Rain Brigman sits in the student union at the University of Central Florida, surrounded by empty-nest moms.
While the moms bag cookies, Rain talks about tests, her sister and a roommate’s recent surgery. The five women hang on her every word as they deftly package treats.
They ask about Rain’s sister. They ask how she did on her physics test. They celebrate her good grade with high fives and hugs. Done packaging cookies, the moms grab trays of goodies and walk to a nearby tent they have set up. Rain follows close behind.
The moms’ tent stands between a sorority raising money for their pledge class and a Jewish student organization. As Rain sits and chats with one mom under the tent, the rest stand in the sunlight and offer free cookies and free advice – if wanted – to passersby. It’s clear by the droves that flock to them that there’s something bigger going on.
Cathy Thompson started the Ask Mom ministry more than a decade ago. Caught between a heartfelt burden to share the love of God with students and a packed schedule with children at home, Cathy didn’t know how she could remain connected to the college students she loved so much.
She prayed and felt God tell her to do what she does best: Be a mom. And so, armed with nothing but a batch of homemade cookies, she stood in the free speech zone at UCF and talked with students until she ran out of cookies.
In the years since her first outing, much has changed. Now, four or five other moms, all Cru staff members, join Cathy. They have their own tent set up outside the student union during UCF’s market day every Wednesday, complete with a custom-made banner. They have to buy their cookies from Subway now, due to liability concerns. And, far from being unknown on campus, the moms are many students’ favorite part of the weekly market.
A Surprising Success
Cathy didn’t expect for this idea to gain traction the way it did. Even now, she jokes about her “dumb idea.” But Cathy returned to campus week after week.
Over time, some students became regulars, stopping by the table each week. In addition to the always-free, no-strings-attached cookies offered by the moms, students began asking questions and requesting prayer for things ranging from exams to how to find a good church, to whether or not to carry an unexpected pregnancy to term. The moms always offered biblical advice and dedicated prayer. This inevitably led to other questions about why the moms came week after week.
“The whole heart was to build redemptive relationships,” explains Cathy. Unfortunately, college can be a time where those are in short supply. Connie Amon, one of the first to join Cathy on campus, says that many students just don’t have someone who will “listen to their concerns and give guidance.” She and the other moms find joy in seeing how their conversations can positively affect the students, at least in the short term. In many cases, they only see the student once or twice.
They always take care to learn each student’s name. Something so small can mean a lot to young people on a crowded campus. Whether or not the students also learn the moms’ names, they usually refer to each simply as “Mom.”
Over 15 years, Cathy and her team of moms have met many students. Some, like Rain, spend every minute they can with the moms, week after week.
Rain first stumbled upon the Ask Mom table last semester. Intrigued, she asked why they came, and a bond formed. “They’re really caring, and that was evident in the beginning,” Rain says. She feels like she can talk to them about “literally everything,” from family to apartment issues to grades. The moms have trusted Rain with one’s cell phone number, and they are always happy to help her, whether with advice, prayer or just a listening ear.
As Rain left for class, she made sure to say “Bye, Mom” to each member of Cathy’s team individually. An hour later, she returned, and reclaimed her spot inside the Ask Mom tent.
The Future of Ask Mom
As the Ask Mom ministry continues to ingrain itself in the campus culture at UCF, the moms also hope to see their strategy expand. They have already seen a Cru staff team and church partner together to bring Ask Mom to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, but they hope for more. As students face new starts in college, Cathy and her friends hope every student finds a team of moms ready to help them through that transition.