The Next STEPP Celebration of Life

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Whether it is a planned pregnancy or a surprise, becoming an unexpected parent can be downright scary, especially for those struggling with the dilemma of whether to have the child or abort. The Next STEPP Life Center, located at 1210 22nd St. S., in the heart of Midtown is dedicated to helping those in need, and is the place to go when weighing the options associated with pregnancy.

Early this month The Next STEPP celebrated life at their annual fundraising gala that took place at the historic Manhattan Casino. The community showed up by the hundreds to support their cause.

For 21 years now Next STEPP has worked with members of the community, providing assistance with free pregnancy tests and services to women of all ages. Trained associates help each woman who walks through the door to come to terms with their pregnancy and provide information about the different options offered and choices available.

“We help women to heal,” said Executive Director Carole Alexander who cited that black women have abortions at over three times the rate as their white counterparts. The main goal of Next STEPP is to provide women with another option other than abortion when a pregnancy is unplanned. “We share the truth and help them to heal, but there are real people behind this.”

Next STEPP offers assistance in a myriad of ways. From pregnancy and parenting support and education classes, to referrals to other community resources, Next STEPP works with families and women to feel more at ease with the financial aspect of parenthood. Stress is eased with practical assistance in maternity and infant clothing, diapers, baby wipes, cribs, food and even formula.

Yolanda McCloud has been a volunteer at the center for the last 15 years. McCloud candidly spoke of her own struggles with abortion. Faced with an unplanned pregnancy she chose to have an abortion and has battled every day since her decision.

“I remember [laying] on the table and hearing a loud sound like a vacuum,” said McCloud who has been beating herself up for years. Although she felt the abortion was the right decision at the time, McCloud has trouble recalling the events of that day and even with post abortion counseling has trouble finding forgiveness. “Even though I know God had forgiven me for the abortion, I couldn’t get past not remembering what I did.”

Other women told their stories to a room full of nearly 250 people. Each one speaking of their own decision once they found out they were pregnant. One of the main purposes of Next STEPP other than providing classes and supplies, is to guide woman, who are on the fence on whether to keep their babies, with important information about what parenthood looks like, as well as what having an abortion looks and feels like.

Next STEPP’s Peter Mishler spoke to those gathered about his experience in parents fighting for their children. Through his work with Gulfcoast Community Church, Mishler heard the story of a young couple whose baby was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. When the news spread throughout the congregation, hundreds affiliated with the church prayed for her quick recovery.

“We would never give a second thought to the resources that went in to saving this precious baby girl,” said Mishler. “We don’t question that her life is precious and no effort too great to save her.”

But in the same week since that little baby was born Mishler says dozens of fetus’s right here in St. Petersburg were intentionally aborted. “Nobody knows their names, they were just discarded like trash,” he finished.

Next STEPP is a unique pregnancy center because it serves predominately African American communities and is located in an economically challenged area of the city. Support from churches and other organizations, as well as private individuals, has made it possible for Next STEPP to continue to grow and care for those women in need of a helping hand.

Although it has been suggested over the years that the organization move to a more visible location, Alexander refuses to relocate, instead soliciting funds to revitalize their current location. For starters, new paint now dons all the walls; tile is now present from room to room.

Prenatal care is also now offered at Next STEPP Life Center by Women’s Health Care (WHC). Each Tuesday from 2 -7 p.m., WHC offers education and gynecological services to women who feel they may be pregnant or who are already pregnant. Just recently an ultrasound machine was acquired making Next STEPP a more viable option for neighborhood women who find it difficult to travel to other parts of the city to get their prenatal care.

“We ain’t going nowhere,” said Alexander. “We are where we need to be serving.”

Future endeavors to spruce up the Next STEPP experience are new signage, a thrift store, and expansion of staff.

Perhaps Honorary Chairperson and Master of Ceremonies for the evening, Tim Krout said it best, “We can’t solve every problem; we can’t prevent every abortion here tonight, but we can prevent a few.”

With over 1400 black babies being aborted daily in the United States alone, Next STEPP hopes to show women who find themselves pregnant that there are other healthy choices that can be made.

“It’s all about families,” said Alexander, “and being able to help families become whole and complete.”

For more information about the services offered at Next STEPP log onto Nextstepp.org, or call 727-896-9119.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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