Inside Track, Human Resources, and Nonprofits

Inside Track: Sprague lives out the pro-life journey he endorses

The local Pregnancy Resource Center is one of the largest in the country with an annual budget of $2 million.

August 22, 2014
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Sprague
Jim Sprague, a diehard baseball fan, would have given his right arm to join the Detroit Tigers. Photo by Matt Radick

Displayed inside Jim Sprague’s office are photos of his three children: Jacob, Madison and Kevin, ages 20, 14 and 11, respectively. He will tell you all three were adopted as a result of unplanned pregnancies.

Sprague doesn’t dwell on this fact, nor does he shy away from it. The children represent the kind of choice he wants other women facing a difficult pregnancy to make.

“We’re trying to live out the pro-life journey,” Sprague said. “I don’t dwell on it a lot, but it is germane to what we do here.”

“Here” is the Pregnancy Resource Center, where Sprague has been executive director since 2001. Founded in 1985, the center operates two offices. The first is its pregnancy and medical services office at 415 Cherry St. SE — intentionally next door to the West and Northern Planned Parenthood — and its family support office at 2438 28th St. SW in Wyoming.

The PRC is openly Christian and pro-life and works to encourage women to decide in favor of carrying their unborn babies to term. Staff members help women make that decision by connecting them with services and supplies such as ultrasounds, referrals for medical care, pre-natal education, baby supplies, and sexually transmitted disease testing for men and women, all of which is provided regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, faith or sexual orientation. The PRC offers contraceptive information, but does not provide contraceptives.

Sprague said he believes many are unaware of the center’s services. Sometimes, that means thinking outside the public awareness box, such as the Johnny Ads the PRC has paid to have displayed above urinals in the men’s restrooms at The B.O.B. and other area bars and restaurants. PRC also advertises in local college newspapers, including Aquinas and Calvin colleges, Grand Rapids Community College and Cornerstone University. 

Social media is in the promotional mix too, including Spotify and Pandora but not Facebook because it’s considered to be primarily accessed by people too old for the demographic the PRC wants to reach, said Sprague.

“We got tired of being the best-kept secret in town,” said Sprague. “That’s what keeps me coming to work every morning. We have strategic organizational goals.”

 

JIM SPRAGUE
Organization:
Pregnancy Resource Center
Position: Executive Director
Age: 54
Birthplace: Bay City
Residence: Grand Rapids Township
Family: Wife, Jody; and children Jacob, Madison and Kevin
Business/Community Involvement: Past class participant in Leadership West Michigan
Biggest Career Break: Working for US Xchange LLC, now US Signal, to become its manager of corporate development. In 2 months, the Internet provider went from 95 to 400 employees.

 

One of those goals pertains to a statistic Sprague cites: Sixty-five percent of women with unplanned pregnancies have a Catholic or Protestant background. Despite their religious upbringing, some are mulling an abortion. Sprague said women with a church background consider an abortion because, in their view, it’s a preferable option to having to explain the pregnancy. As a result, Sprague works with pastors to get the message out that the PRC is there to help women without pointing a judgmental finger at them.

“Getting the church to talk about it isn’t always easy,” said Sprague. “There’s a lot of posturing. They don’t want to preach or talk about it. Our largest challenge is to energize the church.”

Sprague said his PRC is one of the largest in the country, based on its annual budget of $2 million, the number of staff members and range of services it offers.

He said he knows the pro-life movement has received a black eye through the years because of extreme measures some have taken that include bombing abortion clinics or murdering medical personnel who perform abortions. He believes such actions generate more heat than light; he tempers the PRC’s mission with less rancor.

“We are a pro-life group,” he said. “What that means for me is, we’re not here to beat down the pro-choicers.”

Sprague is a die-hard baseball fan. When he was younger, nothing mattered more than his dream of becoming a major-league baseball player. When he was 8 or 9, he broke his right arm due to a playground accident and had to wear a cast that went up to his elbow. But when there was a ballgame to play with his friends, Sprague slipped the cast off and hid it in the bushes.

He would have given his right arm to have been tapped to join the Detroit Tigers.

“I was enamored with the ’68 Tigers,” Sprague said. “I was 8 years old when they won the World Series and, in ’84, they won it again. That whole stretch of time would have been a dream to play ball with them.”

Sprague did have a brush with one of the Tigers’ greats, Grand Rapids’ own Mickey Stanley, a defensive outfielder for the Tigers from 1964-1978. Sprague is an unabashed Stanley fan. He had a chance meeting with him while on a canoe trip on the Platte River in Benzie County when he was around 10.

“He was with his wife and kid, and he was on the disabled list,” said Sprague. “He had a cast on his arm and was pulling his canoe out. Mickey Stanley is my idol. But second-string catcher for Cornerstone University is as far as I got.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Cornerstone in 1984 and a master’s of social work from Grand Valley State University in 1991, Sprague worked at Wedgwood Christian Services as its corporate and community resources program director from 1993 to 1997.

Then he took a detour in his social work career and worked for two years as manager of corporate development for Internet provider US Xchange LLC, now US Signal, a job that required him to create and implement an employee training and orientation program for 400-plus employees in a 12-month period. Then dot-com companies experienced a crash and burn.

“The tech stocks fell through the floor and we tried to have a fire sale, and we weren’t hiring anybody so they didn’t need me,” said Sprague. 

After that he worked at Williams Kitchen & Bath as retail showroom manager for a little over a year from 1999 to 2000. He was unemployed for six months before he got the nod to become the PRC’s executive director.

“It was wonderful and awful,” Sprague said of his six-month employment hiatus. “Every morning I got up with my journal and Bible to sit with my thoughts and God.”

At that time, Sprague’s wife, Jody, served on the PRC board of directors. He became aware of the availability of the executive director position through her, but he wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of applying because he didn’t believe he had the requisite skill set and thought the person who filled the position should be a woman. But Sprague said a willing attitude has served him well in the past. He applied for the job and was offered the position, which he readily accepted.

“Success to me is being obedient to what God has called me to do,” said Sprague. “I don’t ever want to measure success by dollars.”

Sprague desires that his children follow in his pro-life footsteps. He got a firm sense of accomplishing that aspiration when his son, Jacob, asked him a question when he was about 12.

“He was staring out the (car) window for awhile and then said, ‘Dad I hope it’s a long, long time from now, but when you die, can I have your job at the PRC?’

“For me, it was that sense that he got it, that the work we do here is important and it mattered to him.”

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