October 4, 2012

Standing Together

2006 1528 page8 capT ALL STARTED IN THE MIND OF A 9-year-old girl. Growing up in Los Angeles, California, Dolores Allen felt unhappy with the way she saw young girls treated in an orphanage on the television program The Shirley Temple Show. Allen, now the administrative secretary for the Retirement Office of the North American Division, grew a soft spot for the orphaned girls she saw on television. She now believes that God impressed her young mind to help children living in similar situations.
“I would watch how the caregivers would treat the little girls at the orphanage—as if they didn’t care—as if they were just doing a job,” Allen recalls. “That didn’t sit well with me, so I wanted to build an orphanage where the caregivers would be compassionate, caring individuals who were insightful to the needs of the girls,” she recalls. “I wanted a place the girls could love and enjoy. That was the motive for me. I felt the girls needed true mothering.”
2006 1528 page8The Shirley Temple Show was not the only reason for Allen’s great concern for young orphan girls. The younger of two children, Allen grew up in a home where she felt no bond or connection with her parents.
“I was raised like an orphan in my own home,” Allen says. “Although my parents provided material resources, lack of emotional care can be as damaging to the psyche as physical abuse.”
Holding on to a dream but never understanding how to obtain the resources to make it a reality, thoughts of an orphanage faded to the back of Allen’s mind. It wasn’t until three decades later at a women’s ministries meeting at the Seventh-day Adventist church in Bladensburg, Maryland, that Allen realized her long-held dream could actually come true.
“Marilyn Thorpe, the church’s women’s ministries director, had at that time called a meeting one Sabbath afternoon and asked us if we had any burden for the girls in our church,” Allen recalls.
The women at the meeting responded with a variety of ideas ranging from teaching young women how to prepare meals to simple rules of etiquette. It was during this meeting that Allen’s dream transitioned from creating an orphanage to forming an organization where mature women in her church could somehow connect with young women to formulate a basic structure that would be available for girls to receive different resources, according to their passions, careers, etc.
“In my mind I began to formulate a circle where the girls were the center,” Allen says. “At the top was the dream team—those who were the module leaders. Coming out of the center I saw spokes that represented the various modules. These spokes connected the girls and module leaders to each other, creating a sense of bonding.”
From this vision the idea of “Sisters for Christ” was conceived—a multicultural program designed to give girls between the ages of 10 and 18 a safe place where they could develop their gifts and talents among their peers; learning from each other through positive networking and bonding.
Thorpe said she readily approved Allen’s proposal to create a proactive outreach program for the young women at the Bladensburg church, noting that this type of organizational structure would “fill the social and spiritual void” by providing an interactive opportunity for both teens and adults to deal with activities and issues that weigh on girls’ minds.
“With Sisters for Christ the girls wouldn’t have to go outside [the church] to deal with the issues of the world. They can do it in a setting more conducive to dealing with those things—a Christian atmosphere,” Thorpe says.
Allen’s thoughts echoed Thorpe’s comments.
“Many times girls will seek what they need as a ‘safe place’ in all of the wrong places,” Allen said. “This is prevalent in our local churches, schools, and communities. We see it demonstrated in their hostile attitudes and in what they choose to wear—many are lacking self-pride, self-appreciation, and self-dignity. Sisters for Christ wants them to know that there is more to life—that dreams can be realized.”

A Dream Come True

On January 6, 2002, Allen’s dream became a reality as the first chapter of Sisters for Christ was started at the Bladensburg Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The chapter—which at the time consisted of 31 girls—met twice a month. Initially, Allen was exhilarated at the responses she received from both parents and children who were eager to be a part of the organization. But feelings of inadequacy and doubt soon crept in, leading to what Allen describes as “The Moses Syndrome.”
“I did not want to be the leader or director of Sisters for Christ, even though I was committed to the vision and concept,” she says.
2006 1528 page8Allen says God sent encouragement through individuals such as Debra Brill, vice president of ministries for the North American Division; James Black, director of youth ministries for the North American Division; and Alfred Johnson II, director of adult ministries for the North American Division, all of whom saw her dream as something the church needed.
Black says he encouraged Allen to be a leader because she was pursuing “something that was desperately needed and long overdue.”
It didn’t take long before other churches embraced Allen’s vision, realizing the potential of an organization like Sisters for Christ within their congregations. Within 18 months of establishing Sisters for Christ in Bladensburg, various Seventh-day Adventist churches in neighboring areas started their own chapters—Community Praise Center, Alexandria, Virginia; Crewe-Ephesus, Richmond, Virginia; Ebenezer and Southwest Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.
Deborah Sanford, leader of the Community Praise Center chapter, remembers first hearing of Sisters for Christ and her reasons for implementing this program within her church.
“The young women in my church needed a safe haven, somewhere they could be nurtured and better learn to be the young women God wants them to be,” she says, adding that once they find God’s purpose in their lives “nothing can stop them.”
Stacy Caleb and Nolwandle McNeill, two 17-year-olds, have been members of the Bladensburg chapter of Sisters for Christ from its beginning. They spoke about their experiences thus far:
“Sisters for Christ has taught us how to be godly young women in our community,” Stacy says, adding that the organization helped her to mature into a responsible leader and a better person overall.
“I am a walking example of what Sisters for Christ is,” Stacy says. “[I am] a young woman who respects herself and looks out for her fellow sisters.”
Nolwandle shared similar thoughts.
“Sisters for Christ has brought out the real me and has helped me make the right decisions in life. It has given me a foundation to grow on.”
This is what Allen envisioned when she and members of her “dream team” created Sisters for Christ: “to empower, impact, and add value to the lives of the girls in their community,” as Allen puts it.

