University, Highland LifeCare centers join forces for women in crisis pregnancies
One of the first days after the new $16 million Planned Parenthood facility opened in St. Paul’s Midway area last month, a young woman who left the facility after changing her mind about having an abortion found her way to the Highland LifeCare Center, thanks to a sidewalk counselor who had the foresight to give her a map to the crisis pregnancy center located more than three miles away.
After receiving assistance from HLCC, the woman now plans to place her baby for adoption, according to HLCC executive director Jeanna Desideri.
HLCC still has a presence near Planned Parenthood, although the abortion provider has moved from its block in Highland Park to a 46,000-square-foot Vandalia Street facility. As HLCC combines with nearby University LifeCare Center, it hopes to increase that presence and offer more assistance to women and families who seek abortions there, while also joining expertise and improving efficiency.
The opening of Planned Parenthood’s new facility “certainly became the impetus for us to talk seriously before we decided to do this,” said Lisa Schmitz, executive director of ULCC, which has been located near the University of Minnesota campus for more than 35 years. “It’s extremely important that we do this in order to be able to reach the women better who are coming into the area right in our territory. It is one of many reasons that it makes sense to do it.”
Benefits of combined forces
The combined organization benefits from ULCC’s skill in outreach to college students and HLCC’s experience in assisting clients coming directly from the abortion center, ULCC and HLCC executive directors said. In addition, it will enable the new center to increase efficiency by combining efforts in marketing and other areas as well as sharing specialized staff.
“We have an expertise working with University students,” Schmitz said. “They have an expertise working with clients who are coming right from the PP center, and both of those types of expertise are going to be crucial in helping serve the women who will be coming to the new PP.”
During the integration, each center’s location will be open as each remains a separate legal entity, said Don Brown, ULCC and HLCC board president who added that opening another location near the Planned Parenthood facility may be a possibility someday. The position of executive director for the unified center will be posted in the next several months and the new center will select a new name, Schmitz said.
Another reason for combining the centers is to present a unified organization to stakeholders in the area, said Patrick Shrake, ULCC and HLCC board secretary. “There’s always been a sense of which organization should we support? Why do we have two organizations?”
Already, the centers are sharing staff and resources, including a professional counselor based at ULCC and a fertility care practitioner at HLCC, said Desideri, whose center was founded 10 years ago.
The new center is also looking strategically at having a presence around Planned Parenthood, Schmitz said.
Reaching out to women
“We know we need to continue to assess how we can most effectively reach the women who are going to that center,” Schmitz said. “We will have some type of presence, whether that means initially more direct advertising and marketing in the area or it means continuing our relationship with the sidewalk counselors in the area or eventually considering some type of more permanent presence there.”
Combining the centers enables them to share knowledge, Desideri said. “We can learn from ULCC’s experience reaching out particularly on campus,” she said. “They have experience working with abortion-minded people and we have experience with college students, as well, but there are areas of strength that we can learn from one another.”
The idea of combining the organizations came up in 2010 and the two centers’ boards began meeting jointly in December of that year, Brown said. “Both having similar missions and both having great staff at both of our locations, there really wasn’t any downside at all.”
The entire community benefits from the new center, said Will Cossairt, director of Total LifeCare Centers, HLCC and ULCC’s administrative and support umbrella organization.
“It provides kind of an exciting synergy between those two bodies and staffs that I think . . . helps them to be able to serve the community more completely and more fully because of their combined efforts that they couldn’t do before,” said Cossairt, adding that it’s likely that other new centers will open in the Twin Cities in 2012.
As they join forces, ULCC and HLCC bring together the skill and experience to assist women in crisis not only from their service area but from around the region, Brown said.
“The clients going to the Planned Parenthood facility are really in our neighborhood so we’ll continue to minister to them and try to reach them,” Brown said. “Even without having a center there right on the location, we do plan on finding ways to reach abortion-vulnerable women that are going to that [PP] center.”