By Erin Pedrini
Web Production Assistant
There are two different organizations in Central Jersey that aim to help young women going through pregnancies, many unplanned. ChoiceOne Pregnancy and Sexual Health Resource Centers located in Lawrenceville and Promise of Grace Ministries located in Ewing both use different methods to help young mothers, their children and their partners at a time when they may not know what to do.
ChoiceOne was founded 33 years ago in Mercer County. ChoiceOne Director Megan Rudanovic said that the organization was founded because there was a growing need. She said young girls, mainly between the ages of 15 and 20, were getting pregnant and they weren’t sure of what to do or where to turn, how to even digest being pregnant and many were scared to tell their parents. She said the girls needed a safe, confidential place that they could go to and get information from professionals that would help them overcome their fears.
The mission of ChoiceOne is to empower young women and men during a crisis situation and council them in their physical, emotional and spiritual needs, to help them move forward in a healthier lifestyle, said Rudanovic.
ChoiceOne helps 10,000 to 12,000 people a year through its many programs. “We offer material assistance — diapers, formula, car seats, strollers and baby clothes, as we get it. We do parenting classes with men and women, ongoing counselor support during the pregnancy, post abortion counseling should they choose that and STI testing. All programs are free and confidential. We also have community programs where we go out to other social service agencies and teach parenting classes and we go into schools to do a sex education program for local schools,” said Rudanovic.
As for the women’s classes, Rudanovic said there is a first time parenting class that teaches good prenatal care, what the mother should be eating, changes to the mother’s body, the stages of labor and what the process is like, postpartum changes and how to take care of a baby.
There is another program for women called Home Builders for those having a second child or who have older children. Rudanovic said that program teaches parents how to teach their children the difference between right and wrong, how to use please and thank you and how to take character qualities that parents want to teach their children and how to apply them. She said it also teaches how to create a safe environment for the children to grow up in.
Rudanovic said many times, women enroll in the parenting classes and the fathers of the baby can come with them. “We have programs specifically designed for fathers to help him learn his roll as a partner involved with the mother of the baby and as a father. And we teach him basics as well,” said Rudanovic.
She said that men can get STI screenings if their partner is registered at ChoiceOne. She said that single fathers can also go to ChoiceOne if they need supplies to take care of their child.
When asked what the most rewarding part of working with ChoiceOne is, Rudanovic said, “ChoiceOne is a counseling center but is about so much more than just handing out a free pack of diapers. We really want to meet every girl, every guy, that comes in and help them at every level — a holistic approach — physically, emotionally, spiritually. So that we can empower them to become a stronger individual to meet the challenges they’re facing in life and to meet them with wise decisions and wise choices and being fully informed as they move forward in life. When we see a girl or guy really take on those challenges and really face it and be strong in that, that’s really rewarding to see that happen.”
ChoiceOne works mainly with adolescents, while Promise of Grace Ministries works with women and men 18 and older.
Promise of Grace Ministries is a girl’s home that was founded by Director Karen Burke. Burke said, “At a very young age I had prayed that I could someday open up a girl’s home because I couldn’t have any more children. About 26 years later, that prayer came to fruition.”
Burke said that a young woman who she had waitressed with in her 20s opened up a tavern. “About 25 years had passed and she had come into the hospital because she had seen on Facebook that my husband was in the hospital and she showed up randomly. I hadn’t seen this girl in years and she was having some struggles in her life and asked if I would pray for her. I said I would and we briefly caught up and she left. About a week later she called me up on the phone and said, ‘Karen it’s the strangest thing,’ she said, ‘All I keep on hearing god say to me is I’m supposed to turn the bar into a girl’s home for unwed mothers and you are supposed to facilitate it.’ I had never told a soul about that prayer,” Burke said. “Six months earlier, I had gotten up and I was walking back to my bed around 2 a.m. I had pulled out a little piece of paper in my dresser drawer and felt compelled to wrote, ‘Promise of Grace Ministries. With god nothing is impossible.’ I didn’t even know why I was writing that on the paper. I shoved the paper back in the drawer and then six months later when she had called me up on the phone, I remembered the paper and I said that I already had a name for it. She said, ‘What are you talking about?’ and I explained to her what had happened. A month later I did all my paperwork for my 501(c)(3), non-profit, and here we are. It had been an amazing journey. It took literally 27 years to formulate all of the necessary key components to make it happen.”
Burke said that Promise of Grace Ministries has just found a house mother that will be living at the house with the girls. She said as of right now, there are not any residents but she has had a couple of girls that she was working with that were going to move in but through reconciling them with their parents, they have now moved back home and their parents are now supporting them.
“Our goal is to reconcile families back together the way it should be. Our goal is not to take kids away from their folks, but a lot of times parents freak out and want the girls to abort the children and we are there as a support structure for them. Our goal is ultimately restore the families the way they should be and be an added support if we can be. But if they are out on the street, we will take them in,” said Burke.
Burke said that initially her mission is to provide basic essential needs — housing, food, shelter, security and maternity items such as diapers and formula. She said that her mission is also more long-term than that because her goal is to take the girls when they find out that they are pregnant and in that time she hopes that they would live in the house so she can train them and teach them how to be good moms.
Besides teaching parenting skills, Burke said that another goal is to teach the girls a marketable trade that they could do once the baby is born so they can sustain themselves and their baby. There is a school set up in the girl’s home, which has several stations — a study station, a computer station, an art station and a sewing station, said Burke. She said, “I want to get the girls to be self-sufficient so they can support themselves and their baby, and feel good about themselves.”
She said that although there are trades that she can teach the girls, she knows that not everyone wants to do those trades, so she can tailor a program that is geared toward each girl. She said that she worked it out with certain local business, banks and stores like Home Depot to train the girls there. She said that she wants to find out what the girls want to do in life so that if they have aspirations she can help them achieve their goals.
“Every day to me is a gift, just being able to talk to these girls. My greatest gift is to be able to show these girls that there is somebody out there who loves them,” said Burke.
Promise of Grace Ministries is located in Ewing and information about volunteering and events can be found here.
ChoiceOne is located in Lawrenceville and also has a location in Levittown, Pa. ChoiceOne accepts donations of baby supplies that are new or gently used. Volunteer, event and donation information can be founded here.