For my primary service-learning project I spent fifty hours doing various tasks at my local Caring Pregnancy Center. The majority of my time was spent doing grounds maintenance for the center, because the landlord had not hired landscapers for the property for some time. On my first day at the center some landscapers did come out, but all they did was weed eat and left all the debris on the ground. Aside from raking the debris that they left, all four sides of the center had weeds that had not been properly managed by the weed eating. I also did some power washing to remove moss from the parking spaces immediately behind the center and pruned bushes. Additionally, I worked by sorting clothing donations, cleaning and performing safety checks on baby equipment (such as strollers) that had been donated, and keeping the vegetable garden watered and picking the produce. The produce from CPC’s garden is given away to clients. I have included a few before and after pictures of the grounds maintenance I did, along with a photo of the vegetables I picked.
Now I’d like to focus on how I feel I developed as a person through my time spent working at Caring Pregnancy Center. This spring I went through the Leadership Theory and Practice CollegePlus! course, which delved intensively into discovering who God created individual students to be. As such, I felt like I had a fairly good understanding of myself, my motivations and giftings, but this particular community service project practically reinforced what I had learned about myself through Leadership Theory and Practice. I tend to be drawn towards tasks that are in the background rather than service in which I would be directing other people, which is what my time at Caring Pregnancy Center certainly was. I prefer to be given a task and allowed to work on it by myself until I finish. And once I get started on a project — especially if it’s something that can be finished within a relatively short period of time — I have a strong drive to keep chipping away at it and not work on anything else until I finish. Of course, in this case I had other responsibilities at the same time, whether they be at home or elsewhere, but this drive really helped me stay focused and I was able to finish my project ahead of schedule. This allowed me to help out with a VBS that was a joint project of several area churches, as they were in desperate need of another classroom staffer for the middle school program. I also realized during the course of Leadership Theory and Practice that one of my types of intelligences was nature, which would include working outdoors or with animals. I really enjoyed the opportunity this project gave me to do something productive outdoors, as most of the tasks I have to do in a day are typically indoors. I also very much enjoy the sense of satisfaction that helping others can bring, even though I was not directly involved with the clients.
This community service project also helped me develop my interpersonal skills in a few key areas. One of these was noticing my tendency to stereotype visitors to the center. While our brains often make connections between certain types of people and their behaviors based on experience, people are individuals and we need to treat them as such. Being aware of my thought processes in this area — I can stereotype people subconsciously — will help me accomplish this. As I worked on the grounds outside the center, one day I realized that I had been making judgments on whether visitors to the center were clients or were there to donate based on the type of car they drove. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes we can’t keep our brain from making connections like this, but what we can do is be aware of it and consciously strive to treat individuals based on who they are, not what they look like. When I first went to the center to meet with my supervisor, she told me that due to confidentiality concerns, if I ever saw someone I knew at the center I couldn’t tell anyone. I had never even considered that something like that might happen. It didn’t even enter my mind because the types of people I normally interact with would most likely not be seeking services from a pregnancy center. To me, it was a humble reminder that I am not morally superior in any way to clients of Caring Pregnancy Center. While I’ve been raised in a Christian home and would be considered by most to be a good person, I have to be careful not to allow pride to creep in and allow me to think that an unplanned pregnancy is something that could never happen to me. I too, am fully capable of that sin. If I think I am immune to temptation it will simply make me more susceptible to fall prey to it. I had a privilege — being raised in a strong Christian home — that most of the clients of CPC probably did not, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t end up in their situation. I also think that just being around clients and people in the surrounding community was a good opportunity for me to get used to interacting with different types of people that I might not normally feel completely at ease around. While I was working outside on a hot day, I had one client come and bring me some bottled water. Often the clients also want to have something to offer others and be able to give back.
Through the time I spent serving Caring Pregnancy Center I came to really appreciate the way the center goes about offering services to the community. CPC’s main program is called Earn While You Learn, and it allows clients to earn supplies — such as clothing and strollers — by attending parenting classes taught by CPC staff. Towards the end of last year I took a CollegePlus! course called Social Justice from a Biblical Perspective. This course stressed that simply throwing money at a problem is not an effective way to make it better. For the situation to change, individuals involved have to desire to be self-sufficient, otherwise the money will be spent and the person will again make the same decisions that caused them to need services. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to turn people away in an effort to help them learn to be independent if all they are looking for is a handout. CPC is effective at weeding these people out because they require action to be taken by the client in return for services. The center is also selective because they only allow expecting mothers and mothers with children under age two to receive services. CPC has the capability to put clients in touch with other service agencies that might be necessary, such as food banks and adoption agencies. Caring Pregnancy Center is able to offer abortion alternatives by offering auxiliary support or putting the mother-to-be in touch with an adoption agency.
