Red Cross JVs Deployed to Texas

As part of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, Red Cross is sending volunteers from across the country to help in Texas. Two JV AmeriCorps members are some of those being deployed: Ella Keenan, serving in Anchorage, and Carly Jenkinson, serving in Juneau.

Ella and Carly are currently in Beaumont, Texas, 80 miles east of Houston, where they’ll be for two weeks. Their role is with the Mobile ERV (emergency response vehicles) as part of “search and feed” efforts. Here’s a short update from them.

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“We are assigned distinctive zones to serve: lower-income, displaced, and those who were most affected by flooding (many had at least around 5-10 feet of water that destroyed their homes). We bring them food, water, and supplies.

Many people share their stories of devastation with us, which makes our job very emotional, but extremely pivotal. Many live without food and electricity momentarily, some houses still under water. Water is not potable, as e.coli is a constant concern. As we drive down each road, the ones we can access, people are out working hard to get their houses back to livable conditions: the streets are lined with destroyed furniture, appliances, dry wall, insulation, and various cherished belongings. 17-18_JVsInService_Ella Keenan Carly Jenkinson Beaumont TX support flood

There is still so much need, and will be for months to come, and YOU can help! American Red Cross is always looking for more volunteers- please come join the team! We are here for you, Texas.” -Carly and Ella

Many organizations are in great need of volunteers and support; learn what you can do with the Corporation for National and Community Service on their Hurricane Harvey response page.

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

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.

Shattering Mental Health Biases

In our latest blog post, JV AmeriCorps member Karilynn Cooper (Spokane, WA ’14-15, Seattle, WA ’15-16) shares her experience identifying and overcoming her mental health biases through her service with Community House Mental Health Agency.  

Before beginning my service to adults with severe mental illness, encountering an individual on the streets who appeared to be talking to someone who wasn’t there probably would have driven me to turn around and walk in the opposite direction. In my second year of serving through the JVC Northwest AmeriCorps program, I have had the pleasure of joining the staff at Community House Mental Health Agency (Community House) in Seattle in embracing and welcoming those who are used to having backs turned on them.

Karilynn serving at Community House

This mindset that I was once guilty of possessing reflects the general thought processes and biases of a society that walks away from the growing issue of mental illness, forming a greater divide between those with a diagnosis and those without. Community House, which was founded in 1976 in Seattle, is a small out-patient mental health organization. Community House provides treatment services in the way of case management, psychiatry, and medication management. There is a weekday treatment program consisting of hobby and support groups, peer support, snacks, and a hot lunch. Most importantly, Community House is a safe haven in the Seattle community for clients to come, connect, and receive support from peers and staff.

My role at this placement as a case manager (three days a week) and a day treatment staff member (two days a week) is a hybrid position that mixes two important aspects of Community House. Serving in these two roles provides me with two different lenses in which to view and assess the needs at this organization, leading to many opportunities to facilitate changes in different areas. As a case manager, I provide support, service coordination, and assistance with articulating goals for treatment to a case load of individuals. As a day treatment staff member, I wear many hats: serving as a cook, medication distributor, group facilitator, or house chores supervisor to Community House attendees.

Often, the attendees are “regulars” who show up frequently to socialize, partake in a chore, attend appointments, or eat lunch. The best part of day treatment by far is the time I get to spend simply engaging with these attendees, which is a part of my service that feels the least like “work” and more of a leisure activity. Even after having served in many different settings since becoming interested in social work, I have not once had the opportunity or been encouraged to spend leisure time with clients in order to get to know them as people instead of consumers in need of assistance until I started serving here.

Karilynn Cooper Community

Karilynn (bottom left) with her ’14-15 JV community mates

What I witness on a daily basis in my interactions with Community House clients is an overabundance of unique personalities, abilities, hopes, dreams, and talents. I especially notice a longing for connection, a defining characteristic of the human condition that is not always easily recognizable among many in this population. Look a little bit closer and you will see painters, drawers, writers, poets, comedians, beautiful toothless or dentured grins, hard-workers, the brave, the wise, and the generous. You will find those with a wealth of knowledge and  intelligence, those who endure the torment of inner voices, or those constantly trying to keep their heads above the deep dark waters of depression.

