"We have about 130-140 pre-registered to walk," said Randi McSwain, the center's director. "We have lots of passersby stop by just to eat with us and bid on auction items. Most of the people who are out here walking are from local community churches."
"They all have a story," said Executive Director Maryland Guthas, talking about the event's various walkers. "Some have been impacted by adoption, maybe some of the women who are with us today have experienced an abortion in their own life ... and they now want to now do something, a lot have had a teen pregnancy themselves and they're just here to take a stand and to support something that is really helping young women in our community."
McSwain contributes the event's new location to the number of walkers.
"In past we were not to where the public could drive by and see that we were a presence there," she said. "We really wanted to be a presence in the community and for them to be able to see our signs and see us walking. So we decided to move it outdoors and this area [Friendship Plaza] made the most sense. It has increased attendance especially for passersby. We've had some people come up, didn't even know what was going on, asked, and they joined us. There really is a presence for life here in Bartow County."
The organization's goal for the event was to raise $15,000.
"It'll go to fund our everyday needs just to keep our center open," said Guthas. "We're open 33 hours a week and of course that takes money to keep the lights on. Our client base is increasing.
"I was one of the very first volunteers in 1989 when the center started," she said. "We started in a local doctor's office who really had a heart for this ministry. It really has just grown and evolved into something much more than what we were able to offer in the beginning. We offered free pregnancy tests and peer counseling. Now we have a whole program to walk these young moms through. We help them with their material needs and emotional support."
According to Guthas, the center sees about 45 people per week, including an increase in the number of fathers coming in for parenting classes. "They seem to have a genuine concern to learn how to be a better dad -- that to me is very heart warming."
According to McSwain, the organization hopes to eventually fund a new facility to further support the growth. "We are blessed to have the facility we are at but we cannot continue to grow in that facility," she said. "So that is our end goal is to have a new facility and hopefully be able to become a medical facility."
Among the walkers was Luz Navarrete, at her first Walk for Life -- "And hopefully not my last."
"I'm walking for my three unborn children and my unborn grandchild," she said as tears filled her eyes. "I had to make a choice when I was about 21, after having two healthy children at 16 and 18, to have a D&C in about 20 weeks because it had anencephalies and it's been a choice that has, man, has carried in my heart. It's been a decision, very, very hard." She lost two more children -- one of a set of twins and another child whose heart stopped.
"My daughter, who is now pregnant with her second pregnancy lost a child at 18. The Women's Resource Center was there for her, which I didn't know until ... about four months ago. So they were very supportive at 18 with her first child. How supportive they were with her -- the pregnancy tests, the resources, and everything. Man, it was amazing to find out how in this little town -- I mean being a teen mom in Jersey was very hard and not having the resources and whatnot -- to find out there was a support over here for my 18-year-old was amazing.
"This is no joke, there is some teen pregnancy," she said. "It doesn't matter if you're 18 or 40, that choice comes every day. The regrets that you have are going to be forever. It's hard."
Navarrete endorses open conversations between parents and their young child. "Because it can prevent abortions, it can prevent the lifelong regret."
"The best way to describe what the walk symbolizes is just putting feet to our convictions, that life matters," McSwain said. "In 2010 there was an estimated 300 abortions in Bartow County. As a pro-life center, we're just not okay with that and feel like it's our duty to have a presence here so that the community knows where they can turn when they are in that situation and where they can send their friends and family members. My favorite aspect [of the Walk for Life] is the presence we have here. This is the center of Cartersville and it is just beautiful to be able to be here as a pro-life center that is making a stand for something that is controversial, but here we are in the middle of town with over a hundred people because they do believe it matters."