This installment of Celebrating Geauga Small Businesses comes from Linda Kensicki and Luann Sowers of Birthright Geauga, Inc.
Geauga County Public Library: When was Birthright Geauga founded?
Linda Kensicki & Luann Sowers: 1975.
GCPL: What is the story behind your business? How did it begin? What challenges did you face in getting started & how did you overcome them? What challenges do you face in your day-to-day operations, and how do you overcome them? What is your favorite part of owning a business?
LK & LS: Birthright International was founded by Louise Summerhill in Toronto in 1968. Birthright was born out of Louise’s desire and passion to help women facing an unplanned pregnancy who were turning to abortion because they thought it was their only option. She wanted to provide a safe, non-judgmental atmosphere for women to come and receive the help and support they needed and to know they were not alone, that there was help. Birthright now has chapters throughout the United States, Canada and Africa. A few of the challenges that we face include awareness. Though we have been around for over 40 years, there are many people in the county that are still not aware of us and/or what we do.
Also, I believe there may be some misconception about who we are. Our desire is to provide hope for pregnant women and families with young children. We do that through offering free, non-judgmental, tangible support. In addition to offering a listening ear, we can help with things like clothing, diapers and formula, all for free. Being able to receive these items can take a huge burden off of parents who might be struggling with providing them. Getting the message out about who we are and what we do can be difficult if people have the wrong idea about our mission.
My (Luann) favorite part of this job is getting to hold babies! Next to that, it’s just to see the look and demeanor of our clients when they realize that someone genuinely cares about them and what’s going on in their life.
My (Linda) favorite part of this job is helping our moms. The relief they feel when they find out there is hope and help brings us both to tears.
GCPL: Why did you decide to start your business? What inspired it?
LK & LS: As I mentioned, Birthright International was founded in 1968 in Toronto and Birthright Geauga in Chardon in 1975. The directors of Birthright Geauga are Luann Sowers and Linda Kensicki. Their stories are below.
Luann: I was involved in Birthright Lake for 12 years as a volunteer and board member. I have been with Birthright Geauga since 2014. I first became aware of Birthright while seeking help for a teen family member who was pregnant. This was a very difficult time and I found Birthright to be a place that offered hope and encouragement. It’s not just a place that hands out stuff. Women find a friend here. They realize they are not alone. I wanted to be a part of that.
Linda: Being new to the community, we wanted to be involved in something we believed in. I’ve always felt if women knew they had practical help, they would choose life. I joined the board in the 1980’s and have volunteered in the office since the 1990’s
GCPL: What kinds of training and education did starting your business require (College, trade shows, seminars/conferences, etc.)? Have you ever used the library to help with this?
LK & LS: Both of us began as volunteers where we were able to get to know and understand the philosophy of Birthright. We had mentors who were great examples and teachers. They gave us the opportunity to get to know our clients, what kind of needs they have and how we can help. There is also training available at our Regional and International meetings and conventions, which we attend when possible.
GCPL: What resources did/do you find most useful in helping you to start, grow, and maintain your business (Books, software, training materials, databases, etc.)?
LK & LS: People have been our greatest resource. It’s pertinent that we stay connected with other agencies, organizations, churches, etc. Word of mouth is by far the most effective form of advertising for us. Our base of supporters has been consistently growing as a result of ongoing efforts to get in front of people. We also have an amazing board that is supportive, encouraging and active in getting the word out and garnering support for Birthright.
GCPL: What advice do you have for people who want to start a business?
LK & LS: Know your “why”. Do what you are passionate about and know why are you doing it. That will keep you going through difficult times. It will carry you through your doubts. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and in your “why”. Listen to them and drown out all of the naysayers.