Restoring Dignity through Open Mic Night

JV AmeriCorps member Scott Woodward (Spokane, WA ’16-17) serves as the Operations Specialist with Catholic Charities of Spokane in Washington. In our latest blog, Scott describes the Open Mic Night project he started, which provides patrons at the homeless shelter opportunities to express themselves creatively and allow their voices to be heard.

Creative expression: something most people don’t consider when they think of homelessness, but something I believe to be essential to the mission of House of Charity. House of Charity is a homeless shelter in Spokane, Washington that I have the privilege to serve as a JV AmeriCorps member this year.

One of the key tenets of House of Charity’s mission is restoring the dignity of those who are experiencing homelessness. To me, dignity is not just being able to walk through the doors and be treated like a person; dignity is also being able to show the world your voice and to have that voice be heard and validated. Because of this, I implemented the project Open Mic Night at House of Charity, which serves as a great way for our patrons to be heard. Think about it: if you don’t have any money, anywhere to sleep, and you live in a city that judges you for carrying everything you own on your back, where would you be able to sing your song? Where would you be able to hear your friends sing?

The House of Charity Open Mic provides a space for our clients to express their creative side. For a few hours every first Thursday of the month, the dining room of House of Charity transforms into a stage for patrons to show off their musical, artistic, poetic, comedic, or any other type of creative talent. By allowing our patrons to have a space to express themselves creatively, we give them an experience outside the typical one at a homeless shelter. Instead of our clients simply surviving, they will be allowed to be themselves, and most importantly, will be allowed to be heard.

The first night we had an Open Mic, I was a bit nervous, as it can be difficult to spread the word about programming events in the homeless community in Spokane. I was right to be nervous as it seemed like not too many people were expecting the event. Despite this, there were still people interested in performing. A few people performed their favorite songs, one patron performed an original piece  he wrote, and another patron performed stand-up comedy. Since the first event, there have been two other open mics, and I have been privileged to see some wonderful talent within the population of patrons at the House of Charity.

This month, the patrons of House of Charity were regaled with some guitar work by a patron, pictured below, as well as some acapella singing. My favorite part of the night was seeing a guest star jump up and start dancing along to the performers. It’s never a dull moment at the House of Charity. Another great moment at the most recent Open Mic event was a conversation I had with a patron who just ate dinner and watched the performers. She thanked me for the open mic, stating that “music is healing,” which is something I knew, but had a lot more impact coming from a person staying there.

Our clients feel like House of Charity not only gives them a place to survive, but a place to be themselves and to thrive. A space to be creative is essential in establishing a dignified environment, which is what House of Charity strives to be. The experience of running an open mic will stay with me: it’s been an honor and a privilege to give people an opportunity to have their voices heard.

Transforming Generations

AmeriCorps is celebrating older Americans in service – those adults and Baby Boomers who are continuing to stay involved in their communities through volunteering. Beth Keenan (Spokane, WA ’13-’14) is a JVC Northwest AmeriCorps member who gets to serve alongside some of these dedicated volunteers. She writes about the enriching intergenerational experience below.

Beth Keenan_Spokane_CAPAI am beyond lucky to be serving with the Childbirth and Parenting Assistance Program (CAPA) of Catholic Charities Spokane in Washington. CAPA is a wrap-around program, serving vulnerable families with children under age five with free, confidential, and non-mandated pregnancy and parenting support services. These services include counseling, support groups, parenting classes, doula mother mentors, a father mentoring group, and emergency diaper/clothing resources. Our mission is to create hope, strengthen families, and transform generations through comprehensive, compassionate care for each parent and child who walks through our doors. CAPA is a unique place, one where parents and their children come to feel known, loved, and safe.

One of the most life-giving aspects of my time serving with CAPA has been assisting with case management for the Doula Mother Mentor Program. Through this program, new moms are matched with volunteer mother-mentors called doulas from the Spokane community. The doulas and mothers spend two hours a week together, for one year, creating a relationship bonded through non-judgmental and unconditional love, friendship, and motherhood. Together, they navigate the twists and turns of parenting, celebrating all of the joy-filled and challenging moments of motherhood. When a new or expectant mother walks into CAPA, she has courageously made the decision to seek out additional support as she begins her parenting journey. She is then matched with a doula, who honors this bravery by getting to know her as a woman, a mother, and an individual who is worthy of love and belonging. This doula-mama relationship is based in accompaniment, which allows the doula and the new mom the space to grow, love, and experience life together, rather than feeling like they need to fix or change one another. Doulas model positive parenting behaviors, teach through actions, and share wisdom that they have cultivated throughout their own years as mothers.

A CAPA doula (left) with her mentee mother and baby

A CAPA doula (left) with her mentee mother and baby

CAPA doulas are some of the most giving, big-hearted women that I have ever met. They lead busy lives often juggling work, being present with their own children and grandchildren, yet they make it a priority to carve out two hours each week to accompany their new mother. I am in a constant state of awe at how they can share their hearts with not only their own children/grandchildren, but with their new mom as well. Often, doulas have children who have left home and established their own families, so they bring perspective and wisdom in remarkable ways.

Beth (in the middle) poses with a mother (on right), her two young children, and her doula mentor

Beth (in the middle) poses with a mother (on right), her two young children, and her doula mentor

Many of the doulas bring over 25 years of parenting experience to their relationships. One of our doulas, Kathleen*, has been matched with a CAPA mom, Bridget* for over ten years, walking with her as she brought her first little one into the world and is still along for the ride with the birth of Bridget’s fourth child. Bridget’s children think of Kathleen as their grandmother, as she has been a consistent, loving presence their whole lives.

Doulas are an invaluable aspect of the CAPA program and of the Spokane community as a whole. There are many different ways that these women could have chosen to given their time to the community and all of us at CAPA are so grateful that they have elected to walk with our CAPA moms. Through their service of accompanying these young families, our doula mentors are truly transforming generations.

* Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality