by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — It’s closer to bus stops. It features an expanded store, and the building is located on one floor instead of three, making it more accessible for clients, staff and volunteers.
Those are just three advantages that Dr. Melissa Colbern, director of Mary’s Choices, sees to the organization’s new home located in north Topeka. Opened in 2012, Mary’s Choices is a nonprofit agency dedicated to helping women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann blessed and dedicated the building on Sept. 9, three years after the organization first opened its doors in another building in the downtown area.
Joining the archbishop were Father Greg Hammes, pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka and one of the organization’s board members; Father Tom Aduri, pastor of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish; and Father Bill Bruning, former pastor of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish and the one who encouraged Colbern, then one of his parishioners, to open the agency.
“It was the first building I looked at,” Colbern said.
When she learned Mary’s Choices needed a new home, she started researching buildings, but all of the other buildings sold before she could tour them.
Since she toured only one building, Colbern said there was no question in her mind it’s where the agency is supposed to be now. Plus, the organization purchased the building in May, the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The seller dropped the price by $40,000 upon learning of Colbern’s plans for it.
Because Mary’s Choices helps those facing unexpected pregnancies, the building’s 1,800-square-foot interior features rooms dedicated to various saints, all of whom Colbern and agency volunteers regularly turn to for assistance. For example, the Gianna Room is named in honor of St. Gianna Molla — patron of physicians, mothers and preborn children — and serves as one of two counseling rooms for women making future plans relative to their pregnancies.
Additional rooms are named in honor of other saints the agency routinely relies upon, including: St. Faustina, patron of those contemplating abortion; St. Monica, patron of mothers; and St. Joseph, patron of families and workers.
It might seem odd that St. Joseph, a male saint, is invoked regularly by the agency, but Colbern said he provides a perfect example of Christian fatherhood.
“The male role is so important,” she said, adding that when a young woman comes in for a counseling session and the father of her child does not want her to have an abortion, more than likely she will not.
All told, Colbern said the agency has expended only about $5,000 for its new home. More than 900 volunteer hours provided the time and skills necessary to transform the building. For example, a general contractor designed and remodeled the building’s interior, and another firm (along with an anonymous donor) provided a new roof and guttering.
Others hung drywall, stained doors, painted walls and laid carpet. And Colbern said countless people from all of the Topeka parishes and the city regularly provide baby clothes, diapers and financial contributions, all of which help Mary’s Choices serve those in need. Not to mention the gift of a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine donated by the Knights of Columbus from Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish.
During the past three years, the agency has provided free, confidential services to more than 600 women in the form of pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling and referrals, video courses, as well as more than $35,000 in baby clothes and diapers. Additionally, the agency has provided around 200 sonograms and more than 1,800 video education visits.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what happens to some of the clients and their preborn babies after they leave the agency. Follow-up with the clients is not always possible. Still, Colbern estimates that at least two clients change their minds each month and choose adoption or parenting instead of abortion. And that’s the whole goal.
“Our goal is to change how people look at life,” Colbern said. “It’s just the Holy Spirit that can change them.”