BARBERTON: Watching a 40-minute video on shaken baby syndrome left young father Justin Carlson visibly upset.
After leaving the private viewing room at the Community Pregnancy Center on Wooster Road West, he said he was disgusted at what he saw.
“I hated it,” he said. “It was hard to watch.”
Carlson, 29, of Barberton, has a 3-month-old son and couldn’t imagine how anyone could hurt a helpless child.
The Community Pregnancy Center educates parents and offers basic needs for a new baby. Such item as underwear, sleepers, blankets, bibs, pacifiers, bathroom products, diapers and formula are available for infants and toddlers.
Bigger items — furniture and equipment — also are available: cribs, car seats, playpens, highchairs, baby gates, bathtubs and potty chairs.
“We are here not only for the material support, but for the emotional and spiritual support for the parents,” said Diane O’Neill, executive director of the nonprofit agency. “Mostly we deal with crisis pregnancy situations — unplanned pregnancies, whether it be a difficulty for families because of financial reasons or a young, single girl who wasn’t thinking that this was going to happen to her.”
The recent visit marked the first time Carlson and his girlfriend, Cynthia Landis, have used Community Pregnancy Center’s services.
They also have a 6-year-old daughter.
“We didn’t need it the first time. We were doing better then, and there was probably somebody else who needed it more,” Carlson said, “but we are really hurting this time.”
Carlson said he has been laid off for a few months. Landis, although she is trained to work as a medical assistant, found a job quicker than he did — as a telemarketer — and went back to work after delivering the baby.
His jobs have been factory work or in machine shops, auto shops and in construction.
“Basically I take any kind of job I can find,” Carlson said. “What little money we have is going to pay the rent. The baby has already outgrown what diapers we have.”
Carlson was at Community Pregnancy Center to pick up a crib and to see about getting diapers and formula for their son.
“I’ve always known about the center. I would drive by it and see the big sign out front, but this time we stopped in,” he said. “I like this place because they aren’t pushy. That’s what ruins a lot of charity agencies that have a spiritual background.”
O’Neill said that’s not what they do at the center. Watching the video is a requirement only for those who pick up a crib.
“It’s not our place to pressure; it’s our place to educate,” O’Neill said.
The center has been in operation since 1990.
“We service about 1,600 to 1,800 appointments a year,” O’Neill said. “Our services range from a pregnancy test to clients coming every month. We have about 700 to 800 clients a year. The turn of the economy a few years back pushed a lot more people toward our services.”
The agency does not receive any government funds and relies on individual and church donations, charities and grants.
Northern Ohio Golf Charities, the Welty Family Foundation, First Catholic Slovak Ladies’ Foundation, In His Steps Foundation and the Barberton Community Foundation help with purchasing clothes, cribs and car seats, the more expensive baby items the center keeps in stock.
“We are also blessed to get a grant from the Millennium Fund that is specifically used for formula for the babies,” O’Neill said.
She said a lot of their clientele learns about the center by word of mouth.
“We’re very well-known in the community. We get referrals from Info Line, like many of the nonprofits, but additionally from nurses and hospitals and doctors’ offices who know about our services. There are plenty of clients to go around.”
The center has a staff of three paid part-time employees, O’Neill included, and 80 volunteers.
Those volunteers do everything from putting together a layette — about a 60-piece set of all new items — to cleaning the facility and grounds maintenance outside the center.
On a recent day at the center, Patricia Janis, 82, of Green, was answering phones. She has been volunteering there for the past eight years, following about 32 years of volunteer work at Queen of Heaven Church in Green. Her niece, Barb D’Aurelio , 61, of Akron, has been volunteering at the center for five years.
The center is in a house at Wooster Road West and Lindbergh Avenue.
Offices and an interview room for clients are on the first floor. There are three upstairs bedrooms filled with clothes, carefully tucked away in boxes or on display on racks. There is also a room for maternity clothes available for mothers-to-be and clothes for special occasions, such as Halloween outfits and Christmas and Easter dresses.
“I don’t think the general public knows how many needy people are really out there,” D’Aurelio said. “A lot of the girls we see in here have no family support, or the father is in and out of the picture, or they had to move in with their grandmother.
“I get upset when people think these girls are living off the welfare system because they think it’s easier to come in here. They aren’t having an easy time. Some people don’t have anybody.”
Former volunteer Cara Drury, 22, who recently became a paid employee at the center, said the work leaves an impression.
“There are clients who have an abusive boyfriend, and they feel they can’t leave that situation because that is their means of eating or surviving,” Drury said. “We can help them with a job and education that gives them a permanent way of not needing the abusive boyfriend or a boyfriend who just isn’t good for them.
“The center helps them with a better quality of life.”
O’Neill said the center helps those women on the fence, especially a young, single girl who might feel she doesn’t have much of a support system because she chose to keep her baby.
“We try to be present with her and walk the journey with her and help her stay on track with her own goals,” she said. “We let them know what resources are available to them and their babies.”
The volunteers said they are happy to see fathers in the program.
D’Aurelio pointed out they are also seeing grandmothers having custody of their children’s kids for different reasons. Many of the grandmothers raising kids are in their 60s.
O’Neill said the agency has outgrown the house it has used since 1984.
“We are bursting at the seams,” she said. “We are looking and hoping to locate to a bigger facility … something that will also be comfortable and welcoming to our clients.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.