TUPELO • Jima Alexander is the executive director of Parkgate Pregnancy Center in Tupelo, where she began working in 2011.
Warm, well-coiffed, and composed, the former nurse looks right at home in Parkgate’s sleek suite of offices on Industrial Boulevard. As she walks through the facility’s tastefully modern lobby and consultation rooms, she explains Parkgate’s mission.
“Parkgate is a pregnancy center whose goal is to support and educate women who might find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy,” she said. “Our goal is to help them put a plan together that embraces life.”
Alexander said Parkgate’s clients don’t fit a monolithic profile, but for most of them, an unplanned pregnancy is a disruptive event.
“It could be the young single woman people tend to think of,” she said. “But it could also be a 40-year-old married mother or anything in between. Usually, if the pregnancy is unplanned, being told you’re pregnant is similar to getting a diagnosis like cancer, or something else really life-altering.”
Alexander said the faith-based center’s services to its clients – pregnancy tests, sonography, counseling, support, and education – are all free and come with no strings attached.
“We’re faith-based,” she said. “But our clients know there’s no judgment. Obviously we have young women coming to us who are thinking about abortion. Our job is to educate, but we know it’s ultimately their decision. We want to pour life into our clients whatever decision they make.”
Alexander said when clients come to Parkgate, they are asked to self-assess their plans of action.
“We ask them to rate themselves, on a scale of 1 to 10, of how likely they are to abort,” she said. “10 means it’s going to happen; they’ve already got an appointment.”
Alexander said Parkgate’s free sonograms help their clients move, mentally and emotionally, from pregnancy as an abstraction to pregnancy as a reality.
“When they come, they get a free pregnancy test and a free sonogram,” she said. “It lets us know the pregnancy is viable, that the baby is where it should be, and how many weeks along it is. And it gives them an opportunity to see the baby, which helps make it a reality.”
A registered nurse, Alexander said her years of working in labor and delivery helped her gain a sensitivity for the position in which many of Parkgate’s clients find themselves.
“We know there are other factors that influence a client’s decision,” she said. “Finances, lack of support – anything that makes them feel more unstable makes them more likely to make the decision to abort.”
Part of Parkgate’s job, according to Alexander, is both to confirm and to challenge some of their clients’ common misgivings.
“We hear, ‘My parents are going to kill me,’ a lot,” she said. “We’re honest with them. We say, ‘Yeah, they’ll be angry and they may even say some things they don’t really mean. But give it time to soak in.’ Not always, but usually, the parents come around as supportive people.”
While Parkgate maintains a policy of absolute confidentiality, Alexander said she and her fellow workers usually encourage their clients to “break the silence” with their parents or other support network.
“We are absolutely prohibited from sharing any information with anyone,” she said. “But we encourage our clients to tell their parents. Sometimes women think, ‘I can’t tell anybody.’ But when you keep it in secret, the problem gets bigger and bigger.”
Alexander said the physical environment at Parkgate sends a message to its clients – one many of them are hungry to hear.
“We have messages on every door that say things like, ‘You are important; You are valued,’” she said. “Some of these women come from situations where they’ve never heard or felt that in their lives. We get to sit across the table from them and let them know that they can get help and they are worth being listened to.”
Alexander said Parkgate has taught her much about grace – both giving it and receiving it.
“Anytime a person feels overwhelmed, the last thing they need is judgment,” she said. “This place has taught me more grace than I’ve ever known. I’ve never seen grace and unconditional love poured out like I have inside these walls.”