Driven by Dreams, Accomplished through Self-Advocacy

JV AmeriCorps member Maria Watson (Portland, OR ’16-17) serves as the Transitions Program Support Specialist with Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center and Rosemary Anderson High School in Portland, Oregon. Maria shares her story of serving with opportunity/at-risk young adults to promote economic empowerment through college readiness.

The funny thing about college is that tens of thousands of people go every year, and yet no one ever really and truly seems to be “college ready.” When I went to college, I would have described myself as independent and resourceful. Yet, after not checking my email all summer before my freshman year, I showed up 6 hours late to move in and had a half hour to move into my dorm room before orientation events began.

16-17_portland_watson_groupphoto

Portland Community Mates

Four years and four months later, I’m a college grad and a JVC Northwest AmeriCorps member serving opportunity/at-risk young adults who are making intentional moves towards self-sufficiency. Often, this involves supporting and promoting an important measure that, in my experience, happens to be pretty vague and arbitrary – college readiness.

During the fall term, I supported four of our students with an Introduction to College and Healthcare Bridge Program. The program offers an Introduction to Healthcare class at Portland Community College and an internship with Providence Health & Services to provide valuable and applicable tools and experiences for career discernment immediately upon starting college. Over the past four months, the healthcare bridge students have redefined my understanding of college readiness, teaching me that the power of confidence in self-advocacy is the most important factor of success – but the only way to refine those soft skills is to practice.

These women have faced language, academic, and financial barriers and have been able to overcome many of those by utilizing their voices and their resources. Their unwavering determination and motivation led them to ask questions and make pragmatic decisions driven by their dreams for themselves. There seems to be a plethora of resources available to current and aspiring college students, so a willingness and confidence to “show up” and utilize those resources is something that has set these young women apart.

16-17_portland_watson_selfie

’16-17 JV AmeriCorps member Maria with POIC students

In one term of college, they have gracefully handled communication with professors, academic advisers, career coaches, scholarship donors, and financial aid consultants. This has escalated their success and experience with college more than I ever would have predicted. Now that they can advocate for themselves professionally and effectively with confidence, it seems to me that there’s nothing these women can’t accomplish when they set their minds to it.

Through this experience I have discovered how difficult it would be to face college without support. In providing college-readiness support to others, I have realized how much I relied on support systems to prepare me for college and life overall. I was raised in an environment that inherently expected college-level achievements, so my aspirations felt normal, and therefore I took my strides and support systems for granted. Being able to celebrate the successes of these women alongside them has reminded me of the shoulders I stood on to get to where I am today. Supporting these future nurses and midwives has truly been an honor.

MLK Day of Service 2017

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To commemorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service 2017, AmeriCorps programs throughout the country participated in providing service in their communities. These are just a few of the stories of how our JV AmeriCorps members served!

JV AmeriCorps members located in Juneau walked from house to house installing smoke detectors and educating residents about house fires with the American Red Cross.

’16-17 JV AmeriCorps members in Juneau volunteering with the American Red Cross.

Alaska – JV AmeriCorps members in Juneau and Anchorage walked from house to house installing smoke detectors and educating residents on fire safety with the American Red Cross. Our Anchorage JV AmeriCorps members’ service activities were featured in the Alaska Dispatch News–  read the article here! In Bethel, JV AmeriCorps members hosted a showing of the documentary, For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska. Additionally, members created an “I have a dream” board for interested parties to disclose their dreams.

Oregon – Woodburn JV AmeriCorps members Marit Olson, Jared Harris, and Emily Curran spent the day weatherizing homes through the Community Energy Project with Hands On Greater Portland. Meanwhile, in Hood River, residents were blasted with snowy winter weather, so in response to the weather, our Hood River JV AmeriCorps members teamed up with Providence Hospital’s Volunteers in Action to shovel care receivers driveways.

In Hood River, residents were blasted with snowy winter weather! Our JV AmeriCorps members located in Hood River teamed up with Providence Hospital’s Volunteers in Action to shovel care receivers driveways!

’16-17 Hood River JV AmeriCorps members shoveling care receivers’ driveways.

