By Kevin Prevou
Special to The Texas Catholic
The concept of true collaboration, with the goal of loving support for vulnerable mothers and families, is at the heart of the Culture of Life Collaborative, a group of eight pro-life organizations partnering with the support of the Diocese of Dallas.
For the past year, leaders from each of these organizations — Bella House Maternity Home, Birth Choice, Hike for Life, Catholic Charities Dallas, the Catholic Pro-Life Community, In My Shoes Maternity Home, Mater Maria, and White Rose Pregnancy Resource Center — have been meeting monthly. Their goal has been to identify how to work together to more efficiently care for pregnant women and their families by streamlining services, eliminating duplication of efforts, and enlarging the web of support.
The group’s choice of name, “Culture of Life” Collaborative, stems from the phrase introduced by Pope John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical “Centesimus Annus,” and then in the 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.” Through the latter encyclical, the pope issued “a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: Respect, protect, love, and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!”
Aaron Fowler, executive director of Birth Choice, a Dallas-area pregnancy resource center, notes the many “anti-dignity” experiences that women in crisis pregnancies are used to facing. In particular, he said, “They come to us, and they are so accustomed to standing in lines. They are used to waiting for services, for being treated without dignity or compassion. When they come to our door, they never experience a line. We immediately welcome them to come inside, to be with us.”
Fowler said his passion for the work to uphold the dignity of all persons stems from Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “that they all may be one” (John 17:21).
For members of the Culture of Life Collaborative of the Diocese of Dallas, “The charism of harmony amongst differences allows for us to serve as ministers of the Gospel, to glorify Christ so that the world may know that Christ was sent by the Father,” Fowler said. “The nature of collaboration with one another, working together, being dependent upon one another, is to communicate the Gospel message.”
For more information about the Culture of Life Collaborative, contact Kevin Prevou, associate director of Human Dignity and Respect for Life, at 214-379-2848.
Get to know the pro-life organizations participating in the Diocese of Dallas Culture of Life Collaborative by reading below:
Catholic Pro-Life Community
Founded in 1993, Catholic Pro-Life Community serves as the official respect life ministry of the Diocese of Dallas.
The aim of CPLC is “to lead the respect life community of north Texas in fostering the dignity of life at all stages,” said Geralyn Kaminsky, executive director of Catholic Pro-Life Community.
CPLC offers support for pregnant mothers through its Project Gabriel outreach.
“Project Gabriel was the first ministry initiated here in the CPLC,” Kaminsky said. “That is a walking-with-moms program that’s helping needy moms who have chosen life for their children.”
Project Gabriel connects mothers with trained parish volunteers, “Gabriel angels,” who offer emotional support, spiritual guidance, and other important resources to mothers. CPLC is developing Project Gabriel mentoring and support for fathers as well.
As part of its Gabriel Project outreach, CPLC also offers an 18-month education program called Gabriel Education Ministry and Support, or GEMS. Mothers who graduate from the program receive scholarships for continued education. CPLC has rewarded more than $40,000 in scholarships to graduates.
Besides its Gabriel Project ministry, CPLC offers resources for parents suffering after an abortion. In 1999, CPLC held its first Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat; and in 2014, CPLC created Project Joseph retreats for men suffering from the pain of abortion.
Additionally, CPLC serves as a resource for parishes, arranging life-affirming events at parishes and providing materials.
“We engage the parishes in their efforts to foster the dignity of life,” Kaminsky explained.
CPLC engages the wider community by staying abreast of local and national legislation, sharing that information with the community, and organizing pro-life events.
On Jan. 20, CPLC hosted its Pro-Life Mass, formerly the Roe Memorial Mass, at the National Shrine Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dallas. The North Texas March for Life followed the Mass.
Birth Choice of Dallas
“Birth Choice seeks to help men and women in unexpected pregnancies thrive by providing free and confidential medical, material, spiritual support for them so that they can make a well-informed decision for life,” said Aaron Fowler, executive director of Birth Choice Pregnancy Resource Center.
Founded in 2009, Birth Choice is a Catholic pregnancy center that provides free and confidential services to expectant parents.
In 2023 alone, Birth Choice provided approximately 1,700 pregnancy tests and 800 ultrasounds, Fowler said. The center also offers material assistance, spiritual support, and educational classes for parents.
“There are a hundred-plus different classes that we use… from financial planning to parenting to what to expect during pregnancy,” Fowler said. “We have doctors that facilitate some of our medical classes.”
One of the primary focuses at Birth Choice is mental health, Fowler said.
“We have counseling, and we have professionally trained advocates that are volunteer; they are licensed professional counseling students in the completion stage of their degree,” Fowler explained, adding that a new, licensed professional counselor will be joining the team in 2024.
