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Archives Plattsburgh Birthright celebrates 50 years

October 27, 2021

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing Writer

PLATTSBURGH – On October 21, Plattsburgh’s Birthright – the first pregnancy center in New York State – celebrated its 50th anniversary with a luncheon at the Newman Center.

Sally Fisher, Director of Birthright, testified to their success as an “act of the Holy Spirit.” She said that volunteers give a “glimpse of love” and “belonging” to women in need.

During COVID, Fisher noted, Birthright was able to continue its efforts. In recent years, Birthright has had Christmas parties for women and children. At one party, a woman who attended didn’t have clothes to dress her baby in for the party, and Birthright provided the baby with a new Christmas outfit. They have also sent donations to the Hour Children Program at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

Deacon Ken Lushia offered an opening prayer and remarks at the anniversary luncheon, recalling the example of St. Joseph, whose picture was on his stole. Board member Eric Buzzell spoke about Birthright as “Hope for Tomorrow” and gave thanks to God for His “inspiration in sustaining Birthright,” and to everyone for their “faithfulness in praying and volunteering.”

Birthright needs more volunteers, Buzzell relayed noted.

“Be bold in spreading information about Birthright . . . ambassadors, diligent in spreading the word,” he said.

Board member Allison Collier talked about the “Earn while you learn” initiative, which helps parents “learn how to become the best parent you can be.” Participating parents earn points for items in Birthright’s Blessings Boutique, including clothes and diapers, while building mentor/client relationships. Mary Skillan, Birthright board chair, offered the closing remarks and expressed gratitude to those present and her predecessors in Birthright, people she said made it possible to “move forward to the next level as an organization.”

When asked about Birthright’s early days, Mary Szydlik, who lived in Plattsburgh for many years and was a founding member, noted that God provided.

“We needed different things and they all came, by the grace of God, an office and what we needed to use,” Szydlik said. “The most important thing that we needed was how to build our relationship with the women. Birthright still holds that as its main tool to this day.”

She noted, though, that the volunteers benefited from their service, as well.

“The women gave us so much more than we gave them,” Szydlik said. “They taught us so much, so much about heroism because they were going through some very tough times. Every one of them had some obstacles in the way. Dr. John Middleton trained us at our houses and covered the calls for us 24 hours a day until we could do it ourselves. We happened to be at Gerre Ryan’s house and the phone rang. Gerre answered it and it was a call for Birthright. And so there Gerre was yet in this training session, and she had to deal with a very, very difficult situation. It was a teen pregnancy. So, she did her very best, but the situation just blew her away. At the end, we learned it was Dr. Middleton’s daughter. It was a set up. It was such a great tool that Dr. Middleton used. He was probably chuckling all the while but Gerre and the rest of us were sweating it.

“Dr. John and Claire Middleton and Dr. John and Joanna Boule were the founders,” Mrs. Szydlik continued. “The Middleton’s and Boule’s went to Toronto and met Louise Summerhill (Birthright’s founder) and, in the middle of their conversation with her, she excused herself to go and take care of a woman who needed help at that time. It impressed them so much that she would go to see a woman at that hour of the night. They decided that was the organization that we would belong to.”

Other founding members were: Dr. Arthur and Evelyn Bickford, Walter and Peggy Crist, Don and Catherine Delorm, Dan and Karen Froehlich, George and Sharon Kasper, Don and Julia Ryan, Marty and Gerre Ryan, Wayne and Monique Seymour, Paul and Mary Szydlik, and Gary and Barb Ward.

Birthright volunteers, Szydlik added, “need to be able to focus on the woman, not on the politics; they need to focus on the woman and the needs of the woman. Birthright’s motto is ‘It is the right of every pregnant woman to give birth and the right of every child to be born.’ The corollary to that is that every woman has the right to the resources she needs to carry that baby to term. The essence of this is love. We are doing this for love, the love of the woman and the love of the baby. We love them both.”

Szydlik reflected on what inspired her to become involved. “Abortion was such a horrible thing, and my mother almost aborted me without her knowledge. The doctor told her that her heart was very bad and she would not survive this pregnancy so, unbeknownst to her, the baby would be aborted to save her life. My Aunt Caroline, a nurse, was with her and found out.”

Instead, Szydlik’s father took her mother to stay with family in Utica.

“The doctor in Utica agreed with the prognosis but was able to stick with my mother, as long as my mother would live,” she said. “Everybody prayed. I have a 100-year-old cousin, Sister Mary Loyola, who is a Sister of Charity, and she remembers praying for me as a teenager. My mother lived through the delivery and to be 67. She saw 5 of her 6 grandchildren.”

Szydlik reminisced how some people even sheltered women in their homes. “There’s always a need for volunteers in so many different ways. It’s not just working in the office. We had people working behind the scenes. Definitely these women were in God’s heart. There’s a very important reason to take care of the women. Of course, we love them both. If the woman can be in a calm, peaceful place, she can make a good decision for herself and her baby.”

For more information, to donate, or volunteer, please contact Birthright at: 518-563-4300 or 50 Clinton St., Plattsburgh.



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