written by: Amy Knorr
In 1939, a man named Kurt Hahn founded a program in Wales in response to the problem of training for World War II. That program was called Outward Bound, and its vision was built on several principles, one of which is the desire that “all grow in concern for those in danger and need.” Paula McLean is a graduate of the Outward Bound program, and in her words, life has been a “continuous outward bound experience ever since.” In five minutes of conversation with Paula, I could sense that this concern for those in danger and in need has been born in her and has been a driving force in her choices and decisions in this life.
How did you get connected with Family Promise? What drew you to volunteering?
In 2013, I started going to community meetings about the problem of homelessness in Chester County. I went on some tours and began to study the problem of homelessness with others in the community who were also concerned. After a couple years of listening, studying, learning, we chose Family Promise, in part because it had been successful across the country over several communities.
After being part of the fact finding committee and working to educate myself and the community, I began working with others to educate and recruit churches. My husband chose to be on the Family Promise board, and I began to think about where I could best serve.
As our church, the Church of the Advent, began to work out how to be a part of Family Promise, I was struck that not one person signed up to be the Primary Coordinator. I felt the nudge. I needed to pay attention. I checked the Primary Coordinator box and hit submit. I was now primary coordinator for Family Promise at Church of the Advent.
Every primary coordinator is different. With my Special Education background, I’m an organized person, and I like to try to avoid issues if I can. A month before hosting, I send an email to volunteers letting them know the dates and what nights we will be cooking and greeting and who I need to stay overnight. I work with coordinators at our partner church St. Patrick Church and then start communicating with churches who host before us to see if there are any issues we can anticipate (food likes and dislikes, tutoring needs, particular toys needed, work schedules). Then, I have meetings with cook coordinators to review menus. Really, I just try to create a fabric of support so that the families feel welcomed. On the week of hosting, I maintain a presence in the church building so that everyone knows where to find everything. Early on, I wanted to be on sight to train, adjust, help facilitate. Now, we don’t feel like we need to do that so I’m more of a point person for the week — answering questions and generally just trouble shooting.
As a Special Education teacher, I also learned that if you try something and it doesn’t work, you don’t blame the student, you look at what you could do better. This is the same philosophy for I have for serving with Family Promise.
Can you tell me one story that just sums up why you continue to give your time and energy to Family Promise? Why will you keep volunteering this year?
People always say it’s the children. It’s true. They are already reeling with so much, and all of a sudden they are out of their homes. Their whole world is their mom and dad. When Mom and Dad are not okay, kids notice. And that rocks the kids’ worlds.
With Family Promise, I could be on the support end for the parents. Instead of being on the other end like school, with demands on behavior and achievement, I could be on the encouraging end, just providing stability and not requiring anything.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like the readers to know?
I’ve learned that everyone comes along at the time they are ready. Volunteers often feel overwhelmed or feel like they are not going to be able to make an impact. It’s important to remember what our purpose is — to provide a safe haven, to provide nutritious food, and a safe place for the night. We can do that…all of us together. No matter how much time you have to give, you will not only bless the guests, you will get so much back in personal growth, community connections, understanding of the grace of God, and the firsthand knowledge of the fact that when people work together they can do amazing things.
As my husband and I have been preparing to move, I’ve been thinking back over the last few years. For Family Promise to have started in 2015 and to be up and running and have increased in numbers of participating churches and volunteers — well, it’s amazing! It’s rather bittersweet to be turning over the reins at this point. It’s so exciting to have watched this grassroots movement grow, and it is encouraging to see that it will grow even more.
We’ve also been pondering the words of John — “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
We can each take care of our own corner of the world and watch that care radiate out. Surely, that is loving with actions and in truth.
Outward Bound founder, Kurt Hahn, once said, “There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for anything less.” Paula McLean has been made to see it, and she is clearly unwilling to settle. We wish her all the best as she and her husband prepare to move to North Carolina and begin again the process of listening and watching for opportunities to help those in danger and need.
Fun Facts about Paula
You are standing in the junk food aisle. Do you pick sweet or salty?
Sweet! Lindt chocolates…mmm, they are like little balls of sweetness.
You have a free hour. Do you pick up a book, binge on Netflix or something else entirely?
Pick up a book…probably historical fiction. I like Outlander — the richness of the language alone is incredible.
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
Oh, I really want to be able to fly. My happiest dreams are when I‘m flying. I can be up there in an instant and reflect on the whole picture of the world.