Shippensburg’s PMI Pregnancy Resource Center is a little office filled with a lot of love.
When Center Director Robin Kell greeted me at the door, the first thing I noticed was the skip in her step. Enthusiasm trailed in her wake. Even before we sat down to talk about the center’s services, I could tell that helping people was more than a job for her — it was a compulsion.
Shippensburg hosts one of the four pregnancy resource centers in Pennsylvania, and the organization’s services include more than its name suggests. On top of pregnancy tests, PMI offers STD testing, healthy relationship education and ongoing support for expecting parents. The keynote? All of the services are free.
“Everything is free and confidential to anybody that has need,” Kell said. “If you have a need, we’re here to try and help meet that need.”
Kell sat me down in a quaint room dressed in cozy furnishings and warm lighting. Beckoning my attention were several informational brochures on a coffee table next to me. Education, Kell explained, is PMI’s only agenda.
At PMI, patrons are armed with information so that they are able to tackle a variety of life challenges. Kell and her volunteers use flip charts to inform patrons on STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV/AIDS. Educational videos are used to counsel individuals and couples in healthy relationship strategies. Brochures and pamphlets help guide discussions on abortion.
The resource center does not perform or refer for abortions, but it does educate on the matter. Kell explained that making a thoughtful decision, in any situation, means first gathering all the information. Kell and her volunteers want to foster a non-judgmental environment where patrons can get the facts they need to make an informed decision.
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“We’re not here to judge,” said Kell. “We’re here to be there for [people].” She firmly believes that in difficult situations, sometimes it just takes one person in someone’s life that says “I’m going to be there for you.” Kell wants to be that person.
I lost track of time during my interview with Kell, because I was so enthralled by her unabated passion to help people. Kell started with PMI back in 2001. Inspired by her son, who had just departed for a missions trip to Romania, Kell was eager to find her own way to help others. A chance TV advertisement pointed her toward PMI. “I called the number, and the rest is history!” Kell said.
Kell’s passion is more deeply rooted than her early days at PMI.
At just 19, Kell had her own unplanned pregnancy with her fiancé at the time. She remembers feeling fear, shame and embarrassment, none of which she believed should be attached to the beauty of a pregnancy. It took confiding in a close friend and hearing that word — “congratulations” — that she finally experienced the excitement.
Kell and her fiancé broke the news to their parents who supported them throughout the pregnancy.
Kell married her fiancé soon after, and they have been together ever since.
In her 14 years with the pregnancy resource center, Kell has thrived off of educating the community about a topic that is close to her heart.
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Kell cited one experience that stood out more prominently than most.
“A young lady came into our center, and she had already had three abortions. And here she was — pregnant again. And she wasn’t sure what she was going to do. And as her story unfolds, you got a glimpse of factors of why abortion was chosen [in her situation]. Her first abortion was at the suggestion of her mother. And that just led to the second and the third, because there was no significant support there.
“When she came in, she came with her boyfriend. He was the father of her third abortion. He just figured she would go have another one. After we talked extensively, she left, and I had no idea what she was going to choose. And here’s where the gift of time comes in: a week had passed, and she called, and she said, “I want to do the right thing this time. Could you schedule me for an ultrasound?”
Kell stressed that she and her staff are present to assist patrons regardless of their decisions.
“When it feels like there’s no one else out there for them,” Kell said, “I want to be their cheerleader. I want to tell them ‘you can do it!’”
PMI is not just for women — men are encouraged just as much as women to take advantage of its services.
“We had a gentleman come in [for STD testing] and after he had his test, he decided to come back in and go through our healthy relationship development session. He loved it so much, he started inviting some of his friends to come along with him!”
The PMI Pregnancy Resource Center is nestled in Shippensburg at 20 E. Burd St., but it is not uncommon to find them stepping out of their office space and into the community. On Wednesday, April 1, Kell will have a “fun table” set up in the Ceddia Union Building at Shippensburg University to share information about the center and its free services.
Article originally appeared April 2, 2015 at The Slate Online. Republished with permission.