Washington  The JV AmeriCorps members in Grays Harbor carried on the tradition set by last year’s JV AmeriCorps members by picking up garbage throughout the Aberdeen and Hoquiam neighborhoods. In Tacoma, a few of our JV AmeriCorps members spent their time getting their hands dirty in the garden! Blair Bellis and Benjamin Feiten volunteered at Hilltop Urban Gardens where they composted, painted signs, and prepared the gardens for spring. At L’Arche Farms, Elizabeth Nawrocki recruited and coordinated volunteers for completing tasks throughout the farm.

Idaho – In the Boise community, JV AmeriCorps members Mariah Ertel, Mary Franz, Mary Haggerty, and AnnaMarie Marsilio spent MLK Day volunteering at Big Brother Big Sister of Southwest Idaho. Our members tackled various responsibilities assigned to them, such as organizing a storage facility, taking inventory, and reorganizing t-shirts.

According to Mary Haggerty, “Serving on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with my community knowing that so many other communities, not only in JVC Northwest but across the country, were serving others filled me with peace and hope. Hearing about and seeing so many people spread light made the ideal of a bright future tangible.”

Jared Harris, Emily Curran, and Marit Olson, spent the day weatherizing homes through the Community Energy Project with Hands On Great Portland.

’16-17 JV AmeriCorps members Jared Harris and Emily Curran weatherizing a home in Portland.

Montana – School was still in session in Hays, Montana, so our JV AmeriCorps members spent time educating their students on the history of Martin Luther King, Jr.. JV AmeriCorps members located in Missoula volunteered at the Poverello Center where they focused their day on homeless outreach.

Thank you to all who participated in MLK Day of Service 2017!

Save

Positive Outlook in Difficult Times

JV AmeriCorps member Connor Hayes (Portland, OR ’16-17) serves as Activities and Events Coordinator with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) in Portland, Oregon. In honor of World AIDS Day, which took place on December 1, 2016, Connor reflects on his service and the valuable relationships he has formed with clients. 

Coming into my JV AmeriCorps year after four busy years of college, I wasn’t the best at appreciating the small moments in life. Amid the whirlwind of essays, applications, activities, and more, I began to forget the importance of relationships and little shared moments in sustaining and nourishing all of us as we move through life. Yet just a few months serving at the EMO HIV Day Center with many folks who have lived with HIV for decades has shifted this trend. The clients I serve have taught me so much about having a positive outlook in difficult times and truly valuing my relationships with those around me. It’s this growth that I’m most thankful for as I reflect on my service and World AIDS Day.

Serving at EMO’s breakfast window

One of my most meaningful lessons from the Day Center is the value and impact of small interactions within a community. From asking someone who keeps to himself to join a mindful meditation session, to the extra piece of cake silently dropped off next to the person having a difficult time accessing medical services, to the minute-long hug when someone walks in the door, I’ve heard from many folks that it is these simple gestures that can turn their entire day or week around. Coming into this year, I expected to be present to clients when they needed to talk about a crisis they were going through. However, I’m slowly realizing that in social work and life, celebrating a rapidly declining viral load or other great moment with a high-five can be equally as meaningful to someone.

16-17_portland_hayes_

’16-17 Portland community mates

One long-time client at the Day Center, who passed away suddenly a few weeks into my service year, embodied a consistent ethic of this- finding joy in the most basic of interactions and sharing that joy with all. Every person who walked in would be greeted with a heartfelt, “hey, brother” (or, in my case, despite the fact I’m six feet tall, “hey, little brother!”) Even on his most difficult days, he would try to put on the biggest smile and most jolly demeanor I’ve seen in a long time, so folks struggling to stay positive about life could look to him and feel a bit more hopeful. Despite his increasing age, he was always finding something to do for the community, like walking in the Portland AIDS Walk or helping others fight the stigma around HIV.

