A pro-life organization in Chatham in southwestern Ontario has roared back to life after its office was destroyed by a fire. Right to Life Kent, forced to rejuvenate itself, has now moved into its own building and provides more services geared towards women in need and youth outreach, and its number of clients and participants is growing.
On March 10, 2011, Right to Life Kent had to close after a large blaze devastated a commercial building at the corner of Wellington Street West and Harvey Street in Chatham, along with three other businesses housed in the same edifice. This forced the group into a tough situation. Pam Bauer, the executive director of Right to Life Kent, told The Interim that although “they had no insurance,” they were able to pull through due to a “tremendous rallying of the community” in support of the organization. The fire also forced the board of directors to ask some tough questions: “What is our mandate and how are we getting there?” Bauer reports that the board and membership was ready to do whatever was needed to grow.
In April 2011, the group was able to lease an office at 44 Riverview Line offered by Dr. Frank Little. With the technical expertise of Phil Szucs, the group then extended its online presence onto Facebook and Kijiji. In its December 2011 newsletter, Right to Life Kent announced its decision to stream the organization into two branches: Refuge (geared towards crisis pregnancy and counselling) and Life in Motion (the educational and motivational division). Each issued its own web site online in early 2012. In its newsletter last December, Right to Life Kent reported an increase in the number of clients: “Just in September, October & November, we have been able to serve 26 young ladies, and have been able to rescue 2 babies this month.”
Bauer told The Interim that they were “capitalizing on the momentum” and on the “new and fresh” image in making the choice to create two branches. Furthermore, they were able to reach out farther in certain communities. Refuge “opens doors…that Right to Life does not,” Bauer said. It is now possible to “go much more into the medical community,” as well as schools and the broader community, and is “totally targeted to young girls.” Some older members were moreover excited to go back to the group’s roots, which had a focus on both pregnancy support and education.
The group has also gone in new directions in purchasing advertisements on Facebook, having a 24/7 Live Chat as part of its Refuge services, distributing a variety of promotional materials, and having more youth engagement. On Nov. 3, for instance, it held a pro-life youth leadership day called ONE Voice 2012. 70 students attended and the event which was targeted towards all youth groups in the area, with at least eight different groups and organizations participating. The event included educational sessions with Alissa Golob (the youth coordinator of Campaign Life Coalition), the distribution of ‘Defund Abortion’ pamphlets across Chatham by participants, and a screening of the new movie October Baby.
On Mother’s Day 2012, Refuge launched the “Baby Bottle Boomerang” campaign to fundraise for the pregnancy support centre. 3,500 bottles were sent out to 30 churches to be filled with coins. On Father’s Day, the bottles were collected and almost $40,000 was raised.
Furthermore, the Chatham-Kent area had an impressive showing at the National March for Life in Ottawa in May 2012. Right to Life Kent was able to bring two busloads of youth. Bauer said that this may have been because the organization reached out to the schools, for example, by working with a very active pro-life group (Fight for Life) in one Christian high school. Moreover, local Reformed churches have been effective in encouraging students to attend. It was important to be “willing to share the vision with (young people) and let them be excited” about taking part by involving them in volunteering, talking to them, and informing them in how to communicate with other students and how to respond to an unplanned or crisis pregnancy.
That was not all, however. On Sept. 21, Right to Life Kent bought its own property on 39 Grant Ave W, right across from a hospital and near “the Pines” high school. It became the Refuge Pregnancy Resource Centre, and also houses Right to Life Kent and Life in Motion. The move also made financial sense: real estate in Chatham is relatively cheap, and the mortgage payments on the building are actually lower than the rent at the previous site. The open house on October 30 was attended by several community leaders.
The new location was featured in an October article featured in Chatham Daily News. In addition to providing pregnancy and post-abortion counselling, as well as assistance with accessing services, the article outlines Refuge’s extensive involvement in providing practical pregnancy support, including layettes containing $550 worth of clothes, blankets, and toiletries given to new mothers.
What can other pro-life organizations learn from Right to Life Kent so they can also share in this growth? First of all, Pam Bauer said that the group has an “incredible variation of members from different denominations”, fostering unity and prayer. Moreover, pro-life groups should not be afraid to “dream big” and “come at things in a fresh way” by, for example, bringing in some new perspectives. Purchasing advertisements on Facebook also provides an excellent return on investment, and seeking out people with skills in technology will facilitate any group in making an effective online presence. Finally, pro-life organizations should look for individuals with expertise and passion to fulfill their mandates.