FARMINGTON, N.M.- Kerry Limback is a nurse who wears a long, loose calico skirt instead of scrubs. She volunteers each week at the Animas Crisis Pregnancy Center (ACPC) in Farmington, N.M., giving ultrasounds in a room with a teddy bear quilt hanging above the examining table.
What motivates her and her fellow volunteers? A recent study-Volunteering in America: 2007 City Trends and Rankings-linked volunteerism to shorter commutes, higher education levels, more home ownership, and a high prevalence of nonprofit organizations. But the study missed another motivating factor: faith.
Religious volunteers like Limback make up 35 percent of the volunteer pool-the largest group of volunteers, according to the Department of Labor. The Corporation for National and Community Service, which produced the Volunteering in America study, values religious volunteers' donated time at $51.8 billion each year. The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, the largest scientific study of American civic engagement, named religious involvement "among the strongest predictors of giving and volunteering."
Volunteers have powered ACPC since its start in 1990. Volunteers-a contractor, several homemakers, a college student, and a milk deliveryman-formed the original steering committee. Today, 14 volunteers provide pro-life care for 2,000 women each year. A volunteer secretary files patient information and keeps the center's books. Registered nurses perform free ultrasounds and answer medical questions. Teachers spend their summer vacations offering parenting classes. Volunteers operate a 24-hour crisis hotline, give pregnancy tests, counsel pregnant women, and sort donations.
Much of the Volunteering in America data does not apply to these volunteers. ACPC Director Debbie Joslin said most of her volunteers don't have a commute since they are retirees with grown children. Most of the current volunteers are well-educated, but former director Sue Schlauger said she has worked with volunteers of all ages and educational levels, from 18-year-olds to octogenarians, from high-school graduates to nurses. Schlauger said the best volunteer is one who "listens to God and loves women." Some of the most passionate are those who have had abortions and want to keep others from making the same mistake.
Schlauger said volunteers deal with life-and-death issues each day. When pregnant women choose abortion, Schlaugher said, "You can walk away with a heavy load: 'What could I have done differently?'" Some women go through training and never volunteer. Others stay briefly. Schlauger said when God truly calls volunteers, they come month after month, year after year.
Tammie Bacon has been coming for 18 years, serving on the ACPC steering committee and then working as a hotline counselor. She said her pro-life convictions gave her no choice but to volunteer: "There was such an urgency and it has stayed constant through the years-an urgency to be part of things, an urgency to help, feeling compassion for people . . . and not growing tired of what I'm doing."
Bacon said counseling has its difficult, awkward moments, but she knows she may offer callers the only help they'll receive. On Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in 2006, Bacon took a call from a high-school student afraid that he'd impregnated his girlfriend and that she would abort their baby. The pregnancy was a false alarm, but Bacon developed a friendship with the young man and his girlfriend, counseling them toward abstinence and even inviting them to play racquetball with her and her husband.
Limback, a stay-at-home mom who said nursing is still "part of me," let her nursing license lapse when she began homeschooling her oldest daughter. When she found that she could easily renew it, she jumped at the chance. Six months later, she began volunteering once a week at the ACPC: "It's my favorite day of the week because I get to take care of people."
One day Limback dropped by the center to show off a new puppy and ended up performing an ultrasound for a 17-year-old whose mother was "livid" about the pregnancy. Both mother and daughter were set on abortion until they saw the baby's image-tiny hands folded-on the ultrasound screen. They both wept, and the girl decided not to abort her baby. "Ultrasounds save lives," Limback said. "I've seen it." A licensed practical nurse earns $17 per hour in Farmington, and the ultrasounds are possible only because the nurses volunteer their services.
Wendy Foss' daughter became pregnant at the age of 17, giving up college to marry her baby's father, parent their next three children, and even take in another child. Foss said, "It was hard then, but her life is wonderful! You want little girls to know, 'It's bad right now and it seems so hard and there's no daylight, but it'll come.'" Foss, a first-grade teacher, spent her summer vacation teaching parenting classes, giving pregnancy tests, and counseling.
She said her daughter's experience motivates her to volunteer: "I have a heart for little girls who find themselves in that situation. . . . I can love them no matter what and not be judgmental." Foss said she counseled a young woman "scared to death" she was pregnant and would have to abort her baby. The pregnancy test was negative, and Foss said, "She just cried and cried and she just kept saying over and over again, 'I didn't want to kill my baby. I didn't want to kill my baby.'" Foss cried with her: "She just made a mistake."
ACPC's goal is to fix the situation that makes a woman think she has no choice but to abort her baby. This means offering parenting classes and then giving participants credit at the "Mommy Store," a back room hung with maternity clothes, lined with plastic bins of baby clothes, and stuffed with toys. Eventually, Joslin wants to turn the center into a full medical clinic with volunteers providing prenatal care and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
Schlauger said the center's biggest challenge is not just saving unborn babies: "We've got to help that mother change her lifestyle." ACPC volunteers teach abstinence in the local schools, but sometimes the center helps the same client through many pregnancies with many men. Schlauger said some women don't even change their sheets between partners, bringing predators into their homes and endangering their children. Since only Christ can help these women change, volunteers sign a statement of Christian faith and incorporate evangelism into their counseling.
Counselors and nurses aren't the only ones who keep the center going. The center receives all of its financial support from the local community. Schlauger said support came slowly at first since many local Christians were either pro-abortion by default, or apathetic. As the center has worked to educate the local Christian community, support has grown. Joslin recalled a man, wearing an old flannel shirt and carrying a checkbook, who stopped by the center. He asked Joslin about the center's needs, asked her the cost to meet those needs, and then wrote a check for the full amount: $50,000. He told a dumbfounded Joslin that God had blessed him and this was where he wanted to give.
Joslin compared her volunteers to the Egyptian midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh's order to kill the Hebrew children: "They're standing in the gap, literally, between someone and premeditated murder." Joslin said these women have chosen not easy work, but work that has eternal value: "Anytime you give away, give yourself away, pour yourself into someone else as these volunteers do, it pays off. It pays off for eternity. I think that's why they come here."