I met Paulette a couple of years ago in a women’s Bible study group, appropriately named “Sojourners.” We women in the group are all on a spiritual journey, and we stop along the way to study God’s Word and move to the next place in our faith walk.
Paulette serves as Director of S.A.Y. Yes! at McCabe United Methodist. She stepped in as director when the first director announced her retirement after years of dedicated service to this ministry. Paulette knew that taking over this role was going to be demanding, and she was apprehensive.
Knowing this, I wanted to find out more about her journey in this role. During our talk, I was struck by her passion for this amazing ministry and this very personal story of her leap of faith.
S.A.Y. (Save America’s Youth) Yes! is a nation-wide outreach after-school ministry. It began in 1992 as a unique solution for churches and ministries that want to reach out to the children and teens in their neighborhoods.
The goal of S.A.Y. Yes! is to give at-risk children a solid foundation upon which they can build a successful future. Through the local church, each child is ministered to spiritually, emotionally, physically, intellectually, and socially. The program seeks to put into action this Bible verse: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
There are currently 140 S.A.Y. Yes! Centers for Youth Development ministering to approximately 4,000 children and teens across the country. One such center is right here in Bismarck, ND, at McCabe United Methodist Church.
The S.A.Y. Yes! outreach ministry at McCabe began in 2010 with children from the neighborhood school of Will Moore participating one day per week. Donations of time, money, food and school supplies have flowed into the program since its start. The strong partnership between the school’s administration and the church volunteers has been successful, so much so that the program is now offered three days per week.
During the 2 ½ hour block of time this program runs, children participate in reading, music, homework mentoring, art, Bible study and gym. The children also eat their evening meal, which is prepared by volunteer “chefs” and served in a room with tables set with white tablecloths and real dishes, so they feel—in Paulette’s words—“like they are at Grandma’s house.”
There are currently 12 adult mentors, 15 cooks and, most importantly, 18 children participating in this ministry. All those taking part—children, parents, and volunteers—feel like a special bond has been forged.
Paulette shared how she’d been searching for God’s purpose for her life for a while, ever since she’d retired from a long career in nursing and teaching. During this time, she hungered for a word from God, explaining that the hunger was like “an unmet need that was never satisfied.”
When she heard via Sojourner’s that there was a need for a new director of S.A.Y. Yes!, a little seed was planted in her heart, and she began to pursue what she could do to help. Through a series of events and urgings by other women, including the current retiring director, Paulette eventually said, “Yes.” Or, as she puts it, “S. A.Y. Yes! found me; I didn’t find it.”
After agreeing to take over as director, she felt strong emotions. “That night I came home from church and I was overwhelmed and in shock. I started to feel the pressure of what I was taking on. I fell to my knees and asked God, “Is this you want me to do? Is this your will?” There was no bolt of lightning, but slowly as I prayed, I felt my heart warm and a sense of peace and calm came over me. I knew then that I had made the right decision.”
When I asked Paulette if the job has been smooth sailing, she laughed and gave an emphatic “No!”
She’s been gripped with moments of doubt. She’s spent many hours enlisting volunteers. She’s even watched one of her family members suffer a serious health crisis.
But Paulette has met and overcome each of these challenges, sharing, “All of my help has come to me on my knees. I know Jesus overcame the world and that gives me courage to know that I can do the same.”
But there are also more than enough good moments to offset the challenges. Volunteers who stepped up to help when asked. And, of course, the children.
“We accept these children, just as they are, and they know it. There is so much going on with each child. Some put up a hard shell so they don’t get hurt. But, as time goes by, they start to melt slowly like little popsicles, and they trust us.”
With her eyes filled with tears, Paulette shared the story of two little sisters, whose current circumstances leave them without a mother figure in their lives. “These two dear girls came into my office one day just looking for comfort, and the older sister said, “We’re just so lonely.” I gave them a hug, and they’ve been stuck to me like glue since then.”
She also talked about the positive male role models, “like some of our music mentors, chefs and our gym supervisor, Jerry. The children call him “Mr. Jerry,” and they have fun when they are with him. But they know he won’t allow any disruptive behavior.”
Because the parents/guardians come into McCabe to pick up their children, they start to become comfortable with a church setting. Paulette knows of at least one family of a S.A.Y. Yes! child that is now attending worship services at the church.
When asked how to respond to a “God nudge,” Paulette answered, “When you don’t know what to say, just pray about it. Then, listen. Listen for God’s voice.” She added, “If you said “Yes” and are now overwhelmed, look for help and take it when it is offered. I wouldn’t have survived without the help of others.”
I was honored to interview Paulette for this JOY Blog post. She is an amazing woman who is living out her faith by serving this ministry.
At the end of our time together, she pointed to the wall behind her where two items hung: a framed print of Jesus as a shepherd surrounded by lambs, and a little poster with the words from the hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Paulette pointed at the wall, looked at me and said: “You see that? That is what gives me strength every day. I went looking for the Lord, and He found me.”
If you hunger for God’s purpose for your life, do you hear His voice calling you into roles you may feel unprepared for? How do you respond?