Friends and supporters of Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Dumas filled the pastoral center of the Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church Thursday evening, March 5, for the annual Care Net Banquet. This year, in addition to feasting on steaks donated by JBS and cooked by the Knights of Columbus and listening to inspirational speeches, the attendees had a special mission: raising funds to help renovate the former Panhandle Community Services/Moore County Food Bank building on 5th Street that Care Net Executive Director Monica Sullivan hopes to soon turn into Care Net's first permanent home in Dumas.
Care Net Board of Directors President Jim Elzner told the crowd Thursday that the first phase of the renovations would include repairing the building's facade and making the large, empty space vacated by the food bank usable for Care Net. In addition, he said the organization would also like to have its own sonogram machine to make things more convenient for clients. The cost of the renovations and sonogram would be about $50,000. According to Sullivan, after expenses, Care Net raised $32,189.58 at the banquet Thursday evening.
Care Net has led a gypsy-like existence in Dumas for several years. Without a permanent home, the organization has been forced to operate out of temporary quarters, moving from place to place every few years, even as the number of clients the organization serves and the scope of the services it offers has increased. Care Net is currently operating out of the Calvary Baptist Church on Zauk Avenue.
Care Net purchased the building on 5th Street last fall, after the food bank closed and Panhandle Community Services moved to a different home. At that time, Sullivan said the floors, heating, bathrooms, and kitchen needed to be redone.
Thursday evening, guest speaker Dr. Shaun Jester, one of the obstetrician/gynecologists at the newly-reopened Moore County Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic spoke about the need for tolerance and compassion towards unwed mothers. He cited statistics from a 2015 study that indicated a majority of those women who had abortions were members of Christian churches. He said the study showed that shame and fear of the negative judgement of fellow parishioners led them to choose abortion. He called on church members to be less judgmental. "Mary was an unwed mother in society's eyes," he said. "God works through broken people."
Elzner echoed the theme of tolerance in his remarks, telling the crowd that he had been adopted in 1965. His birth mother, whom he never met, had been unwed and forced to give birth in a home for unwed mothers that was extremely judgmental. "Things are so much different now, which is a good thing," he said.
Jennifer Ford, a counselor at Dumas High School, recounted the story of a student who came to her pregnant and wanting an abortion. She said Care Net helped the student choose to carry the child to term and provided support for her during her pregnancy. Ford also said that Relationships Under Construction, an abstinence-based sex-education course taught by Care Net at DHS and Dumas Jr. High School, was "making a huge difference in the school" and had "resulted in fewer unwed mothers" among the students.
Moore County Attorney Scott Higginbotham spoke via video about the "tragedies" he sees every day in his work dealing with child abuse cases and the need for "healthy, faith-based resources" to help combat the growing problem.