These are individuals who should not to be ignored but included and celebrated within a society which claims diversity and freedom of expression to be of the utmost importance. We can approach those who are challenged with a mental illness with patience, kindness, humility, and with the purpose of learning from them rather than molding them into what we believe to be “normal.” As I have already begun to have my own biases shattered, I fail to name all of the ways in which I have improved as a person just by spending time with Community House clients. It fills my heart with joy to have the opportunity to assist in maintaining a positive and safe environment for these friends of mine.

Building and Sustaining Positive Relationships

JV AmeriCorps member Caitlin Shehane serves at The Center for Children and Families in Billings, Montana. She shares her experience being a part of a community that supports and empowers children and families to overcome hardships and reach their full potential.

I am currently serving as a Children’s Services Aide at The Center for Children and Families in Billings, Montana. The Center provides full family treatment for women recovering from chemical dependency and substance abuse as well as mental health counseling and services for youth transitioning out of foster care. My role in treatment is to supervise parenting time for parents and their children who are in foster or kinship placements and are working towards reunification.

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Caitlin proudly shows off a child’s art project

The majority of the children involved in the program are behind developmentally in some areas due in part to the trauma and neglect they have experienced. To address this, I facilitate weekly parenting classes called Teaching Strategies. At these classes, I complete child assessments and plan activities for parents and children to complete together that target specific areas of challenge for each child. I also provide care for children during treatment groups and transport children and clients to and from their appointments.

There have been many moments of heartbreak hearing the stories and witnessing what the children involved in the program are going through. At times, I have been hard on myself, wondering if I really am making a positive impact on these families’ lives. After all, I am not a case manager, clinician, or addiction counselor. However, serving at The Center has shown me I do have the skills and abilities to take on the incredibly important role of creating and sustaining positive relationships in these children’s lives.

Many of the children involved in the program are lacking positive role models and loving, caring adults in their lives. Some children come from homes where they are rarely seen or heard. Many of them have had to navigate alcoholism, addiction, mental illness, violence, and separation in their families. I’ve realized something as simple as providing them a safe place where they can be carefree kids, further develop their unique gifts and talents, form positive relationships with parents and siblings, and become educated on addiction goes a long way in acquiring resiliency. Seeing their huge smiles when I greet them and call them by name has shown me how important it is for children to be reminded of their infinite worth and how truly precious and loved they are.

JV AmeriCorps members located in Billings

JV AmeriCorps members located in Billings

One child I have worked closely with these past six months fills me with tremendous hope. She was removed from her home and placed in foster care about a year ago. Her mother is currently in treatment and her father in prison. When I first began, she was struggling significantly academically, emotionally, and socially. Since then, she has made amazing progress. One afternoon I waited in the office to pick her up from school and transport her to The Center for parenting time with her mother. She had the hugest smile on her face as she grabbed my hand and pulled me down the hall to a display of art projects. There was her name followed by “First Place Winner!” She is a naturally talented artist, and we have been working on this strength together at The Center.

Art Project from Children and Families

Children’s art projects

A couple of weeks later, I picked her up from school.  She was beaming as she held out her report card for me to see. All A’s and B’s! I told her how proud I was, and she told me she thinks she could be the first in her family to go to college. She also said how proud she is of her mom for going to treatment, remaining clean, and turning her life around. She mentioned that she never wants to try drugs. Since her mom and dad were addicts, she already has a higher chance of becoming an addict too. She said she wants to accomplish so much in her life. I truly believe that she can break the cycle of addiction that has been in her family for generations. I feel so lucky to know her and be a part of the loving and caring community who is there to support and empower her to reach her full potential. It is my hope and mission to provide this for every child that walks through The Center’s doors. This is why I serve.

