Rice woman raises teens’ understanding about healthy relationships through ELEVATE center

Ann Marschel has been passionate about the pro-life movement ever since her high school days. As a student, she attended retreats and the annual pro-life rally at the Minnesota Capitol. When Ann began her teaching career, married and had children, she had less time to attend such events. But devoting time to pray for an end to abortion remained a priority.

Ann Marschel coordinates the H.E.A.R.T. program at the ELEVATE Pregnancy and Resource Center in St. Cloud (photos by Dianne Towalski)

Then, three years ago, she saw the movie “Unplanned” about a former abortion clinic worker and her decision to join the pro-life movement.

“I felt like no matter what end of the spectrum you’re on, you should see that movie because it shows what an injustice we’re doing to these women and these babies in our culture,” Ann said. “Praying is great, but I felt called to do more.”

A member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Rice, Ann knew about the ELEVATE Pregnancy and Family Resource Center in St. Cloud, formerly Birthline, an organization that helps women and families choose life and reach their full potential. Her mother was on the board of directors, so she was familiar with their programs, including H.E.A.R.T., a program that focuses on health, education and relationship training.

“As a teacher, I knew I was drawn to speaking to youth about healthy relationships,” she said. “At that time, I was discerning where God wanted me to be, so I spoke to the H.E.A.R.T. coordinator and said, ‘Hey, I could do this … I feel like the Lord is leading me here.’”

To volunteer at ELEVATE, call or text 320-252-4150. Speakers for the H.E.A.R.T. program are needed, as well as volunteers to sort through donations or teach life skills classes to clients.

Ann started volunteering as a speaker for the H.E.A.R.T. program, which aims to proactively reach youth with the education and tools necessary for sexual integrity, positive decision-making and healthy relationships, she said. The program shares a positive message through a research-based presentation to promote self-respect, sexual risk avoidance, healthy dating, personal boundaries and future goals.

She became coordinator of the program two years ago.

Ann and other volunteers present the two-day program at high schools and to faith formation classes and youth groups around Central Minnesota. Most of their presentations are at public high schools, but they also have been to Cathedral High School in St. Cloud. Groups are also invited to make arrangements to come to the ELEVATE offices for the program and a tour.

Ann said the root of the program is building up young people to know that they have value and worth. “I don’t think they’re often told that,” she said.

Victoria Hammond recently attended a presentation at ELEVATE with her youth group from St. Augustine and St. Mary’s Cathedral parishes in St. Cloud.

“Especially with being physically separated from people by the pandemic, [what’s portrayed in] media can become a commonly seen model of what relationships ‘look like,’ and it is often modeling unhealthy relationships,” she said. “It was wonderful to have an in-person talk to help ground understanding of relationships in truth.”

“If we don’t teach people about what to look for … we don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like,” Ann said. “Before I speak, I always say, ‘Holy Spirit, come. Holy Spirit, come. Holy Spirit, come,’ because I really have felt like he’s just using me as a vessel. It’s all the Holy Spirit. I’m prepped with everything, but it’s definitely the Holy Spirit, and he knows specifically what those students need.”

The H.E.A.R.T. program educates youth regarding sexual integrity, positive decision-making and healthy relationships.

In talking about healthy relationships, it’s really about respecting yourself, Ann said. Ideally, people would follow Church teaching and wait until later in life to engage in sexual activity, but this program gives students tools to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

With the St. Augustine and St. Mary’s Cathedral youth group, Ann “was very honest and real in her talk which I have found is important with all people, especially [teenagers],” Victoria said. “They have real questions about relationships, and presenting a true picture helps respect them and provide needed information.”

Ann doesn’t talk about her religious beliefs during presentations at public schools, but her talk ties in well with the “Theology of the Body,” St. John Paul II’s teaching on human sexuality, Ann said. When she talks to students at Cathedral High School or Catholic groups, she is able to touch on those kinds of topics.

“When we can talk about Christ and his relationship with us, he is the epitome of healthy,” she said. “This is a message of what God calls us to be in our life, and who he wants us to be.”

Henry Cash, 16, a member of St. John Parish in Foley and part of the youth group, feels that what he learned through the H.E.A.R.T. program has already helped with how he sees relationships with other people.

“The H.E.A.R.T. program gave me many ways to figure out if relationships I may experience in the future are healthy or not,” he said. “It also gave me the assurance that taking steps to remove myself from toxic friendships and relationships in the past was the right path to walk down. It’s important to understand what makes up a genuine relationship with another person before experiencing one myself on the level of marriage or the many steps leading to marriage.”

“Within my own personal faith life, I realized that if I want to keep giving to other people, I need to first build my relationship with Christ and fully surrender and then meet the clients and the youth where they’re at,” Ann said. “That is probably the biggest thing. I can come with all these ideas … but really they just need a listening ear.”

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How to help

ELEVATE assists women facing unplanned pregnancies with support, life coaching, education and the supplies they need. Current needs include:

  • Swaddlers
  • Sleep sacks
  • Warm fleece sleepers or pajamas
  • Muslin swaddle blankets
  • Car seat covers
  • Car seat hanging toys
  • Baby girl long-sleeved onesies
  • Baby wipes
  • Boy and girl pants
  • Gift cards and cash donations are always needed.

Donations can be dropped off Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 376 3rd St. N.E., Waite Park (next to Crossroads Shopping Center by Schuler Shoes).

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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