BERLIN — In a little over three years the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center has affected the lives of more than 300 children. So it was fitting that their annual fundraising banquet held in Ocean City on March 20 attracted a record crowd of just over 300 supporters.
It’s been a busy first few years for Shirley Grace. Founder Mari Quillen reflected on the leaps forward that the center has made, chalking up any success to both hard work and a little divine favor.
“The Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center was founded in 2010 with a whole lot of faith, a whole lot of prayers and a really big God,” she said during the fundraiser. “Tonight we celebrate the women, we celebrate the lives and tonight we certainly give honor and glory to God our creator and redeemer who is the true giver of life and grace.”
Shirley Grace provides a variety of services for women and families who are dealing with “crisis pregnancies” or other questions or complications due to a pregnancy. Services are free and confidential and include ultrasounds, lab-grade pregnancy tests, adoption referrals, an abortion recovery program, a men’s support group and parenting classes.
“We are an organization that truly, truly strives to support [pregnant women] every step of the way,” said Quillen.
Last week’s fundraiser, the largest annual event for Shirley Grace, was at times emotional and passionate and at other times solemn. After an introduction and dinner, the main event kicked-off with a series of first-hand accounts from clients of the center, both live and recorded. The messages varied, encompassing things like recovering after an abortion, dealing with a daughter’s unplanned pregnancy and the story of a rape victim who struggled with the idea of being pregnant after her attack but who eventually chose to raise the child.
While the stories were all different, the thread woven between them was that all of the women and their families found solace at Shirley Grace and learned that a “crisis pregnancy” isn’t the end of their lives.
Following the personal stories from clients, keynote speaker Ryan Scott Bomberger, co-founder of the Radiance Foundation, spoke to the crowd about the importance of faith and conviction in a modern world. Bomberger is a polarizing figure in the pro-life movement, a fact he acknowledged lightly at the beginning of his speech.
“Those of us who don’t exactly like the status quo, we like to stir things up, right?” he asked the audience.
An unplanned pregnancy himself, Bomberger was adopted into a large, multi-racial family and grew up with 12 siblings. Through the Radiance Foundation, Bomberger has launched a number of nationwide programs that have earned him coverage from CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The New York Times and many other major outlets. Not all of the attention has been favorable, however. Bomberger’s TooManyAborted.com campaign and billboards, which claim black babies are an “endangered species” due to abortion, have landed him in hot water with the ACLU and the NAACP.
But because of his firm pro-life views, Bomberger told the audience that it’s a fight he welcomes.
“We love creating content that stirs people to action. We love content that is free, we love content that is factual and we love creating content that is fearless, especially in this day and age,” he said.
Bomberger urged all of those at the benefit to take a similar stance and not be afraid to voice ideals that might not fit with the mainstream outlook. Pregnancy centers like Shirley Grace, he continued, are necessary fixtures for letting people know that the most difficult pregnancies don’t have to be struggled through alone.
While he was not shy about his pro-life ideology, one point Bomberger did stress to the crowd was that no one should attack the women making the difficult decision to have an abortion and that his fight is against the industry not the individual.
In addition to the speakers, Quillen shared her story as well. In her own life, Quillen has experienced two different crisis pregnancies, the last of which served as her inspiration to found the center.
“I think truly until you’ve walked alongside women who have made these tough decisions you really can’t offer a whole lot of hope if you haven’t been there yourself,” she said.
The center is named in honor of Quillen’s daughter who was born with the majority of her brain undeveloped and who passed away after only three weeks. Though she knew of the complications early in the pregnancy, Quillen went through with the birth because her faith told her that it was the right thing to do and because of the memories she was able to form in those short weeks. It also eventually pushed her to found the pregnancy center in Berlin.
Faith is an integral aspect of Shirley Grace and Quillen believes that it is because of God that the center has come so far, including adding medical services in their second year.
“Tonight we have the opportunity through him to be used, to give hope, to give life, to give healing and to let his plans unfold,” she told the audience.
Before releasing the 300 balloons that symbolized the number of children and families touched by the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center since 2010, Quillen asked those in attendance to write down their donation and to donate not the number that they feel most comfortable with but the one that they believe God has given them.
For more information on the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center visit www.sgpregnancycenter.com