July 17, 2013

Families Preserved, Lives Changed Forever!
An Interview With Carolyn Espina of the New Life Center for Family Preservation

Carolyn Espina
It is with great joy that I introduce the person I’m featuring today at Adoptee Restoration, and make all of my readers aware of the organization/ministry she leads. Today I am blessed to interview Carolyn Espina, Founder and Executive Director of the New Life Center for Family Preservation in Lakeland, Florida. 

I was privileged to meet Carolyn for the first time in person, as a mutual friend introduced us at a conference we both attended. I was so excited to hear about what she and her organization are doing and can't wait to get this interview started...

Deanna:   Carolyn, as I understand it, the New Life Center for Family Preservation is a relatively new endeavor. However, I realize it didn't happen overnight. So, can you start by sharing your background and how you came to having this dream in your heart of starting the center?

Carolyn:  As far as my background, I am adopted.   I graduated from Southeastern University with a degree in Human Services in December 2009. My husband is an Assemblies of God  licensed minister and newly appointed US missionary appointed to Special Touch Ministry, reaching persons with disabilities.

In 2006 I attended a CUB (Concerned United Birthparents) retreat on the West Coast of Florida with my adopted brother, Dan. At the retreat I heard story after story from birthmothers who wished they had gotten more support during their pregnancies. They were coerced into giving their children up due to lack of funds, their young age, lack of education, being unmarried, etc. One night after spending hours talking with one birthmother, I went back to my room, and God dropped this plan in my mind and in my heart. I called my husband that night and told him what I felt like God called me to do.

Deanna:  Wow! Powerful. So, after coming home from the retreat you began to formulate plans for the center?

Carolyn: He clearly gave me a 3 part plan: education, preparation, and implementation. We had our first informational meeting for the center in June or July of 2012. We formed a board, became incorporated and applied for our 501c3 by last August of 2012.   

Baby Jayden, most recent baby whose family was preserved through NLCLakeland!
Deanna:    Carolyn, I remember the first night you and I connected. After our mutual friend introduced us, you explained what you were doing with the center and your vision and dreams for more. I asked you several times to clarify that it was a center for preservation. I was surprised that it had nothing to do with adoption and was all about preservation!  Simply because I had never met anybody - yet - who was actually running an organization or ministry  exclusively devoted to preservation. Most pregnancy care centers are focused on adoption, but speak very little to nothing about preservation. So I kept asking you, “So....you are 100% about preservation?” and you kept responding yes, yes, yes…preservation!

I want to clarify up front for any readers who might be wondering...the purpose of the center is to support pregnant women and teens – meeting their spiritual, emotional & tangible needs and is exclusively about preservation. Do you help both pregnant women and those who have already given birth and are struggling? Describe for us exactly what you provide, or what you hope for provide, for the women and their children.

Carolyn:    April 2013 marks the one year anniversary of when this ministry became an official organization - and not just a vision in a notebook. We have a long way to go, but these are some of the successes of the first year:

We have served 8 clients. Worked over 95 direct contact hours with clients. Drove over 300 miles while working with clients providing transportation to over 20 appointments to; the Pediatrician, Health Department, OBGYN, Social Security office and more. Provided Doula services to 2 clients during their baby's births. Distributed over 300 baby and maternity items to clients including a crib, pack n play, highchair, bouncer seat, clothing, toys, supplies and over 20 packages of diapers and wipes.

We participated in 2 community outreach events where we met 16 pregnant women who were in need. One of them is currently homeless and also deaf. Another mother reached out to us on behalf of her 15 year old pregnant daughter. We are currently working to obtain items for the additional 8 pregnant clients we met at the last outreach event. The need is great, but we are willing!

 The local pregnancy center called me and asked me to be a Doula (birth coach) for a young lady who was one of their clients who was going to be induced and had no one to go with her. I drove her to the hospital, stayed throughout her entire induction, and was blessed with the opportunity to go with her into the operating room when the delivery took a scary turn and she needed to have a c-section.

It was a busy first year and we've accomplished a lot even since the first year has passed, these success statistics have increased. But mostly, we feel blessed to be able to provide what little we can to help pregnant women in need within our own community.

Pottery piece that inspired New Life Center for Family Preservation logo. 
[Carolyn says the inspiration for the center's logo came to her four years ago. She made this in pottery class in college and wants to put it in the office in the center one day.]

Deanna: These are some amazing successes for a first year. What are your immediate goals as well as future dreams?

Carolyn: Because we don't have a facility right now, we are working with needy pregnant women and girls as we meet them. Our ultimate goal is an actual living facility - a place for the girls and women to live.   We desire a safe place for these girls and women to come and live in a supervised environment where they can receive spiritual, emotional and tangible support throughout their pregnancy and beyond.

 Our vision is to have a maternity home that would serve as a family style living situation with a paid housemother supervising the home and residents. This home would be open to pregnant women and teens. We'd also like to allow teen moms who have recently had their babies, but find themselves homeless to live in this home like setting.

