September 1, 2022 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Director Sheila Calhoun (right) and fellow volunteer Laura Payne stand outside Birthright of Owensboro on August 11, 2022. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

Supported by ‘extensive’ local network, Birthright of Owensboro fosters ‘lifelong relationship’ with women in need


Listening to women’s stories and offering non-judgmental support – that’s why Birthright of Owensboro was founded, and that’s what their mission continues to be nearly 40 years later.

“Birthright is called ‘a friend in need,’” said Sheila Calhoun, the pregnancy resource center’s director. “Every person is different: someone might need diapers, someone might need formula, someone might just need to cry and have someone listen.”

Calhoun became the nonprofit’s director in spring 2022, following the retirement of previous director Terri LaHugh after 22 years.

Calhoun said Birthright offers many resources for women facing an unexpected pregnancy amid challenging circumstances. Everything is provided free-of-charge.

“Birthright offers pregnancy tests and maternity clothes,” said Calhoun. “We also have formula, diapers, infant, toddler, and children’s clothing usually up to about size five or six. Birthright also has breast pumps, bottles and sippy cups.”

She said Birthright International was founded by Louise Summerhill in Canada in 1968 to help women facing unplanned pregnancies. Since then, their mission has spread to the United States and Africa.

Birthright of Owensboro was originally located on the campus of Sts. Joseph and Paul Parish in Owensboro and moved to their current location on W. 7th Street – next to St. Stephen Cathedral’s parking lot – about 12 years ago.

Calhoun said Birthright has no income requirements for receiving services, and that they are 100% volunteer-run, confidential, donor-supported, ecumenical, non-political, do not lobby and take no government funding.

She said Birthright is available “for all the stages of motherhood – she may not need our services for a couple years and then maybe she comes back when her child is a toddler. Louise Summerhill wanted this to be a lifelong relationship with these women.”

Two signs, stating “You are always stronger than you think you are” and “Kindness counts” are seen on the mantle inside Birthright of Owensboro on August 11, 2022. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

When a client’s baby is born, Birthright gifts her with a “Shower in a Bag,” containing all sorts of new mom and baby items, since “some people don’t have friends and family with the resources to throw them a shower,” said Calhoun. They also receive afghans, quilts with matching crib sheets and burp cloths made by volunteers.

Birthright serves clients of all backgrounds and life situations.

“Sometimes we have people come who have been homeless and are setting up a new place to live,” said Calhoun. “Sometimes it is someone who has gotten out of a domestic abuse situation and left all their belongings behind.”

Birthright also keeps an extensive list of community resources to make referrals for services that they do not offer.

“If they come in and find out they are pregnant and need prenatal vitamins, ultrasounds, doctor’s care, etc., we may refer them to Care Net,” said Calhoun of Owensboro’s local medical pregnancy care center on E. 18th Street.

If a woman is homeless and pregnant, Birthright connects her with the social worker at St. Gerard Life Home, which offers housing and hospitality to pregnant, unmarried women 18 and older.

Other needs, such as rent and utilities assistance, are referred to the local St. Vincent de Paul chapter. If a visitor needs a hot meal, they are referred to the Daniel Pitino Shelter just down the street. If they need toys for their children for Christmas, they are referred to the Salvation Army or Toys for Tots.

Calhoun said if a client needs pantry staples, they are referred to the St. Stephen Cathedral food pantry or the Owensboro Help Office.

“There really is a good network in this community and diocese, and has been for all these years,” she said. “It’s amazing the generosity, the prayers and the giving through donations.”

Calhoun affirmed their “fabulous volunteers” and said they are currently seeking even more volunteers; “just three hours a week can really make a difference in a woman or baby’s life.”

Sometimes students volunteer during spring and fall break, or for eighth grade service hours. Other volunteers include retirees and homeschool families.

“There’s so much need, and it’s such a varied amount of reasons,” said Calhoun. “There’s something for every kind of volunteer.”

She said in recent months they have gotten busier “with the economy the way it is” and expects that their client base will only increase, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in its June 24 ruling of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

For their part, Birthright of Owensboro plans to quietly continue their judgment-free – and non-political – mission to anyone who reaches out.

“Our volunteers offer love, friendship, and support,” said Calhoun. “Each person who comes through the door needs that in different ways. Our job is to find out what they need and see how we can help them in a personal way.”

Birthright of Owensboro is located at 512 W. 7th St., Owensboro, KY, 42301, and is open Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-noon.

For assistance, to volunteer, or to donate, contact them at:

(270) 926-7561

Originally printed in the September 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
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