Karen Patota is the Founder of A Baby’s Breath. The inspiration came from a friend’s experience at Planned Parenthood about 40 years ago. She walked into Planned Parenthood in a crisis pregnancy and was not given accurate information regarding her baby. She was told that she had “clumps of cells”, not a baby with a beating heart. With this misinformation, she proceeded to have an abortion and regrets that decision to this day. Karen was motivated to do something proactive in the advocacy for Life after holding her child for the first time. She thought, this is the moment that all post abortive parents would never have. When she looked into the eyes of her newborn son, she saw pure love. It made her sad to think about all of that love lost through abortion.
The opportunity to start a crisis center came after holding a Run for Life in 2000. While she was expecting her fourth baby, homeschooling two children, she began the organization with the first center. On August 15, 2000, the feast day of Our Lady of the Assumption in the Jubilee year of 2000. It was not easy, certainly not convenient to share her family with the organization, but the drive to create a real alternative to abortion drove her to create a system by which very busy people could contribute what little time they had in their week to offering real help in a crisis pregnancy.
Karen balanced the raising for four children with running and developing an organization from one center to five, from just offering baby items to offering free ultrasounds, housing for pregnancy moms and an independence program to give crisis clients real hope in choosing life. Her children Josh, Jared, Thomas and Victoria are all on their way to finding their own lives, but her oldest son Josh is now the CFO of the organization. Her husband John has shared his life with A Baby’s Breath in gratitude for the beautiful gifts he has received from our marriage and our faith in Jesus Christ. Karen and John are parishioners at St. Francis Parish, Norristown, PA.
Our first service was just to be here for mothers, fathers and families in a crisis pregnancy. It wasn’t until after our first year, when we had occasionally been bankrupted of all of our baby supplies that a Sr. Nora from Cora recommended we start a “Baby Store” with items that the clients could earn through attending our “Services”. We had to quickly change our approach to just giving things away.
We developed the Baby Store program where every service earns 10 baby dollars. We also changed our Pregnancy Counseling into a goal oriented, incentivized program. Every client who walks through our doors is in a crisis of one sort or another. It could be they need a job or finish their education or they need a new place to live, a better place to raise a family – everyone is different.
We didn’t think we would be offering much beyond the birth of the baby, but a year after we opened, it became clear that the crisis did not hit many of our clients until after the baby was born. With the baby store, we finally got a chance to work with clients before, during and after a crisis pregnancy. It is our most widely used service.
A Baby’s Breath has been blessed with highly talented individuals over the years. One of those was Delores, a registered nurse. She would teach our clients about their developing babies, fetal development, early childhood diseases in our Prenatal Classes. She also taught a class on artificial contraceptives leading into abortion, the ultimate birth control. She taught about Chastity and other topics many other prenatal classes especially offered in the medical practices and hospitals do not cover. The spiritual aspect of having a baby. It’s a baby, not a fetus or a clump of cells, but a little human just waiting for his/her first breath.
Building onto our Core Services
Some clients to see their children before they are born in order to choose Life, we started an Ultrasound service in 2010. Our Natural Family Planning classes started in 2012. Michael & Lisann Castagno were the Philadelphia Archdiocesan instructors training couples to teach sympto-thermal natural family planning classes. We asked them to provide free classes for our crisis clients. They began to do this, however, there was a need for more couples than there were available, so they started training instructors at our annual Leadership course. The classes are free, they are offered through our website at every center.
Job training services
All our crisis clients are encouraged to address the issues of budget, credit, jobs, and education to be able to provide for their families, independent of government support. That is why we offer baby dollars for our clients who are not in the independence program to work towards a better life for their children. All with the loving guiding support of their advocates.
Starting a Home
Housing became a service in 2016. After 2 years of updating one of our centers, we created a place where a mother could discern the next step in her life.
One of the beautiful aspects of our approach to crisis pregnancies is to see a client who has managed to get through her crisis WITH her baby. With that inspiration, we offer job training services to address the issues of budget, credit, jobs, and education to be able to provide for their families, independence of government support. We offer baby dollars to all our clients with the achievement of their goals and real dollars for those clients who are accepted into our Independence program. All with the loving guiding support of their advocates.
August 15, 2000 – The Assumption of Mary – Jubilee Year
The first location started in Fairview village in a little 450 square foot office space owned by a parishioner. He donated his portion of the income to the organization and we were able to afford a year’s rent with the proceeds of our first Run for Life along with some other donors from the parish. The center grew new volunteers, but the location was not convenient to our clients in Norristown, so they moved that center to Jeffersonville to another location owned by the same parishioner. It was convenient to public transportation and was lovingly renovated to accommodate our center with enough space to hold parenting classes and a dedicated area for a baby store. We stayed in that location 6 years even after the parishioner sold the property. The new owners, a day care center moved our center up to the 2nd floor which was a challenge with no elevator and all of the moms wielding strollers up and down, but the landlord provided renovations to accommodate a child’s area where moms could safely let their children play while attending the parenting classes. The baby store had a locking door which was very helpful to keep the little ones from dismantling the donations from time to time. In 2011, the center moved to its current place at 2062 W. Main Street. The group got a chance to completely design the interior to suit its needs. The vestibule with a slate foyer accommodated the strollers coming in from the rain and the layout of the place serves a great many clients at parenting, prenatal, NFP classes as well as Christmas parties.