Older women (18 and up) would move into a transitional housing facility after their baby is born - where they would still be supervised but not as much. Something like an old hotel or duplex type apartments would be perfect for this type of facility.

There are plenty of facilities that will help a girl out with money and apartment rent while they are pregnant - with the intent of taking their baby from them after birth! That's coercion and we aren't about that!

Deanna: That’s evident. I’m so excited about what you all are about. Are there any other success stories you’d like to tell us?

Carolyn:  Our first client, Lee, celebrated her daughter's 1st birthday this past May 5th. We met Lee when she was pregnant and the baby's father had left her. She wasn't homeless, but she lived paycheck to paycheck and had no transportation. I took her to appointments and helped her get baby items that she needed. Lee is a beautiful young woman - and her daughter is a blessing from God. We're still working with Lee. She is doing better financially, is in a stable relationship, and has found transportation. She's also pregnant again!
Carolyn holding Giana, with Lee, her mother
We recently gave a young lady a complete baby layette. She was a former drug user and  graduated from a drug rehab program only a few weeks before her baby boy was born. We wanted to bless her with the baby items because she had absolutely nothing. We are currently working on getting her connected with a mentor in her local area, of Avon Park, Florida.

 On Easter weekend we participated in a local outreach event that our church was sponsoring. We met a young woman there that was six months pregnant and deaf. I sign a little bit...that's a plus. She told us that she was currently living in a tent in the woods close to where the outreach was. She had no prenatal care to speak of, no place to live, no baby items, no job, etc. She does receive SSI for her disability. I took her to doctor appointments, Social Security office, food stamp office, etc. We were able to help her get into a small apartment. We were also able to help her furnish the apartment due to the generosity of many people! She had her baby on June 18th and has been able to keep her child - because she has the support she needs. We continue to support her. Since then I began bringing her to church and introducing her to other women there. We have been showering her with God's love and mercy. There is so much more to this story, and it's ongoing -- but it has been our biggest win yet!

Deanna:  That is a HUGE win! It makes me so excited I could just run around this room and shout! Needless to say,  I am sooooo very excited about what you and the center are accomplishing. I know the adoptee and first mother community are an amazing force and they will want to help if just given the details. So that's part of what I want to do in this interview, is give them information on how they can help.

 So...how can they help?  

Carolyn:  Several ways.  First, pray for us. We need your prayers! We want to reach these women and babies, for God. Sometimes this work is challenging but it is so rewarding! 

Second, donate financially. It takes money to reach them, and keep them together.  We are praying for a substantial donor who has the ability to donate a large sum of money, property, or some form of this type of help so we can open the doors to a facility and start helping more women.

We have several great fund raising opportunities as well! Compassion120: 120 women donating $120 over 12 months - has the potential to raise over $14,000 a year! Participants receive an NLC logo item (t-shirt, mug, etc.) and are invited to an exclusive tea party. (This is a ladies only fundraiser.) 

Another way to help is to do a baby bottle fund raiser. We provide the bottles, you fill them with lose change, dollar bills or checks.

Jayden, the center's youngest donor who gave his favorite books and toys.
Third, we accept donations of all type of household items but mostly baby items like clothing, diapers, and supplies as well as maternity clothes. We plan to have a "Junk for Jesus" yard sale soon. And our annual banquet is coming up again in November.

Deanna: If people want to donate, how do they do that?

Carolyn:   Those who would like to partner with us in helping these women and their children can give secure donations on our website, or send a check, to the New Life Center for Family Preservation,  516 Lake Bonny Drive East, Lakeland, Florida 33801 

Deanna: Anything else you’d like to share as we close today?

Carolyn: I would like to say that we did a lot of research into what services other organizations are providing in our county. And we found that NO ONE ELSE is serving homeless pregnant teens.  They are falling through the cracks and they are so vulnerable! Many of them want to at least try to raise their child...but feel like they don't have what they need to do it. We want to stand in the gap for them and give them and their child the chance that they deserve. To stay together and overcome difficulties!

Adoption is a permanent solution to what are most times temporary situations!

Let me clarify...one organization accepts pregnant teens...but they have only had 1 in the last 9 years. Polk County has the largest Teen MOPS group in the entire United States…over 70 girls. That's teen moms who are in need! And the ladies in charge of that program wrote me a letter stating that they hear about homeless pregnant or newly mothering teens in our County on a weekly basis. The problem is bigger than people think!

Deanna: I agree, and you and the center are actually doing something to address the problem. In addition to sharing with readers how to pray for you and the center, donate and get involved I also want to ask them to “like” the center’s Facebook page and spread the word. It’s important to bring awareness so people know you’re there and can come alongside to do all they can to help. 

Carolyn, it's been such a pleasure to interview you today, to introduce you to the readers at Adoptee Restoration. And, I look forward to personally partnering with the center in the days ahead, to help reach it's goals and impact this generation and the generations to come. 

*All photos used by permission of New Life Clients, Carolyn Espina and the New Life Center for Family Preservation