ALBANY -- Nearly two decades ago, the ministers of Sherwood Baptist Church recognized that women in the community facing pregnancy needed a place to go.
Until that point, that need had gone unfulfilled. The Alpha Pregnancy Resource Center, based across the street from the church on Whispering Pines Road, now sees hundreds of girls each year.
The center offers free pregnancy tests, which are self-administered.
"The girls come in and we talk to them, and we do the test," said Executive Director David Smith.
Counseling and education services to women facing motherhood are also offered. In order to keep a fresh perspective on how to help clients cope, volunteers connected with the ministry undergo constant training.
"We do training every April, and it's open to any lady who wants to learn about these issues and how to help," Smith said.
Volunteers at the center are involved with four of the area's churches, Smith said.
One of the education pieces includes what those working at the center refer to as the "Earn While You Learn" program, which is designed to help clients continue investing in their future.
"We've been able to help girls get their GED," Smith said. "We encourage them to get out of the cycle; we help them get more self-worth."
Participation in the EWYL program and completion of outside assignments earn clients the "money" they need to acquire items at the center's store, where some of the basic items for baby care, such as diapers and formula, are available.
"We focus mainly on the first 12 months of the infant," Smith said.
The ministry purchases the items in the store from area retailers and the local food bank. The EWYL sessions are held on a monthly and weekly basis.
"We like for them to come weekly," Jean Phelps, a retired banker and two-year volunteer with the program, said.
Smith has been involved with the ministry since 2007. That year, the center saw 90 women. The next year, 187 clients walked in the door. Last year, 287 people sought out the ministry's services.
"(The center) has helped us build a relationship with these ladies," Smith said. "It has helped them get their feet on the ground."
Clients who have walked through the center's doors come from all walks of life.
"We see a variety of people from ages 14 to 40, and each of their needs is different," Phelps said. "We counsel them on any of their needs."
During the 2005-2006 time frame, roughly 70 percent of babies in Dougherty County were born to single mothers. In the minds of the ministers at Sherwood, that shows the need of the center.
"The initial motivation was that (Sherwood Senior Pastor) Michael Catt saw a need to address the issue," Smith explained. "The motivation is still the same."
Last year, there were 183 pregnancy tests performed at the center, 83 of which turned out to be positive. Eighty-nine were negative, and eight were inconclusive. There were 96 clients attending classes, and 18 volunteers were active in the program.
One-on-one counseling services are offered for those considering adoption, abortion or have had an abortion in the past.
"If you sat in on the counseling sessions, you would see the need (for the program)," Phelps said. "There are so many young mothers that have no idea what they are getting into."
The educational materials, in the form of DVDs and pamphlets, are used by volunteers at the center to help clients better understand what to expect.
"We try to inform people in the community about pregnancy choices and issues," Smith said. "We share the facts with them about their bodies."
The materials also help them to become more mature parents, Phelps said.
"We have DVDs on discipline on children up to 24 months," she said.
Phelps, who serves as the volunteer coordinator, said the work she does is very fulfilling.
"When I first came in here, I didn't think you could do this, but you can," she said. "I enjoy it tremendously. It makes you think you have something to offer. I think everyone needs to feel needed."
The center has been in its current location for 10 years, and it may be facing another move before the year is out due to a lack of expansion space.
In terms of growth, the center may also see some improvements in technology. The ministry is looking into the possibility of getting an ultrasound machine.
"It's been a vision for years," Smith said. "I don't have all the information at this point."
The center is currently open on Monday from 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m., and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Everything at the center is free. No appointment is necessary.