Connie Freund one day just started opening the mail at 1st Way Pregnancy Support Services, where she was a volunteer.
The then-executive director of the anti-abortion nonprofit that helps women and couples during crisis pregnancies, had stopped coming in because of health reasons.
Without any intention of becoming the center’s director, Freund started taking care of the paperwork and kind of stepped into the role, she said.
This past January, Freund stepped down as 1st Way’s director, a position she held for about 24 years while she worked as a secretary at Resurrection Catholic Church in Woodstock and raised six boys.
“I did it as a mother, and then eventually as a grandmother,” she said. “It wasn’t just me. It was all our volunteers that came on board. Each one had their own gift.”
Things just come together around Freund, said Jan Doyle, a longtime volunteer who nominated Freund for Everyday Heroes.
“I just want to be around her because she has this – it’s almost like magic,” Doyle said. “If you need something and we talk about how we need it, next time I see her, it’s, ‘Oh, guess what, we got this huge donation,’ or ‘Guess what, we just go this new volunteer who has this ability to help whoever it is.’ ”
Since opening in 1978, 1st Way has grown to a staff of about 50 volunteers and has helped more than 10,000 people by providing diapers; baby, toddler and maternity clothes; parenting classes; referrals to adoption agencies, the county health department and shelter homes; post-abortion support groups; and a place to talk.
This spring, 1st Way hopes to have an ultrasound machine up and running, Freund said, adding that if a women sees an ultrasound, she is less likely to have an abortion.
“When you see them walk through the door for the first time, they look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, and they’re frightened and just feeling like they’re very much alone in the world,” Doyle said.
“When [Freund] sits down with them, she’s just so calm and she’s so kind,” Doyle added. “You can immediately see them relax, and by the time they leave, they’re smiling and they look so much lighter.”
Freund has a rapport with the volunteers, too, said Anne Kammer, who has been volunteering for 1st Way for 12 years and also nominated Freund for Everyday Heroes.
Even though volunteers typically work with just one other volunteer during a shift, Freund held volunteer meetings, potlucks and Christmas parties to make everyone feel like a family, Kammer said.
She would leave little gifts and thank-you notes for people’s anniversaries, she said.
“She’s just been the rock of this place,” Kammer said. “She’s just amazing.”
While Freund is no longer the director at 1st Way, she still volunteers, mostly training new volunteers and working with clients. She’s looking forward to quilting and taking road trips with her husband, Merle, including one to the San Diego area where one of her sons live.
She never thought that this work would dominate so much of her life, she said.
She had gotten involved with the pregnancy support center because of Roe v. Wade, something she never thought still would stand all these years later.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Freund said. “I just couldn’t believe our country would do that. The main reason was, yes, you’re taking the life of your own child and then you have to live with that the rest of your life.”