August 24, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
Options for Women in Sauk Centre is getting ready for their annual Evening for Life gala Saturday, Sept. 9, and this year, they need more community support than ever now that the state is no longer doing so.
“It’s a big deal for us,” said Mike Weisser, a member of the Options for Women board. “We’re scrambling now. We hope we can keep doing this, but I think God is going to take care of it. God willing, we’re going to be able to do it, but in the meantime, we’re fretting a little bit.”
Options for Women, affiliated with Elevate Life in St. Paul, was founded in Sauk Centre in 2004. Originally named the Central Minnesota Lifecare Center, they changed the name around 2014 so they would not be mistaken for a medical clinic.
“We spend more time talking to women when they do find out they’re pregnant, giving them options,” Weisser said. “Of course, we’re anti-abortion, there’s no doubt about that. … We really want to help (women) to not get that abortion and give them all kinds of options.”
Minnesota began giving out Positive Alternative Grants in 2006, which Options for Women began receiving in 2012, the same year Colleen Cianflone became the organization’s director.
“(Positive Alternatives) was a bipartisan bill,” Cianflone said. “Democrats and Republicans voted for it, and it was to help us give an alternative to abortion, to help women decide to not have an abortion and to support them for years.”
Options for Women used to receive $38,000 a year from the state, which would make up over a third of their annual budget. The funds were used to buy clothes, diapers, baby food, formula, cradles, car seats, client education and more.
The new state legislature, though, has voted to end Positive Alternative Grants. Cianflone attributes the loss to Planned Parenthood financially supporting Minnesota legislators, as well as Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison who, in August 2023, placed a consumer alert on crisis pregnancy centers, claiming they provided misleading information about abortion and contraception and often did not provide services they claim to offer.
“Most of what we do is help poor people,” Cianflone said. “Social Services sends people here, so the government is not giving them everything they need.”
In 2022, Options for Women had 90 distinct clients, totaling about 1,000 visits and online education logins. About 80% of Options for Women’s clients are single women, some in long-term relationships. Some come in for pregnancy tests, STI testing and treatments, ultrasounds and baby items, and others are there for life coaching, spiritual counseling and other education. Options for Women has two registered nurses and an ultrasound technician but does not charge clients for their services.
“They have to do education to earn ‘mommy dollars’ to get our material goods,’ Cianflone said. “They learn a lot, and they all like the lessons. It’s on prenatal care and parenting, and we try to do a lot of relationship (counseling). … We help people find jobs, help them get health insurance, help them do a lot, not just the material goods.”
Clients most often hear about Options for Women through friends or relatives, followed by the organization’s website, social media presence, signage and referrals from social workers at area hospitals.
Without the grant from the state, Options for Women needs community support more than ever, but they have not found many in the area who know who they are and what they do. The support they need is not only financial; people are also welcome to donate children’s clothing and other baby items, and while they cannot accept used cradles or car seats for safety reasons, they can take new ones.
Options for Women’s primary fundraiser is their annual Evening for Life gala, which is being held Saturday, Sept. 9, at Diamond Point north of Sauk Centre. Social hour begins at 6 p.m. with dinner at 7 p.m. The evening’s program features a talk from Emily Albrecht, director of education and outreach at the Equal Rights Institute and a member of the board of directors at Cradle of Hope, an organization providing financial and material assistance to families and pregnant women. A free will donation is taken for admission.
Now, without the state support Options for Women is considering holding another event in the spring.
“We are also talking to our local churches, more than we have in the past, asking for help from the pastors,” Weisser said. “There are lots of different ways we have to start looking at to raise money.”
For Cianflone, the most rewarding thing about Options for Women has been getting to know her clients, watching them change their lives for the better and seeing their babies.
“One girl was at the Planned Parenthood in the cities, and she didn’t really want to do it,” Cianflone said. “She called her friend, who told her about us, and she came to our center. Another girl – we’re going to read her testimonial at the Evening for Life – she was on drugs, she wanted an abortion, but her mother was begging her not to do it. … The baby’s four and a half months old, and she’s clean for a year.”
As a board member, Weisser is glad the organization is helping women choose their children instead of abortion.
“I joined the board strictly because I want to be part of a group that is helping women so they don’t get an abortion,” Weisser said.