Center provides life lessons

By JENELLE JOHNSON
Family Living Editor

 

Register/Jenelle Johnson
Mandy Gardner and Jonathan Ruppert, holding Joshua Gardner, attend parenting classes each week at the Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeast Kansas. Pictured with the couple is Rose Ellis, executive director of the PRC.

Early last year Mandy Gardner found herself alone and worried about how she was going to take care of herself and her unborn baby.
The baby’s father had left the 8-weeks-pregnant Gardner homeless. Friends heard of her plight and invited her to stay with them until she could make other arrangements. It was through her friends that she met Jonathan Ruppert. Having a compassionate heart, Ruppert and his brother, Jason, invited Gardner to share their home.
“I told Mandy she could stay as long as she wanted. If she could help with expenses, such as rent and utilities, that would be great, but if she couldn’t, that was OK, too,” Ruppert said.
Gardner discovered the Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeast Kansas when she and Ruppert went to Iola’s Community Pantry during a potato give-a-way. The Pregnancy Center had been beside the pantry until moving to its new site in The One Inc. at 1 S. Jefferson in November 2008.
During her pregnancy, Gardner and Ruppert fostered a growing friendship that blossomed into love. They hope to marry and raise her 11-month-old son, Joshua Gardner, as their own. The birth father has no contact with his son.
“Jonathan has been so good to me. He went with me to all my doctor appointments and to the hospital when my baby was born. Joshua is beginning to talk and calls Jonathan ‘dada,’” she said.
The couple go to the PRC once a week to meet with their life coach Jean Anderson. The classes help the couple learn how to build self-esteem, manage anger and communicate their needs to each other.
“Jonathan is able to calm me when I become frustrated. He just seems to know what to say. He will also take Joshua and calm him when he is crying,” Gardner said.
The couple attend St. John’s Catholic Church, which also has helped to strengthen their relationship, Ruppert said.
Anderson, a volunteer at the PRC, said the Center is in desperate need of more volunteers.
“It has been my honor being Mandy and Jonathan’s life coach, and seeing them grow as responsible parents,” Anderson said.

THE PRC DEPENDS on donations from community members to help keep its shelves stocked and provide books and videotapes needed for parenting classes. The organization does not receive state or federal aid. The Center also has a maternity boutique and infant supply pantry of new or gently used items, given free of charge. The one item parents ask for most frequently is diapers, and at the present its shelves are bare, said Rose Ellis, executive director.
Since Jan. 1, the PRC has given 732 items such as diapers, formula, baby clothes and toys to parents on restricted incomes. The Center has seen 97 new clients, one-third of them couples.
Services offered by the PRC include free pregnancy testing, prenatal support, childbirth education, parenting classes and abstinence and sexually transmitted disease awareness, Ellis said. Volunteers have provided more than 350 hours of education to parents in the past 10 months.
The PRC needs more volunteers to work in the maternity boutique and infant pantry, as well as behind the scenes to send out mailings and to put together gift baskets for new babies and their parents, Ellis said.
“If we had additional help I could spend more time giving lectures at area schools and organizations about the services offered by the PRC,” Ellis said.
In the coming weeks the PRC will begin its Manger Tree Campaign. Christmas trees with ornaments listing the needs of the center will be placed in area churches and businesses. A person may take an ornament and purchase one or all items listed. Donations will be accepted until after the first of the year, letting people take advantage of after-Christmas sales, Ellis said.
The Center’s coverage area is Allen, Anderson, Neosho and Woodson counties.