Ruth Graham lead speaker at Lifeline Family Center’s benefit dinner
Last year, Lifeline Family Center’s annual benefit dinner sold out.
Founder and President, Kathy Miller, expects this year’s March 14 event to follow suit.
“I think it’s grown over the years because we always try to bring in a speaker with interests that would cross a lot of spectrums,” she said. “Not just a pro-life speaker for a maternity home kind of thing.”
Founded in 1996, Lifeline Family Center is the only residential program in Lee County for homeless young women in crisis pregnancies who are not part of the foster care program. The center serves up to 12 women and up to 24 babies at a time at a time. Ages range from 16 to 25.
This year, Miller expects about 600 people to attend the 23rd annual benefit dinner.
Doors open at 5:30 and dinner starts an hour later. The event is held at McGregor Baptist Church at 3750 Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers. Ruth Graham, the daughter of famed Evangelical leader, Billy Graham, will headline the event.
Ruth Graham visited Lifeline 12 years ago to cut the ribbon to the center’s new building.
“At that point,” Miller said. “She really embraced what we were doing.”
When reached by phone Monday, Graham said she’s just happy to be speaking.
Graham and her daughter, Windsor, will talk about their own life struggles, including unplanned pregnancies and other life experiences.
Graham will touch on her spouse’s infidelities, her divorces, her teenage daughter’s pregnancies, another daughter’s struggle with bulimia and her son’s battle with drugs. Her daughter, Windsor, will speak openly about her two teenage pregnancies and what it was like to be related to the most famous Protestant religious leader in the world.
But more importantly, they will discuss how they overcame these challenges.
Graham is an experienced conference speaker and has appeared on “Good Morning America” and “FOX and Friends.” She is also the author of “In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart,” and “Step Into the Bible.”
Windsor volunteers at crisis pregnancy centers and has offered her home to young girls who are pregnant.
Miller says there will also be a special presentation that will “share the heart of what the ministry is about.”
The presentation is a surprise, so Miller couldn’t give too many details away. The presentation will show attendees what it’s like when women first discover they’re pregnant.
“Letting them see the child in the womb and hear its heartbeat,” Miller said. “It’s a presentation about the reality of the human embryo.”
Miller added, “There is no way to deny human life anymore. Not with ultrasounds, not with (today’s) technology.”
Last year, 600 people attended the event and they raised $150,000. As of Monday, tickets were more than halfway sold out.
The yearly benefit dinner helps carry Lifeline through the summer. The center is eligible for government funding, but Miller says she doesn’t take it because she doesn’t want to have to rely on it.
Lifeline receives a lot of support from the community, including 81 churches from all different denominations. For example, Miller says some of the churches help out by doing diaper or baby food drives.
“We have been embraced by the community,” Miller said. “Every dollar we spend is from people who truly believe in what we’re doing.”
And no matter what, Miller wants women to know that they have another option.
“We have a generation of kids that know no boundaries and Lifeline endeavors to bring them to a place where they recognize the safety of having boundaries and having commitments and staying focused and I think that is something that is becoming obsolete in today’s society.”
Miller says Lifeline preserves that, “For women who really want to grasp that and recognize the value,” adding that, “Those of us who share those values need to get behind them and be their support system.”
Lifeline also means a lot to Ruth Graham.
“(It) is very important in our culture today,” she said. “We have other options that people are taking lightheartedly. Lifeline takes these young women in and helps them get on their feet, get skills, and a job.”
The center’s goal is to help these young women become self-supporting through education, job training, parenting classes, professional counseling and spiritual guidance. The residential program lasts two years.
In the past, Graham stayed with the young women and had breakfast and dinner with them.
“She’s become part of the family,” Miller said. “And I know she feels the same way.”
“Lifeline is family,” Graham said. “They take in young women whose own families are dysfunctional. They teach them how to have normal relationships and healthy relationships. It’s a place of happiness, not sadness.”
On this visit, Miller says Graham will stay with the young women for a few days. Depending on college commitments, Windsor may join her.
When asked what she hopes attendees will get out of her speech, Graham said, “God is faithful and life is important,” adding that, “We choose life and we don’t have to meet difficulties about life ourselves.”
In the Outreach Ministry program, more than 6,000 women have received assistance with material needs, adoption counseling and resource referrals.
The non-profit also operates a 24/7 Pregnancy Helpline, provides free pregnancy tests, free ultrasounds by appointment, and does outreach to all areas of Lee County, including all college campuses.
“Pick up the phone sooner rather than later,” Graham said. “It’s not going to get easier. You will be welcomed, not judged.”