The Backpack Project

JV AmeriCorps member Josie Gomez serves at the James John Elementary SUN School. Part of her role includes boosting food security for the children and families participating in SUN School afterschool programming.  

I have never known what it was like to not have enough food to eat at home–the fridge and the cupboards were always full in my house. For some of the students I serve, not having enough to eat is a daily reality.14-15_Portland_JosieGomez_applesauce

This is where the Backpack Project comes in. At the James John Elementary SUN School, our main component, and the piece that is most often recognized by staff and families, is our after school program, but SUN also provides other assistance to families in need. While the James John SUN School has many avenues for providing assistance, the Backpack Project is one that I have had a huge hand in during my year of service.

The Backpack Project, funded by Take Action Inc., provides a backpack full of non-perishable foods to families at the school who need extra 14-15_Portland_JosieGomez_backpacksassistance with food over the weekends, when children aren’t receiving breakfast and lunch at school. I pack the backpacks each week and they are available in the main office for pick up on Fridays. The backpacks are returned empty the following week and the process is repeated. Most families stay with the program throughout the year. But if a family experiences increased need throughout the year, they are added to the list. On the other hand, sometimes families drop out of the program because they are no longer in need of assistance; this year one parent was able to gain employment and another family’s circumstances turned around.

14-15_Portland_JosieGomez_BackpackProject_editedI have the opportunity to work with so many of the students who benefit from the Backpack Project and I know this program makes a difference in their lives. Every thank you from a family who signs up for the program or excitement from a student because this week the backpack included something they love to eat is reassurance that even though this program is not able to help every family at James John that needs assistance, it is making a measurable difference in this community.

World AIDS Day

JV AmeriCorps member April Long serves as the Activities and Events Coordinator for the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s HIV Services. To commemorate World AIDS Day, April shares some reflections on her time so far in the HIV Day Center in Portland, OR.World-Aids-Day2

From the moment I walked into Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s HIV Day Center, I knew I had found a new home. There are many elements which contribute to this feeling, but the people are the greatest ones. Both the staff and the clients contribute so much to the space that it transforms into much more than a church basement. As we enter this holiday season, with Thanksgiving, World AIDS Day, and Christmas, it is more evident than ever what the Day Center means to everyone involved. At our Thanksgiving meal, we gave clients the opportunity to announce what they were thankful for. Many reflected on what the Day Center means to them, how much joy and strength they have gathered within its walls and from its community members. This strength allows them to continue their journey living with HIV/AIDS, which is by no means easy.

Most of our clients are in their 40s-60s. Many of them have shared with me their life stories; stories of loss, of family not accepting them, of how their race or religion has impacted them (for better or worse). They are heartbreaking to hear, but they also strengthen my resolve to continue to serve this community as long as I am able. I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to serve them as the day center’s Activities and Events Coordinator, which can translate to something as simple as a game of cards, a hot breakfast, or teaching the “Thriller” dance for our Halloween party.

JV AmeriCorps member April Long (2nd from left) along with the rest of the team at EMO HIV Day Center celebrate Halloween.

JV AmeriCorps member April Long (2nd from left) along with the rest of the team at EMO HIV Day Center celebrate Halloween.

World AIDS Day is December 1. It serves as one of the Day Center’s largest day of recognition, as well as a chance for our clients to share their stories with a larger community. Many of 1.2 million people living in the US with HIV are dealing with other issues as well, such as homelessness, mental health struggles, and addiction. We see it all here at the Day Center. With the troubles we still have today, it is good to look back on the past and see just how much progress has occurred. World AIDS Day provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on the history- the stigma and stereotypes of the 80’s that still survive today, the development of so many medicines that finally make it possible to live with HIV/AIDS, and the formation of communities and advocates who are not afraid to speak in honor of those who have passed. My JV AmeriCorps placement here with this community has inspired me towards a lifetime of service. Everything I give to the Day Center is returned threefold every time someone shares their story with me, shares their strength with me. This is a strength I will carry the rest of my life and will pass along to everyone I know. Thank you.