I believe that the problems that cause clients to seek services from Caring Pregnancy Center are rooted in the breakdown of the family and morality in America. Divorce and the sexual revolution have resulted in many children without fathers and mothers without husbands. But the problem goes even deeper. These problems are rooted in the nation’s shift away from the traditional values that our nation was founded on — Christianity. If we have no logical foundation for morality, we will have no morality. I believe this is the underlying cause of the situations of most CPC clients.
I have been involved in community service on several occasions prior to working at Caring Pregnancy Center. However, I had a desire to do more, as most of my service was within organizations I was already involved with and tended to be a one day project. Working at CPC allowed me to initiate service and get involved with a community organization on my own, and while I was in a background role, I found it to be satisfying nonetheless because gave me a chance to practice pure altruism. It also cause me to rely on God a lot, as I have struggled with chronic fatigue for most of my life and am just now finding answers as to why I don’t have more energy. For about ten days prior to my service I had been feeling poorly and I had been doing a lot of praying that God would give me the energy to finish what I’d started. I had also asked several friends to pray and God saw me through. I did much better than I’d expected, but I definitely had to trust God during that experience. However, in regards to my service I think I could’ve improved in praying more for the center and its clients. Due to the nature of the work I was doing I had plenty of time to do this as I was primarily doing tasks that didn’t require a lot mental energy. When I was cleaning and performing safety checks on donated baby equipment I did use the time to pray for the clients that would receive them, but I feel like I could’ve been more faithful in this area.
As I stated earlier, I believe that the majority of the time the problems that result in an unplanned pregnancy begin in the home. Because this problem is so widespread in modern America, it is difficult to imagine that there is a way to remedy it. I believe that the most effective way to do this is person by person, developing relationships with those in need and helping them transform their lives so that the problem of unplanned pregnancies and fatherless children is not continued in the next generation. If these women can learn to be involved in their children’s lives the way God would have them to, I believe that unplanned pregnancies would be much less common. Families function best if they work the way they were created to work. Mentoring mothers-to-be can help reverse that cycle. This follow God’s design for families as laid out in the book of Genesis. As I did some research for this paper and the biblical plan for families, I found a quote by Chuck Swindoll which says, “A family is a place where principles are hammered and honed on the anvil of everyday living.” I believe this is consistent with the biblical mandate to instruct one’s children in the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 11:19). The mentoring that Caring Pregnancy Center provides is also supplemented by practical help through helping provide baby supplies, as I mentioned earlier. This two-pronged approach provides practical help to meet immediate physical needs and helps the client move forward emotionally and spiritually, allowing her to come to a place where she is independent of services and maturing in her relationship Christ.
As I mentioned earlier, my time spent at Caring Pregnancy Center helped me realize my own tendency to stereotype people and reminded me that I could very easily find myself in the same situation as many of the clients at the center. I was also surprised when I began working at the center because the stereotype of lower-income women pregnant out of wedlock is that they are teen mothers. This did not appear to be the case for most of the clients at CPC. In fact, there was one woman who came in that was at least in her 30s, possibly older. This project also gave me an opportunity to put my money (or in this case, primarily my time) where my mouth is. If abortion is something I’m going to complain about, I need to do something about it as well. I have been involved in multiple civic movements dedicated to fighting abortion on a legal level, but it is equally, if not more important, to fight it on a personal level. One of the services Caring Pregnancy Center offers is post-abortive counseling. Women who have experienced the tragedy of abortion have the potential to be some of the most powerful weapons against it. Abortion is fought in the hearts and minds of the people of our nation, and we can change those hearts and minds one life at a time. So even though I was not directly involved with clients, this project allowed me to have a supporting role in an organization that is seeking to change the hearts and minds of those who are most at risk to be personally involved in this tragedy and I have been able to have my actions support and reinforce my beliefs.
In summary, this experience has given me a better understanding of how to go about ministering and supporting lower-income women going through an unplanned pregnancy and foster independence and self-sufficiency at the same time. I learned a lot of this simply by spending time at the center and making myself aware of its operations. I was able to further the purpose of Caring Pregnancy center by helping the clients to have fresh, home-grown vegetables to feed to their families; I cleaned and performed safety checks on equipment that would be donated to clients; I sorted clothing that would be given to clients; and I made the center a more inviting place for clients by cleaning up the grounds. I am hoping to continue helping sort clothing donations once a week in the future, but I am waiting to see what my schedule will look like in the fall before I make a final commitment. My biggest take-away would probably be what I have already mentioned in regards to my tendency to stereotype clients. It is something that many times is done unintentionally, but I must be careful to be aware of that tendency within myself take each person and situation as they come, without assuming that I know the particulars of their situation. Women could also seek the services of Caring Pregnancy Center for reasons that are not their fault, such as in the case of rape. My job is to show compassion while fostering personal responsibility to those involved until I have heard the person’s story. We can become desensitized to poverty in America because so many who seek help are just trying to get a free ride. But God has called us to be discerning and compassionate, and the only time we should withhold help is if there is evidence of cyclical poverty and the individual involved is not trying to move forward.