By: Ann L. Coker
University studies have concluded that social interaction promotes better cognitive functioning for workers’ productivity and forms better relationships between employees and their supervisors.* Would that be any different for a Christian agency, and specifically for a pregnancy care center (PCC)?
That question led me to send out a questionnaire to directors and volunteers in several centers in Indiana, those with which I have worked, as a client services director and volunteer. On both sides of the desk I have had good relationships and I wanted to confirm my experiences.
Starting with their first meeting, I asked PCC directors and volunteers how first impressions affected their decisions and future relationships. One director of a downtown center calls the initial interview “meet and greet. It’s less intimidating. During that initial meeting, I find out more of what drew her to the ministry, her interests in volunteering, and how comfortable she is.”
For my interviews I developed a series of questions, not only about past job and church history, but also about her time for devotions and other volunteer service. I wanted to find out about discipline, habits, and what’s important in her life. The director of another center agrees: “The volunteer interview needs to involve issues that may be personal in nature for both the volunteer and director. This time together helps me know the basics about her family, her history, her walk with the Lord, her strengths, and her skills. I am always humbled when I hear them testify about God leading them and using their life circumstances for His glory. I explain a typical day at our center, the services we provide, the volunteer roles, answer any questions, and give a tour of the center. I try to be realistic about what is required and yet make her feel welcome.”
There’s always a reason someone applies to a PCC. One volunteer wrote, “I had watched a TV report about partial-birth abortion, and I was so heartbroken that I felt I needed to do something. I started looking online to see what was available in my area. I came across Crisis Pregnancy Center and called right away. Leaving the meeting with the director, I knew that I wanted to be involved with the center.”
A young woman reported that her dad and mother worked in a drug and alcohol ministry and she helped out there. “My mother saw an announcement about an opening at a Life Center. I decided to apply and got the job as a part-time associate: two days at one center and three days at another.”
What may be a usual reason could be summed up as one volunteer put it: “I remember thinking, ‘What am I going to do now that I have retired from teaching?’”
The role of volunteer training in good relations
Most of the responsibility of training falls on the director. The major training is best done as a group using manuals and audio visuals supplied by the national affiliate. Interaction between trainees stimulates what’s learned from the resources. Then comes on-the-job training where a potential volunteer shadows a seasoned volunteer, getting acquainted with intake forms and other paper/computer work, but especially seeing the counselor and client in a room together.
One last step involves the director or seasoned volunteer watching the trainee with a client. Then the director meets with the potential peer-counselor to evaluate the process and decide when she’ll be ready for a solo flight. I call it the jump-off time.
One director shared about this process of shadowing: “Several of my seasoned volunteers like to show new volunteers the ropes. This encourages seasoned volunteers and gives the new ones a good volunteer to follow.” An intern, working for college class credit, confessed, “If it had not been for training, I would have been lost!”
Communication is key
All the directors I interviewed reported that maintaining communication right at the start is important. As one director put it: “Once she has committed to the whole process by completing the application packet and coming in for her first shift, I will call, text, or email to maintain contact. I make a point of introducing new volunteers to established volunteers during shift changes, so they can get to know one another. We have a bulletin board with photos so all the ladies can put a name with a face. Relationships with other volunteers are encouraged in the center during our times of prayer before each shift. As volunteers share their stories and prayer needs, a sisterhood in Christ is formed.”
Every good director keeps an open-door policy, always available for peer-counselors and receptionists. We answer questions and go over any potential problems resulting from sessions in the counseling room. Often this involves looking over the counselor’s notes. Appropriate social moments also help us relate as Christian servants and friends. Another director added, “On days when client load is quieter, I allow opportunity to chat more with my volunteers. It’s important to remember events going on in their lives. Checking in about prayer requests is also key.”
The spiritual bond
Volunteers agree that prayer times are their best connection between staff and others on their shift. One long-time volunteer said, “We pray for each other. Our director takes an interest in our lives. We share ideas as we work at the center.” A fairly new volunteer added, “Prayer time prior to our shift is a bonding time personally, and we pray for those clients God would send that day. Sharing together has been such a blessed time.” The intern wrote, “We realize that we’re sisters-in-Christ and that we need to be in each other’s corners.”
As to volunteers relating to each other, one wrote, “I worked the same day of the week, so I maintained good relationships with the same volunteers. We shared our passion about helping clients, but we also got to know one another on a more personal level. We created friendships during time together. The director usually ate lunch with us and that helped to know her better.” Another volunteer added, “Our director showed interest in my family and activities. The local in-services not only helped us be informed, but we got better acquainted with other volunteers.”
When asked to give added thoughts, one director answered: “I love my volunteers! Each is unique in their stories, personalities, and giftings. I am encouraged by their connection with each other. The spiritual conversations we have and seeing their hearts for our clients and the Lord are blessings in my life.” Another director added, “The volunteers have become my dear friends. They understand the need for me to function in a leadership capacity and respect that role, but we also work together as friends and co-laborers. More and more is required of our volunteers as training is ongoing. They continue to rise to the challenges and their level of professionalism increases. The volunteers understand that we cannot do this ministry without them and I show my appreciation for their sacrifice of time and energy.”
As a client services director, I personally had opportunities to relate to volunteers in meaningful ways. One receptionist was a smoker, and we made an arrangement during her shift for one smoking break out back of the center. About a year after I retired, I met up with her and she had quit smoking.
Volunteers added their thoughts. One wrote, “The time I spent at the center was valuable and rewarding. I moved out of state, but I have kept in touch with my center director.” I am now a receptionist and agree with a volunteer who works the shift prior to mine, “Our director is a godly woman, a good listener, considerate, and caring.” Another volunteer at the same center said, “I praise God for providing this area of service for me.” The intern wrote: “I look up to our director and would learn from her any time. Serving in this ministry has been a huge honor!”
*“Social interaction is a central feature of people's life and engages a variety of cognitive resources. Thus, social interaction should facilitate general cognitive functioning. Previous studies suggest such a link, but they used special populations (e.g., elderly with cognitive impairment), measured social interaction indirectly (e.g., via marital status), and only assessed effects of extended interaction in correlational designs. Here the relation between mental functioning and direct indicators of social interaction was examined in a younger and healthier population. Study 1 using survey methodology found a positive relationship between social interaction, assessed via amount of actual social contact, and cognitive functioning in people from three age groups including younger adults. Study 2 using an experimental design found that a small amount of social interaction (10 min) can facilitate cognitive performance. The findings are discussed in the context of the benefits social relationships have for so many aspects of people's lives.”
Oscar Ybarra and Eugene Burnstein, University of Michigan; Piotr Winkielman, University of California, “Mental Exercising Through Simple Socializing: Social Interaction Promotes General cognitive Functioning,” Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 2008 Feb; 34(2):248-59. Abstract first published December 4, 2007, Research Article. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18212333
Ann L. Coker began as a volunteer at the Crisis Pregnancy Center of the Wabash Valley, located in Terre Haute, Indiana. After ten years she went on staff as Client Services Director, first at the main center and then at one in Brazil, IN. She retired in 2010 but continued pro-life work as a board member of the Wabash Valley Right to Life until she and her husband moved to Indianapolis in 2017. Ann now volunteers as a receptionist at the southside Life Center.