My deskwork was interrupted recently when a woman in her thirties asked to see the director. I recognized her as the coordinator of a 'battle of the bands' event where Women's Resource Center had run a concession stand a few months ago. I recalled that 50 teens were in a darkened room, enthralled by the booming music. Two colleagues, both popular abstinence educators, had been with me behind the counter, and we had fun conversing with students between sets while handing out M&Ms® and Snickers® bars.
Imagine my surprise when the woman told me we were invited to the next event only if we would send younger representatives! My first reaction was to be a little offended. After all, my own teenager had sent me off in my 'approved' jeans and jacket that night. Although I admit my last birthday cake had plenty of candles, I don't think of myself as too old to relate to my five daughters—or to the daughters or sons of others. However, when the woman lamented, "I mean, one of you looked like she could be someone's mother," I sheepishly informed her that all three of us were indeed mothers, and in fact could be grandmothers
In the end, I decided to be a good sport since I wanted our center to participate in the upcoming event. It was agreed—I would send younger reps with the specified grunge look. My volunteer that day, a vibrant 31-year old, was considering the assignment when the woman pointed out that she, too, was over the age limit. I was thinking of our slender blonde volunteer with the quirky style and welcoming presence. However, she had just turned 37, so she was out of the running as well. Therefore, I conceded further and sent two cute high school seniors to stand in front of our edgy-looking display board and hand out STD brochures. The grown-ups stayed home.
At the same time, I started wondering if the woman's thinking might not be short-sighted, because the truth is this: teens don't necessarily want to go to other teens for advice. They instinctively know they need balance through informal mentoring relationships with caring, trustworthy adults. A look at our volunteer roster revealed 12 dedicated individuals who could be using their time and talents other places but purposely choose to volunteer by helping young women and their families. They are obviously wonderful and well intentioned, but are our volunteers, and for that matter our staff, truly effective regardless of our ages? I noted that we have at least one representative from five decades—the twenties into the sixties. I questioned if, as the woman declared, the older volunteers have more of a challenge when it comes to relating to our younger clients. Do our volunteers really remain valuable as they climb the ladder through the years? Can the Senior and Baby Boomer generations still be sympathetic to the situations of Generation X and Y clients? Conversely, what about our youngest volunteers? Are they able to offer wise input?
After discussing the above questions with a sampling of staff and clients, I can answer them with a confident 'yes!' Our volunteers and staff are influencing clients in every way they should be: by listening, speaking the truth in love, and offering continued physical, emotional, and spiritual support.
What one client told me lines up with what Titus 2:4-5 says about older women teaching younger women according to the Word of God. Shanna (not her real name) knows most of our volunteers well, so I asked if all of them being older than her ever presents a barrier. She replied, "Not at all." She shared that she benefits from our experiences, trusts our advice, and feels good just knowing that we care about her. After that, she smiled and added, "Besides, when I came here I thought you were in your thirties, not your fifties." I share this because many women who have a heart for this kind of ministry (and are not embarrassed or intimidated by discussion of sexual issues) may be more inclined to have a youthful outlook and appearance. Plus, 20-year-olds don't typically have a realistic concept of what a 50-year-old should look like! Clearly, it's a non-issue to this young mother of two.
All of our center volunteers thoughtfully reflected upon their competency when asked about their efforts. The younger ones pointed to their easy ability to relate to clients, especially in respect to how sexual boundaries and media influences have changed. Some of those in their thirties and forties relate to many clients who visit us, because they bought into the lie that abortion is an insignificant act against a blob of tissue. Those of us over 50 have the broader perspective and deeper wisdom that comes from experience with raising families and weathering storms.
In reality, it is of great benefit to a pregnancy center to have a multi-generational volunteer force and staff. It means that a variety of options are available when God, in His sovereignty, makes divine appointments at our centers. If our staff members are in touch with each other, they can refer clients to a different volunteer who might better match up with the perceived needs.
To attract and keep a diverse staff, we place announcements in church bulletins highlighting our welcome to those with little or much life experience. As volunteers become acclimated to our environment, they are encouraged to start looking around in their own circles for additions/replacements. We have two appreciation luncheons a year where the different generations share what things they enjoy and what they are challenged by at the center. We have a bulletin board in our kitchen featuring volunteer families in their various stages. In our designated prayer room, each volunteer is encouraged to start her day with a devotional and a prayer journal where concerns are shared with each other. We celebrate our differences as well as the core things we have in common, and we grow as a group because of both.
While I truly appreciate our age range, I find that the most important qualities cross generational lines. As long as a volunteer is authentic in her sharing with clients, each encounter will be meaningful. Our genuine caring is what separates us from our competitors and draws clients into relationships, including, we hope, a relationship with Christ. So the next time a potential worker in our ministry asks if she's too young or too old to be successful, I will be able to reply with conviction that God uses a willing spirit, a true heart for Him and others, and an attitude of authenticity. !
Laurie Turnow is Executive Director of Women's Resource Center of Hancock County in Findlay, Ohio.