Local Youth & young adult

Public high school forms pro-life club

On Oct. 17, six members of the pro-life club at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park pray at the Center for Women’s Health, site of the 40 Days for Life campaign. The students are: (from left to right) Cydney Willenbring, Zach Stark, Sophia Fisher, Amy Winkler, Laura Benteman and Cecilia Fisher. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

by Marc and Julie Anderson

OVERLAND PARK — When Emily Yohon, a freshman at Benedictine College in Atchison, graduated from Blue Valley Northwest High School here this past spring, she left a little bit of herself behind — a pro-life club at the public high school.

It all began in the summer of 2019.

Yohon, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, found a video online in which a former abortionist describes a third-trimester abortion. After watching it, she decided it was not enough for her to say she was pro-life. She needed to do something about her convictions.

“I’ve always had that [pro-life] mindset,” she said, “but I just realized I need to reach out to other people who have the same views and beliefs and spread that word and get others to believe that.”

After discussions with her parents Curtis and Liz, she approached the school’s administration. She knew she needed a sponsor — someone from the faculty or staff — even if the group was student-led.

She was certain she knew the right teacher, but God had other plans.

“I asked another teacher if she would sponsor it,” she recalled, “and she said she had too much going on and couldn’t.”

But the teacher next door had overheard the conversation and said, “I’m in!”

After securing the sponsor, Yohon invited other students to join.

She was stunned when 50 students signed up. In the end, around two dozen or so students formed the core membership. The same is true this school year.

Not only that, but the group represents a microcosm of the school: It includes boys and girls, freshmen through seniors, different races and ethnicities, as well as Protestants, Catholics and atheists.

Take, for example, Zach Stark, a senior and a member of Ascend KC Church (formerly Harvest Bible Church) in Olathe.

Stark joined the club last year.

“I signed up because I believe in the mission, and I believe it’s a cause worth fighting for,” he said. “I’ve always been pro-life, but my big ‘I-need-to-do-something-about-this [moment]’ was after my family and I saw ‘Unplanned.’”

Since seeing the movie, he’s been active in the club’s activities and has found himself in a lot of online conversations about abortion. And while he realizes not everyone shares his beliefs, he said the abortion question is not a matter of opinion.

“I don’t feel like it’s an issue that you can agree to disagree on,” said Stark.

On Oct. 17, Stark joined five other club members to pray outside the Center for Women’s Health, an abortion clinic that has been the site of several 40 Days for Life campaigns. Among the club members was Laura Benteman, a junior who serves as the club’s historian and posts messages and photos to the club’s social media.

“I was one of the first to join,” Benteman said. “I’ve been pro-life since as long as I can remember. My parents helped me make that realization when I was pretty young. They helped me understand the value of life.”

Some students, said Yohon, thought it inappropriate for a public school to sponsor such a club. Fortunately, she said, the administration did not see it that way.

“The administration said we have a right to be here,” she said. The administration also told anyone opposed to the club to form their own group.

“The people who complained to administration thought we were representing Blue Valley Northwest as a whole but, in reality, we’re representing the people who are pro-life, not the school as a whole. . . . The administration said of the club members that ‘they have done nothing wrong. They have only been peaceful. They have only been loving to everyone.’”

Benteman, a member of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, said she has experienced some difficulties in some of her friendships as a result of her participation in the club.

“I’m slowly gaining some of my friends back the more I talk about the issue with them and the more they understand my reasons for being pro-life,” Benteman said.

“It was hard,” she said, but Yohon’s respectful approach to all their classmates and their opinions helped set the tone and example for the whole school.

This year, the club is led by co-presidents Cydney Willenbring and Molly Thomas, both seniors and, like Benteman, parishioners of Church of the Ascension.

In addition to praying at the 40 Days for Life vigil site, the group plans to host another showing of “Unplanned.” It also plans to gather donations of personal hygiene products for Giving the Basics KC. Moreover, while there are no formal plans yet to attend either the Topeka or national March for Life, the group is hopeful to find a way to participate in one, if not both.

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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