Crisis pregnancy centre celebrates 30 Years
Lara Connell CONTRIBUTOR
Image: Aid to Women Staff
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13
In 1984, Joanne Dieleman and Dick Cochrane answered the call to love when they founded one of Toronto’s first crisis pregnancy centres. Despite the difficulties they faced due to the nature of their work, their strong desire to provide aid to women and children triumphed. From this vision sprung Aid to Women, a non-profit Women’s Crisis Pregnancy Centre located in Cabbagetown.
Now more than 30 years later, Aid to Women has supported thousands of women in crisis pregnancies and saved countless lives. The mission of the charity is simple: provide information and non-judgmental support needed for mothers to make life-affirming decisions about their pregnancies. Aid to Women holds a firm conviction that pregnant mothers should never feel alone. The staff at Aid to Women accompany women throughout their pregnancies, from their child’s birth to the women’s early years of parenting, providing counselling, accommodations, and material support. The centre also provides support for post-abortion recovery. All of these services are free thanks to the immense generosity of donors and the dedication of volunteers over the years.
This beautiful work was celebrated on September 26, 2018, as Aid to Women marked its thirty-year anniversary. Each speech reflected on the organization’s proud past and looked towards a strong future. Since May of this year the centre has experienced a 120% increase in clients. This is a clear indication that women need support and are actively seeking and finding support through Aid to Women.
As a volunteer, I spent much of the evening performing various tasks. However, there was one moment during the speeches when I paused to listen. As I listened, I thought to myself how beautifully clear the image in front of me summarized the mission of Aid to Women. The room of supporters, past clients, children, volunteers, and board members of all ages and professions applauded. An elderly woman, named Anne Smythe, walked gingerly to the front of the room with her walker. She spoke about the years she spent on the street in front of the centre counselling women and encouraging them to choose life for their children. She told stories of hope but also of defeat, and of being harassed and spit on. As she spoke, there was a slideshow flickering behind her, a compilation of photos taken over the course of 30 years. These photos were full of love and life—of smiling mothers, volunteers, and the faces of precious children whose mothers courageously chose life for their children. In the midst of Smythe’s speech, a toddler began to teeter towards the front of the room. Her mother, a client of the centre, scooped her up with a smile and brought her back to her seat. This image is the story of Aid to Women. Precisely, this image embodies what that the organization’s founder, Dick Cochrane, referred to as a “labor of love.” This image exhibits the selfless dedication from past and present staff and volunteers who choose to love despite the challenges of heartbreak the work sometimes brings, and the story of the brave women who choose life for their children against the odds. And finally, this image encapsulates the stories of the children whose lives are still ahead of them.
Since beginning to volunteer at Aid to Women, I have a better understanding of what it means to advocate for love and life. Weekly, I witness how the organization treats clients like family, the way the staff and volunteers do everything in their power to support women in difficult situations, and the outpouring of support from the community. Jesus calls us to love one another as He has loved us. At Aid to Women, this means loving both mother and child.