A visit to the Heart to Heart Pregnancy Center in Eagle River has eased anxieties for thousands of pregnant women. Since 2001 pregnant women have turned to supportive staff who guide them through a variety of services and also offer maternity clothes and baby items free of charge. Baby items are sorted in clearly marked boxes and arranged in rows by sizes — diapers, baby bottles, booties, books, blankets, bags, formula, strollers and shoes.
“Parents can come in and pick out whatever they need, no questions asked,” said Alycia Thomas, executive director of the center. “We see about 150 people a month. Some days the line extends out the door.”
Now, thanks to the efforts of the Knights of Columbus from St. Andrew Church in Eagle River, the center also offers ultrasounds. The new machine will provide young mothers with the ability to see their unborn baby via a free sonogram.
On June 2, retired Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz along with Father Arthur Roraff, both stationed at St. Andrew, blessed the new machine in a special ceremony.
“The ultrasound opens a window on the humanity of the unborn,” Archbishop Schwietz told the 30 or so people squeezed into Heart to Heart.
He said it’s appropriate to bless the machine as an instrument that allows more people to become knowledgeable about when life begins. He also blessed the hands that created the technology.
The center is pro-life but with a focus on offering a helping hand, said Thomas, executive director of Heart to Heart. The services are peer counseling, post abortion support and community referrals. In 2017, Heart to Heart served 1,513 families, growing incrementally from 434 families 17 years ago.
“Our goal at Heart to Heart is for you to feel cared for and respected,” Thomas explained. “We want women to know they are not just a checklist for us.”
“Sometimes that’s all it takes, to see the baby as it is developing, to help a person decide whether to keep her baby,” said Tony Zielinksi, the past grand knight of the St. Andrew council who spearheaded the fundraising effort to buy the machine.
For the past two years, the Knights aimed to purchase the ultrasound machine for the pregnancy center. After moving to the downtown Eagle River Business Boulevard, the center finally held ample space.
“Once they had the location with the space, there’s also a process to get certified — that’s why it took two years as well,” Zielinski said. Since it’s a medical procedure, the center needs a supervising physician, though once staff are trained to operate the ultrasound, they can do it without a doctor present. It costs about $8,000 for the legally mandated 60 hours of training. They also needed to renovate the building to bring it up to code for medical equipment.
Zelinski’s group provided the labor for building upgrades. Construction materials were donated by Matt and Melissa Hickey, owners of Kozy Interiors of Eagle River. Thomas’ husband, Derek, did a lot of the renovation on the exam room, which can also double as space to meet privately with families for peer counseling. Local Knights raised just over $20,000 to help pay for the machine and training to use it.
Then at the last minute on June 2, an anonymous cash donation of $5,000 was added to the Knight’s total donation, bringing it to $25,000. The gesture was made after Archbishop Schwietz’s ceremonial blessing, much to Thomas’ surprise.
“This is amazing,” she said. “It is all coming together and really is a blessing.”
The Knights of St. Andrew with matching funds from the national Knights of Columbus Supreme Council funded the cost of the machine, plus shipping.
Thomas said the machine has not yet been used. First, operators must undergo training in July. At that point a doctor will then be the medical director and will need to officially sign off on the paperwork before the machine can be used on the public.
“It’s quite a process,” she said.