by Mary Peterson, Housing Specialist
Sarah Saccone serves as the full-time Program Director for Lamb of God Maternity Home, daily giving witness to her passion for women in crisis pregnancy through the gift of adoption. Utilizing her Bachelor degree in Sociology from California State University of San Marcos, Sarah worked as a counselor of homeless youth in a shelter-home atmosphere for nine years. She has served on a number of mental health non-profit boards, been a long-time volunteer for San Diego Hospice, and spent time teaching children in East Africa. When describing Sarah, Grace noted, "She is able to mentor, inspire, and listen...but also lay down the boundaries and call the moms on their stuff. I wish I could duplicate her for each of our future homes!"
Grace Dulaney is the Founder and CEO of Agnus Dei Foundation. Inspired by her personal experience as a birthmother, Grace established the Foundation to impact the culture of life by being a champion for adoption as a viable and positive solution to an unplanned pregnancy. The foundation opened its first Lamb of God Maternity Home in San Diego two years ago. Because of its supportive and loving environment, 100% of the birthmothers in their program have stayed committed to their adoption plan. The foundation is laying plans to replicate this unique and successful model nationwide. The stories of birthmothers who have lived at Lamb of God Maternity Home are featured in The Sidewalk Chronicles, a beautiful documentary that aired on January 24th. The film juxtaposes the hurt and regrets of women who have aborted with the joy, pride, and peace of women who have chosen adoption [watch the trailer here]. http://www.agnusdeifoundation.org/
Leading in a Home
Sarah, the 30-year old Program Director of Lamb of God Maternity Home acknowledged, "It's mentally exhausting. My friends will ask, 'How was your day?' and I think, 'I can't even explain to you how my day was.'"
Leaders in maternity housing face the burden of supporting staff, like Sarah, who are daily facing the complicated scenarios of the moms. Plus, they must manage the logistical challenges of keeping an organization going–keeping procedures legal, staff equipped, donors informed, and more! Up against the programmatic and administrative challenges that a maternity-home demands, the role of leadership is particularly important.
The leadership exercised during the start-up stage has unique aspects. When reflecting on her experience of founding a home, Grace Delaney, the founder of Lamb of God Maternity Home, offered this leadership advice, "The most important aspect is to have things lined up before you move forward. There is such a temptation to put the cart before the horse." She continued, "Reign in and be more deliberate. Set realistic goals; have the right people in place; have the right physical location. Because once it begins, things really start happening!"
Once the home is operational, the challenge of finding "right fit" staff is common. Grace noted, "When it comes to getting the right staff, its 10% knowledge, 10% skills and 80% mindset. Mindset includes things like desire to serve, people skills, and flexibility. You need to find those with absolute passion--where it is a vocation!" Continuing on this theme, Sarah quipped, "Every job description should end with 'and it will be ever changing.' There is just something about the work that demands flexibility." After sharing her gratitude for the wonderful staff with which she worked, Angie Hammond, a long-term leader of multiple life-affirming ministries, reflected that recruitment is a work of God, "You have to pray them in."
Reflecting on the different types of authority with a maternity home, Angie described a lesson that she learned, "My office was in the house, so directing things back to the house parents was essential. If a mom wanted to tell me something, I needed to hear it from my house parents. It also went the other way; if a mom needed to hear something, it came from the house parents. That way, I was teaching the moms to honor authority and to follow protocol."
"As leaders, our responsibility is to create safe, positive environment for everyone to learn," noted Angie. "Our staff need the freedom and safe place to share their experiences, concerns and disappointments." As one of the staff working directly with moms, Sarah described her experience, "There are rough days and there are beautiful days... but there are so many little miracles that it makes it joy to be part of."
What do these wonderful leaders have to say about the mindset of a leader?
- "Do things, not like another leader, do them in the way that God designed for you. That means leaders must pray."
- "Keep your cool and keep it simple. In the face of difficult situations, operate in grace. When the questions are big, ask yourself: 1) Is what we are doing honoring God? and 2) Is it in her best interest?"
- "Ask your staff lots of questions. Empower your team and give them ownership. Invite their total involvement. Make sure that your staff have everything that they need to fulfill their calling."
- "Understand the reality of staff experience and fill their cup! Show gratitude; allow them to do things that help them to get re-energized in the deeper purpose."
- "Encourage your staff not to take things personally. Most of us can't even imagine the life of the moms prior to coming into the home. It's their past and their stories talking when they say awful things."
- "Establish clear-cut job descriptions and roles and have detailed policies and procedures. Then, when difficult situations arise, you are able to default to policies so that it isn't personal and there isn't a battle of the wills."
- "The best leaders are the ones who empower other people—who don't try to do it all. A big part of our success is partnering in our community in a significant way—with PRCs, with individuals, with the pro-life community, and beyond. Maternity homes provide a missing link. We rely on relationships and partnerships to be effective."