SPEARFISH, S.D. — During her tenure, the organization has been housed at four different locations and changed its name three times. The work, however, remains just as rewarding for Roxie Johnson, executive director of Bella Pregnancy Resource Center in Spearfish, as when she started more than 30 years ago.

“I love working with the women here at Bella, with my co-workers and the staff and volunteers, but the clients are really what keep me here. Everyone’s unique; everyone has their own story,” she told the Black Hills Pioneer, describing that it was the compassion of the organization that drew her to become a volunteer client advocate in 1988, before becoming the executive director of the organization the next year. “They [clients] have great value, they have great worth, that’s how we view them when they come in: We just want to be loving and compassionate when they come in and educate them and give them tools so that they can be good moms and dads if that’s what they choose to do.”

Johnson, who grew up in Wyoming, moved with her family to the Black Hills during her senior year of high school, and after getting married, she and her husband, John, moved to Spearfish in 1979. The couple has four grown children and nine grandchildren, and Johnson said that her connection to Bella began when she was babysitting for the former director of the organization who encouraged her to get involved. She took the volunteer training and said she was “hooked” from the first night. After serving as a volunteer for a year, she became the executive director in 1989.

“Women have unplanned pregnancies all the time. Thirty years ago, it was more of a stigma,” Johnson said.

The faith-based organization’s mission is “Empowering women in unplanned pregnancies to make informed decisions.” Originally, the organization was called Northern Hills Crisis Pregnancy Center, but those involved wanted women to know the organization serves anyone who has a pregnancy need — not just people in crisis — so the name was changed to Northern Hills Pregnancy Care Center, Johnson said, and eventually to Bella, which means “beautiful” in Italian. The organization’s website states, “At Bella, we believe that every woman is a woman of beauty and great worth. No matter what your circumstances are, we believe you are a woman of value who is capable of making your own decisions. Bella exists to be a resource for women and men with pregnancy related needs.”

Johnson said that initially, the name was to be just the one word, Bella, but they found that when answering the telephone with, “Hello, this is Bella,” people on the other end would assume that was the name of the person answering and would say “Hi, Bella!” so “pregnancy resource center” was added to the name.

Over 30 years, the organization’s crisis intervention services have basically stayed the same, Johnson said. What has changed is that since 2008, Bella is now an early pregnancy medical facility, which means it offers pregnancy testing and ultrasound confirmation. Johnson explained that the organization does not take the place of a family physician or OB-GYN, who provide prenatal care; Bella is a place to start.

All services at Bella are free of charge, and in addition to crisis intervention and early pregnancy medical services, Bella offers “Earn While You Learn,” a comprehensive parenting program that teaches about everything from pregnancy/pregnancy care, labor and delivery, how to care for the baby, etc., with lessons for parenting children up to age 12. Johnson said that not only do clients learn how to bathe a baby, they are also learning how to meet the needs — spiritual, emotional, and physical — of their children.

“It’s an excellent program,” she said.

As they work through the program, clients earn credit that they can redeem for the things that they need, such as clothing, diapers, wipes, cribs, strollers, car seats — almost anything baby-related.

The organization is staffed by five part-time employees and 12-15 volunteers at any one time, and clients come from around the area to find resources that can include medical providers to financial aid and beyond.

“We’re a resource center, so this is a good place to start,” Johnson said. “Bella’s a good place to start for anyone who thinks they might be pregnant, whether they’re in crisis or not. We serve all.”

She added that the organization is locally supported; all of its funding comes from local sources, and its services are free of charge. Johnson said that Bella accepts donations and is always in need of things baby and maternity related. While they do accept some used items, they should be in like-new condition, and because of government regulations/etc., they are not able to take used cribs or car seats. Johnson said that diapers and wipes are the number-one item the organization goes through, and she added that while all diaper sizes are accepted, it is generally the larger sizes — size 3 and up — that they most often run out of.

Johnson offered the following advice to future parents: “Relax. Take it a day at a time,” she said.

“We’re here. We love serving the women of our community,” she added, encouraging anyone in need of pregnancy services to check out Bella Pregnancy Center. “It’s a place to start.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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