HAMMOND – In praise of the compassionate support women, their unborn children and families have received, hundreds of clients have spoken, written and posted about the Women’s Care Center in Hammond.
Some of their testimonies speak to a sense of being called to the crisis pregnancy center, and most express gratitude that they received the information and care they needed to choose life for the little one they carried.
At the Catholic Charities-supported WCC, a manager, a technician and a counselor recently reflected on their years of providing women with unplanned pregnancies facts about the prenatal journey and personal, spiritual support. Similarly, the three women said they felt drawn to the job, and believe God placed them where they are so they may help make a difference.
“It’s just the clients speaking from their hearts,” said Angie Navarro, fifth-year ultrasound technician and counselor, of the nearly 500 positive online reviews of the WCC affiliate in Hammond.
Navarro continued, “It’s God because there’s nothing that we could do ourselves … God brought us here, God brings the people here.
“It’s all divine,” added Stefanie Herrera, who has been the WCC Hammond manager since 2014.
In 2015, Freda Chalmers stopped in at the WCC with a simple question: “Where do you need help at?
Going from a three-day-a-week volunteer, to an integral part of daily functions, Chalmers earned her master's degree and returned to become a full-time counselor at the WCC in April 2018.
“I felt like I could contribute to this," Chalmers said. “I was a young mom in a crisis at one time, too.”
Since opening its doors near a Planned Parenthood facility in Hammond in 2012, the Women's Care Center has assisted thousands of women, men and their children. In 2021 alone, WCC aided 1,300 women. The office offered 1,971 counseling sessions, performed 853 ultrasounds, and gave 15,000 material items, including 9,617 bundles of diapers.
Two years ago, the facility moved from rented space to occupy the Catholic Charities Hammond office. In the spacious and welcoming environment, women, men and children are greeted with a smile.
Herrera, Navarro and Chalmers offer one-on-one, judgment-free counseling. “Meeting women where they are,” is key to their approach.
When a woman is invited into the ultrasound room, Navarro stands near the control console of the Voluson P8 3D ultrasound. Presenting a clear visual is what she finds most effective in helping women grasp a full picture of the small human life within them.
Displaying pictures showing a fetus at 3 months and, again, at 6 months, she points to the clearly visible bodily features, including the head, back and arms and legs. Four-dimensional mode can show the motion of a child in utero – sometimes he or she sucking their thumb.
The high-tech machine is a gift from the Knights of Columbus State Culture of Life office.
“You see a life,” said Navarro, who tabulated that 89% of women who visit the WCC choose life for their children.
Saddened by the fate of the others, Navarro will often say a prayer, “God receive this baby.”
On an early summer afternoon, a woman called Mary and her infant son and two young boys stopped in to visit the WCC counselors. Mary participates in parenting classes for which she gets “credits” to use at the office’s “Crib Club” to acquire children’s clothing, toys and other accessories.
Sebastian, a sturdy boy of three months, wore a smile as he slept in his baby carrier near his mother.
The WCC continues to connect women with Church, state and medical organizations to offer a spectrum of care and resources including Franciscan Health’s Prenatal Assistance Program.
“It always seemed like this job found me,” said Herrera. “You know how in the Bible it reads, ‘If I can trust you with the little things then I can give you much more?’”
Describing her divorce from her husband of 26 years and the father of their three boys, as “the hardest thing that I went through,” Herrera tried to hold her household and herself together.
Enduring the “devastating” change in her life, she said she relied on the practice of her Catholic faith and sought to deepen her relationship with God.
She went about founding a popular after-school mentoring program at the local public high school she worked at.
“We hold a compassion in our heart that we cannot learn through books, we learn it through our hurt and pain … there is your purpose,” Herrera said.
When she applied for and accepted the position of manager with WCC, Herrera said she was ready to dedicate her skills to help those who find themselves in need of guidance and resources.
For Navarro, who was an experienced sonographer, responding to a listing on a local online jobs board was initially more of a curiosity. “I had no idea why,” she said.
She told a hiring manager she would consider an offer, with pay not being the first consideration, but rather because she was aligned with their pro-life values.
“I would say God sent me here to be healed," Navarro explained. “Healing occurs sometimes when you are helping someone else.
She continued, “Have I gone through an abortion? No. But have I been molested? Have I been raped? Have I been abused? Yes. But I had no purpose for that story until I came here.”
Herrera said the colleagues responded in godly ways to “forces unknown” that sought to destroy them.
"No matter what a person’s belief system,” Navarro said. “We can always show them Jesus, they’re going to see him here. We can emulate Jesus.”
The women who manage the WCC said services to help women choose life will continue even if Indiana is among states that enact laws to re-establish protection for unborn children after the Supreme Court of the United States is expected to render a decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case. That ruling could nullify Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case which open the doors to an estimated 63 million abortions over 49 years.
Some politicians from Illinois have pre-empted the high court’s ruling, promising to pass laws to make the state the “abortion capital of the Midwest.” Many current WCC clients are Illinois residents.
If a decision to protect life is rendered, Herrera and Navarro said they will offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the efforts of millions of people's charity, prayer and pro-life advocacy that have helped make it possible.
Yet in a polarized climate reflected in media reports and individual social media messages, they are aware of threats made by some abortion activists to members of the judicial branch, pro-life organizations and even the Catholic Church.
“This is where we have to step out in faith, because we can’t worry about what people are thinking and what people are saying; We cannot fear,” Herrera said. “Jesus said he would be with us even until the end of time. If we don’t believe that, where is our faith?”
“God says, ‘Do not fear’ 365 times in the Bible,” Angie added.
To contact the Women’s Care Center in Hammond, call (219) 554-1774. For more information on making a donation to the crisis pregnancy center, visit www.catholic-charities/donate.