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John & Harriet Stanton

John Stanton died three years ago.

John was a founder of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, but far more than that, he was a good man. I knew of him for years, and got to know him in his final years as a fellow Pro-Life Union board member.

John and his wife Harriet helped create the Pro-Life Union as husband and wife, and its continuing mission is imbued by their insight that the Culture of Life has always been larger than any single issue—their work began in the years leading up to the consequential 1971 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, and the Pro-Life Union’s work continues to impact lives across Greater Philadelphia through its efforts for alternatives, public affairs, outreach, and education.

I joined the board in January 2012 to assist in developing the Pro-Life Union’s governance structure, along with its brand, content, and communications. The history and depth of impact of the organization over the decades continues to impress me, and reminds me of the need and importance of personal action. Putting aside the intellectual and ethical debate over how America determines the worth of human life, there will always be people in need and in situations requiring real assistance.

In just the past few years, an enormous portion of our budget has directly supported men, women, and children in crisis situations. This sort of practical charity typifies the Pro-Life Union’s culture of witness and service over fraught ideological arguments—and John & Harriet’s personal, living example continues to guide how our mission translates into reality.

It was in November 2014 that Fr. Chris Walsh announced the John & Harriet Stanton Pro-Life Union Leadership Fund, a modest way we continue to honor the Stanton’s spirit. We endowed this fund with the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, and continue to build it up. Its purpose is to support internships and training for new generations of servant leaders.

Tyhisha Hudson spoke in November 2014 about the Pro-Life Union’s impact on her family: “The Pro-Life Union was not just about preserving the life of the child. It also was about preserving family—husband and wife.”

Real communities support a robust family life, with parents at the heart of the home. It starts with a Culture of Life and is realized in practice through a real spectrum of choice.

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Board retreat

This month marks the start of my fifth year with the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia as a board member.

The Pro-Life Union is one of countless organizations across the country that came alive in the years prior to Roe v. Wade, and whose mission and scope can basically be summed up as “proclaiming the sanctity of all life.” While a lot of the Pro-Life Union’s activity centers on providing mothers and fathers with alternatives to abortion (like housing, job opportunities, financial literacy, spiritual resources, etc.) it is just as much focused on promoting the basics for strong marriages and healthy sexual experiences and how to preserve the dignity of self and others throughout life, particularly at its natural conclusion. 

As vice-chair of the board for the past few years, I’ve been grateful to be a part of the Pro-Life Union’s evolution over the past five years and a number of key changes in its structure that have equipped it for the years and decades to come. I’m also looking forward to elevating new leadership later this year. 

I’ve been wanting to put together a board retreat for the Pro-Life Union for a while, and with much of the board having been refreshed in the past few years the right moment came to try this. We held a healthy and fruitful social retreat for ~4 hours in Mount Airy, Philadelphia—specifically at St. Raymond of Penafort church, where one of our board members is pastor. Afterwards, a number of people took me aside to comment that it was a great opportunity to get to know each other better. That’s exactly what I wanted to happen, and I hope this can be the start of an annual board tradition to ensure board members know each other as human beings, rather than just as peers who come together periodically to discuss/vote on corporate issues.

Why are you pro-life? What led you to the Pro-Life Union? What do you want to leave behind? What do you think is your greatest strength as a pro-life witness? What’s your greatest weakness?

Standing up for life

The Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia celebrated its annual “Stand Up For Life” Dinner in Center City, Philadelphia last night.

This was my fifth year in attendance, and this is also my fifth year serving on the Pro-Life Union’s board. It’s a critically important organization working in four vital areas: alternatives, public affairs, education, and prayer and witness/outreach. We had about 1,300 guests last night for Karen Gaffney, our keynote speaker who riffed on her experiences as a public advocate for anti-Downs Syndrome discrimination in a society that’s increasingly breathing in a eugenics mentality. If I remember correctly, something like 90 percent of Downs-diagnosed children are terminated in utero.

Edel Finnegan, our executive director, shared some of the practical perspective of the pro-life mentality in the short video above: women deserve options and love, not just “services” rendered on a cost basis at a local clinic.

I think that’s what real freedom to choose has to be about if it’s going to be authentic rather than just a political slogan.

