Air Date: 10.16.2015
To listen to the audio file click here.
Speaker 2: Blog Talk Radio.
Connie Going: Hi. My name is Connie Going, and I am a consultant in adoption for Adoption Associates of Michigan.
Adoption Associates of Michigan is a amazing, amazing adoption agency. They are located through the whole state of Michigan. They cover Lansing, Jenison, Farmington Hill. Anywhere in Michigan, you can find a connection to Adoption Associates. They have, since 1990, done well over 5,000 adoption placements. And during that time, they have advocated, supported, nurtured, and helped families grow, as well as birth mothers through the process.
One of their commitments is this radio show. This radio show is meant to kind of put the word of adoption out there, to have frank conversations, to talk about our partners, to help educate and support adoptive families, birth mothers, just generally about what is adoption? What is domestic adoption? What is international adoption? What are the challenges that come for adoptive families? What are some things that happen with birth mothers? How can we support them better? And just having really frank conversations about what we can do to work with them, support them, and help make changes in that system.
Now today, I am waiting for someone to call in, and we are honored, completely honored, to have Colleen Geisel. She is the executive director of Alpha Women’s Center in Grand Rapids. She is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her and her husband, Scott, have spent twenty years serving Christ around the globe. After attending Cedarville University, Colleen moved to Texas where Scott was attending Dallas Theological Seminary. In 2001, they joined SEND International and served in the Asian countries until 2013. After leaving her position in Cross Cultural Missions, Colleen joined Alpha Women’s Center in March of 2014.
She is passionate about walking the walk with women through their brokenness that they experience, Christ redemption work in their lives. She currently resides in Rockford, Michigan with her husband, three boisterous children and one mischievous puppy. She is very, very passionate about giving women a wholistic approach to unplanned and unexpected pregnancies. Giving them those options. Adoption being one of those options. I’m gonna go ahead and clue her in right now.
So let’s say … Hi Colleen! How are you?
Colleen Geisel: I’m doing great this morning. How are you doing?
Connie Going: I am wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I imagine you’re in the midst of [inaudible 00:03:42] fall leaves in Michigan right now.
Colleen Geisel: It is. It’s beautiful. Fall is here and the leaves are all changing and today is very cool but very nice. We just finished last night at our annual banquet, which is a big event for us for the year. That was very successful and a very fun night. So I woke up this morning feeling incredibly good about the day.
Connie Going: Oh, that’s wonderful. Well that’s always exciting, the annual events and I know that you’re a non-profit, correct?
Colleen Geisel: That’s correct.
Connie Going: And tell us a little bit about Alpha Women’s Center.
Colleen Geisel: So Alpha Women’s Center in Grand Rapids was established 30 years ago, we’re celebrating our 30th year right now. 1985 it was birthed, and it came out of a movement that since 1973, Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal in America. There were many people that said, “We need to respond in a way that would be honoring to Christ and would allow us to walk either alongside women that are in a crisis pregnancy or also alongside women who have chosen abortion and are suffering from effects of that choice.” So we were established in 1985, and that year we were able to see 71 women. But last year, we were able to see 1200 women. So we’ve grown substantially in the 30 years. We’ve moved buildings a few times. And as of today, we have a 17,000-square foot building, which is the largest pregnancy care center square footage wise in America and probably in the world.
Connie Going: Wow, and you’re in Grand Rapids, correct?
Colleen Geisel: Yes. That’s right. We’re in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Connie Going: Wow. If I was a woman who was pregnant, and I was going to come through your doors, what would I expect? What would that feel like for me? Walk me through that.
Colleen Geisel: That’s really a great question. Last night, like I said we had a banquet and we showed a video of a couple clients who wanted to share their story to people. One thing that is very important to us as an organization is that a woman who walks through here feels compassion. She feels not judged. She feels a very comfortable and warm environment and that she feels like she’s at home, that this place is safe. So we’ve intentionally created that atmosphere.
When you walk … First of all, we’re in a very old building that’s really beautiful. It’s all brick on the outside and has big white pillars out front. It looks like a house, a very large home. You walk into the main entry way and there’s splash of teal color everywhere that’s kind of a rustic teal look that makes a really very fun and inviting … Christina is sitting at the front desk. Christina is a Hispanic woman, so she is bilingual and can serve many of the clients that come through our doors in either English or Spanish. And she just has that glow on her face and a warm smile that just says, “We’re glad you’re here.” She’s always saying, “Welcome back,” to people who are coming for a second time or so.
