Shawn Noblit has a calm, pleasant demeanor — the type of person who puts you at ease. But she’s resolved and organized, too, and capable of taking charge. It’s the perfect combination of traits for the executive director of Hillsdale’s Alpha Omega Care Center, where a day demands everything from office management to mentoring women with unplanned pregnancies.
Noblit never expected to direct the center. Previously a national trainer for Aflac Inc., she grew up in Hillsdale but wasn’t aware of Alpha Omega, which just celebrated its 30th birthday in October. A few years ago, she heard the center’s director speak at a women’s luncheon, and after that, she said, she felt God calling her to work there. She and a friend prayed about the center for two years until “the door opened” for her to take the position as director.
Looking back, Noblit said she can see that this is the type of work she was cut out for. She had assisted with a class for pregnant girls at Hillsdale High School, and she said helping others was always on her heart.
“One of the things that I’ve always strived to do is teach people the tools to elevate themselves out of their circumstances,” Noblit said. “We are in a county that has a large poverty rate. I think because of that we can get stuck in the mentality that we’re not going to make it out of our circumstance. Our goal as a team here is to give people the tools to change that.”
Like Noblit, Alpha Omega is welcoming but organized. Soft lighting and pastel-colored walls adorned with pictures and baby clothes create a comfortable atmosphere. A reading room sports a cheerful “Dive Into Reading!” mural and bright-yellow beanbags. A rainbow of neatly-hung baby clothes lines a hallway. Mentoring rooms look like living rooms, graced with cozy armchairs and elegant curtains. The place is reassuringly clean without the harsh sterility of a doctor’s office, perfect for its function.
The center offers a variety of free services, including pregnancy tests, mentoring, and material provision of baby outfits, maternity clothes, formula, diapers, and education about parenthood, adoption, and abortion. An Earn While You Learn program allows mothers to take classes and earn “baby bucks” to purchase baby items. A literacy program lets parents do the same by reading to their children in the center’s reading room. There’s also a mentoring program for fathers.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Courtney Meyet, who mentors at Alpha Omega as one of the center’s 14 volunteers, said the center really is an asset to the community.
“It’s a moment for women to talk to other women, and I think that’s really key,” she said. “It offers a shoulder to lean on, someone to talk to.”
Junior Margaret Odell, who also volunteers at the center, agreed.
“Alpha Omega is a little bit of a haven for women in difficult situations because it provides an opportunity for them to think rightly about their lives,” she said, noting that the center is explicitly Christian and offers to pray with women or share the gospel if they’re willing.
“Volunteering here is a great opportunity to be exposed in some small way to the outside world and sometimes the harshness of the reality of that world,” she said. “And the opportunity to love selflessly by serving in small ways.”
For about 10 years, the center has resided in an old house on Howell Street that was prominent in its day because of its location on a hill not far from the train tracks, Noblit said. It’s becoming prominent again in a humbler way: the closest pregnancy centers are in Jackson and Coldwater, Noblit said, so clients come from as far away as Ohio.
The center had 1000 face-to-face interactions in 2015 and 900 in 2016, about half of which were from drop-ins. She said she was pleased with the numbers, but Meyet said she’d like to see more women coming into the center.
“I think it’s not as well known as it could be,” she said. “For as large a community as we have, I would expect to see more people come through our doors than we do.”
For many of the women who do come through, the mentorship and services they receive can be life-changing.
Sara Sommers, a volunteer mentor and adoption specialist, eagerly shared her favorite part of the job: “When the girls that we’ve helped come in and are so excited to show off their babies, they’re so proud.”
It’s hard sometimes, too, she said, especially when women make decisions that hurt themselves. But there are women she’s mentored who have clearly grown over the time they’ve been coming to the center.
“Knowing that I played a tiny part of that and was able to give her all these tools and information — watching that happen has been great,” Sommers said. “It’s been growth for me, too.”
Noblit nodded in agreement.
“You know, that’s the thing: You can’t help these people that walk through the door without growing yourself,” Noblit said. “It’s impossible.”