A Sense of Self-worth

According to the organization’s handbook, Sisters for Christ is also a cross-cultural, Christ-centered “safe place” established for girls between the ages of 10-18. It focuses on the principles of love and service—following standards and program guidelines designed to enhance positive growth and development in a nurturing environment through training in leadership, service, and personal development. Utilizing a variety of modules, e.g., financial management, etiquette, health, self-esteem, and home economics, Sisters for Christ serves youth in a purpose-driven manner.1

2006 1528 page8Doris Frazier, leader of the self-esteem module, says that this particular module is focused on building “personal worthiness” in the individual, to create a sense of stability by teaching girls how to focus on an entity greater than themselves.
“We want them to develop a sense of self-worth through a God-centered understanding of what He wants for their lives,” she states.
Frazier further explained that building self-esteem is where the development of a strong woman begins.
“Having financial success, among other things, is good; but until you get it straight with yourself . . . , [successes] don’t mean anything,” she says. “You have to know that you are important not only to the people around you but to God first.”

Creating a Safe Place: One Young Woman’s Experience

“Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you,” a teary-eyed 16-year-old girl says to her parents one day.

“What is it, honey?” her parents ask.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, but . . .” she pauses, sniffling and searching for the right words to relay the life-changing news she is about to tell her parents. Finally, she musters up the courage to say just two words.
“I’m pregnant.”
The room goes silent. The daughter’s words pierce her parents’ hearts like a sharp sword. Their jaws drop in astonishment and disbelief. Now imagine this was your daughter. What would you say? What would you do?
For 16-year-old Sherrie Wells, this example became a reality in the fall of 2004. How can I be having a baby and I’m only 16?
Sherrie’s disappointment did not equal the shame and fear she felt in her heart.
“I was afraid to tell anyone [friends and family] because I knew they would be mad,” she confesses.
Sherrie’s mind was bombarded with numerous unanswered questions: What am I going to do? Am I going to stay in school or am I going to drop out?
Statistics show that almost 1 million teenagers in the United States become pregnant each year, and about 485,000 give birth. Statistics also indicate that teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school, limiting their future chances for employment and increasing the likelihood they will live in poverty.2 Adolescent girls find themselves in situations such as these every day. They need mentoring and guidance.
Sherrie did not want to become a statistic. Although her pregnancy became her stumbling block, she determined to finish high school. Encouraged by Dolores Allen, Fanny McNeill (a module leader in Sisters for Christ), Sisters for Christ members, and her family, Sherrie stayed in school and graduated from the Frederick Douglass High School, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in June 2006.
“Fanny McNeill told me, that ‘no matter what, I always have God,’” Sherrie says. “[She said] ‘this shouldn’t hold me back from what I wanted to do.’”
Sherrie realized that her dreams were still possibilities, despite the circumstances she found herself in. She uses her experience to encourage other teenagers who may find themselves in similar situations.
“I just want to tell girls to follow their dreams and don’t give up, no matter what obstacles come their way,” she says.
Teen pregnancy, sexual abuse, substance abuse, depression, and suicide are just a few of the difficult issues young adolescent teens deal with. Like Sherrie, other young women are searching for a safe place where they can find someone to talk to, to share their struggles and their deepest feelings with, and know that they will not be judged or looked down upon for their mistakes. Sherrie describes Sisters for Christ as a “dependable, supportive, and loving” group. The organization showed Sherrie how much they cared. Paraphrasing the words of John C. Maxwell, a famous Christian author, Allen sums up Sisters for Christ’s support for Sherrie: “Girls don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
1Sisters for Christ Handbook, p. 17.
2Ibid., p. 11; (firstscience.com/SITE/factfile/factfile2741_2760.asp).
Omar Bourne spent his summer as an intern at the Adventist Review. He is a senior print journalism major at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee.