Debbie Stokes assumes leadership at Vitae, ready to share the good news on life


When Debbie Stokes accepted the reins of the Vitae Foundation in July of this year, she said she inherited a well-oiled media machine.

She should know, as she has been with the organization for more than 20 years.

Mrs. Stokes started at the Jefferson City-based international nonprofit organization in 1998 and since then has worked in just about every capacity there.

After a brief retirement, she got a call from Vitae’s founder, Carl Landwehr, and then from its then-current president, Rob Rysavy.

Mr. Rysavy needed to step down due to some family-health issues, and she was asked to step in.

Duty called. She couldn’t say “no” to an organization that was near and dear to her heart.

Vitae Foundation is a nonprofit, educational organization focused on creating a culture of life by using research-based messaging and cutting edge media to inform women facing an untimely pregnancy about local pregnancy resource centers (PRCs).

In her early days at Vitae, Mrs. Stokes served a vital role in helping with video shoots and later assisting the organization with consistent marketing and messaging through branding.

These days, the medium is digital.

“We have a lot of young people working here who are on the cutting edge of digital media,” she said. “I have a hard time keeping up with it.”

Whatever the medium, the stories she hears from lives being saved by a media message never fail to amaze her and her colleagues.

“It gives us goose bumps to capture the attention of a women in what we call the ‘now moment’ when she is making a decision, and she chooses life because of something she saw or heard on the internet or social media,” said Mrs. Stokes, a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish in Jefferson City.

Vitae prides itself on its “right-brain research” as it looks at the emotional side of the abortion issue with hard facts. This research examines psychological dynamics that are at play when a women is faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

When the organization first started, Mrs. Stokes noted that the Vitae organization was very protective of its research and findings.

“That was our niche,” she said. “I think in the early days of the pro-life movement, there was a lot more division. Everybody was trying the find their spot.”

The first story on the group’s research was published in 1998 in First Things magazine. It was entitled, “Abortion: a Failure to Communicate” (

“The article got a lot of attention,” related Mrs. Stokes, “because we found that when a women is faced with an abortion decision, she is not concerned so much about the baby but rather about herself and her needs. Those findings were revolutionary back then.”

Some 20 years later, that information is still having a profound impact, as PRCs are using it in their training packets for helping volunteers.

“We put out an article and it took off on its own and God had a plan for sure,” said Mrs. Stokes.

As Vitae’s new leader, she’s excited about how her organization can share information that helps PRCs, “not only in the marketing of their websites, for instance, but also in the way they talk to their clients.”

She is pleased as the emergence of PRCs that are increasingly medical in nature.

“There is movement within the pregnancy center world that has centers becoming much more medical,” she stated. “These centers have a wider range of clients that they are trying to attract. Among them are women in the early stages of their reproductive-health years. They are almost like doctors offices. This certainly is a big paradigm shift within the movement.”

Mrs. Stokes sees the pregnancy center movement as a rallying cry for the pro-life movement.

“God is putting a lot of opportunities before us, and we are pretty excited to help share what we’ve learned wherever we can,” she said.