16-17_portland_hayes_worldaidsday

’16-17 Portland community mates participate in World AIDS Day event

As I’ve reflected this week on the lessons I have learned, I have been spending a lot of time thinking back to the AIDS Walk, which was a major event held in September. Walking together with a group from the Day Center, I was in awe of the joy and communal care evident in the entire HIV-positive community in Portland, not just our small community at the Day Center. Many of the clients at the Day Center and the broader HIV/AIDS community have survived significant struggles in life- from the initial shock of their diagnoses to the passing of countless close friends. Yet the event was anything but solemn. Instead, the AIDS Walk served as a celebration of life and community with friends and family turning out in thousands to support those they care about who are living with HIV, to affirm the dignity of all regardless of HIV status, and to show their hope for a more positive future.

For me, that positivity in the face of adversity is what makes World AIDS Day this past week so important. Certainly, it is a time to fundraise, to act, and to raise awareness for the continuing HIV crisis in various places around the world. It’s also a time to appreciate the strength, fortitude, and zest for life that the HIV-positive community embodies- a perspective that all of us can learn from.

World AIDS Day

JV AmeriCorps member Anthony Yakely (Anchorage, AK ’16-17) serves as the Client Services Specialist with Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (Four A’s) in Anchorage, Alaska. To commemorate World AIDS Day, Anthony reflects on how his knowledge of HIV/AIDS has shifted from academic to interpersonal because of his experiences at Four A’s.

world-aids-day-community-photo

Anchorage community in front of Mount Denali

Before this year, HIV/AIDS had always been presented to me in academic terms. My knowledge of it included words like “retrovirus,” “opportunistic infection,” and “cytomegalovirus.” After four years as a biochemistry major, I had learned a lot of the science behind HIV/AIDS. However, I did not yet know the human side of it having never personally known someone who is HIV-positive. Coming out of school, I was feeling burnt out and had a strong desire to serve in a hands-on role. When I was presented with the opportunity of serving my JV AmeriCorps year as the Client Services Specialist at Four A’s, I immediately jumped on the chance. This was what I was looking for.

I went into Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest wanting a sense of community and to have a chance to build relationships with all those I met. The first couple weeks were a whirlwind for me- meeting new faces and adjusting to a new service site in a new state on the other side of the country. However, after that initial adjustment, I began to build the relationships I craved. It started out small- sitting with clients at Friday lunches after I was done serving the meal and chatting about everything from family to living in Alaska. Little by little, I got to know the clients better.

world-aids-day-pumpkin-carving

Halloween pumpkin carving client activity

With each Friday lunch and Thursday client event, I got to know those I was serving, the struggles they had faced, the addiction they had overcome and were currently battling, and the challenges and successes in everyday life. My favorite client activity so far has been pumpkin carving. By engaging with others in a holiday tradition that I love, I found the joy of just being, sitting, laughing, and sharing stories. My knowledge of HIV/AIDS had shifted from the academic to the interpersonal. It was an experiential learning- the concepts I had learned were being put into the faces of those I served through sharing meals, smiles, and arts and crafts. This disease described in almost mythical terms now had faces and stories that I had grown to treasure.

Unfortunately, the stigma for those living with HIV/AIDS still exists within our society. I have seen that the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS comes from a place of fear. Because some of the ways the disease can be transmitted are often taboo, it creates a negative attitude towards those who are HIV-positive. By putting a face to the disease, I have seen the problem of this attitude. I have met clients who care deeply for others, often going out of their way to help other clients who are not as fortunate. It is in this generosity and in my daily interactions with clients that challenge what society says about those who are HIV-positive.

world_logo1Today is World AIDS Day, and we will gather as a community to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Our entire staff will be holding a candlelight vigil to remember those who have died of HIV/AIDS, including some of our clients who passed away this year. Also, we will view the film “The Normal Heart,” which tells a tale of the early days of HIV/AIDS activism in New York City.  This reminds us that the fight against HIV/AIDS is still not over, even as treatment and research continue to improve. It reminds me of the faces of those I serve every day.

Tackling Barriers to End-of-Life Care Services

Our latest blog post is written by recent JV AmeriCorps member Claudia Gomez Postigo (Hillsboro, OR ’15-16) who served as the Minority Community Outreach Coordinator – Hospice Specialist with Care Partners in Hillsboro, Oregon. Below, Claudia reflects on a project she completed with a co-worker that sought to tackle the language and literacy barriers her patients encountered when trying to take their medications.

