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Taking AIM

Women’s center ministry celebrating 25 years of service

March 4, 2012
By JANICE R. KIASKI - Herald-Star community editor , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - AIM Women's Center in Steubenville "aims" to be around a long time.

Already, it's marking its 25th anniversary this year, an occasion for the ministry that helps women in a pregnancy related crisis to focus on an upcoming celebration.

"Love, Life and Healing: Making a Difference for 25 Years" is the theme of the nonprofit charitable organization's fundraiser banquet that will be held March 22 at the Serbian American Cultural Center in Weirton. The event will begin at 7 p.m.

Article Photos

Sharon Maedke, director of AIM Women’s Center, right, and registered nurse Ginna Dombrowski stand outside the AIM Women’s Center in downtown Steubenville located at 248 N. Fifth St., which is in its 25th year of service.
-- Janice R. Kiaski

Sharon Maedke, its director for the past 12 and a half years, will highlight milestones of the Tri-State Area's ministry such as the social climate and need for services, she said, and how the center has worked to meet those demands.

There also will be "a big announcement" with future plans and goals highlighted.

The event will feature guest speaker David Bereit, co-founder of 40 Days for Life. Last year, Bereit rallied more than 500,000 people across the country and 14,000 church congregations to pray for an end to abortion, saving more than 5,000 documented babies' lives, and closing nearly 20 abortion facilities, according to Maedke. Bereit previously worked with American Life League and as national director of Stop Planned Parenthood.

Along with dinner and dessert, the evening will feature inspirational talks, a slide show and musical entertainment. Table reservations can be made by contacting AIM at (740) 283-3636, with reservations appreciated by March 12.

Maedke talked about the center's purpose and how it has evolved during an interview recently that also included board member Lisa Ledyard; registered nurse Ginna Dombrowski; Shannon Minch-Hughes, board vice president and treasurer; and Sherry Conrad, financial secretary.

"It started from a simple hotline in someone's home to someone answering that call for help to this," Maedke said in assessing the years gone by.

The "this" is a Christ-centered ministry that, according to a brochure, offers free and confidential pregnancy testing and verifications; limited ultrasounds; consultation on all options; compassionate and nonjudgmental care; ongoing pregnancy support; support after an abortion; and referrals for community support services, including health care, legal and adoption.

The center has seen hundreds of females ranging in age from 13 to 30 in its more than two decades of existence with 2011 offering assistance to 850 women. They come via word of mouth but also by doctor referrals, through appointments and walk-ins.

It is open four days a week, 18 hours total, and maintains a 24-hour hotline.

The center first was located at 412 Market St., Steubenville, when it opened in late March 1987 and then moved to 329 N. Fourth St. in 1990 before a J.C. Williams Foundation grant made possible the purchase of its location today - a former residential home at 248 N. Fifth St., its decor homey, not officelike.

"It's very unassuming - hopefully very welcoming and relaxing for the girls," Ledyard said. "We don't want to be intimidating in any way during a time when they're questioning what to do. We want to be very welcoming."

The wait for results of a pregnancy test, for example, affords time for an opportunity to talk, "to get a feel for where they're coming from and their circumstances and how we can meet those needs," Maedke said.

Added Ledyard, "We're not telling people what to do - we're supplying information and counseling. It's about education."

In offering a definition of AIM, Ledyard said the center "used to be a crisis pregnancy center, and I guess in some ways it still is, but it's more about education, not as much in assistance as it used to be, we still can help meet the daily needs of women in need, but we're focusing more on education and providing the free educational services, not just handouts."

When it began in 1987, the center was A.I.M., an acronym for Assistance in Motherhood, but it changed its name in 2006 to AIM Women's Center, a reflection of a focus not being a short-term "handing out of diapers and formula," but a long-term education-oriented emphasis and presence.

"There are so many wonderful organizations in town that serve the community so we try to tap into them," Maedke said. "We don't want to just be another agency they tap into. We can say there's a place you need to go there for that assistance instead of all us doing the same thing."

Maedke said, "We're focusing on now the prevention of abortion and basically sustaining that life is important to us after it's born, but our focus has to be the pro-life movement."

Minch-Hughes said there's some confusion about the center, that people have assumed it's the ALIVE Shelter that assists individuals in domestic abuse situations.

"I really don't think a lot of people know we're here," Minch-Hughes said.

According to a history of AIM on its website, trained volunteers provide emotional support and information and educational materials regarding fetal development, pregnancy, abstinence and teen sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, the abortion procedure, post-abortion syndrome and adoption. It also offers help through Rachel's Vineyard, a retreat for healing after abortion, according to Maedke.

The first area Rachel's Vineyard was held in 2005, one of the timeline marks in the center's existence.

In 2002, the center launched a learn-and-earn program called Bridges, providing material assistance along with education on pregnancy, birth, parenting and sexual health.

"We do a Bible study with that to try to build her up and get her grounded and get her into a church community so we're just trying to establish where she is, build her up first and focus on the baby and keep her in school," she cited as an example.

"Our main purpose is her. That's what we're here for. We feel our young women are our greatest commodity," Maedke said.

In April 2010, the center obtained a state-of-the-art ultrasound through a grant from the J.C. Williams and Esther Simmons foundations. The first year 60 were done. In 2011, it was 152. "We are the only center that has an ultrasound in the immediate Tri-State Area so we serve the Tri-State Area in terms of providing free limited ultrasounds," Maedke said.

Dombrowski said the scans, which are reviewed by the center's doctor, check for such things as gestational age and heart rate, and images are provided to the women.

The center representatives expressed gratitude for community support demonstrated and donations received.

"We have baby showers in the area going on all the time in area churches and schools. There's even a woman's group who knits blankets year round, and we do baby bottle campaigns," Ledyard said, noting the center's two major fundraisers are the banquet and a Walk for Life held in the fall.

"The generosity of people in the valley is amazing," Maedke said.

"The whole goal of the banquet is to share our mission and our vision and to educate the public that we're down here and why we're here," Ledyard said.

"We have a lot of long-standing supporters, but we're always trying to enlarge our circle at the banquet. Not only do we want those people who love and support us and have been there for years, but we want to welcome new people in the valley who maybe don't know about us but are interested in keeping our whole community safe," Ledyard said.

Other board members of the center aside from Maedke, Minch-Hughes and Ledyard are Jeff Rankin, president; Tammy Zinno, secretary; Kurt Gotta; the Rev. Vaughn Foster; Joy Irvin; Mark Nelson; David VanVickle; and Chris Wendt.

(Kiaski can be contacted at

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