KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Bradford County women will soon have a resource to help them with some of life’s most difficult questions as Joanna Weldon prepares to open a Starke branch of her Keystone …
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Bradford County women will soon have a resource to help them with some of life’s most difficult questions as Joanna Weldon prepares to open a Starke branch of her Keystone Heights-based women’s organization Answers.
Weldon’s organization started up in 2011 after she decided to open the Answers headquarters in Keystone Heights. Since then, the organization has seen continued support from the community, and a continued need for the free services they offer, which include education programs, counseling, pregnancy testing, as well as abortion recovery support. With the addition of a medical director, Weldon’s organization can now offer testing for sexually transmitted infections in addition to ultrasound for her clients at no cost.
Though the original branch is open to anyone regardless of where they call home, Weldon wants to bring her organization closer to Starke residents to make Answers more available to more people.
“The Bradford County community has been very receptive to the idea,” Weldon said. “They have had a void for so long, they’re grateful that anyone is here to help.”
When Weldon left her career in insurance to answer the call to help women, she had been employed with a women’s resource center based in Gainesville. While in that job, she saw them open up a branch of operations in Starke that eventually closed in 2009. Originally, Weldon wanted to open Answers in place of that center, but Keystone Heights provided her with a better starting point, though she kept Starke on her mind.
Earlier this year, her goal was met and she acquired a property near Bradford High School where she will set up shop in a second location. Since early in 2017, the property was ready, but waiting on permitting and probate. Finally, this April, she was able to begin construction and get things moving. Now, Weldon is anticipating a grand opening sometime after the start of the new year.
Weldon said that most of the construction labor was donated, allowing them to fully outfit the 2,000 square foot facility with multiple exam rooms and a special room for the ultrasounds and medical testing.
“Most of the work was donated by local tradesmen,” Weldon said. “We’ve had to come out of pocket very little, or we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”
In the meantime, Weldon is still operating the Keystone Heights facility and getting the word out around Bradford County through social media and fundraising events.
Local salon owner Amanda Hardee of Cutt’n Up in Starke approached Weldon about doing a fundraiser after hearing about Answers and attending its annual banquet in February. Weldon loved the idea, and on Nov. 16 Hardee donated 100 percent of the day’s proceeds from the salon to the organization. She also organized a bake sale through the salon. The local chapter of the nonprofit Modern Woodman climbed aboard as well offering to match the donation up to $2,500.
“We had done a similar fundraiser a couple years ago and it went very well,” Hardee said. “When I heard about them and what they had to offer to our community I wanted to get involved and help them with that.”
Until the opening is announced, Weldon will keep busy planning for the new location and with the current location in Keystone Heights. The hours will remain the same for now, with doors opening from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Mondays and 9:30 a.m. until 1, then 4-8 p.m. on Thursdays. Once the new Starke branch opens, the two locations will stagger days and each open two days a week at first until Weldon sees where the needs of each community lie and can adjust accordingly.
“Both locations will be one entity,” Weldon said, “but we will cater to the needs of each community individually to provide the best service we can for women.”