During my 2015-2016 JV year, I partnered with one of Care Partner’s incredible nurses, Judith Gillen, to work on a project which was initially drafted as a response to the needs of our Latino patients and families. The issues we were first hoping to address were the language and health literacy barriers our Latino patients encountered when managing their multiple daily medications. We created a color-coded system of labels, partnered with a couple of families (both Latino and non-Latino), and introduced these labels into their homes.gomez-claudia

The results of the project were spectacular with various degrees of positive feedback from our patients and caregivers. We realized that the problem was much larger than the language and literacy barriers of our Latino patients. Regardless of ethnicity, educational background, or level of literacy, our families were dealing with multiple medications every day, and a system to organize the ones most easily confused made a significant difference. We also came up with a medication chart which included each medication’s corresponding label color, simple instructions, and the symptom each medication treated. We noticed that some patients responded better to the color of the label, while others preferred to use the symptom as the identifying factor of the medication. Both our Spanish-speaking and English-speaking caregivers loved the labels and expressed how they wished they had gotten them sooner.

hillsboro-2I was asked to present this project to a board of physicians that our hospice partnered with. After their positive feedback, we were encouraged to put this project on with all patients and families. There are still some areas of this project that need to be evaluated. Now that Care Partners has a greater understanding of its patients’ needs, with the help of this year’s JV AmeriCorps member Megan Andreasen, Care Partner’s next step will be to find an effective system for all nurses to begin introducing and using the labels in their practices.

This past year with Care Partners has confirmed my desire to pursue a future in nursing. I am so lucky to have been a part of the team and family!Save

Lessons in Love

Our latest blog post is written by FJV AmeriCorps member Heidi Hanson (Spokane, WA ’15-16) who served as the House Support/Care Giver with L’Arche Spokane in Spokane, Washington. Below, Heidi shares her experience forming relationships and growing in love and compassion with her Core Members and community of L’Arche Spokane.

cooking-dinner-together-at-trintiy-house

Heidi and a Core Member cooking dinner together

The celebration of love and compassion was an ever-present aspect of my year of service with L’Arche Spokane, a community of individuals with and without developmental disabilities sharing life together.  Life in L’Arche provides a unique opportunity to celebrate authentic love, the love that encourages us to find the gifts in one another, provides the foundation for compassion, and enables mutual relationships to form.  Throughout my service year, I reflected on what I learned about the very real and human experience of love as we grew in relationship with one another.

Love is acceptance.  When I first walked into L’Arche, I knew I was somewhere special.  I was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of welcoming and compassion.  I observed the Core Members (as the individuals with developmental disabilities are known within L’Arche) and assistants engaging with one another, together as friends and completely comfortable, which was something I could not wait to be a part of.

At the end of my first day of service, one of the Core Members gave me a great big hug as we said goodbye.  I’ve received many hugs from this Core Member since then, but in that moment I felt truly welcomed into the L’Arche family!  Although he didn’t know much about me aside from being a new JV, his acceptance of me into his life and home was so genuine it made me feel like I already belonged.  He literally welcomed me with open arms!  In this small display of compassion, I realized that L’Arche is a place where everyone, no matter their role in our community, can come exactly as they are and be met with kindness and grace.  As we focus our efforts on the acceptance and appreciation of one another, without requiring them to be anything other than themselves, we are able to discover, value, and learn from their individual gifts.  The founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, once wrote, “To love someone is to show them their beauty, worth, and importance.” It is through an accepting love that we hope to do that for everyone in our community.

spokane-jvs-at-lake-wallowa

Spokane JV AmeriCorps members at Lake Wallowa

Love is forgiveness.  Although we do our best to be accepting of one another, it is inevitable that a community, or any relationship really, will experience times of tension and discord.  We are only human, after all.  The more difficult times at L’Arche have tested my patience, but it has also been a safe space to accept my own weaknesses and learn to openly communicate with those who think and understand differently than me.  Sharing life together includes many moments such as this, revealing that acceptance of others requires daily effort toward understanding and compassion so that we can forgive one another and continue to grow.

