ROCHESTER — The work at Focus Pregnancy Help Center is personal for the volunteers dedicated to helping mothers and their babies.
For example, the center’s cofounder and director, Mary Jost, said that years ago, she found out her grandmother had had an abortion at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in 1920. It was a family secret that her mother revealed to Jost when she was 27.
"I always think of her every day," Jost said of the aborted child, whom she and her mother named Mary. "I say adoption, adoption, adoption. (Abortion) affects your family. It is a generational curse."
To save mothers from that curse and save babies from her aunt’s fate, Jost started the pregnancy center a decade ago just down the street from its current location at 135 University Ave. Jost and her fellow volunteers moved into the converted two-story house a year ago.
The idea to open the center originally stemmed from conversations with fellow abortion protesters who regularly prayed in front of the Planned Parenthood offices on University Avenue, Jost explained. The group had been providing "sidewalk counseling" for many years and wanted a place where they could do more to help the girls they encountered, she said
The original location provided a lot of space but also challenges with constant flooding, she added.
"I said to the Lord, ‘I want to serve you but I can’t stand this anymore,’" she said. "Then, we found this place."
She is grateful, though, for the previous space, which served the center for nine years.
"We did a lot of good over there," she added. "We helped many women and men. And I saw babies saved by the grace of God."
In addition to providing women with counseling, referrals and educational materials, the center also gives out clothing, car seats and portable cribs to the men and women who often just walk into the center, Jost said. Recently, the center also began providing baby formula and diapers. The only item it does not offer is cribs because of safety issues, Jost noted.
Everything the center provides is offered at no cost, she explained, which is made possible by donations from individuals, parishes and community organizations that support the center. At present, however, formula and diapers are being purchased by the center, so donations for those items are desperately needed, Jost said.
The center’s offerings have helped thousands of women over the past decade, and Jost and the center’s volunteers interacted with 2,400 people last year alone, Jost noted.
One such interaction, recalled the center’s codirector, Martha Malone, happened while Malone was protesting in front of Planned Parenthood. She saw what she believed to be a mom and daughter drive up to the facility, and assumed they were there for an abortion. She said the daughter began crying upon seeing the picture of Jesus that Malone was carrying and didn’t get out of the car. Her mother exited the car, looked at the picture, and got back into her car and drove away, she said.
"There are a lot of good stories and a lot of horrible stories, especially on the front lines," said Malone, a retired licensed practical nurse in psychiatric care who does a lot of the hands-on work with the women and girls who come to the center for help.
Barbara Beard of Rochester has seen a lot of the good that the center does, she said, including providing her family with diapers, clothing and toys. She first took her daughter-in-law to Focus when the girl became pregnant at 16, Beard said. Her daughter also went there for a pregnancy test, she added.
Beard has been so impressed with how caring the volunteers are that she volunteers when she can, helping sort out clothes, she said. She has seen the volunteers search for a stroller if a mother needs one, and they always check for safety on all items and even give out food, she said.
"It is good to have an outlet where you could go and get treated nice," Beard said. "They are a really good place."
The center also seeks to help women who have chosen to have an abortion, Jost said. And volunteer Neyoka Bielaski of Penfield provides personal testimony about the pain of abortion.
"I just wanted to be about the Lord’s business … (because) I know he saved my sorry soul," Bielaski said. "And I wanted to do work worthy of repentance. I can share that with the girls, say how I regret it (abortion). It is not a small thing, not to be taken lightly."
She learned of the center four years ago from seeing an advertisement seeking volunteers and now is there three times a week sorting donations, doing laundry and whatever else needs to be done. Bielaski said she often will take clothes home to wash.
"There’s a million things need to be done, we need help," she added. "It’s a great place to be. It is such a blessing being here. When we receive donations and the girls are here, you’ve just seen the grace of God walking through that door."
EDITOR’S NOTE: To donate or for more information about Focus Pregnancy Help Center, call 585-200-9477 or e-mail to Focusphc@gmail.com.