June 2, 2017

Students learn about mobile ultrasound RV’s role in promoting life

Middle school students of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi School in Greenwood step onto the Great Lakes Gabriel Project’s mobile ultrasound RV unit, which lists its services on the side. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Middle school students of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi School in Greenwood step onto the Great Lakes Gabriel Project’s mobile ultrasound RV unit, which lists its services on the side. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

GREENWOOD—“Gabriel” usually only receives a few visitors a day, sometimes none.

But on May 11, “Gabriel” received scores of middle school-aged visitors, an unusual age group to be popping in.

“Gabriel” is a recreational vehicle—an RV. No ordinary RV, “Gabriel” serves as the mobile ultrasound unit for Great Lakes Gabriel Project, a pro-life ministry that offers assistance to women and families facing difficult or unplanned pregnancies.

The mobile unit and the volunteers who help in its operation visited SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi School in Greenwood as part of the school’s Faith in Action focus for the month of May.

Following is a look at the purpose of bringing the mobile ultrasound unit to the school, and the role the RV and its volunteers play in helping pregnant women choose life.

‘Right here … are people outside of that bubble’

Each month, SS. Francis and Clare students and staff participate in a different Faith in Action project “to see how they can live out their Christian values,” explains Father Stephen Giannini, the parish’s pastor.

The May focus on pro-life issues “is specifically to help form their hearts and minds in how we are called to help each other and see each other as children of God, and that all people are created in God’s image,” he says.

The May Faith in Action project always involves a donation drive for the parish’s Gabriel Project, which works in conjunction with the Gabriel Project at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, says school assistant principal Rebecca Stone.

But to prevent the annual project from becoming routine, she says, “Each year, we try to give a new twist on the same thing.

“We felt like [our students] were missing out on a whole level of what the Gabriel Project does. We certainly want to continue doing the drive and helping families in that way, but the middle schoolers are ready to know some other parts of the ministry as well.”

This year, the students in grades six through eight heard a talk from a Latino woman from the Gabriel Project of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis, which is a recipient of the annual SS. Francis and Clare Gabriel Project donation drive

“She talked about how the project here at the school where we donate diapers and supplies to the families [goes to] St. Patrick’s, and she showed pictures of people there and how they benefit from the things that we donate,” says Bradley Doherty, a math and religion teacher for SS. Francis and Clare’s middle school.

“She put life into perspective for [the students] and showed them how grateful we should be for all the things we have in our life, and how we should stand up and fight and be a voice for all life.”

Stone says it’s important for the middle school students to see those who are helped by the Gabriel Project.

“We live in this kind of bubble of SS. Francis and Clare, and it’s a great bubble to be in,” she says. “But we want them to understand that right here in our backyard there are people outside of that bubble.”

Offering an explanation and tour of the Gabriel Project mobile ultrasound unit served to “show another service that the Gabriel Project offers for expecting mothers,” Stone continues.

Sarah Eckhart, English teacher for SS. Francis and Clare’s middle school students, says the opportunity to see the mobile unit “is not just a one-time instance.

“We incorporate faith in everything we do” at the school, she says. “We talk about Gospel values through all of our readings and our writing [in English class], and we try to instill those in our students. … Reflecting on our experiences here is very important. We carry it through.”

Sandy Maners, a retired nurse and a member of SS. Francis and Clare Parish who volunteers on the “Gabriel” unit, says she was pleased with the students’ response during their tour.

“There was more reaction than I thought there’d be,” she says. “Several as they were walking in were like ‘Oh, wow!’ I don’t think they expected this.

“When I was showing them the ultrasound machine and showing them how we did it, I expected a reaction from the girls. But there were a lot of boys that were paying close attention and said, ‘This is really awesome.’ It clicked with them.”

Her fellow volunteer retired nurse and parishioner Donna Kelker agrees.

“We have a Spanish interpreter, and we have pamphlets in Spanish,” she says. “The kids thought that was cool how wide-reaching [this service] can be with other cultures. After the talk on Tuesday from the lady from St. Patrick, it just kind of hit home.”

The situation is the problem, not the baby

Before students toured the RV, Kelker shared information with them about the Gabriel Project and the RV, which was made possible a few years ago by fundraising efforts and a generous donation and refitting by Mount Comfort RV in Richmond.

After explaining to the students that an ultrasound machine allows a pregnant woman to see her baby, Kelker noted that some pregnant women are “poor, in their teens or homeless. Maybe they’re being pressured by others to end their pregnancy.

“Hopefully, by having an ultrasound, these moms will see their babies up on our TV screen, see a heartbeat, see their baby moving around, and they will choose life.”

Kelker told the students that, while free ultrasounds are available at Gabriel Project’s 1st Choice for Women pregnancy clinic on the northwest side of Indianapolis, not all women have the means to travel there.

“The RV is able to travel to where it is needed,” she said. “We go to places like Planned Parenthood and other abortion [centers] so we can meet and talk to these mothers in crisis. We try to help them realize that the baby they are carrying is not the problem—the situation they are in is the problem.”

Carrying two volunteer nurses, the mobile unit alternates primarily between two abortion centers in Indianapolis four days a week, but also travels to other locations. After the SS. Francis and Clare event on May 11, the mobile unit headed off to provide an ultrasound to a woman considering an abortion.

In an interview with The Criterion, Kelker explains that women come to the RV by being walked over by a Gabriel Project sidewalk counselor standing by the drive of an abortion center, by scheduling an appointment using the number displayed on the side door of the RV, or just by sighting or by word of mouth.

“When they come into the RV, we have them sit here,” says Kelker of a table surrounded by a booth that seats up to six.

They fill out a form, then Kelker says the nurses “try to develop a relationship with them—‘What’s going on in your life? Why are you here? What kind of problems are you having? How can we help you?’ ”

Clients can take a free pregnancy test in the RV’s restroom, or lie down for an ultrasound at the back of the unit. Those who accompany them can sit at the table and see the results on a TV monitor in the front of the RV. If the woman is far enough along, she is given a photo of her baby.

The photo is not all the woman receives.

“We give them pamphlets that show the baby’s development from conception, we give them prenatal vitamins,” says Kelker. “We have women who make baby blankets, and we let them pick one of those out. It helps them realize this is a real baby.”

The most women seen in the usual four-hour stint that Kelker recalls was four.

“Some days we see nobody,” she adds. “We sit in here and pray. If we see someone go in [the abortion center], we’ll say a Hail Mary.”

Of the women they see, says Kelker, “Sometimes we never know the end of the story, if they decide to keep the baby or not to keep the baby. …

“But we do have some moms we develop a relationship with. We have one mom who comes frequently just to make sure her baby is OK.”

Developing a relationship is key.

“We tell them to come back whenever,” Kelker says. “We just try to build a relationship, so they know it’s not just about the baby, it’s about them as a person.”

(For more information on the Great Lakes Gabriel Project, its services and how to volunteer or donate, log on to www.glgabrielproject.org.)

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