Friday, August 14, 2015

In-depth interview: Kristi Burkhart, Executive Director, Pregnancy Care Center

Kristi Burkhart is Director of Pregnancy Care Center, a locally organized and funded organization that has been helping women and their babies in Fresno, California since 1984. Here she talks to us about how she got involved with a pregnancy center, what kind of help the center offers, how the center navigates working with people of diverse backgrounds, and how others who are interested can get involved.

Personal Background:

How did you get started working at PCC? What draws you to pregnancy care compared to other types of pro-life work?

I had recently left a position as a full-time teacher and was looking to volunteer in the community. I responded to an announcement in the church bulletin regarding an orientation for volunteers at a pregnancy center. I was drawn to pregnancy care because I am adopted (my birthmother had an unplanned pregnancy in the mid 60’s) and also because I have many friends who are post-abortive and have been deeply wounded by the decision to abort; they thought they had no other choice at the time.

I remember my volunteer interview. I was thinking, “You think you are interviewing me, but really I am interviewing you.” I was not familiar with pregnancy care organizations and was leery that they would be very political and stereotypical in their approach to women, in which case I would have to gracefully say “no thanks.” I was pleasantly surprised!

What is your least favorite part of your job? What do you enjoy the most?  

Being in administration, my least favorite part of my job is staffing and staff management. It is very difficult to keep all positions filled with trained, competent (and preferably bilingual) people. It’s also difficult to make sure the staff are working to their strengths, and to work with them through their individual personal needs. There’s vacation time, sick time, broken down cars, pets dying, children getting sick, etc. We have to work through all of that just like many organizations do.

I really enjoy being able to teach and encourage people through my job. I love training volunteers and watching the lights go on as they explore what they think they know about our clients and who our clients really are. I love teaching youth about healthy sexual integrity (and shocking them with my perspectives, which aren’t too far from their own!) I can help them realize they truly are responsible for their own boundaries and need to decide for themselves what is best, but only after understanding the potential consequences of sexual intimacy. I love when I can encourage those who are struggling, letting them know that they are not alone and that there are good answers available. My job allows me to help clients, volunteers, staff, or donors, whether the issue is unexpected pregnancy or something entirely different.

General Questions:

What services does PCC offer? Are there any costs to the clients? If not, how does PCC get funding?

As a fully licensed medical facility we offer free pregnancy tests, limited OB ultrasound exams, pregnancy options counseling, pregnancy and child-birth classes, and community referrals. We also offer sexual integrity seminars, post-abortive support, miscarriage support, and a Just 4 Guys group.

There are never costs to our clients. All services are free and confidential. We do not bill any insurance provider either, so our services are also free to the tax payer. We are 100% funded by this community and for this community through one-time and monthly donations from individuals, organizations, and churches. We have four PCC annual fundraisers: a banquet, a “Change 4 Babies” campaign, a Men’s BBQ, and a Ladies’ High Tea.

What are some of the more common circumstances your clients have that lead to crisis pregnancy?

I would call them “unplanned” or “unexpected,” rather than “crisis.” “Crisis” sounds like an emergency, trauma, or something dangerous—even a tragedy. “Unexpected” or “unplanned” sounds more realistic: they are caught off guard and unsure what to do because the pregnancy was an accident.

I think the more common circumstances are that the girls are young, unmarried, and still in school (high school or college). 59% of our clients are between ages 15 to 24 (10 year age range), whereas only 40% are between ages 25 to 50 (26 year age range). Less than 1% of our clients are under age 15. We also often have single moms come in who are separated or divorced and who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant.

What qualities do you look for when hiring staff or selecting volunteers?

We look for people who are pro-life, compassionate, humble, kind, and open. They need to be good listeners and non-judgmental. They can’t be pushy; we look for people who are eager to serve a woman with an unexpected pregnancy regardless of her decision (that is, even if she chooses to abort, or has chosen to abort before). We look for people with a certain level of personal sexual integrity; after all, we can’t ask others to practice a lifestyle we don’t practice ourselves. And we are a faith-based organization, so we do look for people with faith in Jesus. However, it’s essential that our staff can lay aside any agenda they hold and serve each woman with compassion and integrity.

Your clinic is located across the street from an abortion clinic. Tell us what that is like.

We are in front of the abortion clinic and share a parking lot. It’s interesting. There’s no open hostility, but there is a very real tension. We see their staff outside, and as much as I try to smile or wave they just ignore me. No offense taken on my part. If mail or boxes are delivered to the wrong address, we are very congenial with each other when we walk the packages over.

