Birthright’s backers include Father Miller, Father Vavonese, and volunteer lay Catholics
By Tom Maguire | Associate editor
Invite the “fearless leader” and his flock to your baby shower, and you had better clear space in the bins and the closets for the incoming bounty.
Birthright of Onondaga County, a pro-life organization that supplies emergency services and goods to pregnant women and new moms free of charge, had been running low on supplies for infant layettes.
Father Zach Miller, pastor of the Linked Communities of Christ the King and Pope John XXIII in Liverpool, “is a fearless leader,” wrote Diane Cima, Director of Birthright. “With help from his generous parishioners, he conducted a virtual Diaper Drive.”
The result, she said, was “29 packages of diapers, 12 packages of wipes, and 62 containers of baby food. Father Zach and his parishioners opened their hearts and Birthright now can continue to serve the most needy in Central New York — even during a pandemic. God is so good. Thank you, Father Zach and all your parishioners!”
‘New ways to minister’
Helping him organize the virtual baby shower was his parishioner Laura Ryder, a Birthright volunteer who delivered the bounty to Birthright’s office in Syracuse’s Eastwood neighborhood. His linked communities, Father Miller wrote, are “committed in the Gospel message of spreading the Good News of Jesus to everyone. As Catholics we … respect all life from the very first moments of life to the final moment when God calls us home in death.
“During this time of COVID mothers and families are in need and throughout the pandemic we have been trying to find new ways to minister to the community. When I was approached about the drive, I just wanted to try to help. Not knowing how the community would react we placed the request out to the community and they responded very generously to the need.
“During this time we have learned sometimes all we can do is try and let God do the rest. Within our communities we try to respect all lives no matter the situation or the need. All we want to do is help a little. That is why we are currently developing a family ministry so that we can help better minister to all our families and those in our communities. Respect life must first come from the heart and come with the understanding that all people deserve that dignity.”
Father Charles Vavonese has done some consulting in the area of organizational development for Birthright.
“The activities of Birthright are guided by the pro-life ethic,” he wrote. “Since promoting the Culture of Life is so integral to our Catholic faith I believe that we have an obligation to advance that obligation wherever possible.”
Father Vavonese commended Father Miller’s parish for its vision in helping Birthright “because collaboration between and among respect-life groups enhances the strength of our witness to the world.”
Birthright started in Canada and has been in Syracuse since 1977, said Cima, a parishioner of St. Daniel’s in Syracuse. Although Birthright is nondenominational, it has Catholics on its all-volunteer staff of about a half dozen, including two lawyers and a retired nurse, and it dovetails with the thinking of the Catholic bishops, she said. Everyone he knows who has been involved in Birthright over the past several years is a practicing Catholic, said Birthright Board Member Robert LaBerge.
The self-funded organization relies on the generosity of local friends, organizations (including the Knights of Columbus), church support, and grants, said Cima, who has about 40 years of experience as a businesswoman.
Hundreds of calls
In 2019, she said, Birthright responded to about 900 calls from women in need and caseworkers from local agencies and provided 132 layettes of baby necessities and 292 toddler gift bags.
Beneficiaries include clients who are sent over from Catholic Charities; and Birthright sends some clients to Joseph’s House for Women in Syracuse, which says it provides “a safe home and family environment for moms and babies who find themselves homeless due to a wide variety of circumstances.”
Asked if Birthright has prevented any abortions, Cima said, “Yes, we have.”
She recalled “a young woman, college graduate but she came in and she was on her way actually to Planned Parenthood, because she was afraid to tell her parents. So on emergency basis we went into the office, we sat down and talked with her, and right now she has a little boy that’s two years old.
“We had another lady who came from a domestic-violence situation. She came in, and her baby is due in March. The father wanted abortion.” The woman was told that Birthright would help her with “whatever she needed,” Cima said. “We just showed her around, and actually for a new mother, we give them handmade booties or a little blanket, or a onesie or an outfit, so that it keeps the child in mind that it’s a BABY, it’s not a tissue, it’s not some cells, that it’s a real baby.”
She added that Birthright’s office also displays models of “an infant in the mother’s womb at different stages — at two weeks, at four weeks, at six weeks, at three months, so that they can see the child; they know what the child looks like.”
And Birthright goes way beyond booties.
“We call ourselves a super resource center,” Cima said. “So whatever a woman needs, a pregnant woman or a mother with children, whatever they need, whatever their emergency needs are, we provide the resources.
“Now in-house, we have pregnancy tests, we have maternity clothing and coats, we have publications for pregnant women, and then we have resources for pregnant women, emergency housing, food, medical care.” Baby formula and bedding is available too.
If women come in and they are not sure what to do, Cima said, “we just sit down and talk with them and say: What are you thinking? What are your obstacles? I’ve had students come in — high school and college students come in, who are not sure what they want to do. So we just try to prevent them from ending up at Planned Parenthood, that’s our objective.”
“We’re very grateful for the good work of Birthright, their staff, and volunteers,” wrote Lisa Hall, Director of the Office of Family/Respect Life Ministry for the Diocese of Syracuse. “They personify the efforts of the U.S. bishops in this year’s campaign, ‘Walking with Moms in Need.’
“They stand in the gap for women facing unexpected pregnancies and provide clothing, food, and comfort to those in great need. We are very blessed indeed to have Birthright … in our diocese. We are also blessed to have parishes and wonderful people who support these centers with their time, talent, and treasure. Every Catholic should know where to send a woman for life-affirming options in the face of unexpected pregnancy.
“Our office has a list of all pregnancy-care centers in the diocese and provides them to our parishes. We also provide postcards with this information to those who pray outside of abortion clinics so that, even at the last moment if a change of heart occurs, a woman will have the resources she needs to choose life.” (See the list on page 12 of this issue.)
Birthright Volunteer Board Member LaBerge, a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council as the representative from Most Holy Rosary in Syracuse, also cited the “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service” initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The yearlong nationwide effort runs through March 25, 2021.
“Pregnant and parenting moms in need are in our parishes and our neighborhoods,” says the USCCB website. “As Pope Francis reminds us, our parishes need to be ‘islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference.’ Everyone in the parish community should know where to refer a pregnant woman in need.
“The 25th anniversary year of Evangelium vitae (Gospel of Life) gives us a wonderful opportunity to assess, expand, and communicate resources to pregnant moms and families in need.”
LaBerge said Birthright provides young mothers with “the things that any young mother would want to have in hoping to raise a healthy and happy child.”
“New initiatives,” Cima said, “include free safe-sleeping equipment for newborns, recommended books on pregnancy and parenting — as well as free pregnancy tests, sonograms, maternity clothes along with referrals for safe housing, food, free diapers, infant car seats, medical/legal services, local financial support, and many more. All goods and services are provided free of charge, in confidence and without judgment.”
She said Birthright is also “trying to launch a new media campaign so that we are going to be online when that … pregnant woman says, I don’t know if I’m going to get an abortion. We’re going to try to reach her because every person … has a cellphone. …
“We want to be the No. 1 option — that they call us and then we jump into action and we’ll provide whatever it is they need.”
Birthright of Onondaga County
What: Nondenominational pro-life resource center that meets all the needs of a pregnant woman or a new mother who needs emergency services and goods.
Where: Storefront at 346 N. Midler Avenue in Syracuse.
Hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. by appointment Monday-Wednesday and Friday.
Contacts: Clients and caseworkers can call 315-479-5807; 24/7 helpline, 800-550-4900; through 211 CNY; Facebook page or new website: www.BirthrightSyr.org.