But women come through our doors and they’re very scared. They’re in this position where nobody wants to be. None of us would want to have a pregnancy that was not planned. And we have a lot of compassion for that story. So as the woman walks in, she’s normally fearful. She doesn’t know if she’s gonna be judged or if she’s going to be condemned for her choices and these things. But what she finds here is a lot of warmth and a lot of love. And I hear that continually from clients and I’m very thankful for that.
Connie Going: That’s great. So in the world of women and crisis pregnancies, I think that the general population may have a different perception of what a woman would experience in a setting like yours. And I wanna be really clear ’cause one of the things I really enjoy speaking to you about with the wholistic approach to supporting and nurturing women who are going through this. So tell me a little about your … some of the other things you offer women, because you don’t just talk about, “Oh, that’s a horrible choice.” Abortion. You’re about getting them all of the information.
Colleen Geisel: That’s correct. So let’s again take a client that comes through our doors. She, first of all, may find us on the website or she may give us a call. She might even wonder if we’re an abortion provider, and we’re very honest with people that we don’t provide abortion.
However, we do talk through their three options. We say, “Really, you have three choices placed before you. You can decide to abort. You can decide to carry this baby and parent or you can decide to carry this baby and place for adoption.” And we’re gonna talk through all the pros and cons of those three decisions that are before her, and with her.
A lot of women though that come to us feel that they have no choice.
Connie Going: Right.
Colleen Geisel: In fact, 65 percent of women that choose abortion, really felt like they had no choice. Either they are in poverty, they feel like economically they can’t afford it or possibly a parent or a boyfriend, a partner of some kind is trying to pressure them into abortion. So they just find themselves in a horrible situation where they don’t know what to do. So when they come to us and they say something like, “Well I never finished high school. How am I going to provide for this child? How am I going to physically get a job and things?”
We say, “Well guess what? We offer a GED completion program. So we will help you get your high school education. Then we will help you look for a job as well and build a resume and go though our job preparedness seminars. We’re gonna be here for you.” The look on her face when she hears that, ‘Oh my goodness, someone is going to help me.’ In the mean time, we’re going to provide material resources. If you come to our classes, we’re going to be able to provide you with diapers for your baby and clothes. We’re going to be able to provide you with maternity clothes so you don’t have to buy those. We’re going to be able to provide you with even larger items like pack-n-plays and car seats and then a woman might say, “Well, I don’t speak much English. I don’t have a job because of that.” Well, we have an English as a Second Language course that she can go through. She can further her education that way.
The capstone of our programs are mentoring as well. It’s just women sitting with women. Being the mom she doesn’t really have a lot of times and being that mentor that she just needs to walk alongside of her and to help her make good choices. We have a whole budgeting curriculum. It just goes on and on. We have a single moms support group where they can meet and be with other women like themselves and feel like they’re not alone. When women feel like they’re not alone, suddenly life looks really, really different for them. Their choices become much clearer.
Connie Going: Absolutely. I believe that having all your choices and knowing you have options to change your life, to provide for your family. That will impact their decision to really look at the bigger picture and not just the immediate picture.
Colleen Geisel: Thank you. That’s right.
Connie Going: And so you really give them hope. You really give them hope that their life can change. I’m imagining that you also link them up to other community resources.
Colleen Geisel: Oh, yes. We have a very large referral book. We can’t be all things to all people, and we don’t even try. But what we do try is to connect them with many, many resources, especially in this community. Every community has so many resources, and people just need to know how to find them. We invest a lot of time … Every single year, we have normally a college intern of some kind go through our referral book, call every single agency in town, make sure that we know what services they are continuing to offer. So when that client’s in crisis and she says, “I’m homeless. I don’t have anywhere to live. ” We have three or four places that she can call and we will help her call them. We will do those things alongside of her so again, she doesn’t feel alone.
Connie Going: That’s amazing. Now tell me, if a woman comes to you and she does make a decision to discontinue her pregnancy, how do you handle that?
Colleen Geisel: We had that situation happen just a couple weeks ago here. A woman was at the abortion clinic not too far from here and she had heard that we were available to help her. Typically, those people are coming to us prior to making their decision and so they’re asking for help in making that decision. She’d already made her choice and had chosen abortion. She came to our doors ’cause she didn’t have enough gas in her tank to be able to get home. The staff came to me and said, “What should we do?”
I said, “Love that woman. She’s in a very difficult spot right now.” So we took her into one of our mentoring rooms and talked her through some of the potential feelings she could have after terminating pregnancy and we talked to her about the services we could provide her, for even her other children that she already has. Then we filled her gas tank up and sent her on her way. And she is continuing to come back ’cause she found that, again, we’re not judgmental. We care bout her. Ad we want, for in general, for people to be able to not be victims anymore, to break a cycle of despair in their lives. So that again, the next time that they’re in a difficult decision, they know that there’s resources there to help them.