A few months into my service, there was a new pizza place having their grand opening where they gave away a free pizza to every person who waited in line.  That day only two Core Members were around, so the other assistant and I offered to take them out to get pizzas for lunch.  As we were about to leave, one of the Core Members refused to go, because he wanted to go to a different pizza place instead.  Even when we offered to go to both, he became very angry and said he wanted to go to his place or nowhere at all.  I asked if we could talk about it just the two of us, and we had a conversation about how community living means we can’t always get exactly what we want and sometimes we have to compromise.  He listened to what I said, but he still didn’t want to go.  I told him that was okay, but I asked him to think about how that decision impacted other people in the community.  The time spent on an outing with Core Members is something all assistants enjoy, so it was unfortunate that one would have to stay behind.  A while later, the Core Member came to the table, put his hand on my shoulder, and said “I’m sorry.  Next time I go with you, okay?  I’m sorry.”  I was touched by his apology, because normally he cools off and moves on but doesn’t often ask forgiveness outright.  Sharing life together includes many moments such as this, revealing that acceptance of others requires daily effort towards understanding and compassion so that we can forgive one another and continue to grow.

quality-girl-time-on-the-advent-retreat-jpg

Quality girl time on retreat

Love is in the little things.  One of the best aspects of L’Arche is that it is rooted in community and fosters the development of mutual relationships.  By experiencing life together, we have the continuous opportunity to share in the celebration and joy that can be found in the little things of everyday life.  It demonstrates what Jean Vanier meant when he said, “Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things.  It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.”  I feel like most of my L’Arche stories demonstrate this lesson in love, but I will share a few that really stand out.

About a month into my JV AmeriCorps year, there was a weekend where all but one of the Core Members were gone spending time with their families.  I spent that Saturday one-on-one with the remaining Core Member.  We watched an episode of her favorite TV show, went out to lunch, and spent the afternoon making chocolate chip cookies while dancing and singing along to the Hairspray soundtrack in the kitchen.  Going into that day I was nervous because she is one of the Core Members who takes the longest to warm up to new assistants, and she still hadn’t quite warmed up to me.  As we sat together eating our freshly baked cookies, she looked up at me, smiled, and said “thanks!” Now, I consider her one of my closest friends, and I’m thankful for the many moments we have shared that have brought us closer together!

One night, as I was preparing to go home at 9:20 pm after an evening shift that ran a little late, one of the Core Members suddenly ran upstairs to his room.  He came back down with a concerned look on his face and a large flashlight in his hand.  He handed me the flashlight and told me to take it with me so I wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark.  I was touched that he was worried about me and was willing to give me his own flashlight just to make sure I would be safe.

Pure joy at a L’Arche event

One of my absolute favorite times in L’Arche is when we are all sitting around the table sharing a meal together.  Whether it is for breakfast or dinner, taking the time to sit with one another, to come together to eat and pray, is a little thing I look forward to every day!  Joining hands with my L’Arche family around the table provides a tangible sense of the support and compassion I feel in our community!  These are just a few examples of the many little moments and simple acts of love that have made my L’Arche experience so amazing and have truly transformed my heart!

I have learned and grown tremendously in my time with L’Arche. I have experienced a love I never imagined I would find in a single place. It’s amazing what you find in an organization based on the common humanity of different people, celebrating and sharing life together.  Despite whatever ups and downs may occur, the many meaningful moments we share foster mutual relationships based in authentic love.  This love is accepting another person for who they are, looking beyond the surface to see and appreciate their gifts, forgiving them, laughing and crying with them, and an offer of friendship.  This is the experience of life and love that I have found in L’Arche, where my friends have shown me a level of trust, compassion, vulnerability, and joy that has challenged me to grow.  Is there any greater gift than to be truly cared for, to have people in your life who accept you, forgive you, and show their love for you in the little things every day?  I think not.  After all, “we are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time” (Jean Vanier).  I have been blessed to serve my year with my L’Arche family, celebrating the love we share!  They have truly changed my heart and my world with their love!

