Just a few short months ago, the first pregnancy service center in Dawsonville opened its doors to help women in the community. Now it’s looking to expand its hours and services in February.
Karen Bowden, Executive Director of the North Georgia Pregnancy Services Center, saw the need for prenatal services in Dawson County and received grant funding to help make the Dawsonville expansion a reality.
“We had a fundraiser banquet in May and the board had already decided to expand so we made the announcement we were looking for a location,” Bowden said. “A gentleman came up to me after the meeting and said ‘how much space do you need?’”
Leadership from Christ Community Church in Dawsonville decided to donate space for the center to open its secondary location and by mid-September 2019, the Dawsonville campus was up and offering free pregnancy tests and limited OB ultrasounds.
The North Georgia Pregnancy Services Center first opened in 1998 as the Dahlonega Care Center when Bowden wanted to do something in Dahlonega to help the babies.
“We opened up here because of the high birth rate, and that was something, the free pregnancy testing was a big draw for the girls,” Bowden said. “They needed the free pregnancy testing back then especially because the pregnancy tests were expensive.”
Having been a single mom after a divorce, Bowden also saw the need to provide support for expecting mothers.
“We went to training at the Gainesville center and it really opened up my eyes to what the moms are going through,” Bowden said. “I knew how difficult it was to raise children on your own so I had the heart for the moms too, but that really grew as we got into this.”
Originally, the care center’s primary focus was providing baby items to expecting mothers, but Bowden soon realized that many of the women who needed the items wouldn’t take handouts.
The Earn While You Learn program was implemented that is still being used at the center’s two campuses. Women take courses provided by the center on topics such as prenatal care, parenting, infant care, breastfeeding and birthing which earns them “Mommy Money” that can be spent on baby items at the care center, Bowden said.
The center also provides free prenatal vitamins to help further support expecting mothers.
“We’re usually the first point of care for the pregnant women so we came to realize it’s really important for them to get on the prenatal vitamins as soon as they found out they’re pregnant,” Bowden said.
Soon, the Dawsonville center will be offering free STD and urinary tract infection tests to any woman who is pregnant or thinks she might be pregnant. Bowden plans to have the resources in place to begin offering free tests by the end of February.
Prior to the center’s opening, Dawson County was the only county in north Georgia that did not have a pregnancy health center according to Bowden. It’s opening has already led to volunteers offering to help provide support and care to the women receiving services.
“When (Christ Community Church leaders) announced that we were going to be doing this in our church and they said they needed volunteers to help, honestly it was God just laid it on my heart I think,” said Christie Merrick, a volunteer patient advocate in Dawsonville. “I just felt like this is something that I could do to help in the community, to help the center, to help these girls that are reaching out for help.”
Merrick became a patient advocate in September 2019 when the center opened its doors because she wanted to offer support and counseling to women in need.
“I think just giving them the knowledge that there is a safe place that they can come that’s confidential, it’s free, it’s going to offer them help,” Merrick said. “I think that’s the first thing that comes to my mind because sometimes there’s fear and they maybe just want to talk to somebody and think about their options.”
“If they feel they need the help, we want to help them,” Bowden said.
On Feb. 1, the North Georgia Pregnancy Services Center will be expanding its hours. It will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It is located at 42 Grant Road East, STE 230 in Dawsonville. For more information call (706) 265-0018.