that together describe a daunting situation for any young woman, even more so for someone in her teen years. But where despair and uncertainty exist, the personnel at 1st Way Pregnancy Support Center see opportunity to share the love of Jesus while providing practical and physical guidance toward delivery of a new baby.
“We really feel the charism the Lord has placed upon our hearts is not only tests, ultrasounds, education, counseling; but really establishing relationships with the women and men who come to us,” explained Katie Wing, 1st Way’s Executive Director.
One of several pregnancy support centers in the Diocese of Phoenix, 1st Way was established in a house in 1972 by a group of volunteers with a burden for the unwed, young mother with little or no resources or support system. Today, it has grown to occupy a modest, two-story office at 16th St. and Whitton Avenue in central Phoenix staffed by three salaried positions and a number of part-time personnel.
In addition to Wing, there are a nurse manager and education coordinator and an operations and business manager, with another nurse, men’s program and community outreach coordinator, and assistants.
“Men are very much a part of what we do. Being a mother. It’s the hardest job on the planet. We let the mothers and fathers know how valued they are,” she said.
While it is rare for a man to accompany the expectant mother – for every 30 new clients two are couples – Wing said men have an innate ability as provider and protector. Men are invited to share in the classes, including post-partum depression, as well as some geared primarily toward fathers and husbands, such as budgeting and time management.
There is no requirement a client be a Catholic or even religious.
“Mother Theresa didn’t go into the streets and say, ‘Before I help you, I have to know do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ She just picked them up and loved them,” Wing explained. “If the Holy Spirit opens an opportunity to talk about faith, we will. If not, we still feel we are yielded to His love.
“We try to be vessels of the love of Christ and the Blessed Mother, and have the words to discuss the beauty of marriage and life.”
To foster its approach, 1st Way continues to serve a mother until her baby is a year old, providing material and educational resources while seeking to help her avoid a repeat occurrence. In addition to pregnancy testing, limited ultrasound imaging and counseling for both women and men, the center provides classes on pregnancy and parenting, as well as community referrals.
The center also offers items such as diapers, wipes, formula, layette items, pacifiers, bottles, bibs and blankets, as well as maternity clothing at three junctures during her pregnancy. Counselors are also available throughout the process.
Supported entirely by donors and its Charity & Development Appeal grant through the Diocese, the organization produces a monthly newsletter, and Wing speaks at parishes, bringing a table with information. The organization also advertises in bulletins.
She said 1st Way would use additional funding to upgrade its technology, and expand its evening hours and courses, as well as hire another nurse.
The need for services such as those offered at 1st Way remain consistent, including among 16-20-year-olds, where Arizona falls exactly in the middle of the 50 United States when it comes to teen births.
The most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control data show 19 of every 1,000 females in Arizona between ages 15-19 gave birth during 2019 — that’s 4,318 teen births. Arkansas’ was the highest rate – 30 per every 1,000 females — followed closely by Mississippi. The lowest rate (6.6 births for every 1,000) was recorded in New Hampshire.
1st Way also is concerned with preventing young women from having abortions.
According to the Arizona Dept. of Health Services 2020 report, “Abortion in Arizona,” there were 265 procedures performed on girls between 15 and 17 in 2019 – the last year figures were available; 889 for women between 18 and 19; and 3,908 involving women 20-24. The rate of abortions was five per every 1,000 females ages 15-19 and almost 16 women for every 1,000 between ages 20-24.
But Wing and her colleagues don’t view their service as in terms of numbers. Instead, the staff prays and works to treat each person who comes to them as an individual – the way God sees them — created in His image and likeness with their own story.
“So many really have not had anyone care about their story. We want to hear about them. One of the arguments we have found in prochoice circles is, ‘all you care about is the baby.’ We care about the mother, the father and the family. We see pro-life as comprehensive. We feel strongly the Lord has laid on our hearts learning the situations that brought them here. Otherwise, people will repeat the cycle over and over again.”