Bristol Palin speaks at FM home for unwed mothers

A baby made the only sound that permeated the crowd as Bristol Palin unraveled her story to an antiabortion audience in Fargo Oct. 7.

One thousand people filed into a ballroom at the Holiday Inn to support the Perry Center, a local home for expectant mothers, and to hear and see the daughter of Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican Party vice presidential candidate and former governor of Alaska.

The Perry Center, established in 1986, is a Christian-centered home located in West Fargo that houses unwed, expectant mothers between the ages of 12 and 23 who would otherwise not be able to financially support their pregnancies. The center hired Bristol Palin to speak at their annual fundraiser.

Members of the audience had various reasons to attend the fundraiser. Some have been supporters of the Perry Center for awhile, and others barely knew about the program but were interested to hear Palin’s story.

Stephanie Kost, a Concordia College student who took the year off to work at her church, was invited by a few friends to attend the fundraiser.

“I don’t really know her story very much,” Kost said. “It should be interesting to hear her story.”

Other attendees were more closely connected to the Perry Center. Mother and daughter Kelly Thomson and Brittany Aakre have been long-time supporters of the home. Thomson works with her husband as pastors at Fargo First Assembly of God. Aakre’s husband, Nathan, works at Family Life Credit Services, which is located across the street from the Perry Center.

Aakre and Thomson expected that the fundraiser would draw more support from the community due to Palin’s prominence.

“It will raise awareness,” Aakre said. “[The fundraiser] will bring people in who probably didn’t know [the Perry Center] existed.”

The fundraiser pulled more people in than expected. The organization expected about 800 people to attend, and one thousand people showed up. The event was sold out before the opening prayer. To put this in perspective, volunteers said last year’s fundraiser produced about 150 attendees.

This year, the line extended from the ballroom through the pool area and down the hallway to an outside door.

The crowd received Palin with a standing ovation as she walked on stage.

“Jeez, there are a lot of people here,” she said in her characteristic Alaskan accent.

While Palin argued that she was not at the fundraiser to set the record straight, she was there to explain how what she described as a “real gotcha moment” changed her life and forced her into the spotlight.

Since the world caught wind of her pregnancy, she has become a spokeswoman for abstinence-only education and an advocate for antiabortion, as well as a dancer on “Dancing with the Stars.” Palin is also working on a book about her life. All of these things were not in her life plan before she conceived Tripp.

“I didn’t set out to be a speaker, an author or to be a dancer,” Palin said.

Palin said she lived a normal life up until her mother was chosen as the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party. She planned to attend college, get married and have children, in that particular order.

“In many ways, I had it completely made,” she said.

When Palin found out she was pregnant, her life changed.

“I knew I had a choice to make,” Palin said. “I was going to have this baby.”

In the last year, Palin has delivered this same message on a speaking tour for abstinence-only education and antiabortion engagements. Her message has not been without criticism from those who think her own pregnancy makes her unqualified to speak for abstinence, but her response to her critics is simple: “I won’t stop.”

Her story resonated among her audience. Glen Marshall, a Minnesota State University-Moorhead student, agreed that Palin should continue her cause.

“Whenever someone speaks up for something there will always be someone to call them a hypocrite,” Marshall said.

Marshall is one of seven students from MSUM’s Collegians for Life who was asked by the Perry Center to volunteer at the event.

The fundraiser was religious and political in nature. The ceremony centered on a Christian message, from the opening prayer to the testimony of a former resident who became a Christian after the Perry Center staff “planted a seed” during her stay.

There were no abortion rights activists protesting outside the hotel. No one openly objected to what the speakers said. The people who attended the fundraiser like-mindedly supported the Perry Center’s cause.

The Perry Center chose Scott Hennen as their emcee for the fundraiser. Hennen, a conservative radio personality, hosted the “Scott Hennen Show” on Fargo’s AM 1100 The Flag until he was fired in September.

Hennen frequently discussed frustration about the Democratic Party, the president and Fargo’s Red River Women Clinic’s director Tammy Kromenaker. The Red River Women’s Clinic is the only clinic in North Dakota that provides abortion services.

“Maybe the good Lord will show her what hell looks like,” Hennen said.

One of MSUM’s volunteers, Danielle Nickolauson, said the antiabortion movement doesn’t have to be religious. She referred to how Collegians for Life once had an adviser who was an atheist. Marshall agreed, adding that similar issues can be addressed morally but not religiously.

“You don’t have to be a religious person to oppose a genocide or child abuse,” Marshall said.

In addition to the $15 admission fee or $75 to shake hands with Palin, the Perry Center asked for free will donations. The Perry Center plans to use the money from the fundraiser to cover the cost of operations. The home houses up to 12 women at a time, along with a live-in “house mother.” Hennen begged those in attendance to give more than they thought was comfortable.

“It’s not enough to be pro-life,” Hennen said. “I want you to give until it hurts.”


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