ELEVATE Pregnancy and Family Resource Center helps women in need
When SuLynn Williams was a young mom getting help from a local pregnancy center, she never imagined that in the future she would be using that experience to help countless other young moms facing the same scary situation.
Her education and experience as well as her personal story of being a pregnant teenager all come together in her work at what is now ELEVATE Pregnancy and Family Resource Center in St. Cloud (formerly Birthline), an organization dedicated to helping women and families choose life and reach their full potential through encouragement, education and empowerment.
Williams, who began as director of Birthline in mid-2018, has a degree in organizational behavior and management from the College of St. Scholastica. She previously worked as an executive and life coach.
“I just feel really blessed to be able to use my education, professional and life experience to fulfill this role,” Williams said.
“I don’t even consider it a job,” she said. “I consider it a ministry, something I am passionate about and feel that it’s a calling from God in my life. I believe in purpose, and so I would not be here if I didn’t feel called to be here by God.”
Birthline, which has been helping women in crisis pregnancies since it was founded almost 50 years ago, changed its name to ELEVATE Pregnancy and Family Resource Center in May 2019 to better describe its mission, Williams said.
“We’re still a life-affirming, Christian nonprofit organization and serve all people, no matter where they’re at in their journey,” Williams said. “We’ve just taken a deeper look at our services to stay relevant to the needs of today’s clients and we’ll continue to do so.”
The word “elevate” was — and still is — an inspiration and a big part of the staff’s mission to help clients reach their potential, she said. The majority of the organization’s clients are experiencing crisis long before the pregnancy. Lack of education or training, lack of stable housing and income, addictions, criminal backgrounds, mental health needs, abuse, lack of self-worth and unhealthy relationships are some of the road blocks facing clients.
“The clients that we serve have emotional, mental, spiritual and physical needs,” Williams said. “Sometimes people think we do the pregnancy test and maybe [a few other things], but it’s just so much more. What we don’t provide here for services, we work with local organizations and offer community referrals and resources. If we can’t provide the help, then we’ll get them the resources, referrals and help that they need.”
“This is just a very positive thing that we can do to have respect for life,” said Father Gerald Dalseth, who has served on the organization’s board of directors for the past six years. Providing help and resources for women and men in crisis pregnancies is part of our Catholic faith, he said.
“The whole staff is very committed and pro-life, and they’re just very outgoing and welcoming,” Father Dalseth said.
The Stepping Stones Pregnancy and Parenting program is one of two offered at ELEVATE. The nine-month program helps women prepare for pregnancy and parenting or to make an adoption plan by offering mentoring, educational classes and other support. Classes cover everything from childbirth and breastfeeding to infant CPR and car seat safety. All of the classes are free to clients and funded by supporters in the community as well as through grants from the Minnesota Department of Health and other sources.
“Our other program is called HEART, which stands for Health, Education And Relationship Training,” Williams said. “It’s our proactive youth outreach program where we provide an interactive, relevant message in middle and high schools, youth organizations and private venues regarding sexual risk avoidance, sexual risk reduction, STDs, healthy relationships, goals and dreams.”
The HEART speaker gives a two-day presentation at area schools once or twice a year, usually during health classes. “We’re really trying to focus on our middle schools because we realize that it starts early,” she said. “It’s very encouraging to be able to bring this message into the public schools.”
Following the organization’s name change, ELEVATE moved to a new location. The previous location, although they were thankful to have it, was tucked away in the basement of a building with very few windows. Many people didn’t know about it or had trouble finding it, Williams said.
“The need and motivation [for the move] was for community awareness, to attract clients, and convenience and safety for both staff and clients,” she said.
But what made it possible was the donation of office space from Torborg Builders of St. Cloud. The Torborg family has supported the mission of Birthline/ELEVATE for many years and when they were approached for help to find a new location, brothers Steve and Tim Torborg were happy to help. After conversations about the needs and wishes for a new space, they offered an unfinished space in a strip mall they own near Crossroads Center in St. Cloud.
“They really went above and beyond,” Williams said. “We got to help with the design of this space.”
Williams said they were able to choose flooring, wall colors and even helped with the layout of the rooms. She wanted to include features that would make the new office safer, including rooms with multiple doors and windows to the hallway.
“It’s a nice and bright, well-lit space. It’s just a very inviting place,” Father Dalseth said.
“We have received a lot of positive feedback on the name change and the move to our new office space,” she said. “I think it’s also encouraging awareness, curiosity, credibility and building bridges. There have been a few people that have called in that have been longtime supporters and have had some questions or concerns, but it’s been a good conversation. It’s been a nice time to share what the needs are and the services that we offer.”
ELEVATE’s small staff has been through some big changes in the last six months, but Williams wants people to know that ELEVATE’s pro-life message hasn’t changed.
“The biggest thing about the pro-life message is to be humble and kind so others will receive that message and want to know more or want to understand,” she said. “[People sometimes think] that we’re trying to pressure [women] into making decisions. That’s not who we are at all. … We’re a life-affirming, life-empowering Christian organization, but we don’t pressure, we don’t judge. We accept and help people wherever they’re at in their journey.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION about ELEVATE, follow them on Facebook, visit http://elevatestcloud.org/, call 320-252-4150 or text 320-200-4306.