"It was a God thing; it really was," said Debra Martin, the agency's new CEO.

CANTON  Debra Martin wasn't job-hunting when opportunity came knocking.

God, she said, did it for her.

On July 1, Martin became the new CEO of the Pregnancy Choices Partners for Life, a nonprofit, faith-based organization founded in 1984 that offers a variety of free services to expectant families and new parents.

"I didn't make the decision," Martin said, laughing. "It was a God thing; it really was."

Martin most recently worked as a grants manager at Habitat for Humanity East Central Ohio.

She previously worked at Pregnancy Choices as a grants manager, helping to secure a five-year, $2.5 million grant for a Healthy Marriage & Relationship program that offered local schools a free semester-long curriculum dealing with healthy choices in relationships.

She also spearheaded the agency's "Sold Out" abstinence education program for teens.

Martin, a graduate of the University of Michigan, previously worked as an assistant director for the Ridge Project and with Arbonne International as a district manager.

Her husband, the Rev. Gary Martin, is founding pastor of True Light Christian Ministries and an adjunct professor of religion at Malone University.

40-day surprise

Martin said that back in January, she was in the middle of a 40-day prayer challenge based on the best-selling book "Draw the Circle" by the Rev. Mark Batterson. On the 16th day, Martin said she prayed, "Lord, surprise me."

Soon after, Martin said, she sensed God telling her that should would be leaving Habitat.

"I thought, 'OK, God, what are you doing?'" she recalled, laughing. "I got a call from the board here, 'You've been recommended to apply for this position.'"

Martin succeeds Jill Taylor, who served as CEO for 19 years. Taylor is now the ministry's director of development.

"(God) worked out all the details," Martin said. "Even though I worked here before, it was a whole different department. There's so much more to being CEO. My goal right now is listening for God's direction and shepherding the staff that is here to make sure we're a solid team."

Martin said that Pregnancy Choices, which has sites in Canton, Massillon and Green, offers three areas of service to its clients: Prevention, intervention and reconciliation.

Prevention includes abstention education. 

"Our goal is to go into the schools and talk about healthy relationships, and the consequences of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and teen pregnancy," she said. "You can live a life that's fulfilling."

On intervention, Martin said, "We're here as a ministry for anyone who is pregnant or who may be pregnant. We stand as an advocate for women."

Services include limited ultrasounds, pregnancy and STI testing, first prenatal visits, community referrals for health care and health insurance and other women's health-related-services such as pap smears. 

Pro-life principles

The ministry offers free maternity wear, diapers and formula, infant wear up to 24 months, kids' vitamins, childbirth classes and referrals for housing and other social services.

Two parental-support groups also are available.

It also recently added VITAL, an education program for expectant and new mothers to help at-risk babies reach their first birthday. Stark County has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the state, particularly among African American families.

Reconciliation, Martin said, deals with helping people deal with grief and loss -- from miscarriages to divorce to abortion -- in the form of a Bible-based support group.

Pregnancy Choices is based on pro-life principles, she said.

"We believe life begins at conception, and because of that we believe it's valuable life that deserves to be here," she said. "Everybody deserves a chance."

Pregnancy centers have come under criticism by pro-choice advocates who claim they disseminate inaccurate or misleading information about abortion.

"We do educate about abortion but it's not political," Martin said. "It's about life. Sometimes, the politics get in the way."

To learn more, visit www.pcPartnersForLife.com

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or charita.goshey@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @cgoshayREP