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Pregnancy Help Center moving to bigger office
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It used to be the Bobson Cleaners, the long-running dry-cleaning business in Manteca next to the Bank of Stockton on North Main Street.

Now, half of the building that is currently owned by Nancy Ashment State Farm Insurance which occupies the other half facing Edison Street, is the new home of the Manteca Pregnancy Help Center.

This Saturday, the all-volunteer organization which provides free services to women before, during and after pregnancy up to their babies’ first birthday, is having a grand opening celebration along with an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. The public is invited.

The afternoon event will include the blessing of the new office by Father Patrick J. Walker, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. Other pastors in town have been invited as well to attend and help dedicate the new facility.

The staff actually moved to its new location in November, but due to the hectic holiday season, “we just didn’t get a chance to get settled,” explained center director Janice Laplume.

It is about 600 feet larger than its previous office located across the street from The Book Exchange, also on North Main but closer to downtown Manteca. That additional space gives them a total of 1,700 square feet.

“It’s not as big as we’d like but (the rent) was in our price range. It was what we could afford,” Laplume said.

“I looked around for several months, and some of the other places were bigger but the rent was way too high for us. (Ashment) had a good rate and she helped us a bit. A very sweet lady; she gave us a really good deal with the rent,” added Laplume.

Ultrasound machine next acquisition for the center
The need to acquire a larger facility was in preparation for the next big step that the center is getting ready for – to become “semi-medical” with a room for an ultrasound machine. The plan is to reach that goal in five years. But first, they have to raise money to buy the ultrasound whose price tag currently runs to the tune of $42,000 to $45,000.

Why an ultrasound machine?

“We are the right-to-life group, and when we have young pregnant girls that are abortion-minded, it’s nice to take them in the ultrasound room and make them see the baby before they make the decision to abort,” explained Laplume.

She said studies have shown that as high as 85 to 90 percent of those who “actually see the baby” during the ultrasound procedure “decide to keep (the baby) rather than go through an abortion.”

The money for the machine is just one of the hurdles that the center will need to overcome to reach their next program goal. They have to procure a mandated state license which will require them to “put together a lot of rules and regulations, policies and procedures. We have a lot of ground work to do before we have to buy the ultrasound machine,” explained Laplume.

“Then we have to have a doctor and also registered nurse,” trained personnel to operate the machine, she said.

Many pregnancy help centers already are equipped with ultrasound machines including Lodi and Modesto, Laplume said.

More space needed for counseling, training classes
Having more space will also allow the Pregnancy Help Center to expand its programs plus have ample room for storage and training. The training room is for the free parenting and life-skill classes that they offer to prospective parents as well as those who are already parents of newly born babies.

“We’re also trying to start a program for the young father. It’s a program especially for the men. They get trained on what it means to be a father,” Laplume said. “Even though we know these people are not getting married, the baby needs a mother and father, so they work together and work out issues.”

There is even an incentive given to parents participating called “baby bucks.” These are “money” that they can use at the center’s “store” that is set up in the office where the young parents and parents-to-be can buy things such as diapers and formulas. If both parents attend the classes, then the baby bucks they receive are doubled.

“All our services are free, but in order to avail themselves to (the services) they need to take parent classes. We are trying to teach them a little responsibility,” Laplume said.

Last year alone, the center had a total of 728 clients. But, said Laplume, “the more we can help, the better. We take girls from the time they become pregnant all the way through the baby’s first year of life.”

Center receives no federal funding, relies on donations
None of the Pregnancy Help Center’s 15 staff is paid including Laplume. It is purely a Christian-based organization funded by generous individuals, businesses and churches in the community. “We don’t take federal money,” Laplume said.

Several area churches support the program financially on a regular basis. About seven churches donate every month while others “send us a check periodically whenever they can.” There are also private citizens who donate on a regular basis.

The rest of their annual budget is replenished by proceeds from a number of fund-raising efforts organized by supporters of the program. There’s the annual banquet, for starters, held at Chez Shari at the Manteca Golf Course club house which is going to its third year this year. Then there’s the other fund-raiser that was started by a parishioner of St. Anthony’s who is on the board of directors of Pregnancy Help Center. This event is unique and fun in that it’s a free spaghetti dinner. The money comes from the auction of donated dessert items that guests bid against each other.

“People had so much fun they’re asking, ‘when’s the next spaghetti dinner?’ It was something novel. It was a big success,” Laplume said with a laugh.

There’s also the annual “Baby Shower for Baby Jesus” started by Sister Ann Venita at St. Anthony of Padua Church at Christmas. That’s when parishioners are asked to bring to the Sunday masses gifts for the Baby Jesus. Truckloads of the gift items plus cash donations are then delivered to the Pregnancy Help Center.

Laplume said they are especially in need of Spanish-speaking volunteers. Among their 17 trained volunteers, “there’s no one who speaks Spanish, and we have a lot of Spanish-speaking clients,” she said.

Individuals interested in becoming a volunteer need only to stop at the Pregnancy Help Center, fill out an application and be interviewed by Laplume. A training program is available for those who are interested in becoming counselors.

“The only requirement is that they be pro-life,” Laplume said.

The Pregnancy Help Center’s new address is 640 North Main Street. The office phone number remains the same: (209) 230-9899.