RUSKIN — For women facing an unplanned pregnancy, life may seem overwhelming — particularly for younger and teenaged women. This month, a faith-based organization that has been in Brandon for more than two decades has expanded to South Hillsborough with the opening of an office in Ruskin. LifeCare SouthShore hopes to reach out to help those in need.
“This is a safe place, it is free and confidential,” said LifeCare executive director Karen Brooks. “If you are in a situation and you don’t know where to go or what to do, come here. We can help you to make decisions that are best for you, your baby and your future.”
LifeCare is a faith-based, non-denominational organization. As such, their mission is to provide services that can help both single women and couples to not only get through pregnancy, but also through the birth of their baby. They offer classes for expecting mothers and fathers. While abortion is not within their direction, they offer counseling for women who have chosen that option in the past. But for expecting mothers, they will certainly discuss it.
“We talk about the truth of abortion and the risks involved,” Brooks said. “We talk about parenting, about keeping the baby.”
But they remain committed to supporting their clients first and foremost. And they will talk about adoption and offer options for those who feel they simply cannot keep their baby.
“We are completely non-judgmental,” Brooks said. “We accept everyone. We are a Christian ministry, but we do not push that on our clients. We believe in God and the Bible, and we share that if the client is open to it. We care about you, but it is your responsibility to teach yourself about God.”
Their clients have ranged in age from 11 years old to the mid-40s. Their programs include the TLC (Teaching, Loving, Caring) program in which expectant mothers can earn “Mommy Dollars” while learning to prepare themselves for parenting and the life skills needed for the responsibilities during pregnancy and for up to a year after the baby is born. Expectant mothers can then exchange the “Mommy Dollars” for everything from maternity clothes to diapers, baby wipes, cribs and other baby furniture.
The coaching program is designed to help women set and achieve goals that primarily revolve around their own self-image and their spiritual and personal growth, but also ranges to things such as financial management issues.
The Woman of Worth program expands upon the coaching program to help women achieve a healthy self-image and even to heal from past sexual abuse.
“Three out of five women have encountered some form of sexual abuse in their lifetimes,” Brooks said.
The Birth of a Family program is a six-week class to mentor, model and teach healthy family relationships to couples.
The For Men program helps men to deal with their own issues surrounding pregnancy and impending fatherhood by helping them realize that both members of a relationship are parents and by preparing them for parenting responsibilities.
The Just for Teens program goes beyond merely preaching abstinence, and is designed with the intention of helping young people to value themselves and find support in making life decisions.
In addition, LifeCare offers a variety of other training, seminars and programs designed to avoid unplanned pregnancies and other situations in the first place. They are also working to raise the funds for a permanent home solution for pregnant women that may not have a home to call their own.
“We hope to find our clients a safe place to stay,” Brooks said. “Some of our clients go from place to place to place, and that is not a healthy environment for them or their baby. We hope to be able to help them with an education and finding a career to improve their future. And then we’ll need support from the community when we find that right house.”
LifeCare is funded entirely through private donations from individuals, local companies and churches. They also seek out and offer a training program for volunteers. In South Hillsborough, there are surprisingly few resources available to pregnant women. The Mary & Martha House offers homes to homeless women and children, but does not specifically deal with pregnancy. The Alpha House of Tampa offers classes and a comprehensive residential program for up to 23 pregnant women and is currently the only licensed maternity home in Hillsborough County. For those seeking a different tact or for womens’ health care, Planned Parenthood has offices in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Bradenton and Sarasota.
“There is no lost cause to us — I can truthfully say that,” Brooks said. “We can share the truth and love; we can teach and offer classes. We reach out to the moms but also to couples. This is a safe and confidential place and there is no lost cause to us. If you need someone to talk to, we’re here.”
LifeCare of SouthShore is located in the non-denominational Journey Church of Ruskin at 310 1st Street NE. The office is currently open Monday through Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. For those who are interested in their services, or for those looking to help, call 813-654-0491 or 813-938-6024, or visit their website at lifecareofbrandon.com for more information.