By B.C. Manion
Oasis, A Pregnancy Care Center, hopes to expand by this time next year, said Peter Castellani, executive director of the center in Land O’ Lakes.
“We feel that God is calling us to open up a satellite center in Wesley Chapel,” he said. The center also wants to increase services to men and launch a new program for students.
The pregnancy center, which opened in 2009 at 3632 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., offers a free array of services, including pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and information on topics including fetal development, childbirth, lactation and baby care.
It has an “earn while you learn” system, whereby women and their boyfriends or husbands can earn coupons by attending classes, reading books, watching DVDs, attending Bible study and taking part in other activities. The coupons can then be redeemed for items such as cribs, changing tables, swings, pack and plays, high chairs and toys.
“I like to say we provide everything from bibs to cribs,” Castellani said.
Since opening, the center has had more than 1,300 client visits, involving 300 families, Castellani said.
Ellie Soenksen said she had just turned 20 when she learned she was pregnant and turned to the center for help. The pregnancy was unplanned, and she and her boyfriend, Brent –now her husband — were happy, but scared.
Soenksen said she was raised in a family with strong religious convictions, and she was worried about how her parents would react. She turned to Oasis because she’d heard about the center following a previous pregnancy scare.
On the drive to the pregnancy center, the couple was concerned about being lectured. Instead, they found a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, Soenksen said.
The staff calmed her fears and offered useful advice, Soenksen said.
“They have a video about the first trimester, the second trimester, what to expect, what to eat,” said Soenksen, who was six-weeks pregnant when she began going to the pregnancy center. “I never knew that stuff.”
She felt safe at Oasis.
“It’s really easy to vent there. I explained that my parents didn’t know. No one knew because we didn’t want to get lectured,” she said.
The Oasis staff helped her understand how to talk to her parents about her pregnancy. They reminded her that she was her parents’ baby — and they would likely want to help her.
Pure Schauer — Soenksen’s mother – is originally from Spain, but now lives in Odessa. She said she had always pictured her daughter graduating from college before beginning a family. But Schaur said she’s glad the community has a place like Oasis: “I think it’s wonderful they have this program here in this country to help girls.”
Soenksen lived with her mother during the final months of her pregnancy. Her husband joined the military and was away at training. She plans to join him when he’s assigned to a base. Meanwhile, Soenksen delivered her daughter – Tiffany Scarlett – on April 9. The infant was 22 inches long and weighed 7 pounds, 15 ounces.
Many people assume that Oasis primarily helps teenage girls who have unplanned pregnancies, Castellani said. In reality, teenage girls make up roughly one-fifth of the center’s clientele. The center has helped women ranging from 14 to 42, with the vast majority in their 20s and 30s.
In some cases, women turn to the center for help out of sheer economic need, Castellani said.
Tamika Stilley, who lives in Lakeshore Ranch across from Connerton, is one of those women who simply needed some help.
She came to the center when she was pregnant with her daughter, Taylin.
Stilley already had a daughter, 3-year-old Talia, and she knew she would need some assistance.
“Something probably would have had to be unpaid, if Oasis wasn’t in the picture,” she said. “She has to eat. She has to have diapers.”
Oasis turned out to be of far greater help than Stilley expected.
She has taken classes and attended Bible studies.
“They pray with you,” Stilley said.
They also have been willing to work with her when she needed items from the center’s “New Beginnings” room and had not accumulated enough coupons.
She recalled how thrilled she was when the center gave her a car seat she desperately needed when her daughter outgrew her infant seat.
“I was like, ‘Thank you, God. I was just about to cry,’ ” Stilley said.
Castellani said Oasis does not refer women to abortion clinics.
If women inquire about abortion, the staff explains the procedure, based on how far along their pregnancy is. Oasis provides referrals to adoption agencies for women considering that option.
Besides opening a satellite in Wesley Chapel, Oasis wants to expand its services for men, Castellani said.
“We want to start ministering to men because men are half the equation. We do provide some services to men now but we would like to focus more on them,” Castellani said.
Oasis also is exploring the potential for launching a “healthy relationship” program in Pasco County Schools. That program would promote abstinence, but also teach young people how to set boundaries, how to protect against date rape and how to avoid controlling relationships.
Oasis has just four staff members – including two full-time and two part-time. It also has about two dozen volunteers.
The items given to clients come from donations or are purchased through grants.
The center is always in need of more volunteers, more donations and financial support, Castellani said.
For information about Oasis or to access its services call (813) 406-4965 or email .