Connie Going: I love that story. That really, to me, sets the tone of the type of women’s center that you are. That no matter what the decision, you’re there to help, support and really empower women to make changes in their lives. I think that is just … I think that takes away the perception that some of our listeners, some people out there might have about going into a women’s center and really such an amazing resource in your state and in your area for any woman facing an unplanned pregnancy.
Colleen Geisel: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And again, I think in some ways people will want to consider an unplanned pregnancy to just be a small booboo that we put a bandaid on. When really, the person’s coming to us feeling like their arm has been chopped off. They’re in a sincere crisis at that point in their life and it’s a big decision to make. So we don’t make that out to be smaller than it is. We walk with them in that decision making process and we care for them. We care for the whole woman. Like we said earlier, it’s about wholistic compassionate, non-judgmental care that we can give to her ’cause she deserves it. She deserves someone that really cares and really wants to help.
Connie Going: That’s amazing. And you served 1200 women last year?
Colleen Geisel: We did. Yep. There were 1200 women, not including all the children who come through here for a lot of our classes. I talked earlier that we provide GED and English as a Second Language. We also provide a pregnancy education course and a parenting course. Some women that come through our center have had their children taken away by Child Protective Services. But they really want them back, so they can go through our parenting class and that’s one step in the process of getting their children back.
But for a lot of these classes we offer, we also offer child care during it. Our single moms support group that we offer child care to give the woman a break. So she can have a little bit of time with other women and she can know that her baby is safe and being well cared for at the same time in the building. She gets a free meal during that time. She has lunch with a group of ladies. In fact, that’s going on right now. The single moms support group is happening right now. And when I finish here, I’ll go down there and join them for lunch. It’s always a home-made lunch made by two beautiful women who volunteer their time. They come in and make lunch for the group. And it’s quite fun.
Connie Going: It’s great. That’s wonderful. In talking to you, I also hear that I think you’re impacting child welfare as a whole through the state because we know that a lot of children are at risk in families that are struggling, not just with poverty, but with living situations, neglect and unhealthy relationships. Those children and those families may have lost children to the system before or they may be at risk of the child that they are pregnant with, losing that child. So it’s working with women like that, that are truly on the edge, I think you really give those services that can change their lives and kind of break that cycle of having a child go in to foster care.
Colleen Geisel: You know, exactly right Connie. Nobody sets out in life to abuse their child or sets out in life to be neglectful as a mom or dad. No one wants to live with an abusive spouse. Nobody says, “That’s what I hope my life turns out to be.” And they’re just victims of circumstance, but they can find hope when they have somebody that helps them out of that. So we find that when we give women the right tools, and we give them the emotional support that they need, that they can be completely different, and our hope is that they will raise their children in a different environment than they were raised. We all know how difficult it is to make generational change. I’m sure all of our listeners here have thought at one time or another, “I’m not gonna be like my mom like that,” or “I’m not gonna be like my dad like that.” And yet, that’s exactly what we end up being. To change even the smallest things is hard.
Some of these women … We had a woman in here two days ago. Her life was completely a mess. She’s pregnant, her two children have been taken away. She’s running from her abusive boyfriend, she’s young, but her parents are both dead from drug overdose. She’s been on drugs. She’s tried to commit suicide in the past. She’s currently pregnant, and because I think she was doing drugs, her baby is not growing properly right now. We looked at her and she’s just devastated. She just looked completely glazed over.
Connie Going: Right.
Colleen Geisel: And we have so much compassion for her, and we bring in a professional counselor in that situation because there’s a lot of need there in order to walk her story. As a Christian organization, we believed that Jesus can be the answer that helps people to make life changing decisions and to get out of that situation. We’ve seen it happen.
Connie Going: Right.
Colleen Geisel: We have seen people rise above that and become completely different people. And so that’s what we give them. We give them that hope and we allow them to become different people. Every once in a while we hear back … We heard back from a lady in the last couple months. She said, “I wanted to call and tell my mentor I saw her seven years ago and I was a mess and I was in a really bad situation. I was able to give birth to a child. But now I’m married to a wonderful Christian man and we’re involved in our church, and we’re also involved in our community. I have two other children and my life it just looks completely different, and I want my mentor to know.”
Connie Going: That is an amazing legacy to look at.
Colleen Geisel: It really is. It really is. It doesn’t happen for everyone, that’s for sure. You can’t … Every person that walks through our doors doesn’t experience that. But if we can help one out of ten or whatever one that really is ready to get help. If we can help her and she can make life different for herself and better, then that’s worth it for us.
