The minute she heard Culpeper’s pregnancy center had been vandalized on Feb. 1, Culpeper resident Cassie Bradford drove straight there to hug and comfort the director, Lindy Dimeo.
“She was distraught,” Bradford recalled during an interview Saturday. “She needed to see someone the center had helped. ... Because they’re always there for us.”
Bradford, 30, knows of what she speaks. A home healthcare worker who is expecting her third child, she consulted with the center’s staff members during her first two pregnancies.
The first time, she was in high school, a few weeks into her pregnancy, and frightened: “I was 17, a scared teenager, naive about a lot of things.”
Bradford feared talking to her mother about being pregnant, and how members of her church would treat her as an unwed mom.
At the center, she got a free pregnancy test. She learned about the stages of a child in utero, and about the center’s Building Blocks program, which reinforces a person’s positive actions—seeing a doctor, getting spiritual counseling, getting insurance—as they deal with being pregnant. Clients can earn a car seat, a bassinet, baby clothes, and maternity clothes. And there are free diapers.
“At 17, I did not know anything about pregnancy. ...I learned how you can get support from your family, and how to talk with your family about your pregnancy.”
“They didn’t talk me out of anything,” she said of the center’s staff and volunteers. “They just listened, and they supported me. They tell you want your other options are.”
Nowadays, she and her second husband, Kevin Bradford, are raising Cherokee, 12, and Honey, 9. “Children are a blessing,” she said. “I’m so happy I have my Honey.”
She is pregnant with what she calls her “miracle baby,” after suffering a traumatic miscarriage last year.
She wants today’s teen moms to know that “many people will support them spiritually, emotionally and financially,” she said. “There is assistance to help them if they’re afraid of what could come of having a child at a young age. There are other resources out there, versus getting rid of a pregnancy.
“Sometimes, there isn’t family you can talk to,” she noted. “Everyone needs someone we can talk to.”
In recent months, after suffering a miscarriage last year, Bradford has gone by the center time and again to find a sympathetic ear and talk over her fear of miscarrying again.
Bradford said she is upset about the vandalism to the center.
“They’re like family now,” she said. “So to see what has happened there in the past couple of weeks is very discouraging. Because the people there don’t deserve that. They’re not ‘liars,’ as that person spray-painted on the center. They’re honest people. And they’re there for us.”
Culpeper police continue investigating the spray-painting of the center’s brick exterior and a freestanding sign about 3:30 a.m. Feb. 1. The vandal or vandals threw a big rock into an office window and scrawled “You hate women,” “FAKE” and other graffiti on the modest facility on Sunset Lane, next to Culpeper Medical Center and catty-corner from Farmington Elementary School.
The building is one of four such facilities operated by a life-affirming Christian ministry headquartered in Charlottesville. The nonprofit group—known until recently as The Pregnancy Centers of Central Virginia—staffs centers in Culpeper, Orange, Albemarle County and downtown Charlottesville. It has rebranded itself as ThriVe Women’s Healthcare of Central Virginia, in an effort to appeal to women of Generations X and Z.
The group received 2,600 client visits last year. Over the 35 years it has been in existence, its centers have served more than 26,000 women, said Jenny Basile, vice president of gifts & engagement
Its Culpeper center, having opened its doors on Aug. 2, 1998, is now in its 20th year. Before it opened, Culpeper County women facing crisis pregnancies had to travel to Charlottesville to find the kind of support they can now get locally.
Yet some clients still drive a distance to escape their neighbors’ gaze.
“The public may not realize this, but for anonymity’s sake, women from Culpeper often go to Orange or Charlottesville to get service, and vice versa,” Basile said Saturday. “... We serve nine counties and the city of Charlottesville.”
Basile is concerned that this month’s vandalism—the first such attack on any of the centers—may discourage some women from visiting, if they feel it isn’t a safe place.
Even so, she expressed compassion for the person or persons who left the graffiti.
“This person acted out of hurt, confusing, misunderstanding. The worst thing was that they wrote ‘You hate women,’” Basile said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We love the communities we serve.”
Basile and D.J. Carter, ThriVe’s president and chief operating officer, said they won’t prosecute the individual, should police find a suspect.
ThriVe will replace the sign that was defaced, beside the center’s front door. And come fall, new and more colorful signage will be installed to coordinate with the rebranding campaign.
Once all the elements of the new brand are rolled out, the ThriVe color scheme, signage, messaging and interior furnishings will make the centers more recognizable to the public, much as the signage, logos and colors of Starbucks or Target’s do.
“People have to be comfortable with your brand,” Carter said. “They need to know what we are. We’ve been here for 35 years, and people still do not know who we are and what we do.”
A philosphical stance
Lindy Dimeo, who has directed the Culpeper center since it opened, is taking the vandalism in stride.
“That morning, when I drove over and first saw it, I thought, ‘Oh man, this is sad,’” Dimeo recalled in an interview Thursday. “I felt sad for all the parents dropping their kids off at an elementary school across the street, seeing this. I was not angry, I was not upset. I just felt sad for the person who did it because, obviously, there is some kind of pain in their life.
“I was sad it happened. But within 15 or 20 minutes, people were coming by. The place was flooded all Friday with people were coming by to offer support and help and repairs and replacements and finances. It’s actually been encouraging to see all the support.
“You just go with it,” she concluded. “Been doing this a long time. You just deal with whatever happens. It’s all good.”
Another client, Lindsey Whiteside of Culpeper, described how the Health Department made her aware of the Pregnancy Center’s services when she was 18 or 19.
She went to the center and got a pregnancy test. And she and its staff talked over what she wanted to do.
“I really wasn’t sure,” Whiteside, now 27, recalled Saturday. “They talked me into keeping it. I’m glad I did. “I was on a bad path at that time, I was drinking a lot—and having kids helped me straighten out.”
She has remarried, and now is the stay-at-home mother of Nathan, 6, Mason, 5, and Ethan, 18 months. She has a fourth child on the way.
Whiteside encouraged people to visit the center, and “to get help if they need it,” whatever their circumstances may be.
“I refer people to them now,” she said. “They’re very helpful if you’re going through a difficult time. They can talk you through it.”