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Archives Assist women, babies at Plattsburgh Birthright

Oct. 30, 2019

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing writer

PLATTSBURGH – “Every volunteer here has a different life experience, but has something of value to share,” said Sally Fisher, Plattsburgh’s Birthright Director.

Fisher noted that Birthright, a private, safe place for pregnant women, children, and families, is seeking volunteers. There is a training for volunteers in November.

Birthright offers free pregnancy tests, and free maternity and baby clothes, diapers, baby food, and formula. Additionally, the organization provides referrals for assistance with medical, legal, or housing needs. Parenting classes are also available. Louise Summerhill, foundress of Birthright, “saw this being a community of love, among the volunteers and to the extended community.”

Fisher described the beginnings of Birthright, founded in Toronto by a housewife in 1968. Summerhill had seven children, including twin five-year-olds, when God put it “on her heart” to do more, Fisher said. Thinking about how she could promote a culture of life, she saw a For Rent sign. A man approached her and asked if she loved Jesus, then offered her the location rent free.

According to Fisher, Summerhill knew that this was what God wanted her to do for women “whether or not she had the money, whether or not she had the time, whether or not she had the inclination.”

“That is how Birthright was born and,” Fisher continued, “even in the founding of Birthright, she had some support, she had the support of a priest, she had the support of friends, but she was actually betrayed by some of the people that she thought were her friends and so, although she never had suffered a crisis pregnancy, she knew what rejection was, she knew what betrayal was, and what it was to be in a situation where you had nobody you could count on.”

Summerhill saw the importance of Birthright “being all volunteer, that we are not judgmental, accepting people as they are, as they come to us, and not with our own agenda,” Fisher added.

“They don’t have to show us their ID, they don’t even have to give us their name, they don’t have to tell us their marital status, their financial status,” Fisher said. “We’re not going to give them hoops to jump through. We take people where they’re at. We are confidential. We are not mandatory reporters, whereas all the other agencies are. Often, I’ve had women tell me that they don’t seek the help they need because they are afraid of the repercussions from that. They fear violence from their partner, or abandonment, or they could lose their home, or whatever, all kinds of things could happen.”

Sometimes they just need a can of formula, Fisher revealed, and we “just [need] to give that to them and to be their friend as we would want a friend if we were in their situation. We don’t want to send anyone away empty handed. Everything is by donation, everything is given away for free.”

Volunteers are always needed for a variety of jobs, whether to help at the office weekly, or to help with short term projects. Joan Liberty and Karen Larkin make free layettes that are given to pregnant women. Other volunteers have built shelves or stained counters for Birthright’s new office.

Mary Skillan, Birthright’s treasurer, is also local director of campus ministry. Lisa Mockus, a nurse and board member, has been a dedicated Birthright volunteer for years.

Allison Collier, also a board member, began “Ambassadors for Birthright,” in which she travels and gives PowerPoint presentations. She has spoken at the House of Prayer and SUNY Plattsburgh. Students put up Birthright flyers in all of the dorms and throughout campus. They also use social media to reach vulnerable women who might consider abortion.

Information packets with magnets were made up by Deb Van Brunt, another board member, and given to women [at SUNY] who have been assaulted.

Fisher explained, this is “to let them know that they do have people who care about them and that you do have other choices.”

“No matter what has happened to them, they are not a victim and they can move forward with their life,” Fisher said. “And it can be beautiful, even though it’s not an intended thing, something beautiful can still come out of it.”

Fisher, quoted Henry Ward Beecher who said, “The mother’s heart is the child’s classroom.”

Since moving to their new location in June 2018, Birthright has started an “Earn While You Learn” DVD program. When women choose to take these parenting classes (e.g., on potty training, looking for a child care provider, using a car seat), they earn points to select new baby items.

“It really gives them a sense of self respect that they have earned something for their child,” Fisher said. “It’s not money that they’re spending here, but it’s that they were proactive in asking for the classes, they showed up for the classes, they did the class and earned the points. It really not only gives them that boost of self-respect, but also confidence that ‘what else could I learn, maybe I could go back to school, or maybe I could get a job.’ We’re not telling them to do these things, but it just gives them that sense of not being a victim. You can do things for yourself.”

Fisher noted that “Earn while you learn” participants are paired with mentors.

“So here is somebody who is a volunteer who is taking up their own time and sharing their own experiences to speak into my life,” she said. “So, here is somebody who thinks that I am worth the time. They’re not getting paid, they don’t have their own agenda for me and what I have to do, it’s that they care about me and want to help me to do the best I can, with what I have, to be a better parent. And, in the course of it, there may be other volunteers who take interest in them and their babies. And it really is beautiful.”

The first mom to go through the program had never held a baby before, Fisher shared. Now, she is confident and a part of the Birthright community, and she wants to mentor other women.

Fisher explained that Summerhill felt Birthright “could be a vocation for a woman who maybe had raised her own children and now was helping other women to raise theirs.”

Birthright is aided by a number of groups, parishes and organizations.

“We get support from the groups I mentioned like the Catholic Daughters, the Altar Rosary, the Knights of Columbus, and then the parishes and then the other churches,” Fisher said.

Birthright is also supported by many denominations in the area, including Wesleyan, Church of the Nazarene and Assembly of God, who help out with donations and projects.

The “Change for Life” baby bottle drive was a success, and Birthright is grateful for the support of Catholic pastors as well as the many other area churches who participated. Other groups interested in assisting with the drive may should contact Birthright.

Birthright’s new office is located at 50 Clinton St., Plattsburgh. For more information, to make a donation, or volunteer, please contact: 518-563-4300.


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