August 15, 2003 – The Assumption of Mary
We opened a 2nd center in the heart of Norristown near the Montgomery Hospital. We operated there for about 3 years until it became necessary to close that center. The year before, we had embarked on our 3rd center in Collegeville.
August 15, 2005 – The Assumption of Mary
Our Director at the time spotted a vacancy in the same building as Planned Parenthood. She inquired within, and we got a 700 SF space right in the same location. We didn’t know what to expect being so close to the organization that does the polar opposite of what we do, but we went in with an open mind and a big smile. Our workers forged an amicable relationship to the point where Planned Parenthood was actually sending clients who were choosing life to us. This is because Planned Parenthood does not provide for those who choose life. There’s no budgetary allotment for parenting classes or material assistance or post abortive support. When they closed a few years back, we continued to stay in the community to serve clients in crisis pregnancy. This is one of two centers that have an ultrasound machine which has been critical in the defense of human life. The overwhelming majority of parents who see their baby on the ultrasound machine choose Life.
August 15, 2006 – The Assumption of Mary
In 2006, we started in St. David’s, less than a block away from a functioning Planned Parenthood. We were offered a sliver of a spot and operated with the good graces of a generous donor. Our landlord hiked our rent 25% and we were forced to moved after a year. We chose a spot in Bryn Mawr right across the street from the movie theatre. The location was beautiful, a renovated storefront with exposed brick. It was safe for our volunteers, but for visibility – not very good. We also had a monstrous rental commitment of $2000/month. So, after 6 years, we moved to Wayne where the square footage was cut from 1000 square feet to 450, but we still had enough space for a baby store. The best reason for this location was the foot traffic, and the ability for the community to advertise real help for crisis pregnancies.
March 25, 2011 – The Annunciation
The founder of this center was a participant in our leadership course. She came to learn about our approach and the following year, brought her team. They split their team into our recommended leadership configuration of director, general manager and donations coordinator and found a location in the same complex as Planned Parenthood. This Planned Parenthood performed 20 surgical abortions every week, so it was critical to have our clients become aware of our location. We had a four-year lease and when that was up, the lease was not renewed. Fortunately, we found a location adjacent to the first one. The center is bright and spacious with enough room for all of our services including an ultrasound machine, a large parenting classroom and of course a baby store.
In 2016, our Warminster center moved to a location adjacent to its previous location, right next to Planned Parenthood. The new center is spacious with enough room for an ultrasound, a large meeting room for parenting classes and of course, the Baby store loaded with supplies donated from local parishes.
In 2014, Deacon Dan from St. Ann’s parish asked what we would do with 5000 sq. feet of space I immediately responded – we would start a home.
May 31, 2015 – Our Lady of the Visitation
We opened four counseling at our home on this date. We had transitioned the space from a daycare center to a counseling center by accommodating our zoning requirements for ADA. The home was beautifully restored by many wonderful volunteers. Lots of hours went into the launch of this center, but finally our doors were open and we were on our way to starting our home.
October 1, 2016 – The Feast of St. Therese of Liseaux, our patron saint
The project took two years, opening first as a counseling center, but then after installing sprinklers, internal egress and sprucing up the 100 year old former convent for the Sacred Heart nuns, we were ready to start offering a place for homeless pregnant moms. On October 1, 2016, our first resident came to stay for a place of refuge. We were still in a state of flux in understanding how to offer housing services, but we learned with every resident. The first baby born out of the home will be four this year. We have since had the absolute pleasure of sharing the births of over 12 residents.
Karen’s initial plan in her life was to use her talents gained from a BA in Math from California State University in Long Beach and a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Drexel. God had a different plan to apply her technical skills in the areas of compassionate social work. Karen was the President and Director for the first five years of the organization and then trained others to be leaders. She created a system for groups to follow in the starting, growing and maintaining a volunteer-based organization that uses volunteer leadership, does not accept government funding and is source of truth for clients seeking help in a crisis pregnancy.
The difference between our approach to crisis pregnancies and others home is the cost. Many crisis pregnancy center budgets for residential housing are over $1,000,000. This leads to making decisions like accepting government money a necessity. Our operational costs for running the home are about $20,000. We stipend minimally for the needed positions of house mom and housing director, but our total overall budget for five centers including a home is about $200000. The biggest expense to consider when offering both housing and an ultrasound service is the insurance. Currently, our insurance costs for five centers, a home, and housing are at $13,000. We spread the burden of paying for the
In 2017, on October 1, the feast day of St. Therese, the patron saint of A Baby’s Breath, she published Creating Compassionate Places which can be purchased directly from this site.