by Taylor Hollingsworth

          In my final weeks as part of the Edge at the Women’s Care Center, I continue to hear the same question again and again-- “will you miss it?” After a 2 year career of being lovingly referred to as the “sex guy” by so many adoring youth throughout Rhea County and it’s surrounding areas, it’s very difficult to articulate all the things I want to say in response to that question. The short answer is “of course,” but that’s much too trite to sum up two years of stretching, firsthand learning experience and countless memories ranging from the bitter to the beautiful.

In the beginning, the Care Center invited a man...a young man named Taylor Hollingsworth. At the time of my first interview for the position of abstinence educator, I was completing an internship for college by working at an all-boys boarding school on a small island near the Philippines. The island time was about thirteen hours ahead of Rhea County time, so in the middle of the night, I was freshly caffeinated with 3 cups of rich coffee and anxiously pacing back and forth in a teachers’ lounge with a phone in hand for my interview with the director and grant administrator of the Care Center. Little did I know that this phone interview would pave the way for me to be a part of the Women’s Care Center for the next 2 years.

The employment couldn’t have come at a sweeter time. I was pining to marry my college sweetheart, Elisabeth, but had no way of supporting myself, much less a wife. Plus, she had another semester of college to go before she was going to be done. Before being hired by the Care Center, I had resolved that I wanted to pursue a position that would allow me to meaningfully invest in people’s lives. I was especially geared to work with youth because I had experience leading youth activities and I was close enough in age to be relatable. In addition, I knew the significance of reaching out to youth because that was the most pivotal and vulnerable time of my own life. I had been investigating positions as a youth leader in several different churches in the Southeast thinking that this would be the only way to be in close vicinity to Elisabeth while staying true to what I felt vocationally called to do. However, the abstinence educator position offered above and beyond what I thought was going to be a realistic scenario for our future plans. It was an opportunity to be in close proximity to Elisabeth while working with youth on a genuinely important subject that could meet a need in Rhea County. I was ecstatic! I was officially hired on January 1st 2009 along with Tiffany, whom I knew from high school youth group and Bryan College.

Upon my arrival to the Women’s Care Center, I soon realized that this was going to be an extremely different environment for a 21 year-old boy who had just spent 3 years living in a guy’s college dorm and 4 months living in an all-boys high school dorm. I had left a smelly, messy world of sports, video games, junk food and streaking and entered a world of hyper-charged, ultra-compassionate middle-aged women on task to reach the hurting and helpless of Rhea County. I thought that I was experiencing culture-shock while overseas, but this was an entirely different intra-cultural type of shock. I had a lot to learn.

One of the first things I learned was that working with a flock of women is very, very different than working with a herd of dudes.I was the only guy at the WCC for the first 9 months of my employment. In the beginning, I and three other girls shared the same, small office area. I felt like I was on National Geographic studying the behaviors of a strange, remote people group. I quickly found that this strange people talk…a lot. They would talk about an array of subjects for what seemed like forever. Often times, the subject of choice would lead to another and eventually would spawn a multitude of rabbit trails. The girls seemed perfectly content with their multi-tasking finesse and topical stimulation. However, I had to create a system where I could be bodily present, but escape mentally to a land where I could drown out the perpetual conversation. That escape came in the form of headphones hooked up to my computer which played a steady flow of ethereal, light instrumental music. This helped.

Eventually, I began to understand the habits of the women more thoroughly. A lot of this understanding was aided by the material we were presenting in the classroom about gender differences and the way they process information differently. I began to be less annoyed by the things I didn’t understand as a guy, and became more appreciative of the differences that balanced my own weaknesses.

During this time, I was also attempting to develop my particular style as a teacher. Tiffany and I shadowed a couple of different abstinence education programs to watch their presentation style. One program catered predominantly to inner-city kids who required a more in-your-face, sassy approach. The other took place in a rural community that had more of a lighter, “you-are-special’ kind of approach. It was quite the range.It took/has taken quite some time to refine the best tactical style for the kids we were attempting to reach.

