When Linda Peterson came onboard at Inspire Pregnancy Outreach Center three years ago, support for the center from local residents and churches was limited. Her work as director changed that, through increased visibility via a different location from where the center started in 1984, and also Peterson’s outreach visits to local churches.
The result of her efforts along with the center’s volunteers has been more women being helped by the center.
“People see where we are now. They see our name,” she said. “We’re in the newspaper and doing radio ads. We’re trying to get out (with more visibility).”
Some of that increased awareness comes from speaking to churches about the work of the center.
“We go to all the churches with our baby bottle fundraisers,” she said. “More people are learning about what we do.”
“I think there’s more awareness,” said Peterson, “so we have more moms coming in, in fact, the most we’ve ever seen.”
Assisting families in the community
Located in central Montana between Billings and Great Falls, Lewistown’s Inspire began nearly 35 years ago. The center is primarily a materials assistance center, with Peterson and a group of volunteers serving women who are pregnant, those who already have babies and those who think they’re pregnant.
“We have a regular baby store, a baby boutique, anything from maternity clothes up to 2T,” Peterson said. “We help them all the way up to 2T, and we will continue to help them find (other resources) past that, whether it’s Head Start, daycare, or whatever.”
Women and men participate in an Earn While You Learn program and use Mommy Money or Daddy Dollars to shop in the boutique. Inspire assists with diapers, wipes, clothing, bottles, pacifiers, strollers and other items. Most of these things are donated.
A local store recently gave bottles and pacifiers.
“We have excellent community support,” Peterson said.
Increased church support
That includes churches. Peterson became pro-active with outreach, contacting faith organizations to generate greater awareness of the center’s existence and the services provided. She and other volunteers do this with the baby bottle fundraiser.
“We go into a different church each month,” said Peterson. “I go in, or, if we have a volunteer who goes to that church, I want them to stand up and say, ‘Hey, I volunteer at the pregnancy care center.’ If there’s not a volunteer at that church, I get up and talk about the pregnancy care center and what we do, that we’re non-profit.”
“We’re not income-based, and a lot of people don’t know that,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how much money you make, if you need somebody to talk to, help with a baby, or there’s something you need, come to us.”
“I ask them if they would support us, take a baby bottle home, keep it for the next couple of weeks, and bring it back to church” continued Peterson. “I tell them to ‘fill it with your loose change, your dollar bills, or a big fat check if you want, or those pesky one hundred dollar bills you’ve got lying around.’ From some of the churches we’ve brought in $3,000 a church.”
Last year, she received a surprise from one bottle.
“I was emptying the bottle and there was a roll of dimes in there,” said Peterson. “I was going to crack it open on the counter, but it just looked weird.”
“I started looking at it (more closely) and thought, ‘What’s it wrapped in?’” she said. “So, I unwrapped it, and it was a check for $5,000! I’m so glad I didn’t just rip it open and throw it away!”
Partnerships and fundraising for the center and community
Mountains surround the Lewistown area, and ranches and forest lands comprise the region.
Within a 40-mile drive from the community of nearly 6,000 people, Pastor Mark Weigert shepherds three Missouri Synod Lutheran congregations: St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lewistown; Our Savior Lutheran in Denton, population 250, and Trinity Lutheran in Stanford, 30 miles southwest of Denton and 50 miles east of Lewistown, population 385.
Each congregation is small, and therefore, Pastor Weigert splits his time, preaching each Sunday in Lewistown and alternating Sundays between the other two communities.
Despite the churches’ small sizes, they support Inspire.
“We are a life-affirming church body,” Pastor Weigert said. “We believe in pro-life causes.”
“One of the reasons we support the center is because it’s a way for us to share Christ and His love with the community. That’s so much of what we do - why we’re here – to share the love of Christ with the community”
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Every November for the past 12 years, St. Paul’s in Lewistown hosts an annual benefit for the pregnancy resource center with a lasagna dinner and silent auction. The event has grown significantly through the years, and in 2019, the amount of funds generated increased several hundred dollars, taking in about $3,300.
“That’s the most we’ve raised in the history of the event,” Pastor Weigert said. “We usually raise around $3,000. We were pleased with how it turned out.”
“We have people in the community coming to the center and giving us stuff to put in the silent auction,” Peterson added. “It’s growing bigger and bigger! It’s a good fundraiser, and it’s huge for us.”
Although the Lewistown church holds the event, members of the other two congregations often contribute in some way, whether attending or donating items. For example, Weigert said, one member of the Denton church is an artist, and she donated some of her painted pieces.
The Lewistown community is supportive of the event and many residents seem to look forward to it each fall.
“Over the years, it has just grown, as far as the community support,” Pastor Weigert said. “Linda has been wonderful in teaming with us and coming and helping with the benefit and the publicity of it. It’s kind of like our thing here in Lewistown.”
He recently joined Inspire’s board of directors.
“Linda came to me and said they were looking for someone to fill a role on the board as a pastor, a spiritual, counselor-type person,” he said, “and she asked me if I’d join.”
“The pro-life cause has always been important to me,” continued Weigert, “and I think it’s important to show the community that we don’t just talk about it but we show it as a church and personally.”
“Pro-life is just something I feel strongly about. It’s just part of who I am,” he added.
Joining the board helps me keep a sense of direction of what’s going on with the center. They are wonderful people!”
Peterson feels the same about the pastors and congregations in her community.
“The churches are amazing,” she said. “Somewhere in my mind, the baby bottles have gone from going into the churches to get money to keep us open, to going into the churches to let them know what we do and how important it is that we’re here.”