After more than two decades caring for children at her home day care while their parents worked, Echoz Pregnancy Care Center CEO Bonnie Mitchell now leads efforts to care for unborn children and their mothers.
Echoz is a faith-based pregnancy medical clinic, which started 11 years ago as Life Way Pregnancy Services in a four-story Victorian house on 2nd Avenue North. The name was changed four years ago to Echoz, a reference to the ultrasounds that are used to diagnose pregnancies.
Eighteen months ago the clinic moved to a larger building that the organization owns at 1323 9th Ave. S., allowing for a chance to expand services for pregnant women and their children.
“We see patients, many of whom have hit rock bottom,” Mitchell said. “We empower them to continue on.”
Echoz Pregnancy Care Center offers an “Earn While You Learn,” program for patients. Expectant mothers and new parents who participate in parenting classes earn credits that can be used for everything from diapers to cribs and car seats. Clothing up to size 6 is offered.
“Education and support are big components of the services we offer,” Mitchell said.
Echoz Pregnancy Care Center sees 400 to 500 new patients annually and averages about 3,000 patient visits a year. There is a staff of nine and 40 volunteers, working on a $400,000 a year budget, raised exclusively from private sources.
In mid-October, newspaper columnist Cal Thomas headlined the annual fundraiser, which drew more than 900 attendees and raised more than $150,000. Donations ranged from cash to a motor home to 7.5 acres of land.
Those funds replenished Echoz Pregnancy Care Center’s coffers. The new building was purchased in part with a $200,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.
The grant stipulation was that the money could only be used for property, not to pay down a mortgage. Echoz used $36,000 from the Cal Thomas banquet and raised $114,000 during a eight-month capital campaign to satisfy the matching fund requirement of the grant. Another $75,000 for the purchase of the building came from a Gianforte Family Foundation grant.
In addition to free pregnancy testing and pregnancy diagnosis via ultra sound, Echoz Pregnancy Care Center offers support groups for women who have had abortions.
The new building, which has more space, offers opportunities to expand services.
By the end of 2017, Echoz Pregnancy Care Center plans to offer no- and low-cost testing for sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections.
“If we can reach at-risk men and women with sexual transmitted disease and infection testing, through the education component that comes with that testing, there is potential to prevent future unexpected pregnancies and the need for an abortion,” Mitchell said. “In other clinics that have implemented this, the number of patients who choose abstinence is more than 80 percent.”
Echoz Pregnancy Care Center’s patients have ranged from 11 years old to 56. Many of the patients have an annual household income of $30,000 or less.
The stories of support and success come easy for Mitchell, even though the work is tough and involves patients in hard situations.
Such as the women who was three weeks from her delivery date who arrived in Great Falls with her 3-year-old and nothing but a bag of dirty laundry in her car.
“She was fleeing an abusive situation,” Mitchell said. “We gave her a layette set, which we offer all our new moms, and she burst into tears. She finally had something to bring her baby home from the hospital in.”
In addition, the woman was able to get other items she needed for her baby and her 3-year-old from Echoz.
“And then there was the mother whose 1-month-old baby was sleeping in a dresser drawer because that was all she had,” Mitchell said. “We provided her with a playpen and then enrolled her in our earn while you learn program so she was able to get other items she needed for her baby.”
“Many times when our patients have their babies, their first stop on the way home from the hospital is here to introduce them to us,” Mitchell said. “We have patients who we’ve had relationships with for 10 years.”