By Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message staff writer
ALEXANDRIA, La. (LBM) – Former “America’s Next Top Model” contestant Leah Darrow encouraged more than 900 guests gathered at the CENLA Pregnancy Center’s Gift of Life banquet to be the ones who answer the call to help provide hope for women with unplanned pregnancies.
The fifth annual event, Sept. 12, was held at the Randolph Riverfront Center.
“You are the other person on that end of the call for people in their hardest moments,” she said. “These young ladies who are calling these pregnancy centers are sometimes out there and they don’t know where to go and they don’t have anyone else to call but you. And CENLA Pregnancy Center picks up and answers those calls and they help redirect these women and show a place of redemption.”
Darrow was the keynote speaker for the single largest fundraiser for the pregnancy center. The event also featured remarks by other pro-life advocates, an update on the impact of the center, music and food.
In her message, Darrow shared she was caught up in a lifestyle of worldly success that led to suicidal thoughts, depression and low self-confidence. But soon after appearing on “America’s Next Top Model” in 2004, she found Christ during a photoshoot in New York City.
Darrow said she heard Christ tell her the words “I made you for more.”
At that moment, she left the photoshoot and her worldly lifestyle.
Darrow then called her father, who drove more than 2,000 miles to pick her up in New York City and bring her home. She then began a journey that has led her to mentoring women and sharing her story around the world of how Christ has changed her life.
“I went to Christ and I found reconciliation in Him,” she said. “I knew it was the only way.
“I was so grateful I had people in my life who I could call and they would speak truth into me,” she continued. “That call saved my life but it also had a ripple effect. Because my dad picked up the phone when I called at the lowest moment of my life, it allowed me to encounter grace and redemption in Christ.”
Located on the Louisiana Baptist Building campus at 1254 MacArthur Drive in Alexandria since December 2017, CENLA Pregnancy Center (along with centers in Marksville and Vidalia that opened several years later) has served more than 1,400 women, completed 6,000 client visits, 1,700 pregnancy and 1,200 ultrasound tests, and provided 25,573 resources through counseling, referrals, classes and material support.
The centers are saving lives by offering such services as pregnancy decision coaching (by trained advocates), free pregnancy tests, free ultrasounds, information about pregnancy options, referrals to mental health counselors and obstetrician-gynecologists, safe house and affordable housing recommendations, adoption support (referrals to assist expectant mothers with an adoption plan and limited financial assistance) and post-decision support that includes parenting education as well as recovery groups for those who regret having an abortion.
Additionally, the center meets basic needs for mothers and their babies by distributing food, baby beds, diapers, women’s hygiene products, car seats, and clothing.
The ministry also offers abortion pill reversal services. The center is listed on a national hotline that connects CENLA Pregnancy Center staff with women seeking to reverse the effects of the first pill taken for chemical abortion.
Claire Lemoine, who served as the emcee for the event and was director of the CENLA Pregnancy Center from 2017-2022, reiterated how the banquet was a grand celebration of the life-changing ministry.
“We celebrate this incredible ministry,” she said. “The mission continues to push through and offer to this community. The growth that has happened is just incredible to think about. You have this incredible ministry in your own community. It’s such a gift. We do not function without you.”
Board President Ed Tarpley, a member of Kingsville Baptist Church, Ball, thanked the crowd for their continued support and said those women who come into the pregnancy center experience the love of Jesus.
“We are the hands of Jesus extended to help those who are in crisis,” Tarpley said. “That’s what our ministry is all about.
“In the day in which we live there is a lot of gloom and despair at every turn,” he continued. “Jesus tells us in this world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer because I have overcome the world. What we do here is lift up Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith. This ministry is established on the firm word of God. The people who come through our doors receive the love of Jesus at every turn.”
CENLA Pregnancy Center Executive Director Kim Lyons said since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court in June 2022, the facilities that performed abortions in the state have closed. Thus, women who previously may have used those facilities were left looking for a place to turn.
“We have been able to provide the most non-judgmental, loving, caring atmosphere to hold their hands, to help bring them back to the place where we know the Lord calls each one of them,” Lyons said.
Lyons thanked those who serve alongside her in the pregnancy centers.
“These women serve like I have never seen before,” she said. “They serve with a heart that you know the Lord has chosen to bless them with this calling. They serve in a way that some women have never experienced before.”
Bart Walker, pastor of Kingsville Baptist, closed the banquet with a prayer for the pregnancy center and those impacted by the ministry.
“Let us consider the babies who have no voice to hear,” he said. “We live in an environment that devalues life and they are helpless. And so make us like Christ that we would consider the helpless, that we would consider what we cannot see and hear what we cannot hear, but know what we can know.”