Pregnancy Help Centers

Eastern Tenn. center celebrates 20 years, expands services 

By Gayle Irwin 

Sister Asunta Thairu and clients at the Knoxville Pregnancy Help Center

The Knoxville, Tenn., pregnancy resource center operated by Catholic Services of East Tennessee (CCETN) celebrates its 20th anniversary in August 2022, and along with that milestone comes expansion of services and achievement of long-term goals.

The organization implemented adoption services at the end of July, said Paul Ritter, director of programs for CCETN.

“We’ve hired someone who’s going to be working with the adoptive families and running the home studies,” he said, “and when we have a program leader, we need one more worker who’s going to be the one (helping) birth parents.”

Despite a fire last November that displaced CCETN and The Pregnancy Help Center staff and volunteers, the organization moved forward with several planned programs and services, including adoption services. A return to the former building lies on the horizon, Ritter said, however, not in the near future.

“There’s a real issue with getting materials that are needed to even start the construction, so right now we’re looking at next summer,” he said.

That setback does not detour staff from helping women and families in need. That includes non-English speakers.

The Pregnancy Help Center offers and pre-natal and parenting classes in different languages, and earlier this year, the center began a program for those who speak Swahili, led by an African nun.

“Sister Asunta Thairu was a midwife in Africa, and she speaks Swahili,” said Ernestine Meiners, program leader at The Pregnancy Help Center.

“We have a big (African) refugee community, so she teaches classes to them in Swahili,” she said. “We use the Bright Course lessons, so she uses those for the visual for them but then stops the video and explains (the lesson) to them and answer questions (in Swahili). We are now doing three languages: English, Spanish, and Swahili.”

In addition to the recently introduced adoption service and Swahili classes, a new center started in a northern Tennessee town, Meiners said. 

“The rectory there wasn’t being used, and they offered us the rectory to use as a pregnancy center,” she said. “Because the priest is not in residence there, so he said, ‘I don’t need an office – do you guys want to use it?’ They’ve done some remodeling.”

The community is Helenwood. CCETN now oversees six pregnancy centers in eastern Tennessee.

“It’s northwest of Knoxville, near the Kentucky border,” Ritter said. “It’s a very rural area, a very small community that’s just not used to having services – there’s just not much available.”

Reaching those small, rural communities with various services and programs remains a vital goal for the organization. 

One aspect of that goal has been to become a medical clinic, and that dream is starting to become reality. The Knights of Columbus partnered with CCETN and the center to fund an ultrasound machine, and organization staff hope to soon welcome a mobile unit in which to use that vital piece of medical equipment, Ritter said.

“We are working through the process now with Save the Storks to become partners with them and create an ultrasound program,” he said. “The Knights of Columbus raised all the money to purchase the ultrasound machine to go in that mobile unit.”

Prior to the fire last year, CCETN and The Pregnancy Help Center staff planned to implement ultrasound into the building; now, the mobile unit will likely become the first recipient of the machine.


“It looks like we’re going to start out as a (medical) mobile unit that we can take out into the communities and then grow that into units that we can house within the various buildings throughout East Tennessee.” Ritter explained. “We also have to get a medical director who has to review all of the ultrasounds that are done every day and the nurses to be trained to do those.”

All of these milestones have been achieved under the directorship of Sandi Davidson, who has served as executive director for the pregnancy center since its inception. 

As the 20th anniversary approaches, looking back and forward, Ritter credits Davidson for her tenacity and vision in making The Pregnancy Help Center a comprehensive resource for women and families.

“We desire to be that one stop shop for everything pregnancy help center related,” he said. “I just can’t speak highly enough of Sandy or give her enough credit for pushing through and getting us into the position that we are now.”

Editor’s note. This appeared at Pregnancy Help News and is reposted with permission.

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