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'She's my true blessing'

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published May 9, 2007


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Michelle Sisk will celebrate her first Mother's Day this weekend with her 10-month-old daughter, Felicia. It'll be a festive occasion that almost wasn't. Sisk, 35, says she had every intention of having an abortion - until God stepped in. "She's my true blessing from God and I tell her all the time, " Sisk said this week.

Sisk travels around the county to share the joys of motherhood at churches and Christian schools on behalf of the Pregnancy Center of Pinellas County, which provides free services to women dealing with unplanned pregnancies to discourage them from having abortions.

Sisk will join hundreds of other Pregnancy Center supporters Saturday for the nonprofit's annual Walk for Life, which aims to raise at least $400, 000.

Members from 110 Pinellas County churches are expected to participate in the 2-mile walk that will take place simultaneously from three sites: Indian Rocks Baptist Church in Largo, Countryside Christian Center in Clearwater, and the Friendship Trail Bridge across Tampa Bay.

* * *

When Sisk found out she was pregnant, her first reaction was panic.

"I made an appointment with the abortion clinic the next day, " she said, but the doctor didn't see anything and she was told to return in a couple of weeks.

"I left and I was crying. I just wanted to die, " said Sisk, who used to work as a chemist for the pharmaceutical industry.

A visit to an obstetrician two weeks later showed a fetus, she said.

"I know that God hid my baby that day" at the abortion clinic, said Sisk, who attends Calvary Chapel in Pinellas Park and now wears an abstinence ring.

Sisk said the Pregnancy Center supported her when she needed it most. "They were the only people that were nice to me about having the baby, " she said.

Stacy Pickhardt, 27, who now works as a medical assistant for Breath of Life, a new arm of the organization that includes a birth center, also got help when she faced an unexpected pregnancy.

"I was a mess. I had no goals, no future, " she said.

The organization helped her to return to school and has given her a job. Her son, Elijah, is now 4.

* * *

Mother's Day weekend is an opportune time for the Walk for Life fundraiser, said Sol Pitchon, president and chief executive officer of New Life Solutions, the new name for the Christian agency that includes the Pregnancy Center and other services.

"I tell people that my mom survived the Holocaust of World War II and God has me serving him in the Holocaust of abortion here in America today, " Pitchon said. "I have a heart for moms. This ministry focuses on moms and babies."

A regional Planned Parenthood director had never heard of the Pregnancy Center, but stressed that the only decision his agency advocates is a woman's right to choose.

"We don't try to talk them into any option, " said Jeff Struchtemeyer, director of volunteer services for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

On Tuesday, Tampa Bay Planned Parenthood chapters offered free emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning-after pill, to the public.

In addition to abortion, Planned Parenthood locations offer counseling about options that include adoption and prenatal services, he said.

Gail Friedman-Barrett, who organizes the walk, stresses that it's not a protest against abortion.

"It's a way for the body of Christ to come together to celebrate life and help raise money, " she said.

Ina Mae Pierce, 77, is one of the walk's biggest supporters.

The St. Petersburg resident, who raised $10, 000 one year, remembers when her granddaughter became pregnant at 15.

Pierce said she asks everyone she knows to make a pledge.

"I have my family doctor. I have my kidney specialist, my massage therapist, my dentists. Actually, I have three dentists that are friends of mine. I have 10 doctors on the list that make pledges for me, " she said.

Pierce's 81-year-old sister, Irene Turner, also raises thousands of dollars for the cause.

"I get excited when I get the first $500 and before two days, I'm up to $1, 000. Then you have to start asking everybody you see, " she said. "I'm not ashamed, not afraid. I wear a button that says, 'Sponsor me.' And they say, 'For what?' And that's all I need. I even walked up to the mayor of St. Pete and asked him and he handed me $20."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 892-2283 or moore@sptimes.com.

If you go

Walk for Life

Saturday from three sites. Call the Pregnancy Center of Pinellas County at 216-1410, ext. 400, or go to www.iwalkforlife.com.

[Last modified May 8, 2007, 20:14:51]


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