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Pregnancy center celebrates 20th anniversary

| Saturday, June 2, 2007

When Marge Ripepi founded the Connellsville chapter of Lifeline of Southwestern Pennsylvania 20 years ago, she did so because she saw a need to help pregnant women who needed direction.

Twenty years later that need is still there, she says.

"Back then there was a high rate of teen pregnancy in Fayette County, and I really saw a need for a pregnancy crisis center," Ripepi said.

The pregnancy center -- now called Alternatives.Yes -- will have a prayer breakfast at 9 a.m. June 9 at the Calvary Assembly of God Church, 1316 S. Pittsburgh St., to celebrate the center's 20 years of operation.

The center has evolved in many ways during the past 20 years -- from its location and name change to the individuals that it receives. The first year of operation, the center received about 120 visits. Today that number exceeds 400 visits a year.

The center initially was located was a donated space on the first floor of the Scottdale Bank & Trust in Connellsville. After about seven years, the center outgrew the space and moved to the second floor of the building for another four years. The center moved to North Pittsburgh Street for seven years. About a year ago, the organization moved to its present location at Frank Gallo Lane.

Ripepi attributes the center's success to the many volunteers as well as the creation of a full-time paid director's position in 2003.

"I'm not surprised at the success we've had," she said. "I always said that we needed someone who could be there working on a daily basis and Andrea (Pritts) does a great job. It makes a big difference when the same person is there three days a week. But over the years we've also had over 100 volunteers who have really helped to run and keep the center open. If it weren't for them, it would have closed a long time ago."

Pritts, the director, says the center is successful because of Ripepi.

"Marge has put her heart and soul into the center, and it wouldn't be there if it weren't for her," Pritts said. "She did the job duties of a director without the praise, without any money and with much less resources than we have now, for almost 15 years, and she did it while raising four children and finishing her master's degree."

Pritts said the creation of her position has allowed the center to have longer hours and to do more networking, which has made the public more aware of the center.

"Since I was hired, the center has been able to implement the Earn While You Learn Pregnancy & Parenting Education Plan, where moms and dads earn 'baby bucks' to purchase the items they need for their baby," Pritts said. "The program has become popular and opened a new dynamic to our center. Whereas we never had male clients in the past, now 25 percent of our clients are males. Having young males, usually from disadvantaged backgrounds, learn positive parenting skills is a tremendous benefit and asset to our community."

She added that while the center has seen an increase in clients, the county has seen a decrease in abortions.

"I believe we played a role in that," Pritts said. "It's no coincidence that abortions dropped so much during the time when we drastically increased our clients served. Young women are seeing that they do have alternatives to abortion, and that there are people to help them face a crisis pregnancy."

The center's main clients are those in a crisis pregnancy situation, but anyone can come in for a free pregnancy test.

Those who don't have insurance can get a proof-of-pregnancy form at the center to apply for medical assistance.

The center workers can talk to individuals about their options and refer them to other resources, including adoption agencies.

Anyone with a baby can come in for free baby clothes.

Ripepi said the prayer breakfast will celebrate the center's many volunteers.

"We want to pray for the Lord's blessing and give thanks for all that He's given us," she said.

Anyone wishing to attend can call the center at 724-628-5555 for more information or for reservations. Cost is $12 for adults and $6 for children. Current and past volunteers for the center will receive free admission.

Reservations are required, because the event is catered.

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