Our center and the clinic have some shared clients. Sometimes a woman comes through our door for her “appointment” and we can tell that she probably meant to go to the clinic instead (most of the time she won’t say the word “abortion” and she’ll have a hard time looking at the receptionist). Even if we are pretty sure she has an appointment with the clinic, we still have to ask what the appointment is for, in case she actually does have an appointment with us for a pregnancy test or an ultrasound. If she is looking for the clinic instead, we tell her she doesn’t have an appointment with us and ask if she is sure she is pregnant. We offer her our services. These conversations sometimes lead to an appointment with us instead of an abortion. Other times, she walks out the door and we don’t see her again. Our job is to be here and available in either case.  Sometimes she leaves, but returns again.

Religion and Politics:

Does PCC have a religious affiliation? How does this affect your day-to-day work?

We are non-denominational but faith-based, and we ask all staff and volunteers to sign a basic statement of faith. You and I had a conversation about asking our clients one simple question when we are discussing their options with them, “Where does God fit into this for you?” A vast majority (80-90%) of Americans believe in God, so it’s an important question to ask. In many cases her faith is part of her decision making process and part of how she deals with the decision she makes. So we ask “Where does God fit into this for you?” and then it’s our job to respect her response. If she wants to discuss it, we are happy to have spiritual discussions with her and even share the gospel. But again, only if she wants to go down that road; her needs supersede any religious agenda.

How do you make your center a comfortable place for your non-religious clients?

There are no religious pictures or icons around. There are no scriptures written on the walls or over the doorposts, haha. We do not force a spiritual discussion or biblical resources onto our clients. We respect her wishes and ask permission to share anything having to do with religion.

Does your center provide adoption referrals? If so, does your center have a policy regarding adoption agencies that work with LGBT parents?

Yes, we provide adoption agency referrals. There are four local agencies on our list so that clients have choices. We do not have a policy about agencies that work with LGBT parents. Also, the quality of care provided to each person seeking services at PCC is consistent regardless of socioeconomic status. 

Many people believe that pregnancy centers give their clients incomplete information or pressure their clients into making a specific decision. How do you respond to that idea?

It is against everything that I stand for to give incomplete information or to emotionally or spiritually manipulate people. I also believe that abortion hurts women first—it isn’t just about the life of the unborn. These two beliefs, which I hold dear, are precisely why I was interviewing PCC before becoming a volunteer 14 years ago. I would not have gotten involved in the first place had PCC been contrary to my stand on these two personal issues. PCC is very careful to use only researched and medically accurate information and to train, train, and retrain our staff and volunteers. We have had volunteers-in-training who were too forceful or zealous in the their approach, and we asked them to step down.

PCC is also affiliated with two national organizations that provide training materials, conferences, policy suggestions and so forth. I find these organizations to be those of integrity that I can personally align with. As Executive Director for PCC, it is important for me to understand the organizations PCC is directly associated with and their leadership.

With that said, there are a few pregnancy resources centers and pregnancy medical centers that do not follow all the guidelines set before them by the national organizations to which they are affiliated. This is a travesty and misrepresentation of the rest of us, and it greatly angers me.

I understand that everyone comes into this type of pro-life work to serve with a genuine heart for women and babies. We are sincere but we also usually come with an agenda without even realizing it. If our service to our clients is not based on love, truth, and integrity then we should step aside. It takes good training and more good training to be ready to serve women with unexpected pregnancies.


What advice would you give to someone looking to start a pregnancy center?

First, make sure you have the support of your family and best friends—people who believe you are called to this. Second, visit at least 3-5 centers in communities with demographics similar to your own. Third, contact the national organizations and align yourself with at least one for support, training, and resources. Finally, make sure you have adequate support from your community—a portion of the community that you can draw on for volunteers, vision, cheerleading, and, yes, financial support too.

What advice do you have for people who don’t work at pregnancy centers but still want to help women with crisis pregnancy?

Listen well. Educate yourself and give only accurate information that you know to be true (don’t believe everything you hear and read either….research for yourself!) Remember, you could be her if you had her background, knowledge, and experiences. Love her. Really see her, as a person—it’s not just about the life of the child she may be carrying, it’s about her too. Understand the difficulties she faces: in her relationships, in her schooling or career, in her ability to provide basic necessities, etc. Don’t shoot from the hip. You are dealing with at least two lives here. Set aside your own agenda, and remember: love, truth, and integrity.

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