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At 40, Birthline Continues Its ‘Life-Affirming’ Mission

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO — While Birthline of San Diego’s client base continues to consist of pregnant women and families of young children, the nonprofit organization itself has entered middle age.

Birthline is celebrating its 40th anniversary and recently marked that milestone by hosting an open house at each of its two locations: Clairemont (Sept. 6) and Chula Vista (Sept. 14). Both three-hour events included light refreshments and an opportunity to tour the facilities and to ask volunteer staff about their work.

Birthline’s mission is to provide “life-affirming support and resources” to its clients — pregnant women and families with children age 6 and younger — who can visit the center once each month, said Executive Director Samantha Flather. No appointments are necessary, and clients can simply drop in anytime during Birthline’s hours of operation.

The pregnancy and family support center’s clients are predominantly low-income, with many falling below the poverty line, Flather said.

Birthline currently offers two programs: Beautiful Options, which assists women facing unplanned pregnancies, and Step Forward, which provides material assistance and case management for women who have chosen to raise their child.

The organization doesn’t provide medical services, but it does make referrals, although not for abortions.

“We are life-affirming,” Flather said of Birthline, adding that the adjective implies more than not supporting abortion, but rather encompasses “anything that helps you move your life forward.”

During their monthly visits to Birthline, clients can receive free diapers, children’s clothing, food and more, as well as referrals for everything from prenatal care, medical insurance and housing options to education, employment and assistance with addiction, domestic violence and immigration issues.

Tricia Corrao, a former executive director of Birthline who now serves as director of the Chula Vista office, is the daughter of Birthline’s founder, Catherine Ewers. Over the past four decades, Corrao said, Birthline has seen many “amazing miracles” as it has worked to address the pre- and post-birth challenges that lead women to contemplate abortion in the first place.

She said Birthline is there “to get them back on their feet, get them out of ‘survival mode’ and into ‘living mode.’”

Jeanne Hansen, a retired public health nurse who serves as director of the Clairemont office, describes Birthline as “the best-kept secret in San Diego” by virtue of its high volume of clients from underserved communities.

“We’re not here just to give handouts,” Hansen said. “We’re here to have a conversation about how we can make your life more self-sufficient.”

In 1979, Birthline began humbly in a church’s garage. For its first 11 years, it was known as Birthright, the San Diego branch of a Canadian nonprofit, before reincorporating as Birthline in 1990.

Today, between its two offices, Flather said, Birthline sees about 500 clients every month. However, when one takes into account the fact that many of these clients have more than one child, she said, the organization has an even wider reach: It touches the lives of about 2,000 people every month through its services.

Birthline’s existence and motivation derives from the Christian faith, Flather said, but the non-denominational organization doesn’t preach and it gives “hope, and resources, and kindness, and compassion” to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation. It is also non-political.

Hansen said that Birthline operates on an annual budget of less than $100,000 and is funded entirely through donations and events like an annual fundraising walk. In addition to money, the organization welcomes donations of baby formula, breastfeeding supplies, children’s clothing, books, toys, and other baby items.

It is also a completely “volunteer-driven” organization, said Flather, and while it currently has between 80 and 100 volunteers, it is always seeking more.

Flather, who previously worked as an attorney, remembers her first day as a volunteer at Birthline in summer 2018. The center had received a call from a local hospital about a homeless mother in need. The mother, who had given birth only two days earlier, had nothing for her child other than a spare diaper and the onesie and receiving blanket she had received from the hospital. Birthline was able to provide the mother with diapers, baby clothes and other items, as well as additional resources and referrals.

Since then, Flather has found working with Birthline to be a rewarding experience.

“Personally, professionally, spiritually, it sort of checks all the boxes,” she said. As executive director, she has the professional challenge of overseeing the business side of the operation and helping the still small organization to expand; the work also satisfies her desire to be involved in charitable endeavors and has played a role in her own spiritual journey.

At age 40, Birthline is making “a lot of changes,” Flather said. This includes plans to launch additional programs and to make itself better known so that it can assist even more mothers and families.

Reflecting on Birthline’s 40-year legacy, Flather said, “I think it shows the need in the community, that the work that we do is meaningful and that it matters.”

For more information, visit www.birthlineofsandiego.org.

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