By Jim Gauger
Special to The CS&T
JEFFERSONVILLE – The crisis pregnancy center known as A Baby’s Breath is housed on the second floor of a former school building.
There is a reception area, a baby-sitting area, a baby-store area and a large conference room that boasts a huge blackboard, compliments of the building’s history.
It is here that Karen Patota, founder of A Baby’s Breath, and a group of professional volunteers provide free pregnancy counseling, pregnancy tests, pre-natal classes, parenting classes, tutoring and material assistance to mothers, fathers and families.
“We first started with four people sitting around the kitchen table,” Patota said. “We now have three centers with 100 volunteers.” Those volunteers include a director for each center and advocates.
The centers are all in Montgomery County – Jeffersonville, Collegeville and Bryn Mawr. “We want to open centers in Philadelphia and other states,” Patota said.
That is why the organization is holding a one-day seminar at Villanova University’s Driscoll Building April 17 called, “A Baby’s Breath Leadership Course.”
The hope, said Patota, is to attract people with the skills needed to be a director.
The cost for the course is $25, but it is free for active volunteers.
Patota described what led her to begin A Baby’s Breath in August 2000. “A friend went to Planned Parenthood and was not given the correct information,” Patota said. “She wasn’t given a lot of support. She wasn’t told that 20 years later she would still hurt. A Baby’s Breath strives to give correct information and support to carry through with the pregnancy.”
Patota, the mother of four children who has a master’s degree in electrical engineering (Drexel, 1992) and a bachelor’s degree in applied math (California State, Long Beach, 1989), said she lost a director at Bryn Mawr last year.
“Villanova intern Lindsay Gray is the acting director,” she said. Paula Manchester, the director at Jeffersonville, is leaving in May. The director at Collegeville is Maryann McDonnell.
There is a need to train future directors, who will volunteer an average of 100 hours per year.
Patota said she has “no idea” how many people will register for the “nuts and bolts” course. “It is probably better suited for someone beyond college,” she said, “someone who has the time and the organizational skills to execute a center.
“Advocates like to advocate, and we have wonderful people, but they are not managers. We need people with organizational skills.”
According to Patota, the three centers have a combined 123 clients with operating costs of about $70,000 a year. The centers are not funded by the Archdiocese and do not receive any funding from the government. Local fundraisers, donations and grants are the main sources of income for the 501(3)c designated charity. “That allows us to keep the integrity of our mission,” Patota said.
Clients have ranged in age from 14 to 45.
The organization’s web site (www.ababysbreath.org) states that it “helps clients develop the skills they need to provide a stable and loving environment for their children. We provide free tutoring in GED training. Our volunteer registered nurses conduct pre-natal classes on fetal development, nutrition, safety and related topics. We hold inspanidual and group parenting classes, including budgeting advice from a registered financial planner, parenting techniques, and more for our parents in order to extend our support for life.”
Patota emphasized that it is important for the pre-natal nurses “to have Catholic values in a crisis situation in which they share their medical expertise.”
She envisions that one day the organization that she built from scratch will become a national entity. The leadership course at Villanova is a step in that direction.
Patota wasn’t intending to be the director for five years, but found that she had skill in managing clients. “That’s what I am going to be teaching in this course – how a homeschooling mother of four was able to direct three centers,” she said.
Through the years A Baby’s Breath has counseled “college students, young couples and parents,” she said.
“We are compassionate in response. We give them information they may or may not have heard before. You don’t have to continue in an abusive relationship. We want to steer them in the right direction,” Patota added.
“We try to help them until the time comes that they feel they don’t need us. They leave here firmly on their feet.”
Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.
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