At a $100-per-plate fundraiser on April 21 at the Hudson Valley Resort in Kerhonkson, guests were treated to chicken and cheesecake, along with the testimony of a man who had given up pornography for the greater glory of God.
"One way I tried to escape from the hurt and loneliness [of a tumultuous childhood] was in pornography, which found its way into my life in junior high school," WLNA/WBNR radio DJ Tom Michaels Zahradnik said with regret. "The pornography led to promiscuity in high school with one particular girl. Even though I was a 'good Catholic boy,' I justified my premarital sex by saying: 'If you love someone it is okay before marriage.' Through my irresponsibility and selfishness I got this girl pregnant. Neither of us could go to our parents, so I took her to an abortion clinic in a neighboring city. The emotional scars of pornography, pre-marital sex, and the abortion lasted several years. After I surrendered my life to Christ, I had to deal with the guilt and the shame of killing a human being. There are many things I can give my children, but I can't give them the testimony of a father who was sexually pure before marriage. I have since shared with my older two children about my poor sexual choices and about the abortion. As a father who has made a habit of sharing my shortcomings with my children, they listened, understood and are committed to remaining sexually pure. They are saving the best gift they have for their future spouses - their virginity."
Zahradnik's emotional speech was just a taste of the embers being quietly yet passionately fanned behind a benign-sounding agency, the Pregnancy Support Center (PSC), whose sponsors, according to the program, include the Kingston Freeman and Ulster Savings Bank. The benefit raised $16,000 for its New Paltz and Saugerties locations, said executive director Sharon La Rose, although the fundraising fell short of reaching its $20,000 goal.
In between prayers, La Rose, Ryan Dobson, and other speakers repeated a consistent mantra throughout the evening to describe abortion to over 350 guests: "Abortion is murder, plain and simple."
Dobson is the son of James C. Dobson, who founded Focus on the Family in 1977 with a goal to "cooperate with the Holy Spirit in disseminating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible, and, specifically, to accomplish that objective by helping to preserve traditional values and the institution of the family." Focus on the Family has been named by Planned Parenthood as one of the top anti-choice organizations in the country.
"You get jail time for tampering with abortion doctors about to kill an unborn baby. That's stupid," Dobson said just before dessert.
Copies of his book, Be Intolerant, were on sale in the hotel lobby.
An occasional stiletto-heeled blonde and green-haired teen accentuated an otherwise conservative audience of families, church groups, and volunteers. All stuck to chaste pitchers of iced tea set out on the tables. Some teens, donning black, baggy pants and piercings, began gathering outside the hotel before coffee was served, while their more-carefully coiffed peers, in pantyhose or shiny loafers, stayed at the tables bouncing siblings, or perhaps children of their own, on their laps.
La Rose, who took over the PSC last year, outlined an aggressive campaign to increase their visibility and "save more lives."
"It is our mission to extend ourselves to abortion-minded and abortion-vulnerable girls," La Rose told her audience. "Oftentimes young people don't understand the consequences of the decisions they make. If they know more about their options of adoption and keeping their babies, they will make better choices."
The number one way people can help the centers, La Rose said, is to pray for them. "Without prayer, we might as well close our doors," she said.
Although the New Paltz center has been around since 1986, the Saugerties center - opened in 2001 - is fairly new, and so is its leadership. La Rose took over last year from former director Ellen Siletsky, whom La Rose said has since moved on to teaching after seven years at the center. This is the first year the center will try two fundraising dinners in one year, she said. Traditionally, their main fundraiser is held in the Fall, but one of her main goals is to have enough monthly supporters to cover their $100,000 annual operating budget and all the plans she has to increase services and visibility.