The age range that we teach is very dynamic. The 6th graders are usually pretty wired, but receptive to our message. Most are on the verge of puberty, so there is a pretty big difference between the boys and girls physically. They are quick to participate and often, quick to get crazy. They respond really well to slap-stick humor and bodily function jokes. We love them.

The 7th graders are not quite as wild, but they still have a participatory bug. They enjoy some of the slap-stick, but also respond best when challenged to be mature. They can handle more depth.

8th graders have sifted through a lot more of the identity issues and are more comfortable in the deeper subjects. By this point, most of them are anticipating high school, so they tend to act more mature (or at least attempt).

The 9th graders are fun, because you can be straight-up with them. They are ready to make informed decisions. They don’t like to be baited in the classroom, so it’s best to dive into a more far-reaching strategy when talking about controversial subjects that many of them think they’ve made their final decisions on (i.e. the effectiveness of birth control).

Wading through this dynamic age range has forced me to explore several different presentation styles. Many times, I have been the energetic, story-laden jokester that would shift to serious mode when making an important point. Other times, especially in older grades, I would attempt to be less caricatured and more philosophical. It’s very challenging to find the right balance of animation, humor, and seriousness to connect favorably with the students while actually delivering the important message wished to be conveyed. Other factors that complicate the process are classroom dynamics, the age group, and the lesson being taught

Over the last two years, my time in the classroom has been the highlight of my experience with the WCC. One of the main reasons I wanted to join was because I was excited about connecting with teens and impacting them positively. Upon re-entering the teen realm, I began to recall the combination of social and academic pressure and identity searching that permeates their world. There were many moments in the classroom that I felt overwhelmed by the burdens that the students were carrying. Teens I met were dealing with their parents’ irresponsibility manifested in poor relationship habits, drug abuse, and generally setting a low bar for how an adult should behave. I often felt the urge to steal them away from their broken world and take them somewhere away from their pain. I wanted to tell them that they didn’t have to live like that. Sometimes, I felt that we were focusing on a subject that was far too small to heal the brokenness these students were enduring from every angle (friends, family, media, etc.).

However, in retrospect, I realize that our organization has made significant strides to aid students with a holistic perspective on how to succeed in life, beyond sexual relationships. This aspect was one of the most energizing points for me to keep plugging away and investing in their lives. We would continuously reiterate the fact that “the choices they made today could and would affect their future, as well as those around them.” The emphasis has been on the long-term outcome of decision-making and how to pursue healthy relationships that will benefit instead of harm them.

Though it has been difficult at times, I have thoroughly enjoyed being on the frontlines in this battle against selfish, future-corrupting mentalities that are so pervasive and, in the short-run very alluring, in a teen’s life. I hope to continue to be a part of this battle by speaking truth into the lives of the people around me. The Edge program of the WCC has certainly prepared me to do that.

In the coming months, my wife and I will be making our final preparations to head overseas to study language and culture in a very different environment. We are committed to be “life-time” students and glean as much from our experiences as possible. Our hope is to spend 2 years in a foreign environment to get a different perspective on life while learning more about ourselves and our future vocation. We’ve found that we typically learn best when immersed in the learning experience and made vulnerable.

Though the Dayton chapter is coming to a close, a piece of our heart will always remain in Rhea County. I just want to close by saying that I have thoroughly enjoyed the many memories and experiences afforded me during my time at the Women’s Care Center. The people have blessed me richly with their various personalities and warmth. Each one has strengths that are being used to reach out and make a difference. They most certainly have made an enormous difference in my life, and for that I am most grateful.

For those of you are students that have had me, I wish the best for you all. Hope some of the stuff I said has pointed you in a better direction or encouraged you in the direction you already were going. Keep your pants on! The time is coming.

Farewell Bledsoe, Sequatchie, Meigs, McMinn, North Hamilton, and Rhea.


Your Friend,

Taylor Hollingsworth