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‘A beacon of hope' along FIU corridor

South Dade Pregnancy Help Center moves into new, much more visible, location

MIAMI | No longer out of sight out of mind, the South Dade Pregnancy Help Center has moved to a strategic spot along the very busy thoroughfare of S.W. 107th Avenue, not far from the main campus of Florida International University.

“Now it’s visible,” said Deacon James Dugard, one of two deacons assigned by Archbishop Thomas Wenski to the Respect Life Ministry. “The sign is an eye-catcher. I hope it will be a beacon of hope for all men and women in the area.”

Bishop Peter Balducchino blesses the ultrasound room at the new office  of the South Dade Pregnancy Help Center.

Photographer: Anne DiBernardo

Bishop Peter Balducchino blesses the ultrasound room at the new office of the South Dade Pregnancy Help Center.

The South Dade Pregnancy Help Center is amply stocked with essential items for babies.

Photographer: Anne DiBernardo

The South Dade Pregnancy Help Center is amply stocked with essential items for babies.

Kathy Weissinger, director of the South Dade Pregnancy Help Center, poses next to a statue of Our Lady of Hope Expectant, which depicts a pregnant Madonna.

Photographer: Anne DiBernardo

Kathy Weissinger, director of the South Dade Pregnancy Help Center, poses next to a statue of Our Lady of Hope Expectant, which depicts a pregnant Madonna.

Auxiliary Bishop Peter Baldacchino blessed the new facility in mid-February. The 100 or so people in attendance included respect life volunteers, parish representatives, and members of the Knights of Columbus who help sustain the center financially.

The bishop blessed the office area, ultrasound room, counseling rooms, and all those who serve there, praying that that they might bring Christ’s healing to those wounded by abortion and blessings to those who are in crisis.

“We knew that where we were was not a good location,” said Kathy Weissinger, director of the South Dade center, which was formerly known as the Sunset Pregnancy Center because of its location — a modest storefront tucked in the back corner of a plaza on the corner of S.W. 97th Avenue and Sunset Drive.

In 2008, the center moved to an office suite a few blocks away. The office was spacious but it was situated in the middle of the building, insulated from public view.

Weissinger admitted she was reluctant to move again. But the new center is a single occupancy dwelling, conspicuously located amid a fusion of residences and businesses that inhabit the busy stretch of S.W. 107th Avenue between Coral Way and Bird Road. The exact address: 3410 S.W. 107 Ave.

The move took place in November, and it took time toget the lease signed, install the phone system and outdoor sign, and change the mailing address. The new center is slightly larger than the old one but the layout caused some design challenges that required a few structural renovations.

Now the office is a calming oasis for those who are in crisis. Although it is still a work in progress, it was decorated by respect life volunteer Gladys Penin, who incorporated a warm and refined, modern-minimalist style while adhering to a nominal budget.

The reception area is dominated by two large wooden benches custom-built and donated by Weissinger’s husband, Karl. Above one bench hangs an understated trio of inexpensive wall decorations that imparts a spirit of tranquility. This environment sets the tone for the counseling each woman will receive upon entering the center.

“Furniture is still needed for the counseling rooms, so they don’t look cold and sterile,” said Weissinger, noting that the center was formerly a doctor’s office.

“Counseling is the main part of what we do,” she added. “Sometimes we are the first person to listen and show loving concern.”

She emphasized that all of volunteers who work at the center undergo constant training that includes how to ask questions to assess clients’ needs and then listen with a spirit of loving compassion.

“What is going on in their life that makes pregnancy a concern?” said Weissinger. “We have to find out what their concerns are and then deal with them before we move on to the pregnancy. When a woman is in a crisis pregnancy she needs to be educated about all her options and not be coerced into making a wrong decision. If a woman has a support system and is not alone, she will not abort that baby. Most women have abortions because they feel they have no choice.”

Every woman who comes into the center for a free pregnancy test receives counseling. Some of the topics discussed include lifestyle, marital status, concerns about being pregnant and the relationship with the father. Issues that prompt women to consider abortion include finances, fear of abandonment by the boyfriend/husband and fear of being disowned by their parents.

“We look at the relationship between her and the father of the baby and help her to understand what a healthy, loving relationship is,” Weissinger said. “We help them to see they are worth so much more and help them to understand they should not compromise themselves.”

The center also offers a free ultrasound which is administered by a licensed technician. The technician’s salary is partially funded by the Knights of Columbus Miami Council 1726.

Deacon Dugard pointed out that a television above the examining table allows the mom to view the ultrasound while the technician is evaluating the images of the baby.

The center also offers Earn While You Learn classes, an enrichment program for pregnant couples developed by the Respect Life Ministry. The program prepares new moms and dads to embrace the challenges of having a newborn.

Participants also earn “mommy bucks” and “daddy dollars” to purchase new items from the center’s “baby boutique,” which is stocked with new or gently used cribs, strollers, and high chairs donated by benefactors or purchased by the Respect Life Ministry.

As the director for the center, Weissinger capitalizes on her personal experiences, which include coming from a single-parent family and experiencing the profound regret of aborting her first child.

“When I became a mother, I had no idea what I was doing,” Weissinger said. “My mom became a workaholic trying to put food on the table. She never talked about anything. When I had kids I was emotionally handicapped. It was my relationship with God the Father that taught me.”

Because of her experience, Weissinger also recruits experts to give classes on parenting, lactation, how to look for a job, and dental hygiene for infants and adults.

The center is currently staffed with 25 volunteers who rotate shifts but there is a need for more people who are willing to work at least two days a month.

The center is open Tuesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Weissinger’s goal is to open it also on Mondays and Fridays but that will require additional manpower.

“It’s a commitment,” she said. “It’s like running a business and requires continuing education.”

Anyone interested in volunteering at the South Dade Pregnancy Help Center should contact Kathy Weissinger at 305-273-8508.

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