KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – At age 16 JoAnna Weldon got pregnant. Facing an unplanned pregnancy, as many young girls often do, Weldon learned that the government agencies set up to deal with such situations are often understaffed and overworked, which doesn’t help confused and scared young expecting mothers feel welcomed and supported.
In 2011, Weldon started Answers, an organization in southern Clay County that ensures girls never feeling unwelcome or unwanted again.
“The government agencies don’t have the time to provide emotional support,” Weldon said. “When girls walk in our door someone is there to greet them. They’re not just another number, we listen and spend time with them.”
No matter what expectant mothers are considering, Answers tries to provide them with information on their options.
“We present educational and statistical facts in regard to parenting, adoption and abortion,” Weldon said. “We want every woman to make an informed, educated decision about her situation.”
Being a faith-based organization, Weldon makes it a point not to protest abortion, but to provide every client with unbiased information.
“Some women make that choice,” Weldon said. “It’s our job to love them no matter what decision they make or whether we agree with that decision. They will walk back in here to love and support, there is a lot of healing after making that decision.”
The organization provides four main services to their clients: confidential counseling, emotional support, clinical grade pregnancy testing, and abortion recovery support. Of these four services, Weldon said clients’ needs will overlap into several categories as their stories unfold.
“Women can come to us with any need, if we can’t meet their needs here, we find an organization that can,” Weldon said. “We offer no judgment. This is a safe place for them to unburden themselves and find answers to their problems.”
In addition to the center, which is open Mondays from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. and 4:30 until 8 p.m., Answers runs a girl’s club at Keystone Heights High School called B.E.A.T. – Being Empowered and Assertive Teens – which meets on Thursdays at the school.
Through this partnership with the high school, Answers has also organized a prom expo each year where girls at KHHS can “shop” for prom dresses and shoes at no cost during their lunch break. In addition to the prom shop, Answers converts its office into a salon the morning of prom and offers makeup and hair for free.
The center, though, is for women of all ages.
“We’ve had women in their 70s battling cancer with no one to talk to,” Weldon said. “We mostly offer our clients emotional support, but many times that is coupled with pregnancy testing or abortion recovery support.”
Weldon said this facility is the only one of its kind within a 30-mile radius, and is in the process of expanding its reach.
For the past year, the three paid staff members and team of volunteers has been working to open a second location in Starke, which is expected to be open this fall. Weldon was contacted by members of the Starke community who said there was a need for her services, so, through the organization, Weldon purchased a house and is currently renovating it into a space where members of that community and surrounding areas can go for support. Weldon said they are currently hiring for staff positions at both offices to facilitate the expansion.
Nearly half of the funding for Answers comes from private donations, and another fourth from donations at their annual banquet. For more information about donating, employment or the services offered, call Answers at (352) 473-1000, or visit findanswersnow.org.