Ocean City Today
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Shirley Grace changes lives through support and counsel

By Kara Hallissey | May 11, 2017
Lisa Wilgus, executive director of the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center, smiles for a photo at the nonprofit medical and resource clinic designed to feel like home with inspirational sayings aligning the walls, comfy couches and a welcoming reception from employees in Berlin.

(May 12, 2017) The Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center in Berlin provided free services to 1,000 individuals in 2016, creating a safe haven for women whose lives were interrupted by an unplanned baby.

The nonprofit medical and resource clinic is designed to feel like home with inspirational sayings aligning the walls, comfy couches and a welcoming reception from employees who are dedicated to offering counseling, help, hope, healing and individualized care.

“Every decision is scary, no matter what one you make,” Lisa Wilgus, executive director of the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center, said. “We provide the support system to [help women] face their fears. Our mission is to educate, equip and empower women by valuing all lives.”

During a sold-out gala on April 8, more than $100,000 was raised for the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center during the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser of the year. The center receives no federal or state funds.

“The donations [from the gala] get us through until next year and we usually have just enough money to get to the next event,” Wilgus said. “This fundraiser is necessary to the validity of the organization.”

Wilgus has been touched by people who, since the gala, have offered to help with services or to share their stories.

“When so many people are writing and messaging, you know something bigger than you showed up that night, especially if the message resonates with men, women and young people,” Wilgus said. “If it sets them free to make a difference in someone else’s life, that’s another part of reaching more people.”

The nonprofit wants pregnant women to know all their possibilities to make sure they make the best decision for their own lives.

“Here are the procedures, options or complications delivered to you in a caring way,” Wilgus said. “You are the only person who can advocate for your own body.”

The Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center began offering free medical services in 2012, including lab-grade pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, in addition to labor and delivery assistance.

Delivery nurses provide sonograms up to a woman’s second trimester, as well as proof of pregnancy documentation.

“It is a good educational tool if someone comes in undecided,” Wilgus said. “She sees what is going on in her body, how far along she is, and hears the fetal heart rate.”

The nonprofit also offers adoption and addiction counseling services, in addition to four support groups for young moms and dads.

“Adoption is always something to think about and there are many options,” Wilgus said. “We work together with an agency to create a healthy family unit.”

The four support programs for parents include how to be a good dad and partner, mothers who are trying to beat addiction, young mothers on the shore, and young mothers of the lower shore.

Post-abortion counseling services, life coaching, childbirth classes, in-home visits and GED testing services are also available for young mothers.

By working on their GED or attending informational meetings, parents can earn “mommy or daddy dollars” to use in Gracie’s in-house boutique, which is full of clothes and other necessities to raise a child, or at the Shirley Grace Thrift Shop in Frankford, Delaware.

“[The center stresses] anything where she is empowering or bettering herself,” Wilgus said. “As she invests in herself, we give back. It’s unexpected that anything she will do will light the world on fire. We help change that. You become a better person when you invest and work for something.”

The Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center opened its doors in September of 2010 after Mari Burton (formerly Quillen) found out her daughter had a brain malformation during a routine ultrasound and that she had a 3 percent chance of living through the delivery.

Shirley Grace survived brain surgery and came home to the shore to meet her big brother, before passing away at just three weeks old.

The heartbreaking experience of meeting her daughter was the final push Burton needed to open the pregnancy center and begin supporting women in the area.

Wilgus was working at the Clarion Hotel in Ocean City when a phone call from Burton was transferred to her desk during the summer of 2011.

“I felt some energy inside me and it made me think I was supposed to help,” Wilgus said. “We met and had breakfast and I felt the need to tell her my story. No one knew but my family. We became friends and I knew I had to help her be successful.”

After helping plan three banquets, Burton asked Wilgus to think about taking over the pregnancy center after she fell in love with a man from Houston and decided to move away.

“She said, ‘I would like you to think and pray [about the decision],’” Wilgus said. “I began an evolution in my own life.”

Wilgus realized she has value, worth and dignity – exactly what the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center embraces and tries to instill in the young women it helps every day.

“I am still growing as a woman and have so much more to learn,” she said.

Wilgus said the life lessons and hard times shaped her into the compassionate person she is today. It also made her realize everyone deserves to have a story.

“Who am I to say good won’t come from that? I am living proof it does. Being a part of that story and seeing the power of transformation that can take place in a woman’s life [is a powerful experience],” Wilgus said. “If one person can believe they have beauty, I am done and that’s how I want to be remembered – making a difference in their life – helping to heal them. I am very proud of what we do here.”

Wilgus said no one took the time to walk her through her options after she became pregnant, which led to traumatic experiences, but also gave her the passion she has for her job.

“I was up against the wall. What will people think of me? Those people gave me the fire in my soul to fight for women,” Wilgus said. “It created the empathy, passion and fire to prepare me for this. I think it was all worth it.”

For more information, visit www.sgpregnancycenter.com or call 443-513-4124 Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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