Outreach stewardship leads to Birthright Center

PAWLEYS ISLAND — Parishioners at Precious Blood of Christ Church have a reputation for being active stewards in outreach programs throughout the area.

Habitat for Humanity, Georgetown Special Olympics and Meals on Wheels are three organizations that have parish volunteers. Others visit the sick, put together food baskets for the needy at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, or work in prison ministry. Still others receive and evaluate special requests for assistance. One such request led to the founding of a crisis pregnancy center, Birthright of Georgetown, which opened March 25.

A little over a year ago, a young woman, a new single mother, approached the Outreach Committee at Precious Blood. After giving birth, she needed one-time direct material assistance. Her request was large enough that her case was submitted to Knights of Columbus Council 11028 for matching funds. At the urging of Grand Knight Simon Bula, the council approved the funding request, and Len and Marita Vercellotti, Right to Life Committee chairpersons, delivered the check, along with some winter baby clothes.

Some time later, the young mother called to say she was now keeping up with expenses and asked if she could donate the baby’s infant clothes to another needy mother. The clothes were delivered to the Pee Dee Regional Office of Catholic Charities. For those directly involved, the experience provided the importance of person-to-person support for women with unplanned pregnancies.

At about the same time, in March 2001, Birthright of Charleston sent out letters soliciting funds and offering to give a talk on Birthright to interested groups. At the Knights invitation, Fred Koch, president, and Lucy Zwarych, director of the Charleston chapter, presented a program at Precious Blood in April.

In June of last year, the Vercellottis and a friend, Lorraine Dwyer, visited the Charleston Birthright Center. Founded in 1968 by a housewife and mother of seven in Toronto, Canada, the interdenominational Birthright International now has more than 450 chapters in the United States and Canada. Trained volunteers talk to woman at a time of need to encourage them to consider positive alternatives to abortion. Access is either through a nationwide 800 telephone number or through local centers.

The Vercellottis and Dwyer looked into the need for a center in the Georgetown area and began the start-up tasks of establishing a board of directors, incorporating, securing a Birthright charter, fund raising, preparing a facility and training volunteers. Last November, Knights Council 11028, led by Grand Knight Jim McMahon, approved a resolution that the start-up of the center would become a council project.

Everything then began to come together quickly. The center was incorporated in December, and initial funding was obtained from the Precious Blood Outreach Committee, the Grand Strand Citizens for Life, and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Letters went out to 75 area churches announcing the new center and seeking support. The Precious Blood Women’s Club held a baby clothes shower, and other parishioners donated clothes during Advent.

Charity Sister Kathleen Driscoll responded warmly to the proposal to house the center in space at the St. Cyprian’s Vincent Building in Georgetown. Parishioners Gabe Timpano, Len Vercellotti and Jim Molidor renovated a reception office, mentoring room and walk-in closets. Vercellotti also addressed the Pee Dee Deanery, since the center will be a resource for the entire deanery.

Officers for the Board of Directors are Vercellotti, president; Timpano, vice president; Bula, vice president of fund-raising; Roy Elmendorf, secretary; and Ernest Sementilli, treasurer.

Co-directors of Birthright of Georgetown will be Marita Vercellotti and Lorranie Dwyer, both retired nurses. They are also on the Board of Directors.

In February, Carolyn Duclos, regional coordinator for Birthright of Albany, Ga., led a training session for volunteers. Diane Bullard, coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Pee Dee Deanery, and Sister Driscoll of St. Cyprian’s also assisted in the training.

Volunteers, numbering 16 so far, answer the local telephone at the center, (843) 546-0833, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. At other times, women with unplanned pregnancies can reach the Birthright hotline at (800) 550-4900. Volunteers and monetary donations to help operate the center are needed, along with supplies such as diapers, one-piece infant outfits, and other baby items. The mailing address is P.O. Box 3455, Pawley’s Island, SC 29585.