“We’ve trained our staff with some very important communication techniques, namely motivational interviewing,” Fowler said.
Motivational interviewing is a communication technique in which a person listens and reflects back a parent’s own words and beliefs, allowing the parent the freedom to discover solutions for herself.
“The end goal is to provide an environment of freedom, so they can make a well-informed decision at a critical time in their life about the pregnancy that they are considering,” Fowler explained.
In 2023, Birth Choice made about 5,200 contacts, or encounters with clients. Fowler said these contacts are opportunities to “encounter individuals with an authentic culture of life.”
Bella House Maternity Home
Bella House Maternity Home serves as a haven for homeless, pregnant mothers. Estelle Bouley launched the ministry in 2012 after she noticed a real need to provide shelter for pregnant mothers without homes. In 2015, Bella House opened a Plano location; and in 2018, the ministry obtained a second house in Dallas.
Heather Potts, executive director of the ministry, emphasized that the mission of Bella House is transformation.
“The intent is everything you’re doing every day with case management and the programming that we’re bringing in is all tying back to one of our major goals,” Potts said.
Core goals include financial independence, strong relationships, career advancement, and spiritual health, among others.
Bella House provides access to case management professionals who create individualized plans for each mother. A counselor also meets with moms to help them process trauma and rebuild self-confidence.
Bella House supports mothers in their education and career goals. The ministry has hired tutors, assisted with tuition costs, and driven mothers to their classes.
From January 2022 to November 2023, Bella House mothers completed 950 educational courses and 401 housing and job applications.
Mothers also receive support through monthly community distribution days.
“There’ll be an educational component, a materials distribution component, and available counseling component for the moms each month,” Potts explained.
Over 170 mothers have been welcomed into the residential programs at Bella House since 2015.
“Our pro-life mission is after the moms have already made the decision to keep their baby,” Potts explained. “That’s changing the story for everyone out there that says that the pro-life [community] doesn’t care about the mom and baby after the baby is born. That’s not true. That is our entire mission.”
Catholic Charities Dallas
The mission of the Pregnancy, Parenting, & Adoption program at Catholic Charities Dallas is “to ensure that there are safe families for children,” said Sheri Reynolds, program manager.
The CCD’s efforts to assist parents through pregnancy and into parenting or adoption have been ongoing for more than half a century.
“We have [adoption] records dating back to 1950,” Reynolds said, adding that the agency was officially licensed with the state of Texas in 1985.
CCD ministers to pregnant mothers by providing option counselors. These counselors discuss parenting and adoption options with parents and remain available to them through their parenting or adoption journeys.
Parents who choose to raise their child are connected to the parenting program. The program provides a wide variety of material assistance as well as Spanish and
English parenting classes held in-office and at parishes.
“I’m really proud of our parenting program. I think that’s something we do really well,” Reynolds said.
Some parents choose adoption for their child. CCD’s infant adoption program allows birth mothers to meet prospective parents during match meetings and to choose the adoptive family. The Finally Home adoption program arranges adoptions of sibling groups or children over the age of seven. Since July, this program has placed five children into homes.
“We are the last remaining Catholic adoption agency in the state of Texas,” Reynolds explained. “We get calls from people all over the state of Texas, families who are Catholic and want to go through us.”
From July 2023 to December 2023, the CCD’s Pregnancy, Parenting, & Adoption program has offered 89 classes, served 865 new clients, and provided 16, 844 material items to the families they serve.
Hike for Life
In 2023, Hike for Life celebrated 50 years of sustaining the pro-life cause in Texas.
Beginning in October 1973 as a Knights of Columbus 5k event, Hike for Life has grown into a volunteer-run nonprofit organization that hosts annual 5k walks to raise funds for pro-life organizations.
These 5k events occur in several locations throughout Texas, including Waxahachie, El Paso, and the Dallas area. Hikers are supported by sponsors who can pledge any amount of money to the cause.
“We ask people to try to get to $625,” said Tom Clark, president of Hike for Life. “It’s an unusual number… $625 to save a life.”
The number, generated several years ago by Clark, represents the annual operating costs of pregnancy resource centers divided by the number of babies they saved.
“We have several ministries that we have helped over the years,” Clark explained. “The two main ministries that we help are White Rose and BirthChoice.” In 2023, Hike for Life provided each organization with a $30,000 check.
That year, Hike for Life also contributed funds to several maternity homes, CPLC, Guadalupe Radio, and Option Line, a 24-hour hotline for women in crisis pregnancies.
