By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
After more than a year of planning and organization, a BirthRight office is preparing to open its doors to aid women distressed with an unwanted pregnancy.
“We wanted to do something to change the world one life at a time. Rather than demonstrating, this is a more hands-on way of helping. We felt it was a proactive and safe place for any woman to go for moral and even financial support,” said Bob Weitzman, a past grand knight of the Sacred Heart Council of the Knights of Columbus in Sidney, which also includes churches in Bainbridge and Afton.
The Sacred Heart Council of the Knights of Columbus, under Weitzman’s leadership, took the initiative to request that the directors of BirthRight present information about the non-profit organization to the Knights during fall of 2001.
“At the first meeting, we decided to pursue BirthRight. There seems to be a high teen birthrate; there’s more stress in the household; there’s a lot more single parents and broken homes,” Weitzman said. “We felt this was a way of doing more. The more we got into it, the more we find this is exactly what we need to do.”
Since 1968, BirthRight has been offering alternatives to abortion by providing women with the resources and referrals to make their pregnancy less stressful. The goal of the organization is to serve the community with the emotional support to deal effectively with the growing number of unwanted pregnancies.
BirthRight, a non-denominational organization, provides women with free pregnancy tests and confidential help. The office then begins to work with the expectant mother, sometimes providing medical or legal information and referrals, financial advice, information on prenatal care and adoption, educational assistance and referrals to social agencies and counseling. BirthRight provides maternity and baby clothes, housing information and referrals, and information on childcare options and safety issues.
“We started out having informational meetings and we wanted a non-denominational location. On one Friday night the library wasn’t open, so I offered the use of my parents’ house which had been sitting vacant for more than a year,” said Lou Palombo, a Knight of Columbus member since 1995. “They had no operating capital. So I donated the house rent free to BirthRight, until something else comes along.”
The house, located in the tri-county area, has been repaired and cleaned by the Knights and other volunteers.
Marie Rittwager, director of BirthRight in Sidney and a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Church in Bainbridge, currently is bringing a group of 10 volunteers to Binghamton’s BirthRight for training on how to answer phones and questions.
“I’ve put notices in many church bulletins, but it seems that if you approach someone who you think has the right personality, they’re more likely to answer,” Rittwager said. “It’s nice having the house in a residential area and not at a store-front. When a girl walks in here she won’t have to look to her left or right to see who’s around. It’s very private.”
Palombo added that the Knights plan to continue supporting BirthRight through annual fundraisers and donated time.
“We already had a spaghetti supper to raise money. Members have donated equipment and volunteered to do work around the house, such as putting flowers in the front yard. The Knights will hold an annual fundraiser to just generally support it,” Palombo said. “We have a nice reservoir of manpower and skills to support it.”
Among other items, Knights and community members have donated carpets, furniture, lamps and carloads of diapers and clothes to BirthRight.
In addition, several of the Knights’ wives are training to be volunteers when BirthRight opens. BirthRight operates solely using volunteer staff and prides itself on its ability to form relationships with its clients. Those close relationships create friendships which help make the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy less daunting.
The Sidney office of BirthRight is currently waiting for the completion of corporate papers to be signed in order to organize insurance coverage, join the corporation and become tax exempt and non-profit.
Rittwager added that once the incorporation papers and the charter are signed, BirthRight will complete the final phases of opening a bank account and telephone lines. “We’re hoping to be open a few days a week and at least one night a week,” Rittwager said. Weitzman explained that the volunteers are excited about opening BirthRight to the public as soon as possible.
“We’re planning an open house and refreshments as soon as we get the paper work back. We hope to have it open and running by Christmas,” Weitzman said. “We’ll do whatever we have to to make this stay afloat. It’s amazing what an organization like this can do.”
Rittwager added that although there has been a lot of work in preparing for the opening, the services that BirthRight will provide are well worth the efforts.
“I see a girl who is pregnant and needy today, and think how BirthRight could help her,” Rittwager said. “If we save just one life, that’s a tremendous accomplishment.”