Melinda Gardner (pictured above) was on the original steering committee when APPLE Pregnancy Care Center opened its doors in 1981. She has been with the center ever since, now serving as its Executive Director. In this paid, part-time position she does the administration for the agency and is trained in post-abortion counseling. In those past 31 years, she tells me, she as counseled hundreds of women.
APPLE is an acronym which stands for Aiding Problem Pregnancies with Love and Encouragement. The idea for the name comes from Proverbs 25:11 "Like apples of gold in a setting of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances."
The center is affiliated with Care Net, a national organization that provides training and support for many pregnancy centers. (Gardner can proudly say that she is the longest serving Care Net director in the country!) Care Net has been an important reason for the success of APPLE in Gardner's opinion.
APPLE offers free pregnancy testing in their office. We talked about the declining need for women to receive this service. Gardner pointed out that similar tests can be bought at the dollar store now. She added that many women are just using day-after pills instead of taking any pregnancy tests at all. This, of course, is a lot of chemicals for a woman to be putting in her body. Most women come to the center looking for counseling or to participate in the Earn While You Learn program, not drawn by the pregnancy test.
There is no lack of clients. Gardner estimated that they serve about 300 individuals a year, 44 in the week I visited.
One of the primary things they do at APPLE is counseling. They talk about options. They talk about the future. They talk about Jesus.
Surprisingly, adoption is not a popular topic. Gardner estimates two or three women a year will even consider adoption.
Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services in Eau Claire offer adoption services locally. Some of her clients have gone through an adoption service in Minneapolis although it is trickier working across state lines.
They do not refer people for abortions. Gardner did not know of any places in Eau Claire where they are done. Primarily, she thinks, people are going to Madison or Minneapolis for abortions
I asked about ultrasounds. An imaging business two blocks down the street offers free ultrasounds to APPLE whenever it seems helpful to a client.
Gardner explained that ultrasounds are not an instant and certain way to change a woman's heart. She pointed out that early ultrasounds, before specific, visible body parts are present, can actually work against pro-life efforts.
Gardner stated that most of her clients know and believe they are carrying a baby. Any thoughts of abortion are IN SPITE OF that knowledge.
A very powerful tool APPLE uses is counseling about "tomorrow". How will you feel after you have an abortion? How will this affect your relationships? How will this affect your physical health?
APPLE's roots are Christian evangelical, although their first office was in Sacred Heart Hospital. Their counseling topics include the spiritual needs of the client as well -- sharing Christ. Gardner says that most of her clients really are interested in spiritual help. APPLE gives out special pregnancy center Bibles.
For those who choose abortion, (clients talk about wanting to be "unpregnant") there is post-abortion counseling. This seems to be a major service provided by APPLE.
For those who choose to carry their baby, there is an innovative program called Earn While You Learn. Classes are held at APPLE and attendance earns you credits toward the “purchase” of baby items like strollers, diapers, and baby food. The list of topics covered is long and impressive. Examples include: prenatal care, bonding with your baby, toilet training and money management.
All services provided are free and you do not have to be from Eau Claire to get help from APPLE. Fathers and other family members are welcome and encouraged to participate.
I asked if they served a lot of university students. Gardner told me "We don't have a lot and we are walking distance from campus and we advertise in the Spectator and all those kinds of things . . . the university is tough. Those young women have a lot to lose by an unplanned pregnancy."
APPLE also refers to other social service agencies in the area. They do not refer for abortions. They do not refer for birth control and do not provide it.
Their funding is all from donations. None comes from the government. As mentioned before, APPLE pays money to Care Net. They do not receive any money from them.
There are five part-time paid staff members and many volunteers. The office in Eau Claire consists of a small conference room, two - three counseling rooms, a waiting room, office, and some storage areas downstairs for baby items for the Earn While You Learn program. The building is shared with other offices (see picture above).
As of the writing of this article, there is some beginning discussion about opening a new pregnancy center in Menomonie. APPLE has offered to help, if requested.
Respecting Life >
A Visit With Melinda Gardner
Executive Director of APPLE Pregnancy Care Center
2600 Stein Blvd., Eau Claire
April 20, 2012