Connie Going: I agree. One of the things that I really respect is that you also work with adoption and in educating women about adoption. You’ve been very proactive in working with Adoption Associates. Tell us a little bit about the new venture you have as far as setting up a station in your, I think it’s your mentoring room.
Colleen Geisel: Yeah, that’s correct. So we believe that adoption is one of those situations that a lot of people are uneducated about. They don’t realize what choices they even have within that. One thing that we do working along Adoption Associates is we want to educate women that there’s everything from an open adoption to a semi-open to a closed adoption. That they can look at the parents that are wanting children. They even have some choice in picking who those parents might be. Just to kind of open their mindset of the fact that this child could even remain in their lives, they could maybe see this child on a periodic basis.
We had a woman last year who tried to have an abortion at six months, and she was just past the time she could … past 24 weeks where it’s legal here in Grand Rapids. So she was thinking to go out of state, to go somewhere else to have that abortion done, but she came to us. She was panicking. She has four other children, and she just couldn’t imagine having a fifth.
We started talking to her about adoption and she reached out then to her brother who she normally doesn’t reach out to. Right away, her brother and his wife said, “We would love to adopt your baby. We will take that baby and we will raise that baby.” If you go to our website, alpha-w-c-dot org, you’ll actually see her story. It’s Tara’s story. She talks about how she made, she says the best decision for her son by placing him into another adoptive family and that she’s just very, very happy that she did not terminate his life but that she chose to give him a chance at life and into a home that really wanted a child and really it was a win for everyone.
So we seek to take the Taras of this world and to educate them on that, because frankly out of most women come to us do say ,”Oh, I could abort, but I could never give up my baby.” And so changing that perception of what does it mean to place your child into a loving home? Noticing that we have going really good for us is that our nurse-on staff has eight children and seven of those are adopted. So the nurse that is meeting with these women that are in these crisis pregnancies, they love her. She is so warm and friendly and everybody would want her as their mom. She’s older now. She has grandchildren. Everybody would want her as their mom. So when you meet her and you think, “Oh, if my child could be adopted into a home like that.” You know? “My child could be given those kind of opportunities, then that might be a good option.”
So it’s very … We have that going, working for us here as far as trying to help women see adoption as an option. So then Adoption Associates came to us and said, “Well we want to help promote this for you, and that is that we will put a television in the room where we meet with people who are doing pregnancy tests and then possibly scheduling ultrasounds and are contemplating their choice. So we show them all three of their choices with this video. Abortion. And parenting. And then adoption. And in the adoption portion of that slideshow, there’s actually pictures of real families here in Grand Rapids that are on a waiting list for a child so that they can see who is out there waiting right now.
Connie Going: Why not give them an opportunity, just to look at the bigger picture? You know, I think we have this … Society has this image of, that the woman just goes in, she gets the feeling that they get this scare video instead of the whole [inaudible 00:27:12] that they truly deserve. I think, just the selling that perception is so important.
Colleen Geisel: It is. And even in showing that video, we ask permission to be able to show that to the woman. We’re not going to do anything that she is not asking for. So that’s very important to us, because ultimately it is a woman’s right to choose in this country, and she does have a legal choice and she is the decision maker. That baby’s not the decision maker. That baby has no choice, but she does. So we want to help her in that regardless …
Connie Going: You’re giving [inaudible 00:27:57] Colleen, and giving her all the information. Really, I think just really goes again to the fact that you truly care, because if there are places, and you know, in [inaudible 00:28:12] if you go to certain places that do so abortions, you’re not going to hear about adoption. I don’t know that women understand that and it’s … What I really, really admire is that as a woman I can go in and see every option available to me, and I can talk to other women that have had similar situations and choices. Then I can go back and without feeling pressured can make the decision that’s right for me.
Colleen Geisel: Yes, and that’s exactly right. We want women to be informed on all the options and feel like they are empowered to do what’s best for them. Again, the client that we were able to show her video last night, she even said that her boyfriend was saying, “I don’t want to be a dad. You need to have an abortion.” And so sent her to the clinic with the money, and she said, “This isn’t right for me.”
When she came here, she was scared, but she sat with us and she went back to her boyfriend. She gave him his money back and sure enough, he left. So that was a very difficult choice to make, and I feel our heart is just very much compelled to helping her. But she says now, “Alpha Women’s Center has become the family that I need. They’re the support I need.” We’re truly more supportive, because the boyfriend only wanted what he wanted. He didn’t really care about what she wanted or what was best for her or for her baby or her body. He just wanted his agenda pushed forward. We’re here to support her and her decision with both of her children now. She has two. The other thing is that it’s important for the listeners to know that centers like ours, in no way profit from what a woman chooses.
