Stepping into the Women’s Care Center on Farwell Avenue is like entering a comfortable and relaxing living room. A skylight fills the waiting area with natural light. There are comfortable couches, an area for kids with toys and child-sized armchairs and works of art with captivating images of mothers and children.
Founded 30 years ago in South Bend, Indiana, the Women’s Care Center is the largest pregnancy resource center in the United States, with 23 centers in seven states.
In Milwaukee, the center serves one in every 10 pregnant women. Close to 3,000 women made 10,019 visits to the center’s two Milwaukee locations in 2014.
Sharon Hudy, director of the Women’s Care Center in Milwaukee, emphasized the organization’s loving, compassionate approach to women facing unexpected pregnancies.
“The center has really become a magnet for pregnant women in need. We’re just here to love and serve the next woman that comes through the door,” she said.
The center does not have a specific religious affiliation, but its philosophy has deep roots in the Catholic faith. Its approach is based on the teachings of Pope Paul VI in the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” and Pope John Paul II in his series of addresses commonly known as the Theology of the Body.
Free counseling, medical grade pregnancy tests and ultrasounds are offered at the center.
“The ultrasound is so important to show that this is not a blob of tissue; this is a baby,” said Hudy, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, West Allis.
Two out of three women who come to the Women’s Care Center are what staff members call “wrong doors” – women who think they are coming to the abortion clinic or who have an appointment for an abortion.
After completing the initial ultrasound and counseling at Women’s Care Center, 97 percent of women choose life, according to Hudy.
“When women come to us, they are in crisis,” Hudy said. “From my own experience, it’s helping women to connect their heads, and all that stress that’s going on, with their hearts. We see them as moms when they walk in, but they may not see that yet, so if we can connect the two, then they’re good, they’re on their way.”
The programs at the Women’s Care Center are incentivized, which means that every time a woman participates in a class or keeps a prenatal appointment, she earns coupons toward baby care supplies, to be redeemed at the center’s onsite store.
The center also focuses on education, offering an extensive series of classes, including birthing, infant care, healthy relationships, budgeting and parenting classes for moms and dads.
“Our whole goal here is to help moms become self-sufficient, grow in a sense of self-esteem, and create nurturing families,” said Hudy.
It also serves as a referral source, connecting parents in need with an array of resources to help them successfully support their families. The organization works closely with Catholic Charities.
Hudy said she has had a passion for pro-life work throughout her life. A Milwaukee native, she credits her Catholic education with her formation in faith and action.
Hudy attended grade school at St. Agnes, Butler, and St. Jude the Apostle, Wauwatosa, and high school at Pius XI, Milwaukee.
“One of the things I learned from Catholic schools is that there is a still, small voice inside of me, and how to listen to it,” Hudy said. “To think that I could actually be living out what I’ve been dreaming about is miraculous in so many ways. I really do attribute a lot of that, first to my parents, of course, but then to the Catholic schools…. They gave me the same encouragement we give to our moms, to say, ‘You can do it.’”
Hudy’s time at Marquette University, where she studied communications, public relations and advertising, has also aided her work at the Women’s Care Center.
“I learned so much … about ethics in business, and I learned about communicating the need and talking with people about what’s important. I’ve been able to take that marketing background and utilize it here for the Care Center.”
Although Hudy was involved in the pro-life movement in various ways, her passion did not immediately become a profession. After graduating from Marquette, she married her husband Bob in 1999. The couple struggled for eight years to become pregnant before giving birth to their daughter Olivia in 2008.
Although it was a difficult time in her life, Hudy now believes God was working through this challenge, and is able to draw on her experience in her work with the women who seek help at the center.
“We knew that if God intended us to have a child, we would,” said Hudy. “I really believe that God knew that this might be difficult for me to do this work had I not had a child of my own.”
Hudy’s interest in the Women’s Care Center was sparked when she, her sister and a friend traveled to Indiana to visit the center’s original location in South Bend. They were warmly welcomed by the staff.
“I felt like I was living the Beatitudes in that day, I really did. When I was driving home, I thought to myself, ‘If that’s how they treat us, imagine how they treat their clients!’” Hudy said. “I was hooked.”
Over the next few months, doors seemed to open for Hudy. She assembled a board, raised financial support, and found an ideal location across the street from an abortion clinic on Farwell Avenue.
“We do not set up shop across the street from an abortion clinic to be controversial. It’s because that’s where the need is,” Hudy said. “This is where women need to understand that there is hope for choosing to parent or creating an adoption plan, and that is what we offer them.”
“So many of our clients say to us, ‘I did it because I knew I could, because you said I could,” she added. “We walk with them every step of the way, and they really feel that love, support and encouragement from us.”
The Women’s Care Center also has a second location on Milwaukee’s south side, serving primarily Spanish-speaking families. This location is in the process of moving to a significantly larger home at Seventh and Historic Mitchell streets. A capital campaign to support this move was recently launched.
Sheryl Laird, a manager and ultrasound technician at the Women’s Care Center, has worked with Hudy since the center opened in June 2010.
“Sharon has a vision,” said Laird. “This is what spoke to Sharon’s heart, to have a center and serve women and educate them, love them, support them and empower them. This is the way she could act out her own pro-life mission.”
“I think she’s very courageous,” Laird added. “It takes a very courageous, passionate person to say, ‘I want to do this, and let’s get this to happen here. What do we need to do?’”