30 Years Later, Pregnancy Center Still Celebrating ‘New Life’

By Kurt J. Kolka

Editor’s note. This was first published in the Gaylord Herald Times and republished in Pregnancy Help News.

A lineup of recent babies saved by New Life Pregnancy Resource Center Photo Courtesy: New Life Pregnancy Resource Center

A lineup of recent babies saved by New Life Pregnancy Resource Center
Photo Courtesy: New Life Pregnancy Resource Center

It was 30 years ago a group of Christian women from the Gaylord, Mich., community came together to discuss and pray about the issue of teen pregnancy.

Through trial and error, that group went on to create the New Life Pregnancy Resource Center.

“There was a stigma about it back then,” said Rita Boyer, one of the members of that group. “A lot of girls didn’t think about raising a baby.”

“For me, I wanted to introduce adoption” added Mary Tomaski of Johannesburg, the first director. “Girls weren’t even thinking about adoption.”

Tomaski, who was once an unwed mother herself, said that was one of the most difficult points in her life. There was no one to talk to. She wanted a ministry to be there for women in such a crisis situation to provide them with options besides abortion.

Boyer was an adoptive parent who received her children just before abortion was made legal. It always bothered her that several months later, she might not have been able to adopt her children.

As another board member, Diane Kolka, then a high school teacher, recognized the need in the community.

“I knew this would be a place where I could refer students when they came to me,” she said. “They could receive resources and help with their decisions.”

Peggy Jenkins, another board member, agreed with the others.

“This was an alternative we needed. The girls in this situation needed our support. I had been part of a pregnancy center in West Branch before coming here and I knew I wanted to be part of this.”

At the first group meeting, there were around 12 or 13 women. From that, a solid core of five developed into the first board members.

“During our first meeting, one woman stepped forward to tell us that she was pregnant and needed help,” Kolka noted. “The need was obvious.”

New Life started as small ministry which promoted itself through local media like the Herald Times.

“We started out with just a crisis phone line where young women could talk,” Tomaski said. “We took turns voluntarily manning the phone during office hours.”

“One of the women in our group offered use of her house if we needed to meet with clients,” Boyer said.

But it soon became clear, a phone service was not enough to assist clients. At the time, the Alpine Plaza was just being built next to Glen’s Market (now Family Fare). The New Life group talked to those in charge and made a deal for office space.

In the early days, they offered free pregnancy testing (before kits were available in pharmacies), counseling and assisted clients in telling their parents about their situation.

“I would drive them home,” Tomaski recalled. “I would talk to many parents, being the first person with their daughter to give them the big news.”

“We would not know the parents,” Boyer said. “Not know what their reaction would be.”

New Life no longer offers this service today. It has evolved with the times.

The center continues to offer free pregnancy testing, parenting classes, a first-time mom support group, a mentoring program and the Earn While You Learn incentive program which allows moms to earn cribs, strollers and other necessities. Clothing for babies is also available. The center also gives post-abortion information and support.

Tomaski said there is quite a learning curve to this type of ministry. “I had the heart and desire for the ministry going in, but the education came later. I went through a lot of training sessions.

“The more educated you can be and the more in tune with what the youth are doing today is necessary. We were in tune to what the youth were doing back in our day. But as the ministry grows and you change, you have to be in tune to what the youth are doing now.”

Back in the early days of the ministry, noted Boyer, there were four local teens who were competing to get pregnant. It went on for months. The New Life staff tried to reason with them. Finally, when the one did get pregnant she went out and told her friends who started cheering. Then, the girl said, “What are we cheering about? Now I have to go home and tell my parents.”

“Many girls believed that having a baby meant they would have someone to love them for all the rest of their lives,” Boyer said.

“It was something nobody could take away from them,” Tomaski added. “I heard that a lot. They didn’t think about the consequences of raising a child.”

There were times when Tomaski and her late husband, Steve, even opened up their home, for a short period of time, to some of the girls when they had nowhere else to go. When one girl left, after a brief stay, she took some of the Tomaskis’ possessions with her. They never said anything. Several years later, she returned them.

“I’ve been really pleased to have been involved in all this,” Jenkins said. “Now, that I’m retired, I hoping to become more involved again.”

“When we started, I didn’t know that 30 years later that the ministry would still be here and working the way it does,” Boyer added. “I am delighted about that.”