This time of year can be challenging, especially if your town population sees a dramatic decrease when students leave for summer vacation. Our local college town headcount increases and decreases by nearly 10,000 citizens each August and May respectively.
This presents opportunity and challenge. Should we just siesta for a while and think about it tomorrow? Not quite, darling. Don't run for the tanning oil yet; you have work to do! Let's look at three areas of concern.
Existing client relationships end and new client contacts can be sparse. As a director, you have already dealt with emotional boundary issues such as when a client case closes for any reason. Your volunteer counselors are, often times, not going to have that experience. They will need help with this separation. Sometimes they will express feelings of inadequacy as they look at the relationship in retrospect. "I should have done ... ," "I wish I had said ... ," or even, "I just wish we could go on meeting each week."
Summer vacation is a different kind of separation. For a college student, if/when she returns in the Fall, she will have moved on. Her pregnancy center connection may not be as strong or as vital to her as it once was. Even if she is carrying over the summer and returns for care in the Fall, her significant people group will have risen to the occasion to meet many of her emotional needs. Upon her return, you will need to begin again to explore the extent of your role in her life.
Peer counselors need to be coached through this period gently. Good reading is found in the Boundaries books by Cloud & Townsend. These resources give fine exercises for self-help and also assist peer counselors in keeping these tender relationships in a safe and healthy perspective.
Volunteers may get 'antsy' and begin to question the necessity of their weekly presence in the center. In a center that sees primarily college students, you know the traffic can be 'seasonal.' There is an influx in the Fall and Spring as well as approximately two weeks after each holiday when students have left campus for a while. (Two weeks is about the time it takes to miss a period.)
Some centers may even reduce their hours over the summer months. The Enemy is on stand-by to whisper negative thoughts into the hearts of these dedicated and wonderful servants.
You need to be ready to encourage. Small group Bible studies, road trips, luncheon dates, or half-day retreats are ways in which to keep everyone cohesive. Maybe a group of you can do an organizing project together on a particular day of the week. Make it fun. Have a garden flower or herb exchange. Take advantage of any center trainings being offered over these months. Be sure to send post cards from your own vacation. Convey to your partners in ministry how much you appreciate them and keep them motivated and in-touch during a dry time. Remember that dry times are loving gifts from the Lord given for our restoration. Do not fret; you will soon be so busy that your head will spin.
The great relationships you formed on campus these past semesters are going to quell in the summer months, or your student contacts may have graduated. Campus life comes to a screeching halt the weekend of graduation. Sigh. Accelerated summer courses may take place on your local campus. This is the opportune time for you to perform vital tasks that are difficult when classes are in full swing. Many faculty members are still available in the month of June and will be more approachable. Campus clergy and ministry leaders may be more accessible now, too. They will be planning for next term—be a part of their plan!
Perhaps there is a staff member you heard is a believer or who is interested in center work. Ask him/her to a quiet, laid-back lunch close to campus. How about that oppositional professor who tells her students that your center has an untruthful agenda? You really want to meet her! Ask her to lunch or to show you around campus. Meet her at the courtyard and chat. You may ask a 'friend' from campus to introduce you. There is no need to discuss the center. Chat about planned summer reading lists or your perennial garden. Let her see you woman-to-woman and pray about the opportunities to discuss the ministry and what you believe. Find out her area of training; is it theater and drama, literature, or economics? Brush up and speak to that interest.
One winter day, I drove past my neighbor, who is a college professor. She had her car wedged in a snow bank. I sent my loving husband and son to dig her out. I discovered later that day that she had strong opposition to the ministry I directed. (Are you grinning?) In fact, that very day of her snowy rescue, she was late for a women's center meeting on campus. (Now just laugh heartily.) This would be the same women's center that wants to shut us down. By the way, she is in theater; I love theater! The way we conduct ourselves, even on our own time, is extremely important.
As for the student relationships you've formed, ask permission to stay in touch over the summer via e-mail, Facebook, or MySpace. Encourage these students to join Care Net and Campus Ministry sites on the social networks. Students love to be involved and know they are part of something vital and life changing. Our government is constantly encouraging young people to 'make a difference.'
Get them connected here and keep them interested. Ask them to finger crochet bracelets for up-coming purity talks or give them a baby bottle to save summer change. Maybe they will sponsor the purchase of a dozen Precious Feet pins. If they stay local to the campus, occasionally invite them to your peer counselor outings or Bible studies or take them for iced latte. Remind them of the Carwash for Life—the national event that takes place in September. Ask them to commit to being a carwash planner. Promise to touch base in early August, and be sure that you do.
You will also be planning your strategy for the new term and freshmen orientation. If you are not part of that program, check the campus directory or call the main office to get connected to student/community affairs. The orientation planners will be working over the summer, too.
Remember to order your takeaways that you will have at your display: pens, precious feet pins, rub-off abstinence message tickets, buttons, etc. Order printed or logo materials early to avoid a scramble in August over late or missing orders or printing errors needing correction.
NOW you can run off to the beach, and in quiet times, pray for your own journey this coming year and the vision for your center. As you listen to the crashing surf and gaze into starry summer nights, keep in mind that the Keeper of the Stars knows of your desires for your ministry and will bring forth the relationships, the needed changes, and the strengthening of His work in the center—to your amazement and to His Glory. Happy Summer!
Marcia Warmkessel lives near Virginville, Pennsylvania, (We are NOT kidding!) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .