Pregnancy Center Continues Mission With New Leader

Pregnancy Center Continues Mission With New Leader

OCEAN CITY – For years, Lisa Wilgus felt that something was missing in her life until she developed a relationship with the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center where she serves as the new executive director today.

Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center (SGPC) Executive Director Lisa Wilgus took over the position in September after founder and former Executive Director Mariratina Burton moved south.

The SGPC is non-profit pregnancy medical center that offers free services to keep women informed and healthy before, during and beyond pregnancy. The center provides free and confidential services, such as pregnancy tests, education on fetal development, abortion and adoption option counseling, poor prenatal diagnosis support, material assistance, pregnancy and parenting education and support, and ultrasounds for pregnancy viability.

Burton decided to dedicate herself to helping women in their pregnancies years ago following an unplanned pregnancy of her own while in high school. She had an abortion that resulted in physical and emotional impact and received post-abortion counseling.

Burton went on to work in post-abortion healing in several different locations and later married and had a son. After the birth of her son, she found out she was pregnant again with a girl. At her five-month ultrasound, Burton learned her daughter’s brain had only formed up to 10 percent and was diagnosed with a rare malformation. She was faced with the decision to terminate her child again but went with her belief that “if it has a pulse it has purpose” and decided to continue to carry her daughter, Shirley Grace, who died in February of 2010. Six months later, the SGPC opened its doors.

Over three years ago, Burton, who recently relocated to Texas, met Wilgus, who was working at her former occupation as a catering and convention manager at the Clarion Hotel in Ocean City. Burton was exploring options in holding a fundraising event for the SGPC. The two met for breakfast at the hotel to plan the event when they shared stories.

“Over omelets, we cried together, and I knew at that time I was meant to help her,” Wilgus said. “She was the first person since I had moved here 24 years ago that I told I was in an unplanned pregnancy and placed a child for adoption. She unlocked that dark secret inside of me of how that child came about and how I arrived at the decision of what was best for that child and for my family at that time. The lord is a big part of my life, and I can say that was one of those moments where I knew he had made a divine connection with us that day.”

Wilgus hadn’t heard from Burton following the first event at the Clarion for a long period of time until Burton contacted her to plan a second banquet and that is when Wilgus learned Burton was getting divorced. Experiencing a divorce and carrying on a single mom, Wilgus sympathized with Burton.

“I knew that what had happened to her would not define her future, and as a single mother she could still accomplish her hopes, dreams and aspirations,” Wilgus said.

Wilgus and Burton planned their third banquet together last March when Wilgus found herself more emotionally invested with the event than any other event before.

Prior to the banquet, Burton had asked Wilgus to counsel a couple who were considering adoption. At first, Wilgus hesitated because she had never told anyone of her adoption before besides Burton.

“After thinking about it I decided it was time to do this and be set free from secrets. It was time to bring this to light if it meant helping somebody,” she said.

Wilgus formed a relationship with the couple and was by their side the day the child was born and was transitioned into his new family’s arms.

“I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be … I watched this young woman grow into her own skin as a woman through this while journey,” Wilgus said.

Burton asked Wilgus to apply for her position because she would be remarrying and moving away from the area. For months, Wilgus deliberated the decision until she decided to let her past be free and apply for the job.

“I didn’t know how to run a center, but she [Burton] said to me, ‘you have the heart, you have the story, everything else you can learn’, so every day I show up and learn something new,” Wilgus said. “I meet wounded young and mature women who all have different stories, all in a different place of brokenness but they all have value.”

Wilgus is from Pennsylvania where she married a pastor at a young age and had her first child, Abigail. Wilgus separated from her husband and became pregnant with her second child. At first, she considered abortion but after learning how far along her child had developed she turned to adoption. Wilgus reunited with her husband who helped her through the adoption process.

Over 20 years ago, they moved to the area where they grew their family, having three more children, Natalie, Lydia and Sam. During that time her husband was a pastor in Dagsboro, Del. Wilgus held bible studies for women in her home, which evolved into a couple’s bible study that grew into the Peninsula Community Church that still operates today. Recently, Wilgus was invited to come speak at the church.

Wilgus and her husband later divorced and she became a single mother for eight years until she met her current husband, Larry Wilgus, and the couple had a child of their own, Lilly.

“What my past says to me is God often recruits from the pit and not the pedestal … today as a 46-year-old woman I celebrate all that muck that is part of who I am today. That is why I am not judgmental. I do not condemn no matter where you have been, and there is not that much that will shock me. If you have done it, I have probably done it … the message needs to get out to girls and woman that no matter what you have done or where you have been there is still hope. Never give up.”

The Saturday before Mother’s Day Weekend, May 9, the Annual Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center Gala will be held at the Clarion Hotel to raise funds for the center. It is free admission with the opportunity to pledge available. Sponsors are being sought to help fund the event. The young woman who Wilgus first counseled through the adoption process will be the speaker at the event.