A new Texas pregnancy help center opened earlier this year with the assistance and support of Heartbeat International, hitting the ground running with life-affirming pregnancy help offerings for the first time in its community.
Located in Manvel, Texas, south of Houston, the vision for the center took root more than three years ago. Like many pregnancy help centers and medical clinics, the start-up began with an idea.
Renee Arriaga, executive director of Her Heart Pregnancy Help Center, recalled how the idea came about for Pregnancy Help News.
Arriaga, who had experienced abortion as a younger woman, wanted to make a difference in her community, sharing the love of Christ with others.
“I’m an empathic person,” she said.
Arriaga’s pastor had been giving a sermon series on evangelism, she recalled, which she continually prayed about.
She prayed to God regarding Roe v. Wade being overturned, saying, ‘Lord how can you use me? What can we do?’
Arriaga pondered at what point in one’s life is one the most scared, the most vulnerable.
“And I'm thinking, ‘Oh, when you're pregnant,’” she said. “I remembered my own history.”
Arriaga also recalled her pastor’s teaching and put unplanned pregnancy and sharing Jesus together, through the work of the Holy Spirit.
“We don't have a pregnancy center here in Manville,” she said. “So, one day I came up with the conclusion, “Let's start a pregnancy center!”
Tweet This: We received so much help from Heartbeat International in starting our center, not just funding but also training and so much more.
Little did she realize the obstacles she would face, making her even more grateful for the resources from Heartbeat to assist the start-up.
Hurdles and perseverance
The vision for a pregnancy center came about in 2019. The reality of opening the new center took more than three years.
First came COVID, then came opposition from the town council, which lacked understanding and knowledge of what a pregnancy center is and does, and what it isn’t and does not do.
“They voted us down like six to one,” Arriaga said. “We had people from the community that [said], “We don't want to trust these people. They say they're not going to do abortions or anything, but that's how Planned Parenthood came in the city, and they told everybody they were going to do family planning.”
Lack of understanding and education created rumors and mistrust even though Arriaga talked to many, including council members, about her plans for services and resources for the new center. She also learned there were various permitting processes needed for reconstruction of the building where the center would be housed.
After securing support from her church and a few others in the community, including a woman who taught abstinence and sex education to high school girls and who told council members “You need to do your research,” and the proper permits being issued, attitudes changed. Arriaga received the council votes needed to open the center and additional support from the community.
Although there were obstacles, such things aren’t uncommon, said Sara Dominguez, Affiliate Services Specialist for Heartbeat International, who worked with Arriaga to launch the new center.
“Renee and her team faced some permitting challenges,” Dominguez said. “But zoning issues are a fairly common experience for our startup organizations, so it’s just taking it one step at a time.”
“Timing is everything,” said Dominguez. “So that was something that they really had to work through, but they had a really great team in place to meet those challenges head-on.”
“They patiently and faithfully continued to pray and make preparations for that organization to open because ultimately we knew it wasn't a matter of if, it was just a matter of when,” she added.
Perseverance is necessary to start pregnancy resource and medical centers as is waiting on God’s timing, Dominguez said.
“Like I said, timing is everything, and a [start-up] center is going to open,” she said. “Sometimes it's not what we expect, but there are details that [God] knows, that He takes care of to help us get to that opening day.”
Assistance from Life Launch, others
Her Heart Pregnancy Help Center opened in February of this year. The organization was one of the last to receive a Life Launch Grant from Heartbeat International. The grant program came from a supporter of the organization and lasted five years, Dominguez said.
During the past three years, 30 new centers, representing 29 different counties across the United States, opened thanks to Life Launch grants. Additionally, a new center in Australia received funds, she said.
“This year, we've accepted five in-kind grant recipients, so they are receiving $10,000 in in-kind resources,” Dominguez said. “The operational grants are not provided to these five.”
Previously with Life Launch centers were required to raise $30,000 on their own, and Heartbeat would match with $15,000 in-kind resources and $15,000 in money for operational expenses. Arriaga’s organization raised money to meet that requirement through a variety of endeavors, from yard sales to art shows. A grant she and her team applied for was given in the amount of $24,500, she said, and helped Her Heart meet the $30,000 fundraising requirement.
Ultrasound saves a life on Valentine’s Day
With Arriaga’s training as a nurse and now a family nurse practitioner, she provides ultrasound scans at Her Heart. The ultrasound is a critical piece of the ministry.
The first client through the center’s doors was an abortion-determined woman.
After Alice* walked into the building and saw her nearly six-week-old baby’s flickering heartbeat on the ultrasound, she knew she couldn’t abort (Texas has a heartbeat law). She could have traveled out-of-state – in fact, her employer had been willing to pay her abortion expenses.
“Her employer had already paid for her to have the abortion, paid for her plane ticket, every single thing,” Arriaga said. “She had the day off so she could go.”
However, Alice changed her mind and didn’t go through with the procedure.
The young woman’s appointment took place on Valentine’s Day, not long after the center opened.
“We’d been praying for our first client since before we even opened,” Arriaga said. “I always say that a heart was saved at Her Heart on Valentine's Day.”
Another incredible feat regarding provisions for additional medical services for Her Heart clients showed up next door. A family nurse practitioner opened her office next to the pregnancy center, and that medical professional assists Her Heart clients by providing STD testing and blood draws for pregnancy testing if needed.
“All I have to do is refer right next door,” Arriaga said. “God is so amazing! It’s been incredible for us to have that right next door.”
The first large event for the organization is scheduled for this November 4, she added.
“It’s a barn dance,” Arriaga said.
The fundraiser will also help enlighten more people about the work at Her Heart, its mission, and its need for support to help women in the area - like Alice -who experience an unplanned pregnancy.
Resources for pregnancy centers
Although the Life Launch grant is no longer offered, Heartbeat, the largest network of pregnancy help in the U.S. and the world, has many resources available for start-up pregnancy centers or seasoned ones, and Dominguez said Heartbeat is willing and able to help.
“Pregnancy help is a universal need, and these Life Launch centers and start-up organizations across the world are meeting that need, in their unique ways,” she said, “with programming and resources to support pregnant women and families in their communities.”
“We are more than happy to continue assisting pregnancy help organizations,” said Dominguez.
“We received so much help from Heartbeat,” Arriaga said. “Not just funding but also trainings and so much more. We couldn’t have done it without Sara and others at Heartbeat.”
Dominguez also encourages people desiring to start a pregnancy resource center to visit the Heartbeat’s website HERE.
Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News. The client’s name is withheld to preserve privacy