Save

Denim Day: A Fashion Statement to Make a Social Justice Statement

Our latest blog post is written by JV AmeriCorps member Lauren Pusich (Boise, ID ’15-16) who is serving as the Outreach Coordinator with Women’s and Children’s Alliance in Boise, Idaho. Below, Lauren shares her experience serving with survivors of sexual assault and organizing the Denim Day event, which challenges victim blaming and creates spaces for conversation.

A study by the Center for Disease Control shows that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. Serving as a JV AmeriCorps member at a domestic violence and sexual assault nonprofit, I am keenly aware of how pervasive these issues are. In my placement at Women’s and Children’s Alliance (WCA) in Boise, I am constantly in the community discussing these issues.

Lauren (middle) and her community mates attend a screening of the Hunting Ground

Lauren (middle) and her community mates attend a screening of the Hunting Ground

In Ada County where I serve, law enforcement received 4,447 calls for services related to domestic abuse, sexual assault, and child abuse in 2015. I have not attended a single event where I have not had at least one person come up and identify as a survivor. You likely know someone who is a survivor themselves, even if they haven’t shared their story with you, or maybe you yourself are a survivor. Survivor stories are powerful and need to be heard because they are silenced far too often.

One way we can break the silence is through awareness days. In April, the WCA participated in one of the biggest awareness days in its history. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and Wednesday, April 27 was Denim Day. On this day, individuals were encouraged to wear denim to demonstrate the prevalence and detrimental effects of victim blaming in our society. Denim shows solidarity with an Italian survivor whose rapist’s conviction was overturned when the court ruled that the victim’s jeans were too tight. You can learn more about the history of the case and how Denim Day was established as a global awareness day here.

My service year has shown how often we place the blame on the survivor of an assault or abuse, rather than where the blame lies—with the perpetrator. There are countless cases of victim blaming; mentioning how if that person had just not drank, had not stayed in the relationship, not led someone on, or not worn that outfit, then they would not have been assaulted. With these thoughts, we end up re-traumatizing victims and do not hold perpetrators accountable.

Proclamation by the mayor proclaiming April 27 as Denim Day in Boise

Proclamation by the mayor proclaiming April 27 as Denim Day in Boise

Denim Day helps challenge victim blaming and creates spaces for conversation. One such space was at The College of Western Idaho (CWI). CWI’s Psychology Club hosted an open forum on sexual assault and victim blaming in partnership with the WCA for Denim Day. Attendees heard how victim blaming leads to under-reporting of sexual assault and unlike any other crime, sexual assault victims are more likely to be perceived as lying when they report. Two survivors in the audience shared their stories and how meaningful it was to see the community coming together to talk about these issues. Each time a survivor shares their story, I am reminded of why I choose to serve at the WCA and why I am so passionate about advocating for change. These stories need to be heard. 

We need to create a culture where survivors feel supported when they decide to speak up and eventually prevent the need for WCA services. We need to challenge each other to end the cycle of silence around these issues and how we perpetuate victim blaming attitudes. We need to be there for survivors when they have the courage to speak up and share their stories. We need to have these uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations.

CWI Clothesline Denim Day Two

Former WCA clients who are survivors of domestic abuse or sexual assault participated in the Clothesline Project Display at CWI.

Overall, Denim Day was a huge success with 100 different businesses and organizations participating at 115 different locations not only locally, but across Idaho and even state lines. The JVC Northwest office even participated! Seeing the whole JVC Northwest team wear denim put a huge smile on my face. You can learn more about Denim Day 2016 at the WCA by checking out this newsletter article.

I look forward to participating in Denim Day each year until we no longer blame victims for something that is never their fault. Thank you to those survivors who have shared their stories with me not only on Denim Day, but throughout my year of service. You deserve to be heard, to be believed in, to be supported, and you are never asking for it. Serving as a Jesuit Volunteer continually reminds me how communities can come together to create change and how we can all challenge ourselves to live out social justice in our everyday life.