Refuge Pregnancy Center holds annual gala at St. Pius

Annual gala at St. Pius benefits Refuge Pregnancy Center

Refuge Pregnancy Center’s Executive Director Janice Olejnik displays a double stroller and baby clothing available to clients at the center. (Staff Photo: Karen J. Rohr)

Refuge Pregnancy Center’s Executive Director Janice Olejnik displays a double stroller and baby clothing available to clients at the center. (Staff Photo: Karen J. Rohr)

Seventeen years ago, a young woman found herself pregnant and didn’t know where to turn. Today, she is the mother of a teenager and has never forgotten the people who helped her through the most desperate time in her life.

Since finding that help and friendship back in 1996, the woman stops by Refuge Pregnancy Center in Conyers whenever she’s in the area just to visit with the volunteers — many of whom have been there 20 years or more. She is but one of the estimated 24,000 women Refuge Pregnancy Center has helped since it began in 1984.

“We just had a phone call from a girl whose baby is six months old,” Refuge Pregnancy Center’s executive director Janice Olejnik said. “She had come in wanting to terminate her pregnancy, but talked to a counselor and decided to keep the baby.

“Now she says that baby is the light of her life. She called because she is moving away and going back home and wanted to donate the baby items she no longer needs. She wanted to give back. We get cards and letters from girls saying ‘thank you for being there.’”

For almost 30 years, Refuge Pregnancy Center has been there for girls and women of all ages in Rockdale and Newton counties and, as its name implies, it is a place of refuge. The organization is available to help women and families who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy by offering free pregnancy tests, counseling, pregnancy support, adoption referrals and individual assistance.

Refuge Pregnancy Center will hold its annual fundraising Gala Dinner on Thursday, Sept. 19, at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers. Educator Carol Ingle will be the guest speaker. In addition, one of the women who has been helped by the center will also speak that evening.

Tickets are $15 per person in advance, $20 at the door, or $110 for a table seating eight people. For tickets, call 770-922-5939. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. with dinner served at 7. St. Pius is located at 2621 Highway 20, in Conyers.

“The girls we see haven’t changed,” Olejnik said. “They are the same yesterday as they are today. They just need somebody to give them some positive input and support them through hard times. That’s what we’re here for.

“It is a ministry. We don’t necessarily evangelize every girl. We wait for God to make an opening for that. We help them come through this time in their life a step above where they were when this happened to them.

“We want to instill self-esteem and self-worth in these girls. They have no idea about their potential. If we can help them realize that, we have accomplished something.”

The center offer free ultrasounds, a pregnancy support group, one-on-one counseling, personal assistance, abstinence training, GED classes and post-abortion support, just to name a few of the services provided.

“Our post-abortion program is for ladies who have had an abortion and are having a difficult time getting past it,” Olejnik said. “That’s usually five, 10, 15 years down the road. Most of them are that far along, but they’ve been dealing with it without getting help for years and they realize they need help.”

While the center is affiliated with national organizations, the local center was started 29 years ago by local people who wanted to help pregnant girls and women. Olejnik said the center started as a crisis pregnancy center, but has now evolved into a women’s center and offers a range of services.

“Most of the girls come to us through word-of-mouth, but we’re seeing more and more who are finding us on the Internet,” Olejnik said. “…We see 10 to 18 girls a day coming in for various reasons. Not all are for pregnancy, but some for health, some need clothes for their baby or some come in for classes.”

Olejnik said the center follows up with the pregnant girls on a monthly basis and stays involved with them “as long as they want us to,” she added. She said she is the only full-time employee at the center, which also has four part-time employees and a number of volunteers.

“We have wonderful volunteers who reach out with their hearts when the girls come in here,” she said.

While it is a ministry, Refuge Pregnancy Center is not affiliated with any church, but has 35 area churches that help support the ministry, Olejnik said. She also said most of the center’s funding comes from churches and individuals.

Through its Bridges to Life program, the center offers weekly classes to help any woman who is pregnant or has recently had a baby and is looking for support, friendship and assistance. The program’s counselors offer a confidential environment where the women can share their concerns.

The women are educated about the development of the baby, labor and delivery, breastfeeding and caring for their newborn, as well as getting help with life skills. The women receive “Baby Bucks” through their participation in these classes and programs which allow them to buy baby clothes and other baby items.

“A lot of them are not aware of the risks involved in the lifestyle they are leading,” Olejnik said. “Their futures depend on making decisions that will help them reach their goals.”

The center is designed to offer help as well as friendship to the women.

“We have some girls stop by here on their way home from the hospital to show us their babies,” Olejnik said. “We hear a baby crying in the lobby and it’s like a magnet for all of us. We all rush to see the baby.”

Refuge Pregnancy Center is located at 1307 Milstead Avenue, in Conyers and its website is www.refugepregnancycenter.com.

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Gwinnett County. Contact her at bethslaughtersexton@gmail.com.