– Excerpts from an interview with Rob Talbot, Executive Director (February 3, 2015)
DAN: Quakerdale. Who are we?
ROB: Well, the 15 second elevator speech for Quakerdale is, “Quakerdale is a Christian non-profit organization, joining with youth and families and communities through opportunities of prevention, education and support.” And a lot of times when I talk to people about that, the first thing I tell them is that, we’re Christian. That’s the reason we exist, and it is the same reason we’ve had for over 165 years. Our founder envisioned that we would teach people about God and how to live life according to His Word.
DAN: What is it that we do?
ROB: We join with youth and families and the communities. And that process of joining with them isn’t to say, “Here’s our agenda, jump on board.” But it’s designed to try to figure out what’s going on, and how we can join with what’s going on. A lot of organizations like Quakerdale, and even Quakerdale ourselves in our past, had to compete for contracts against other organizations. That isn’t really the essence of what we’re looking at now. What we’re looking to say is, “What’s needed? How can we help where other people aren’t helping, where other organizations aren’t helping, where there’s a gap?” That’s why we join with youth, families and communities … to see what’s needed.
Then we provide opportunities of prevention, education, and support. I think one of the biggest words that I talk about right there is the opportunities. I talk about it at orientation with new employees and tell them that the way we help is to provide opportunities. I remind them that if we really think that we’re the ones who are changing people’s lives, I don’t believe that’s true. I believe the Holy Spirit is who changes people, who really can make a difference in people’s lives. But we have to provide the opportunities for people to have that change in their lives.
Prevention is really talking about how to get on the front end of problems. How do we get involved before there’s something wrong, before people think there’s something wrong? Quakerdale has spent a long time being involved after something goes wrong. The thing that’s missing most in our communities, is trying to find ways to prevent. And that happens best through relationships; developing relationships, being involved with people and where they’re at.
Education can be prevention in a lot of ways. It also can be support. Education is to teach people how to move to another place, some place they want to go. It’s joining with them, giving them opportunities to grow and learn about new things in life.
Support is working through things after something has happened. It’s coming along side someone withthis kind of problem, or something they’re not happy with, or something’s gone wrong. It usually involvesa lot of therapeutic types of treatment; the types of things that we’ve done for a long, long time. We do it by asking ourselves these questions, “How can we support the family? How can we help them move where they need to go?”
DAN: So if I’m hearing you right, one of the unique things about Quakerdale, first of all, is its Christian heritage; that biblical principles are really the foundation on which things are done and decisions are being made. Secondly, for Quakerdale, it’s really important to understand the idea of partnership. That this isn’t something that is being done to people; this is a joint effort between Quakerdale and those we serve.
DAN: Will each of those opportunities have a mixture of these three characteristics, prevention, education, support, or are there specific opportunities for prevention, for education, for support?
ROB: I think to say that you can isolate one from another, is probably not realistic. But when we think about things, and when you’re trying to be an organization with a good mission, vision, and values, these kinds of areas are ways that we categorize what we’re doing. So there are parts that I would say, like camps that we do for kids, mobile camps, that really rest heavily in the prevention side. We’re not doing treatment. We didn’t come to solve a problem or help with a problem. We do some education in there, but mostly it’s to connect kids with other healthy people in a neighborhood, adults, to give them stability in what’s usually a low socioeconomic neighborhood. Kids are getting matched up with some healthy, good adults, in their neighborhood who can be a good support system for them. That’s real heavy on the prevention side.
DAN: Why is prevention a key component? What, over the years have you seen, has Quakerdale seen, that has really made prevention stand out as something that’s very, very important and necessary in our approach to ministry?
ROB: Prevention is expensive, and we’re not a culture of prevention. We’re a culture of reaction. Quakerdale got pulled into that kind of reactive sort of service because we’ve worked with the State since the early foundation of the State. Early on we were involved with all those changes that happened. We were always about joining with kids who needed a family; coming along side kids after problems that happened. We see a real value for prevention, though it seems expensive. But if you look at the savings on the other side, we believe it’s actually much more cost effective. It’s very difficult for people to see that, because there are problems happening all over the place, and those always get the most reactive kind of response. They get the support, the money.
When somebody’s house burns down, everybody’s willing to give money to help that family. That’s a support type of thing. But what about what was happening before the house burned down? What about people who were doing dangerous things? They had a meth lab in there and nobody was willing to step in and say, “We need to support these kids in this family, help them find a better way.” Or before the meth lab came, maybe they needed a job. What about those types of things, those kinds of relationships?
I really think of prevention as relationships that empower people to make better choices in life. If we can come alongside somebody earlier, I believe that all kinds of problems are possibly avoided. And you can’t measure that. Quakerdale’s been involved with working with the State for so many years throughcontracts that have helped lots, and lots, and lots of families and kids. And we just got stuck in that mold. I don’t think we’re the only ones. A lot of the large organizations in the state, who made a great impact, and even small ones, get stuck in what the state will pay for, instead of, “Where is the real need? Where are the real gaps?” I think we’re trying to come back around and reevaluate who we are and say, “How can we come back in and help people avoid the problems”? Then we don’t have to do all the after effect work, the support type of emergency work.
DAN: As you think of some of the different programs that Quakerdale is involved with, can you think of some specific examples of how our staff and team have intentionally tried to incorporate this idea of prevention in the way that they interact with some of our clients or the people that we serve?
ROB: An easy one has to do with our Ranch in Marshalltown and the idea that we host a 4-H club there. In times past we dismissed the idea because nobody’s paying us to do that, and there are other 4-H clubs around town. But there are kids who are especially interested in horses. It’s a wonderful opportunity to use the Ranch and have a 4-H club that’s really focused on horses. It allows us an opportunity to get to know these kids, right now, before there is something going on, and help them develop a healthy hobby. We want to help them to get to know our great volunteers. I think one of the biggest turns that’s happened at Quakerdale over the last 5-7 years, is that it’s not just about people thatcan pay.
I think one of the most exciting things that’s happening on the prevention side is that we’re giving people an opportunity who don’t work here to give to others, to support others, to be a part of the ministry. That, in my opinion, is a huge piece of prevention. One of our values is ministry. And ministry is where we give people opportunities to be involved. When you give of yourself, you grow. It used to be that wehelp all these kids, and we do all these services for kids, but it’s also about giving adults and families a way to grow. They are giving. They’re doing a great, great work here at Quakerdale. We’re giving to volunteers by providing them with an opportunity to use their interests, skills, and talents here at Quakerdale. And that, I think, is about prevention, getting people involved in Quakerdale. They know how to put in a window. They know how to garden, or teach kids how to bake bread, or how to clean out a horse stall. All those types of things, and it’s not all high tech stuff, are saying, “I’m valuable. I’ve got a way that I can help others.” In that process they find out about more people they can help, and they can get help themselves. We get to know them and their family, and how we can minister to and support them in their life.
How can I get involved?