Recent changes include switching its name in 2016 from Alpha Women's Center to its more inclusive moniker that does a better job of reflecting the services it provides to both women and men; the purchase of an ultrasound machine that affords sharp images of unborn babies at its earliest months of development; adding a volunteer medical staff; and as of July 12 of this year a new, larger location, complete with a remolded interior that conveys an open, bright and welcoming vibe.
What remains the same are the General Education Development and English As A Second Language classes; providing car seats and pregnancy tests; its Earn While You Learn program that allows clients to discuss basic parenting skills with a client advocate and earn "Alpha Bucks" redeemable in the Alpha Store; providing baby clothes and childcare services for parents enrolled in classes; providing accurate information about the stages of pregnancy; and when necessary, reversing the intended results of the abortion pill (formally known as Mifepristone, or RU-486).
The beginning of everything
Key to its mission is reflecting Christ's love without attempting to arm-twist women to keep their babies, said Christa Wetzel, executive director of AFCL.
That's why the first word of its name is "Alpha" — the first letter in the Greek alphabet, and which signifies Jesus is the beginning of everything.
"From a spiritual level, we as believers are to be the salt in our communities, we're to be the light and the source of truth and we have to be ready to handle these situations as Christ would," said Wetzel.
"Christ did not say to the woman at the well, you've been married multiple times, you've made bad choices, be on your way. No, Christ sat down with her and said, 'I know what you've done and I'm going to walk with you.' And that's what our approach has to be for women who find themselves pregnant. I don't affirm their behavior by finding them pregnant but I'm I love them regardless."
From 'women' to 'family'
AFCL was launched as a satellite center of Alpha West Michigan in 2006 but then the pregnancy centers under its wing formed separate 501c3 nonprofits. The Lowell location at the start was dubbed Alpha Women's Center.
But when you're trying to encourage men to be a part of making pro-life decisions, seeing a nonprofit with "women" in its name isn't as effective as calling it "family."
"We saw the need to meet the needs of fathers with the decision making process for life and, moving forward, to training parents to be healthy parents and healthy fathers," said Wetzel. "It was heavy on my heart that a man is not going to come into a center that is a women's center. We chose family because it is a big part of what we want to do. We want to build up the family."
New ultrasound machine sends message
Wetzel smiles. AWCL was able to purchase with the help of fraternal service organization Knights of Columbus a $36,000 for the ultrasound or sonogram machine (3-spatial dimensions plus 1-time dimension) that shows photos of unborn babies at the earliest stages of pregnancy, plus something more.
"We don't want them to feel they're walking into a church but an organization that wants to help them," said Wetzel. "If God's Word is going to make an impact more than our words, then we want to do that."
The new ultrasound machine sends a nonverbal cue as well, according to Wetzel.
"It communicates a message to our clientele when they see new technology," said Wetzel. "If they see a big, archaic machine, it sends a message you're not up to date, you don't know what you're really talking about, and you don't know what to look for. So we know visually seeing that (new machine) makes an impact that we're doing things professionally.
"To see the baby in the womb is crucial to making that life decision," added Wetzel. "They say that 75 percent of women that see their baby on the ultrasound will change their abortion determinate mind."
Bigger, welcoming location
Arguably the most visible difference with AFCL is its new location — its third — at 519 E. Main St. in Lowell, where it more than doubled its square footage from the home it rented next door, from its former 1,470 square feet to 3,587. The larger facility allows AFCL to better serve its clients.
Wetzel is heartened she tells how $40,000 alone was raised in last October's Friendship Banquet towards their annual budget (up from previous averages of $14,000) and then two days prior to Christmas a gentleman stepped forward and paid the balance of the entire building ($78,000) we then raised the balance for the rennovations.
"We own the building completely," said Wetzel.
Additional donations poured in to renovate the home that was built 150 years ago.
"What I love about (the new location) is it's very welcoming and warm and professionally done and I feel our clients will feel affirmation," said Wetzel. "We represent Christ well."