Every Sunday, Candice Keller makes her way into a different Middletown area church and takes a seat in the second row.
Sometimes she just mingles with parishioners. Other times she gets up in front of the congregation and talks about the work she and the Community Pregnancy Center are performing.
For someone who had trouble looking her now-husband of 33 years in the eyes until they had been dating for six months, that weekly mission is a tremendous step outside of her comfort zone.
“To me, any person would do what I do if they were aware of the existing need,” Keller said. “My job is to make that need known to the community.”
Keller is celebrating three years as executive director of the Community Pregnancy Center, a feat she said is already bucking tradition. Executive directors with most non-profit organizations don’t last much past the two-year mark, she said.
The 51-year-old grandmother of three is still going strong and jokes she never thought she would still be so fixated on babies at this point of her life.
“I lay in bed most nights and worry about where I’m going to get baby formula,” Keller said. “It’s just unheard of.”
As she deals directly with the issue of abortion on a daily basis, Keller said the job can at times be almost too much to handle. Being forced to regularly see a human side on the polarizing issue is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the job, she said.
“I know there are 4,000 abortions every day, but when I meet someone and it becomes personal I almost feel like I’m coming apart,” Keller said. “I usually have to leave the building, call a friend and ask them to just meet up with me and talk about anything other than what happened to me that day.”
In addition to normal influences like her parents and family, Keller received a lot of inspiration from an unlikely source, while pursuing her undergraduate degree at Miami University. Keller said Marjorie McLellan, an associate professor at Wright State University, was responsible for helping her get past a fear of public speaking, despite their drastically different approaches to life.
“We were different religions and different political parties, but she saw in me a desire to make a difference even before I knew it was there,” Keller said. “She really pushed me and, even though she probably isn’t even a pro-life person, I know it meant a lot to her that I was pursuing something that meant a lot to me.”
Ty Thomas, director of TV Middletown and Keller’s landlord, said he always knew about the ongoing debate surrounding abortion, but it was not until he met Keller that he realized the importance of the issue.
“Every single day she goes into work, she’s saving lives,” Thomas said. “Candice has a caring heart for pregnant women and babies and I truly feel inspired by her.”
Thomas balked at the idea of Keller considering herself more of an introvert, as he said she “really shines” in front of big audiences. While there are times he said he has seen her break down in private from the stressful nature of her job, Thomas said he admires her cheerful, positive and motivational demeanor in public.
“I never really expected to care that much about the whole pro-life movement,” Thomas said. “But after getting to know Candice and seeing the work she does, I try to help them personally any way I can.”
Keller said Thomas’ generosity is a large part of the reason the Community Pregnancy Center was able to relocate to a new facility earlier this year. She said he only charges them $300 a month for rent, then turns around and donates $250 right back to them.
“I told him one day he’s pretty much giving me the same amount back that I’m paying him,” she said. “But Ty sees the people who come in here every day and realizes what we are able to accomplish.”
Butler County Treasurer Nancy Nix said she and Keller got to know each other through political circles, but went on to become close friends over time.
“Candice has been by my side through a lot of really gut-wrenching times,” she said. “She is always there to be my motivator, give me encouragement and basically just be a friend.”
Nix describes Keller as a “mover and a shaker” in the political forum, saying she has mobilized and energized Middletown’s conservative base. Keller’s powerful ties to the Community Pregnancy Center managed to rub off on Nix, as she said it has become one of her main philanthropic efforts.
“She’s not a really loud and flamboyant person, but she’ll speak up if it’s her turn,” Nix said. “When she does speak, people listen.”
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