By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
LEXINGTON PARK, Md.—CareNet Pregnancy Center of Southern Maryland provides pregnancy testing, abortion alternatives, parenting classes, abstinence education, post abortion recovery and free supplies including maternity and baby clothes and formula, as well as car seats, strollers and other necessary equipment all provided by churches, community and individual donors. They also promote abstinence at local schools and community events. But most importantly, the staff shares the Gospel. Last year they shared Christ over 400 times, double what they did in 2009.
“I’m excited about that! There is a tremendous mission field right here. We have a whole community of people who know nothing about the God we serve,” Executive Director Cheryl Keen, a member of Lexington Park Church, said.
CareNet, a North American Mission Board affiliated center, has offices in Lexington Park, Leonardtown and Calvert County.
The Lexington Park main facility is a three-level center that offers a cozy living room/waiting room with comfortable furniture and children’s toys to welcome visitors. In addition, there are counseling offices, testing areas and rooms filled with donations and supplies.
The center has a sonogram machine offering women a first glimpse of the new life inside them. Keen said many women are amazed and cry when they see the tiny baby and hear its heartbeat. Almost all of the mothers who have the sonogram choose to carry their babies to full term. Other education tools include models and videos that show the fetus as it grows.
Unfortunately some women arrive at the center for a pregnancy test with their minds made up to abort. “They say, ‘I have to do this. I’ll deal with it later,’” Keen said sadly, acknowledging that some of the women’s situations are very difficult with life-changing consequences.
The largest percentages of women who use the center’s resources are between the ages of 19 to 24; second is the 15 to 19 range then the 24 to 29 age group. There are some who come who are under 15. Keen said there have been a few 12 year olds. The oldest was 40.
She remembers looking out a window at two girls who both looked to be about 10 years old. They were throwing pebbles at the front door because there was a bug on it and they didn’t want to touch the handle. Keen thought the girls were coming in to get formula or diapers for their mother, but soon discovered one of the young girls needed a pregnancy test.
CareNet is a 501c3 charity depending on the support of individuals, churches and other organizations. Many churches participate in an annual “baby bottle blitz” from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day, filling 5,000 large baby bottles with $57,000 worth of loose change. They also provide donations of diapers, formula and maternity and baby clothes.
Southern Maryland CareNet is celebrating its 20th anniversary. They began in a tiny office in a building just a few miles from where they began renting at their current location. When the building went on the market, the CareNet Board of Directors prayerfully agonized over the decision to make the purchase, unsure how they would make the monthly mortgage. But they took a step of faith and Keen said they’ve never missed a mortgage payment. They sometimes come down to the last minute before miraculous donations arrive.
A large portion of the CareNet staff and volunteers are members of BCM/D churches including Lexington Park Church, Leonardtown Church, First Church, La Plata, and Southern Calvert Church.
Keen was a volunteer before taking the role of executive director.
“I can’t think of anything that would have forced me to grow in my walk like this has,” Keen said. “The need is so great and it is only through staying in the Word and continually praying that we are able to continue to serve.”
“I see miracles every day. I see special kinds of formula coming in just before we need it. I see women change their minds and decide to have their babies and I see women pray to receive Christ.”