Etowah Pregnancy Testing Center serves women throughout community

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Etowah Pregnancy Testing Center Director Tammy Harris (left) and Assistant Director Kali Copeland welcome clients to the center. Katie Bohannon/Messenger.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

One Etowah County non-profit organization is welcoming the community to experience its transformative impact. On Thursday, October 7, the Etowah Pregnancy Testing Center will host “Choose Life,” a fundraising event benefiting a program that serves hundreds of local women and children countywide.

Held at MeadowBrook Church at 2525 Rainbow Drive in Gadsden, this year’s fundraiser differs from benefits of the past, with free admission welcoming everyone in the community to attend. Doors open at 6 p.m. While previous fundraisers featured a banquet, due to COVID-19, the center opted to exclude a meal for its 2021 event to ensure the health and safety of its guests, though MeadowBrook’s coffee shop will serve guests. MeadowBrook’s worship team will perform music, with the EPTC staff giving center updates alongside keynote speaker Jess Ford.

Focus on the Family writer Ford poses as one of the youngest speakers debuting at EPTC’s annual benefit, as the son of Embrace Grace ministry founder Amy Ford. Ford’s story begins with his mother’s, who discovered she was pregnant as an unmarried woman. While Amy initially sought abortion, she ultimately decided to keep her child – who would grow up to become Ford. Through her personal experience with her own unplanned pregnancy, Amy realized a disparaging gap between the church’s relationship with pregnant mothers in difficult situations.

EPTC Assistant Director Kali Copeland illustrated how Amy’s narrative mirrors the circumstances of so many across the world, adopting a narrow perspective on what it truly means to adopt the pro-life stance. Copeland hopes that the event will portray a nonpartisan pro-life viewpoint for audiences, depicting the difference between pro-life and pro-birth and shattering misconceptions. Individuals in Amy’s life were only pro-birth – their concern resided with her delivery of Ford, not the challenges she must overcome in mothering a baby.

Difficulties do not dissolve once a baby is born. In some cases, more arise, and encouraging support systems prove invaluable for mothers to succeed. Copeland believes that pro-life represents more than delivering a child; supporting pro-life claims requires action alongside sentiment and the willingness to assist both the mother and child in their journey moving forward.

“One misconception is that people who are pro-life only care about babies,” said Copeland. “They just want to make sure babies are cared for and born, but then they don’t care about what happens after the baby is born – they don’t care about the difficulty the mom might be going through. As a center, our purpose is to love them both. You can’t just love the baby or just love the mother; they are all a part of who we’re called to minister to.”

“To be pro-life means you have to acknowledge the difficulty they may find themselves in (in their situations), but we believe that life can be abundant, joyful and good, even in the midst of that difficulty. We want to help provide what they need and ease some of that burden….we walk alongside them.”

The staff at the EPTC treasure this mantra, striving to aid as vessels of service however possible. When a woman or teenager first arrives at the EPTC, she registers with the center and indicates where her interests reside and what route she is considering concerning her pregnancy. Copeland shared that while common misinterpretations associate pregnancy testing centers with either parenting or abortion alone, the EPTC addresses all potential outcomes of each individualized pregnancy, discussing parenting, adoption and abortion with every client. Clients are free to express their concerns without fear of judgement, finding refuge in the comfort that a compassionate and understanding support system awaits them at the center, void of any discrimination.

In a safe and sheltered environment, trained client advocates listen to the vast spectrum of stories and circumstances that lead clients to the center’s doorstep, protecting their privacy with strict confidentiality policies. It is never the EPTC’s intention to encourage clients toward one decision over another; rather, they allow clients to explore their possibilities and respect their choices. Clients receive in-depth factual information regarding their options, assessing the best route for their lives and gaining as much insight as possible to aid them as they make educated decisions.

In correlation with its educational approach, the EPTC provides numerous free services for all its clients, including 99.67 percent accurate lab-quality pregnancy tests, proof of pregnancy for Medicaid, WIC and housing, with prenatal vitamins for clients 18 and older. The center offers an “Earn-While-You-Learn” program designed to meet the needs of mothers seeking clothing and supplies for their children. The Mommy Bucks Program allows clients the opportunity to earn “mommy bucks” for the center’s store, where they can purchase a plethora of items for their babies, from diapers and wipes to formula and onesies.

