Intensive training shows how “big network” of pregnancy help is there for support; new Utah director

Intensive training shows how “big network” of pregnancy help is there for support; new Utah directorHeartbeat International Affiliate Services Specialist Sara Dominguez presents to the New Directors track at the 2023 Pregnancy Help Institute

A new pregnancy center director in Utah has followed a path touching on research, ethics, and Christian evangelism to pregnancy help, and found Heartbeat International’s Pregnancy Help Institute (PHI) “a win” for content and connection.

Evangeline Sanders attended PHI in the past as development director for a California pregnancy resource center. Her new role, as executive director (ED) for Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC) of Salt Lake City, brought her back to PHI this summer.

She had not yet walked through the doors of the Utah center as leader when PHI took place in Columbus, Ohio, in July. 

“I wanted to go in [for the director’s training] with a better understanding of how to run the center as a whole and how to prioritize the different areas of ministry,” Sanders said. “What I was most excited about was to learn all the things that I didn’t know that I needed to know.”

She said she wanted to garner “a roadmap” of moving forward at the new executive director of PRC of Salt Lake City.

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“One thing that was hugely helpful was the questionnaire on the health of the organization. I had George [Stewart], the previous director, and the board chair, complete those for me,” Sanders said. “I think going into that with their insight really helped me know from the get-go what areas of ministry I needed to concentrate on. I think as a new ED when coming on, everyone is kind of yelling for help in all the different areas, and it can feel very overwhelming.” 

   Stewart and Sanders

From that exercise, she learned that, while everyone needed some help, “these are the areas where we’re doing pretty well, and these are the areas that we didn’t even realize we needed to work on.”

She spent time on the airplane ride to Columbus reviewing the document.

“I thought, ‘Wow! I really understand my organization before even stepping into the doors as the ED because I have this template,” Sanders said.

From England to Utah

Sanders lived in England prior to 2019. She seriously considered becoming a physician.

“A lot of my family are doctors,” she said. “The summer I was to enroll in medical school, I realized I didn’t want to do that … [and] I changed my path very dramatically. I went into research science instead.”

She said she felt God calling her to go into “evangelism and public policy engagement,” and therefore, became involved with a campus Christian group. She said she enjoyed it, in particular “bringing others to Christ” and showing “how Christianity has a bearing on culture …what it means to be a Christian and how we apply that in our public life.”

Sanders attended a week-long intensive training at Cambridge with sessions about “pro-life ethics, marriage, family, and sexuality issues … looking into the whole, broad spectrum of Christian ethics and a gaining a good understanding of what it means to live out your life in Christ and being attacked on the outside.”

She desired to enter a vocation where she could apply her medical knowledge and her passion for ethics and evangelism. She received an internship with a senior bishop which turned into more than four years of working as his executive assistant that included conducting research.

“I was just learning, sitting at his feet, taking in everything possible,” she said. “It was a privilege.”

An aspect she especially enjoyed was engaging with churches and other Christians regarding how to have conversations about Christianity and pro-life issues and implementing her scientific and medical knowledge.

Sanders married and the couple relocated to California. She spent the first year acclimating to the United States and waiting for a work permit and U.S. residency. After obtaining those, she began looking for work.

“I looked out for these three things: A Christian job that was nearby and had something to do with medical ethics,” she said. “Unbeknownst to me, 10 minutes from the new house we bought was a pregnancy resource center that, at that time, [was seeking] a development director. I applied for that role.”

She had a strong background in speaking and engaging with churches from her time in London. “That’s how I got involved” with pregnancy resource centers in the United States, she said. Sanders worked for three years at that southern California center. Then, her husband’s company expanded to Utah and the couple relocated again, to the Salt Lake City area. She worked remotely for the next 18 months, flying back to California for all the center’s events, she said.

“It was doable from afar, but it wasn’t optimal,” Sanders said.

The executive director of that center resigned so there were two positions to fill. Sanders took on the role of interim director for six months and helped re-write job descriptions and assisted with the hiring process for a new CEO as well as development director. She stayed a few more months to help train the two new directors. As time wrapped up, Sanders thought she might take another career break.

“I wasn’t necessarily looking for a job out here [in Utah],” she said. “I just said, ‘I’m going to faithfully finish this and then see what happens next.”

After the Salt Lake City PRC began advertising in June for an executive director, two different people who were supporters of the center, encouraged Sanders to apply. She decided to do so, met with the board of directors, and was hired. A few weeks later, she joined other new pregnancy center directors for PHI’s director’s track. George Stewart, development director for PHC of Salt Lake City, also attended and engaged with the development track.

PHI “so helpful” with ideas, connections

Besides the questionnaire, other things Sanders said she found useful were the sessions on legal help, human resources, and expanding medical offerings. She said she found the human resources component especially intriguing.

“She [the instructor] gave a lot of wonderful tips on how to be good employers and [encouraged] developing and training our staff well,” Sanders said.

Sanders was also impressed with “how personal and how invested each of the instructors were” at the Heartbeat training. 

“They were very, very intentional about making sure we knew how much they want to stay in communication with us … having the open, direct line with them,” she said. “We really feel connected and supported … we don’t have to do this alone.” 

PRC of Salt Lake City

Sanders said she returned to Utah with many ideas to implement in her new role, which includes providing more training for staff members.

“By the end of this year, I want all of the managers trained at least, and by two years, see that all of our staff, volunteers, and board have gone through the same foundational training so that we’re working better together as a team with a shared goal, a shared mission,” she said. “I think that will really expand on other areas.”

She also wants to improve some aspects of the organization, such as partnerships with churches, and tweak programs. She foresees offering more of a group model in the future and “really help build that community structure that young moms and dads need,” she said. 

  PRC of Salt Lake City

“We have a broad service level,” Sanders said. “We have a lot of very good programs, including going into schools to teach sexual integrity and our abortion recovery program. And we’re part of the Abortion Pill Rescue® Network.”

She also envisions opportunities to improve outreach to clients, especially those who are abortion minded. She wants to see how PRC of Salt Lake City can bring them in and serve them better. 

She added that she was glad Stewart, the development director, also attended PHI.

“It’s been such a win,” Sanders said.

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Meeting others and networking added to the positive elements of the Columbus-based training, Sanders said. Connections with other new directors as well as to Heartbeat staff were critical aspects of feeling less overwhelmed as the new PRC leader, she said. 

“Sometimes leadership can feel very lonely, but coming to Pregnancy Help Institute really shows you the big network and the support structure that’s there,” Sanders said. “I just found [PHI] so helpful, and I came away with ‘Okay, I kind of know what I’m doing.’”

Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News.

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