A new home or time to close

Published 11:51 am Thursday, September 1, 2011

Kim Grage, director of the Birthright Clinic is hoping to find more funding and a cheaper location by December otherwise the clinic will have to close. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

After 40 years in Austin, pregnancy center is in trouble

The Birthright clinic in Austin may not have a merry Christmas this year.

Birthright volunteers face a tough decision: Either find a cheaper, permanent location for the pregnancy help center or close the Austin location before the new year.

“We are basically in trouble and we’re not sure about what to do with it,” said Kim Grage, Birthright director.

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Birthright has been in Austin for about 40 years, according to Grage. Volunteers help new or expecting mothers through free counseling, pregnancy tests, guidance on where to find resources and provide donated infant and toddler clothes up to size 5, as well as maternity clothing for families in need. The center does not show abortion slides or pictures, provide contraception or picket or harass abortion clinics, per Birthright International’s philosophy statement.

The center in Austin mainly serves low-income families and area residents of color, although foot traffic does vary from week to week. In a good week, about five to 10 people stop by the center, but there are weeks where no one comes around. What’s more, the center runs entirely on donations.

“The people coming in and using our stuff aren’t the people who are donating to our cause,” Grage said.

Birthright volunteers aren’t strangers to donation woes. The center was in the same situation several years ago, when volunteers tried to find a cheaper location so costs could be held down in the wake of ever-declining donations.

While some volunteers wanted to use up the account and help as many people as possible, Grage and others decided to stick things out.

That, along with myriad other reasons, is why Birthright is in the predicament it’s in now.

Donations are down across the board. People who used to donate have either moved on or passed on, with few people stepping forward in their place. An advertising blitz Grage signed off on two years ago didn’t pay the dividends in foot traffic and donations like volunteers thought it would. More and more volunteers have quit or retired, leaving Grage and a handful of helpers to watch the center for eight hours a week. With so much going against it, the pregnancy center is in dire straits.

Grage knew something was wrong when her treasurer told her in May they needed to cash in the center’s last certificate of deposit to pay rent and utilities through December, about $600 a month in bills.

The news slowly spread throughout town, according to Grage, as a few off-season donations recently appeared, even though Birthright volunteers usually don’t hold campaigns until the holiday season and early in the year.

Some volunteers didn’t even know the center could close. Linda Maschka is a 15-year volunteer who was shocked to find out Birthright could close if more donations or a cheaper location aren’t secured.

“I hope it’s not true,” she said. “It’s a great service and well-needed. It’s been here a long time.”

Grage is having no luck finding a new location. She looked at moving the clinic beneath the Queen of Angels Catholic Church, but the church’s main basement room is used by Catholic charities until further notice and the only other room isn’t suited to the center’s needs.

Birthright locations are slowly disappearing from the area, as the Birthright in Albert Lea closed a while ago. In addition, six Planned Parenthood locations in Minnesota, including Albert Lea, Owatonna and Fairmont, closed last month.

Grage doesn’t want to see another pregnancy help center close.

“Now that we’re the only one in the area, I’d like to keep it going,” Grage said. “There’s still a need, we still have people coming in, it’s just a matter of finding something.”