Clients earn “mommy bucks” while completing various tasks such as participating in the center’s online parenting classes. After completing a set of 12 courses, each client is eligible to receive a new car seat, crib and crib mattress (or the equivalent, if the client already has these items). The EPTC provides access to over 300 BrightCourse Lessons, educational and informative video-based sessions that cover a wide range of topics mothers experience during and after pregnancy. While traditional subjects such as labor expectations, breastfeeding and potty training are among the courses, other classes teach life skills relating to finances, professional decisions and family practices. Certain courses address fatherhood, teaching men how to prepare for their newborns; something the center hopes to expand upon to further its service to families.

As a non-denominational Christian organization, other options for earning “mommy bucks” include reading devotionals or passages in the Bible, writing responses or thoughts and attending church services. The EPTC supplies clients with information on obtaining other needed resources, referring clients for prenatal care, housing, adoption services and post-abortion classes. The center’s post-abortion counseling is led by trained professionals, one of which serves as a registered nurse and has personal experience with abortion, providing beneficial insight for others.

The EPTC unites with neighboring organizations to form positive partnerships for the betterment of its clients, expanding its available resources. The center partners with Gadsden State Community College’s medical sonography program to provide first trimester limited ultrasounds and collaborates with Mt. Olive Mission Center in Altoona to deliver supplies to clients who live a far distance from the facility. If clients cannot travel to Rainbow City during office hours, they can visit Mt. Olive Mission Center to gather whatever they might need.

For the staff and volunteers at the EPTC, the center emerges as more than a position, but an organization that aligns with their own personal passions, experiences and callings in life. Current EPTC Director Tammy Harris first learned of the EPTC years ago during a church service in Centre, where she lived with her husband. During the service, an EPTC volunteer addressed the congregation about the center and its efforts to help families in the community – moving Harris to recall a transformative moment in her life.

At 16 years old, Harris found herself pregnant and was encouraged to undergo an abortion by her step-mother. As a minor, Harris required her legal guardian’s signature for the procedure, something her step-mother could not provide. When Harris’ father refused to sign, Harris continued with her pregnancy and delivered her daughter. As a teenager whisked into a whirlwind of uncertainty, Harris related to the hardships so many expectant young women endure and felt compelled to help.

“I think when you first volunteer, you think ‘I’m going to go here and help other people,’ but it actually helps you grow,” said Harris, recalling how her efforts at the center began with volunteering.

Copeland’s earliest memories of the center manifest in banquets she attended with her church in middle school and high school. The eldest daughter in a loving, structured household, Copeland realized straightaway that the center nurtured a mission that would become her passion.

Following college in Rome, Georgia and her marriage, Copeland met Harris while working as the Etowah Baptist Association receptionist. After volunteering herself at the center, Copeland applied and was accepted as the assistant director almost two-and-a-half years ago, gleaming lifelong lessons she considers invaluable and furthering her wish to serve.

“Coming from a fairly stable home life and a very sheltered home life with strict parents that I knew loved me, that was kind of the standard that I saw life through,” said Copeland. “[Working at the center] has opened my eyes to the fact that there is so much brokenness that we don’t even realize, and no two situations are the same. Oftentimes, you don’t want to see it…but just because you don’t want to see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Our job is to love these girls – we walk with them and love them in whatever they choose.”

The center averages around 50 clients per month, welcoming over 200 new clients in 2021 alone. Though those hundreds signify the increasing need of support for expectant mothers and families in crisis situations throughout Etowah County, the staff at the EPTC nurture each client as their own – building incredible relationships where individuals uplift one another with respect, heeding an understanding ear to life’s struggles and giving an encouraging word in return. As Copeland and Harris treasure their clients and advocate for them, they provide them with tools readily available to take the first step toward a successful future. Never minimizing the grief or complications that might arise, Copeland and Harris remind clients of their worth, ministering compassion, hope and acceptance in the manner of Christ, through loving them both.

“Some of [the girls] who go through our program will come back and bring donations,” said Harris, sharing that former clients return to visit, bringing their babies with them and serving others as they experienced themselves. “They finish their schooling. It’s good to see their growth – to see they broke that cycle.”

“We know we can’t fix their problems, but the Lord can,” said Copeland. “He can walk with them and give them joy, peace and direction we can’t provide, other than what we offer. Ultimately, we hope they will not only hear the gospel, but see us live that out and come to have faith in Him. We hope they see that whatever their difficulty is, it does not diminish their value or the value or their child. They can be successful in raising their kids, even if it’s hard; even if they don’t have support. We can be that support.”

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