An abortion clinic profits from a woman’s right to choose abortion, but all of our services are completely free and completely confidential. So we have nothing to profit from that. So, it allows us to be unbiased that way.
Connie Going: And on top of that, you’re non-judgmental. I think that’s the word I want to put out there is that these women are already feeling judged by their immediate family, by the world, by what’s going on and you give them that place where they can make that decision with all the information and not be judged but loved.
Colleen Geisel: That’s exactly right. In our training for mentors, we talk about how many of us have ever felt judged. And certainly all of us have felt judged before. We pose the question, “How many of you have ever walked into school or church or some environment where your kids are acting up or acting a mess and you feel judged by everyone around you because of that?” All of us feel that way if we’re parents. “How many of you have ever felt judged because you walked in late to a meeting? People didn’t know why you were late to that meeting, and you couldn’t really say why you were late to that meeting, but you felt judged because of that?”
Feeling judged is awful. We don’t want to feel that way. Frankly, all of us either make mistakes or find ourselves in difficult positions, even some of the women that come to us … Two women recently were raped and became pregnant. So that, again, wasn’t even their choice, but they’re still pregnant. Then they still have a choice, there’s still a situation that they need to deal with and we walk with them through those. Those type of very, very difficult situations. Again, without judgment, and yet with an idea, too, that there can be hope, even in the most desperate situations.
Connie Going: I like that. I really like that.
As we move forward and move into conclusion, I want you to tell us just a little bit about yourself, Colleen, ’cause I just think you’re an amazing woman and your life is fascinating. So tell us a little bit about yourself.
Colleen Geisel: Aw, that’s sweet of you to ask. I’d say I’m rather ordinary, but I guess I’ve had some extraordinary experiences in my life. I am from Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is where my family and my husband’s family live now. For the last twenty years, we’ve been living all around the globe. I went to college in Ohio, and then we went to a seminary in Dallas. Then, my husband and I moved overseas and were able to serve in three different countries in Asia doing lots of different things. Primarily, I helped place English teachers all over China and different areas of Asia. So to be able to impact that culture in that regards and to help people to be able to further themselves and better themselves. A couple years ago, we felt called to bring our family home. I’d given birth to three beautiful children, and I gave birth in three countries in four years to three different kids. I call that the definition of insanity.
My children, while they are very Caucasian, like myself their heart feels very Asian, and I like that. We have a very big world view in our family. We’ve seen a lot of the world, and we’ve seen true poverty and desperation. We know how incredibly blessed we are to be Americans and to live where we do and to have what we have because a lot of the people in the world don’t have that.
So then we came back to Grand Rapids, Michigan two years ago and I just said, “Well, what’s next?” My children are in school now, which is wonderful. What can I do to give back to the community? My passion has always been women. My passion has always been developing them into their fullest potential and seeing people, one by one grow and feel empowered to make good decisions and to live out their gifting and God’s call on their life. I’ve been in desperate situations myself, so I know what it’s like to not know what tomorrow holds or not know what to do. A lot of what I tell women is I can’t do much for you, but I can lay on the ground next to you and we can both look up. Because I’ve laid on the floor before.
A lot of times that’s all people need, is to know someone’s laying down next to them. So now I get to continue that in a much bigger scale. I don’t have as much contact with clients as I would like, but overall I get to lead this great organization and to see so many people come through this door and to know that we’re impacting the community.
One other thing, too, that’s exciting, is that we are in the process of purchasing the house next door that’s adjacent to our current property and we are going to start a fatherhood program. Because we also believe that if we’re going to impact this culture and this community, that we’re going to need to offer the same types of services to dads. We’re going to be starting that in the next year.
Connie Going: That’s amazing. To know that where you come from, where you’re going, what you’re doing now, but you’re totally impacting lives and I think, changing the world.
Colleen Geisel: One life at a time.
Connie Going: Yes. And with that, I’d like to end. And I want to thank you, Colleen, for being here and being such a wonderful guest. For those of you who want to reach Colleen … How can they find you? What is your address? Your website? Your phone number?
Colleen Geisel: Well thank you for inviting me to be on the show today. I certainly appreciate the opportunity and to talk to you. Yes, if people want to be able to get ahold of us, again, you can find us on the website at w-w-w-dot-alpha … That’s a-l-p-h-a … w-c-dot-org, alphawc.org
We are located at 1725 Division Avenue South, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Feel free to pick up the phone and give me a call. Again, my name is Colleen Geisel. My phone number is 616-742-0242, extension 101. They can call me anytime.
Connie Going: Thank you Colleen, and I’d also like to send a thank you out to Adoption Associates, who sponsors this show.