COLUMBIA — When Birthright of Columbia celebrated the anniversary of its founding Feb. 2, its purpose may have been to thank the community for 23 years of support. But it also hoped to interest a few new volunteers.
“The community knows what we are about,” said Hank Chardos of St. Peter’s parish in Columbia, one of the founders of the Devine Street agency. “Women and girls who’ve been here before tell others: ‘Go to Birthright; they care.’ The Holy Spirit abounds here.”
Volunteers — and that includes every person who works at Birthright — soon learn to count on the Holy Spirit. The ministry would be too discouraging otherwise, since most people who contact Birthright are never heard from again.
The volunteers learn to count their successes one delivery at a time.
Birthright’s raison d’etre is to help girls in problem pregnancies. They have become expert in substantiating pregnancy, at hurdling the bureaucracy to get medical and financial assistance, and they have functioned as beacons of support for thousands of frightened and confused clients over the years.
The volunteers hope to offer alternatives to abortion. If they fail, they hope to seek comfort for the mothers who have aborted their children.
Many girls and women who contact Birthright feel entirely alone, according to Herbert W. Johnson of Corpus Christi in Lexington, co-director and a veteran volunteer.
“We try to have some input into their lives. We reach out to them and relate to their situation. They know we really care. We try to plant the seed, and sometimes we get to nourish it,” Johnson said.
He said that many people who call or visit are abysmally unaware of the life they have conceived. By the time most contact Birthright, the fetal heart is already beating. By the time they leave, they know what is going on in their bodies. The Birthright volunteers send the prospective clients home with a pair of baby booties, vivid reminders of the reality they face. Sometimes it works.
“It can be frustrating,” Johnson said. “But every time a client comes in and listens, it makes it worthwhile.”
The grandfather of 14 feels the impact of the Holy Spirit in his volunteer work: “Sometimes I don’t know where the words come from when I’m talking to a client or a prospective client. Volunteers have to have empathy, they have to feel the fear of these girls and relate to their situations.”
Often, he said, it is a teen who is pregnant; rarely does the father of the baby come in with the girl; usually, the family of the unmarried girl does not yet know she is pregnant. Those conditions make it obvious why the Spirit is needed and why Chardos calls Birthright volunteering “a unique ministry.”
Sally Chardos, co-founder of Birthright of Columbia, said that she most enjoys calls from someone seeking information about an abortion. It is often the one chance someone has of hearing the alternatives to pregnancy termination. She said that her biggest frustration is the girl who says, “I’m too young to have a child.” They don’t think they are too young to be sexually active, Chardos says, and she points out to them that choices entail responsibilities.
Volunteers are trained and work in pairs for three hours each week. The two prerequisites for the ministry are a no nonsense policy about abortion and being a caring person.
“Ninety percent of the ministry is just being here,” Hank Chardos said.