New Life Liaisons program provides resources, encourages people to choose life - Catholic Courier
Molly Steirer shops the selection of children’s clothes available at Geneva’s Family Hope Center Sept. 24. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Molly Steirer shops the selection of children’s clothes available at Geneva’s Family Hope Center Sept. 24. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

New Life Liaisons program provides resources, encourages people to choose life

The elimination of restrictions on late-term abortions was one of the most heartbreaking aspects of New York state’s Reproductive Health Act, according to Shannon Kilbridge, director of the Diocese of Rochester’s Office of Life Issues. The act was signed into law Jan 22 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“One of the main reasons that people choose a late-term abortion is because they’ve received a diagnosis that their child will have special needs,” Kilbridge noted.

Such parents frequently feel alone, overwhelmed at the prospect of dealing with their child’s expected needs and unsure of where to turn for help. Kilbridge said she hopes a new pilot program developed by her office will be able to support these parents and encourage them to choose life for their unborn children.

The new Life Liaisons program will utilize specially trained volunteers who will reach out to parents in these situations and connect them to such helpful resources as Daystar for Medically Fragile Children, she said.

“Our hope is that people know, if there is a (difficult) diagnosis, you don’t have to face that alone,” she said. “There are people and resources available once the child is born and as the child grows, for the individual and for the families.”

Parents of special-needs children are just one group of people Kilbridge hopes to assist through the Life Liaisons initiative, which is being rolled out this fall.

Life Liaisons also will provide support to those who are making decisions about hospice and palliative care, pregnancy and other critical life decisions, Kilbridge said.

“We’re making sure that ‚Ķ they know that it’s possible to say yes to life, and that when they do, they don’t do that alone. There’s a whole community of people that will help them and walk with them through each of those choices,” Kilbridge said.

Twenty volunteers — 10 in Monroe County and another 10 serving the remaining 11 counties of the Diocese of Rochester — will be trained to seek, encounter and accompany people who are making these decisions.

The volunteers will then connect the people they’re accompanying — called life callers — with resources in the community, said Julie Gutierrez, who in July became project manager for the Office of Life Issues.

“One of the major projects when I first came on was to see what’s out there in the community, what are the resources,” said Gutierrez, who compiled her findings into a resource guide that will be provided to the volunteers.

The guide outlines dozens of resources that run the gamut from Catholic Charities agencies and marriage-support programs to counseling services and county health departments. The guide also outlines some of the instruction volunteers will receive, including diocesan safe-environment training as well as 20 hours of what Kilbridge and Gutierrez are calling “culture of life training.”

“There will be five-hour training sessions but then also regular monthly meetings,” Kilbridge said. “We need them to make sure they understand what they’re called to do, and also the limits of that call. They’re not being trained as psychologists or counselors or social workers. They’re really being trained as connectors, to help people bridge to the next resource and to the wider community as well.”

That community likewise has a role in the initiative. Pastors and members of the diocesan Presbyteral Council have been asked to nominate individuals they believe would be good life liaisons. Kilbridge and Gutierrez also will strive to make sure the community knows about the availability of Life Liaisons.

“We’re just really excited. Those volunteers are really going to be the hands and feet of Christ out there in our communities, so we’re excited about launching this program,” Gutierrez said.

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