Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted last on my blog. As soon as November hit, our busiest season started, and along with that came new hours and a new set of responsibilities for all of us. I’ve continued working in our Workforce Development department, which means that each day my responsibility is to help our participants get ready for employment. On a typical day, I run our Career Center, helping with applications and resumes and teaching life skills classes. Since the spring has come around, I’ve had more time to focus on curriculum and larger programming—which brought about the beginning of our Job Readiness Power Days. These all-day sessions include conversations on effective communication, interview skills, discussion of time gaps and criminal history, conflict resolution, and general job tips. Somehow, I’ve managed to keep our participants sticking with me from 9-2 for a full day session (although I suppose the free lunch provided doesn’t hurt either.)
Now sometimes when you’re in an interview, the interviewer will ask you something flat out random just to gauge your creativity and ability to think on your feet. So after our mock interviews today, I asked the group as a whole to go around and answer, “What animal do you think best describes you?” The answers made me smile, made me laugh out loud, and certainly made me think.
“I would be a mule because I’m so stubborn.”
Oh, haven’t we all been there. I think acknowledging our own stubbornness is crucial to our ability to interact with others. The way I see it, stubbornness can go two different ways: it can keep you from cooperating, but it can also help you stand up for what you believe in. I hope that each of my guys (and girls) that I work with is willing to be stubborn where it counts, standing up for their right to move forward despite any past mistakes.
“I would be a lizard so the police couldn’t find me.”
This one made me bend over double laughing at first. It came from a particularly… inquisitive participant who had lots of questions throughout the day about how his history would affect his job prospects. If there is one thing I have realized this year, though, it’s how much our justice system can hurt those who are already hurting. Many of my participants have received trespassing charges for sitting on a bus bench or a sidewalk or crossing a “private” parking lot; I know, though, that were I to do the same, no one would even glance my way. These realizations are incredibly frustrating and difficult to comprehend. I have full respect for our police forces, and I have many people I am close to that are active in the justice system. But it seems sometimes we need to step back and evaluate if we are truly doling out the punishments equally—or if we are entrenching some in a system where they will continue to build up more fines, more charges, and less freedom.
“I would be an eagle so I could fly above the storm.”
The participants at Room in the Inn weather many storms. They are constantly struggling with loss and uncertainty about where they are going. On a daily basis, I am astounded by the perseverance each of them shows—I certainly don’t think I would be able to have half the courage that they do. When you’re constantly being beaten down, sometimes it feels easier to just give up. And that’s what I hope to encourage them not to do. Each morning, we have a group that does a practice similar to the Examen, an Ignatian spirituality technique when you reflect on where you felt God’s presence during the day. For us, it’s called Let’s Kick It, and it’s a time where we all share our high and low points of the day before. This has become a time for support and conversation, and I’ve found that even if someone missed the time that morning, they often come up later still wanting to share with me. There is something sacred about sitting in community and lifting each other up, even if we don’t know each other’s stories. Perhaps it’s through this mutual vulnerability that we help each other fly above our storms.
My time as a YAV is in the final stretch now, but there is much more to be done. I’m dreaming big—about bringing a job fair to RITI, coordinating some volunteer opportunities for our participants, and continuing to get to know them on a personal level. It doesn’t seem like I will ever have enough time in this place or that I could ever give enough of myself to ease all their heartache. And that’s probably true. But I hope that with each of the little interactions I have, both of us come through changed. And we have to keep hope. Because I truly believe one of my participants when he told me, “I’m homeless, not hopeless.”