Sixteen and pregnant - a teenager's worst nightmare. That's exactly where Holly Nichols found herself 17 years ago.
Nichols was a junior at Hollidaysburg Area High School when her world was rocked. During her first visit to the gynecologist for birth control pills, she learned she was pregnant.
"The nurse said, 'Are you going to be able to do this?' And I said, 'No I can't!'" Nichols said. "My family was like the Waltons. We were like the perfect Christian family. I just knew I couldn't be that bump in the road."
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Holly Nichols and her son, Trevor, of Hollidaysburg enjoy a moment together. Nichols was 16 and pregnant with Trevor 17 years ago when Precious Life supported her during her pregnancy.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) The Rev. Scott Manganella founded Precious Life 25 years ago. The ministry initially offered free pregnancy testing, maternity clothes and baby clothes. Now it has three offices in central Pennsylvania and a maternity house.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) The Rev. Carl and Bonnie Wolfe reminisce about their days as house parents for the maternity home in Hollidaysburg, operated by Precious Life. They helped pregnant teens and young women for 11 years.
Without telling her parents, Dave and Trudy White, she made arrangements to have an abortion in Pittsburgh.
"I just wanted to pretend like it never happened. I was trying to undo what I did. I just knew I couldn't devastate my family in that way," she said.
Before she could carry out her plan, her parents learned the truth. What disappointed the Whites more than the unplanned pregnancy was their daughter considering abortion. As pro-life Christians, the Whites couldn't bear the thought of their daughter not having the baby.
Not knowing what else to do, they called their friend, the Rev. Scott Manganella, founder of Precious Life, to talk to Holly. Precious Life is an Altoona-based organization dedicated to supporting teens and young women in crisis pregnancies.
Nichols didn't give into Manganella's message the first night he talked to her, but eventually what he said hit home. Nichols credits Precious Life for helping her make the decision not to abort her baby. Sixteen-year-old Trevor Nichols is grateful for her choice.
"I'm really really glad she turned to Precious Life. Otherwise, more than likely, I wouldn't be here," Trevor said.
Nichols of Hollidaysburg didn't hide anything from her son. Because of his mother's story and his faith in Jesus, Trevor has decided to save himself for marriage and gives back to Precious Life by helping with fundraisers.
25 years ago
Nichols is one of the about 8,000 women Manganella estimates Precious Life has helped in the past 25 years. It sprouted from his passion for the pro-life movement.
After graduating from Liberty University in 1978, Manganella became pastor at Community Bible Church in Portage. It was there that he felt another calling.
"I became burdened with the desire to do something positive about the abortion issue. Rather than just preach against abortion, I wanted to do something positive," Manganella said.
"It's better to light a candle than just curse the darkness," he said.
Along with parishioners and community members, Manganella started a program offering free pregnancy testing, maternity clothes and baby clothes.
In 1985, Precious Life was officially a nonprofit agency in Altoona. Volunteers worked out of an office in the Knickerbocker with a 24-hour crisis hotline, counseling and directing young pregnant women to services they needed.
That first year, Precious Life helped about 80 women. The next year the office moved to 15th Street and about 15 years ago, Precious Life moved to its current location at 1716 12th Ave. Offices have been added in Bedford and Johnstown with Precious Life helping about 1,000 women annually.
The doors to Precious Life are open to anyone, but mostly young women 16 to 22 years old seek its services. Manganella and the volunteers strive to help each woman figure out a plan of action.
"We basically kind of walk her through a step by step process to help her little by little, if she's thinking abortion, keeping the baby or putting the baby up for adoption," Manganella said.
In some cases, Precious Life can provide vouchers for ultrasounds at local clinics. Maternity clothes, baby clothes and baby furniture are available.
"You just have to do your best to teach them to be a mom and give them the tools they need to get started," said Debbie Griswold, secretary at Precious Life for 17 years.
Many women who come to Precious Life are considering abortion and the volunteers do not judge, Manganella said. They make sure the women know what to expect.
"It's an important decision. This is serious stuff and it has severe consequences. We're going to walk her through what takes place from the moment she gets to a clinic to what the atmosphere will be like - what it will be like when she's in the operating room and what to watch for after she has the abortion," Manganella said. "She needs to be aware of risks."
He also wants the women to know there is always an open door no matter what the choice.
"I don't want her to get an abortion, but if she does get an abortion, there is still a place she can come. We can talk about forgiveness and the guilt she may have," he said.
A place to call home
In 1988, Precious Life bought a house on Allegheny Street in Hollidaysburg and turned it into a temporary home for the women who are welcome to stay up to 30 days after the births of their babies.
In the past 22 years, at least 150 pregnant women have lived there.
A married couple serve as house parents. Meals are usually eaten together and the women follow rules, do chores and have responsibilities.
The pregnant women have a separate living space, as well as three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small kitchen. While the women live there, Precious Life provides counseling, helps them through the pregnancy and works with them to develop a plan for life after the baby is born.
Manganella and his wife, Twila, were house parents for the first year. Their children, Joshua and Allison, lived in the house as well.
Then Carl and Bonnie Wolfe took over as house parents for 11 years.
"We wanted to do it, knowing we could help these girls in crisis," Bonnie said. "Some of them came there with just the clothes on their backs."
Some of the women had been kicked out of their homes, abused or had nowhere to turn. The maternity home was a safe place.
"The Lord used us to change some of the girls' lives," Bonnie said.
The house parents taught them to cook, clean and do laundry and transported them to and from school every day.
As with all households, life did not always run smoothly. Some girls would stay out past curfew or invite boys to their bedrooms.
The Wolfes said they were not lenient but remained patient and kind through the rough spots.
"We tried to model, with the Lord's help, what a home ought to run like. A lot of times we had to bear burdens and it was tough, but it was worth it," said Carl, who is pastor at Buckhorn Bible Church in Ashville.
The Wolfes acted not only as parents to the pregnant women, but grandparents to the newborns. Many nights Bonnie was awakened by an exhausted new mom at her wits end with a screaming baby.
One of the most heartbreaking moments came when a girl who was six months pregnant lost her baby.
"It just broke my heart," Bonnie said. "I just sat and cried until I couldn't cry anymore."
While there were many difficult times, the Wolfes think back fondly on their years at the maternity home and hope they helped to changed lives.
A few weeks ago, Bonnie ran into one of the former house guests at Walmart.
"She came right up to me and gave me a big hug. She told me how she got her life straightened up, and she was so happy," Bonnie said.
"We tried to get them to see you can't change the past, but you can change the future," Carl said.
More and more women use Precious Life's services each year and Manganella thinks there may be more offices in the future.
In the meantime, the nonprofit service is reaching out to mothers and babies outside the country.
About five years ago, Precious Life, along with My Brother's Keeper, a 20-year-old nonprofit organization based in Roxbury, Pa., that focuses on helping Christians in Romania, opened a center for education on abortion and family issues in the European country.