VERO BEACH | Although A Caring Center for Women has been supported by a host of life advocates who pray and help where needed, financial sustainability has always been a walk of faith.
The center, located at 1986 31st Ave., Suite 100, in Vero Beach, offers free services, including counseling, referrals to social services, medical-grade pregnancy tests, proof of pregnancy, ultrasounds, adoption guidance, prenatal development/educational parenting classes and baby supplies. Its roots go back 10 years, when a group from the Catholic community gathered to establish a Catholic-guided pregnancy help center in Vero Beach.
It took time to launch, but they did not give up, following God’s will in saying “yes” along the way, amid occasional detours. Respect Life volunteers from the northern portion of the diocese, including Holy Cross, St. Helen, St. John of the Cross and St. Sebastian, laid the groundwork alongside the Knights of Columbus and local Councils of Catholic Women.
Nine years ago, a brick-and-mortar location was secured across the street from Planned Parenthood. Together, with the opening of the center and dedicated sidewalk counseling from local parishioners offering life-affirming options, the abortion provider closed its doors a year later.
A modest office space was opened on good faith, and board members paid the rent. With an understanding landlord, the center made strides forward in the leanest of times, opening in 2013 with 1,000 square feet, then doubled by 2015. Another growth spurt to 3,000 square feet happened in 2019, when an additional attached unit was leased.
“We grew with amazing speed through God’s grace,” said Gerri Rorick, the center’s executive director since 2012, adding that a cadre of loyal, dependable donors believed in the mission from the start. Since its founding, Rorick and her husband, John, volunteer daily in their respective positions as director and treasurer.
Following the example of St. Teresa of Kolkata, the center — which earned both the 2021 Indian River Community Foundation and GuideStar Platinum Seal of Transparency rating — offers services through a gentle, loving model of compassion amid dire circumstances. “Spread love everywhere you go,” Rorick said. “We do small things with great love – although the life-changing situations are monumental.”
In 2018, the center upgraded to a 3D/4D ultrasound imager. Rorick said the 3D/4D machine allows a pregnancy to be detected at a very early stage. Viewing inside of the womb reveals anatomical images of the preborn child in vivid detail.
A collaborative funding effort of local Knights (from St. Helen, St. John of the Cross and St. Sebastian) raised half of the cost, with the national K of C Ultrasound Program matching the remainder. According to Jerry Koziel, Knights state deputy for District 62, the Knights provided 50% of the funding for the center’s first ultrasound.
“Most people are not aware that we stand proud to do this in the pro-life movement,” Koziel said. “Our council routinely supports (A Caring Center for Women) with manpower, like renovations and maintenance.”
On Thursday at 7:45 a.m. at the center, rosary groups from Indian River County parishes, along with Knights of Columbus, pray and leave notes on center’s tables to pray for individual clients.
“The whole idea is to have the center covered in prayer,” Rorick said. “What we concentrate on is a pastoral heart. That is what comes through to a mom. She feels a strong connection that someone cares about her.”
“They’re just incredible, and the center is beautiful,” said Paul Flynn, director of facilities at Holy Cross Parish, where its pastor, Father Tom Barrett, serves the center in pastoral support.
COVID-19 didn’t stop St. John of the Cross Parish from helping the center, said Father Brian Campbell, pastor, which offers an essential, life-affirming outreach. He invites the center’s director of speak at weekend Masses in the spring. Parishioners listen to the director offer client testimonials. Pink envelopes and baby bottles are made available to parishioners to fill with spare change and return to the church.
“Many babies born in Vero Beach receive help from A Caring Center for Women. It’s very good support dealing with home life, finances and education,” Father Campbell said.
Deacon Dave Hankle of St. Helen Parish in Vero Beach said the parish “shares in the success” and the number of lives saved. Among St. Helen parishioners who volunteer at the center are Laurie Manhardt, a retired nurse-educator, and her husband, Jim, who is on the board. All of the center’s board members are Catholic, and staff have degrees in addiction recovery, social work and medical fields.
Sept. 15, 2021, marked another leap of faith: board officials signed papers to purchase the entire commercial space, expanding once again. Reflecting on this milestone, newly elected board president Richard Cancelosi said the purchase allows autonomy for the future as it frees more funds for client services.
“No longer paying rent, we will be able to serve many more women in need,” he said, adding an existing tenant provides additional monthly income. “We were blessed to have an excellent working relationship with our landlord, who facilitated the purchase in a timely manner, bringing us to full capacity.”
The purchase offers permanence in the community. The property consists of a small bank of three office suites. Facility improvements are in progress – general sprucing up and maintenance – to be completed in 2022.
With the center operating without heavy debt, targeted goals appear much more attainable. Cancelosi laid out several initiatives on the drawing board: new committees include building and grounds, a medical advisory panel and a long-range planning team for starters.
“We believe at this juncture there will be a lot of forward momentum,” he said.
The center reports that, since 2013, almost 5,000 at-risk babies have been saved. Last year, they had seen 883 first-time clients, performed 1,205 ultrasounds and conducted daily educational classes in English and Spanish.
The center is an affiliate of Heartbeat International, a network of 2,800 pregnancy resource centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies worldwide. Rorick said center members attend weekly online workshops and network with other Heartbeat International agencies to prepare strategies in combatting abortion.
“This is truly God’s center,” Rorick said. “He has blessed us beyond any human strength.”
For information on A Caring Center for Women, contact Gerri Rorick, executive director, at 772-257-5390, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A Caring Center for Women is located at 1986 31st Ave., Suite 100, Vero Beach, FL 32960. Learn more online at www.wesavebabies.org.