“We’re not on the frontlines. We support those who are,” said Clark. “We are truly a means for the average person to be a participant in the life-saving measures that are taken by different pro-life ministries.”
Hike for Life hosts four separate hikes in the Dallas area. In 2023, the Dallas-area hikes alone grossed approximately $138,000 for pro-life organizations.
“A lot of people that have been active in pro-life [ministry] in the Dallas area and beyond, the hike was their first pro-life event,” Clark shared. “There’s no telling what effect the hike has had over the years.”
In My Shoes
“We walk alongside women in the work that we do,” said Elise Welsh, community development manager of In My Shoes. “Putting ourselves in their shoes and walking in solidarity with them is a huge part of what our organization is able to do.”
In My Shoes, a maternity home for pregnant women at risk of homelessness, became an official entity in 2016. On Sep. 19, 2017, the organization accepted its first pregnant mother, opening its doors to moms and babies ever since.
Mothers housed at In My Shoes live alongside a residential core team. Residential staff members commit to a year living at the maternity home in solidarity with the mothers.
“They are in the home almost every day. They share a kitchen with the moms. They share living rooms… They are the people who work with our moms in their goals and support these women and show them unconditional love,” said Welsh, who formerly served as a residential member beginning in July 2022.
While mothers are living at In My Shoes, they partake in individual and group counseling as well as a variety of volunteer-taught classes meant to prepare mothers for the future. Classes cover topics of health and wellness, life and job skills, motherhood, and financial stability. In 2023, In My Shoes offered over 400 hours of class time. In My Shoes also provides a donation closet of new and gently used clothes, toys, and baby items for residents.
Since opening, In My Shoes has housed 86 women. The ministry has helped these women pursue their goals, whether returning to school, starting a job, or finding an apartment, Welsh said.
“Our purpose is to restore and prepare women to be who God created them to be,” Welsh shared.
Mater Maria, formerly Mater Filius Dallas, has been serving pregnant mothers for nearly a decade. The mission of the ministry is to “defend life with love.”
“We do this by providing provisional residence for women who find themselves without any kind of support,” said Marthalicia Burkle, founder of Mater Maria.
Burkle formerly volunteered at Mater Filius in Mexico City. When she moved to Dallas, she saw a need for a Mater Filius location in north Texas. In 2016, she and Javier Burkle opened a home in the Dallas area.
Today, Mater Maria has two homes, housing 10 mothers at a time along with two “house mothers” per residence. These house mothers care for the well-being of the pregnant residents of Mater Maria.
Eighty-two mothers have lived at Mater Maria since its founding. They have received meals, clothing, counseling, transportation, and classes on life skills and spiritual formation.
“We serve [mothers of] any religion, any social or economic status, from any country,” Burkle said. “It’s our Lord and Blessed Mother’s house. We’re just their hands.”
Prayer is the foundation of Mater Maria, Burkle said.
“We are always praying for the moms that are about to come to us, those here at the moment, and the former moms,” Burkle explained, adding, “We have had moms that have been baptized. When they arrived, they didn’t believe in God… They find God in the house; so, when they leave, they can have faith that they are not alone anymore.”
White Rose Women’s Center
“For 38 years, White Rose has been seeking out the abortion-minded client to educate her about the reality of abortion so she will choose life,” said Julie Eichelman, executive director of White Rose Women’s Center.
Founded in 1985, White Rose serves as a life-affirming alternative for abortion-seeking women. The volunteer-based nonprofit responds to calls from pregnant mothers to the 972-BABY-DUE hotline.
“When a woman in crisis comes to us, she needs all kinds of support.” Eichelman said. “We handle all her needs.”
White Rose offers mothers free counseling, educational programs, financial support, and material resources.
In 2022, the nonprofit provided 854 free pregnancy tests, 481 free sonograms, and $42,000 in client financial and material assistance. White Rose had 2,270 clients that year, 55% of whom were at an increased risk for abortion, Eichelman said.
White Rose offers several programs for mothers, including its Well-Woman Clinic, which offers free medical exams, and its ESL classes for Spanish-speaking clients offered in partnership with Dallas College. The ministry’s Joyful Motherhood program offers support for postpartum mothers.
The “forefront of support” for women visiting White Rose is the Magdalene Program, Eichelman said. This program offers education, mentoring, and support for women during and after pregnancy. At meetings, offered 4 times per month in English and Spanish, guest speakers cover topics including labor and delivery, relationships, and budgeting. White Rose recorded 713 client visits for the Magdalene Program in 2022.
“We hope that they see the love and mercy that our Lord bestowed upon Mary Magdalene for whom the program is named,” Eichelman said, adding, “We’re trying to teach them how to thrive as the women that God intended them to be.”