By Kathy Kovalak
(ZOE is the Greek word for Life)
In 1977, a group of Orthodox women in Ohio began meeting to see how we could make a life-saving difference in today’s society. A survey was sent to the women in the area aged eighteen and over. Responses indicated three major areas of concern: the need for an Orthodox Christian adoption agency, help for women in crisis pregnancies, and assistance for battered women and children.
The group began meeting with professionals in the area, with the thought of starting an Orthodox adoption agency. We found that this would not be difficult to achieve, but there were few babies to be put up for adoption; they were being aborted. Contacting Care Net, a national organization advising those who want to establish crisis pregnancy centers, we were told that experience had taught them that Orthodox Christians have a higher abortion rate than the U.S. norm. According to Care Net, “Orthodox Christians”, we were told, “have two strikes against them—a concentrated ethnic group and a tightly knit religious group. For reasons of pride and shame, these factors invariably are linked to high abortion rates.” This was confirmed after talking with our parish priests who told us that many Orthodox women abort their children, but their priests become aware of the event only through confession. Thus our group, ZOE for Life came into being.
ZOE for Life is a non-profit, Christ-centered organization with three major goals:
- to help pregnant women in distress who need confidential, emotional, and spiritual support to encourage them to choose life for their unborn child;
- to assist Orthodox Christians seeking to adopt; and
- to provide an Orthodox Christian education on living the Christian life, and other life affirming resources.
How ZOE for Life Operates
ZOE for Life Is a Pan-Orthodox national organization, based in Cleveland, Ohio. Led by Paula Kappos, president, we have a board of directors of five Orthodox women; Executive Director, Kathy Kovalak, and volunteers helping us here and throughout the country. While we limit adoption assistance to the Orthodox community, we help any woman with a crisis pregnancy. We have a toll-free help-line number, manned by Paula Kappos who was trained to assist women in crisis. Information about us can be found on our website, www.zoeforlifeonline.org.
So few women in an unplanned pregnancy are well versed on the various services and support groups available to them. The overwhelming concern is “What am I going to do now?” Many wrestle with abortion, some with adoption, and some with suicide. It is disturbing that most of the Orthodox Christian women who are in trouble do not turn to their church for guidance, and there are so few support groups to turn to within the Orthodox community. These women need emotional support, confidential access to professional agencies, and access to potential adoptive Orthodox families to encourage them to carry their infants to term.
ZOE serves as a conduit, guiding women to a wider range of support organizations, providing them with a more attractive set of options and hopefully a more promising outlook on their situation. For example, there is financial assistance, housing assistance, medical assistance, adoptive services, and other services available. It is ZOE’s goal to connect these women with the needed services. We pray they will make the best choices for their own future and for the future of the child God has entrusted to them.
God took us in an additional turn with the opening of ZOE House, which was not part of our original plan. We thought we could use a place where Moms could come to talk and get counseling. It would also give us a centralized office. We didn’t know if this would be possible financially, but we thought we would try. A small home, owned by St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, was made available to us to rent.
What evolved was a place where Moms in need can come to obtain baby items free of charge. This was made possible by very generous donations of new and used baby items from the surrounding Orthodox community. The house is open 4 days a week, 3-4 hours each day. It is manned by five volunteers. Women make appointments to come in, having been told about us from various child and family agencies in the Cleveland area. This has become a wonderful Orthodox outreach ministry in the community.
Are we having an impact? Since starting, we’ve had hundreds of calls for help on our helpline. We’ve helped with several adoptions including one recently in 2010 in which the birth mother was originally planning to abort. Priests have called seeking support for parishioners in crisis, women who had already made appointments for an abortion. We’ve given out baby items to over one hundred women in need.
We are ordinary Orthodox Christians. Together, with God’s help, we can change the world. If we don’t speak for the unborn, who will? If each of us could help just one person avoid the lifelong torment and guilt of an abortion, if we could save even one life, if we can help create even one family, wouldn’t that be a blessing for all of us?
There are at least two victims in every abortion: the baby and the mother who felt she had no other option. Women who have had abortions so often say, “If only I had someone to stand by me”. The missing “someone” is you and me.
If you would like to help, if you know someone who needs our help, or for more information please call, 440-893-9990, Helpline, 877-436-LIFE, ZOE House, 440-888-9990, or visit www.zoeforlifeonline.org.
Kathy Kovalak is a retired RN who has always worked in Obstetrics and Pediatrics. She is a certified Childbirth Educator, and has been volunteering at Womankind, a crisis pregnancy center in Cleveland. At Archangel Michael Orthodox Church, Broadview Heights, OH, Kathy is a Church School teacher and also serves in leadership roles on its various Outreach committees. She and her husband, Bob, are the parents of three, and the grandparents of seven, all of whom are actively involved in the church.