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Guiding Star

I’ve written about the Culture of Life, and I’ve written on the need for there to be a true spectrum of choice for men and women who find themselves pregnant with no options other than abortion. If choice means anything, there needs to be more than one viable choice in the face of a pregnancy.

Guiding Star in North Philadelphia has been providing alternative choices to abortion for women since 1992. The Christian Science Monitor explained Guiding Star’s mission in 1998 as “making motherhood an option,” and that remains a great way to describe it. Temple’s College of Public Health once highlighted the fact that “volunteers are paramount” to Guiding Star.

In a culture where Planned Parenthood is seen as the only authentic voice for family planning, Guiding Star represents a radically more authentic approach for women looking for affirmation and support.

But because the single-outcome politics of Planned Parenthood often starves authentic alternatives like Guiding Star from receiving public support, places like Guiding Star have always struggled to survive. The Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia has supported Guiding Star for many years, and we’ve always endorsed their vision, which is why their board of directors decided to merge their organization into ours to ensure not only survival, but growth. From the announcement earlier this year:

Guiding Star provides housing for expectant mothers and their children, as an alternative to abortion. This program is unique in the Philadelphia region in that it welcomes both pregnant women and their children. We are proud of our decades-long partnership and grateful for this opportunity to create an even stronger continuum of care for women and families in our city.

The Pro-Life Union regularly encounters abortion-vulnerable women through our sidewalk counseling, prayer vigils, and Pregnancy Hotline. With this change, we are already working to expand Guiding Star in several key ways:

  • Increase the number of women and children served with safe housing annually
  • Create a Family Center where Guiding Star clients in the community can receive baby supplies, gently used clothing, furniture, etc
  • Expand social services for residents and clients including counseling
  • Expand programming for residents and clients including parenting workshops, job training, and mentor support.

Why does a woman need a place like Guiding Star? It turns out, often because abortion is seen as the only option. Not by the mother, but maybe by the father, who says he won’t love her if she has the child. Or maybe by her parents, who threaten to kick her out of the house if she doesn’t abort.

These are the unacknowledged realities that Guiding Star exists to answer. I was grateful to be able to visit today for their Christmas party, and to be able to think through the future of this work.

Stand Up For Life

I spent last night in Center City, Philadelphia with more than 1,000 friends to celebrate another year in working to build a Culture of Life. This was my fourth time attending the Stand Up For Life celebration, and its 34th anniversary.

The short film above was shown during dinner and does a pretty good job capturing the work of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, which hosts Stand Up For Life.

I think the most important realization of the Pro-Life Union and groups like it whose mission concerns the Culture of Life is the realization that politics alone is not the solution to the Culture of Death that plagues this country. A focus on service to others can do more to meaningfully change hearts, and ultimately change our politics.

Service to people like Kendra—who was told by Planned Parenthood that she had a choice, when in fact they were really offering her one choice; which is no choice—are an example of that approach.

Strategic planning

I’ve got a board meeting tonight for the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia. We’re in the midst of the first strategic planning process in the nonprofit’s history, with the goal being to approve our Strategic Plan for 2015-19 at the next quarterly meeting.

It’s one thing for a nonprofit to have a firm sense of its social mission, but it’s an entirely different thing to have a specific plan for realizing that mission in a way that’s concrete and measurable. That’s where strategic planning comes in, which should be clarifying for the board as much as for staff and volunteers.

Because the Pro-Life Union strives to build the Culture of Life, most directly by supporting those making the choice for life, it possesses a mission that will always be relevant. There will always be people in unexpected situations who need tangible support, whether material, spiritual, financial, emotional, or some combination. Knowing that your organization needs to be resilient enough to live for a century or more, while still being agile enough to respond to a community’s changing needs, is helpful for guiding the strategic planning process. Every organization’s time horizon is different, but every organization should be proactive rather than reactive. Strategic planning is a hallmark or proactive organizations.

As we were drafting our strategic plan, a member of our Nominating, Governance, and Strategic Planning Committee also helped us think in terms of SMART goals to strike the balance between the extremes of goals that are either too general to be actionable, or too aggressive to be achievable. They’re SMART because they’re Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

I’ll write more on strategic planning in the future.