Pathways for Healing: Serving Children Experiencing Trauma

JV AmeriCorps member Cat Cassidy (Missoula, MT ’16-17) serves as the YWCA Children’s Empowerment and Violence Prevention Specialist with the YWCA in Missoula, Montana. In our latest blog, Cat describes the capacity building project she designed and implemented into her program in response to the needs of the children she advocates for as secondary survivors of abuse.

When I officially committed to a year of service with the YWCA of Missoula, I foresaw several opportunities serving as a Children’s Empowerment and Violence Prevention Specialist. The YWCA serves primary and secondary survivors of domestic violence. My role as a children’s advocate is to provide a safe environment for children to heal and develop through therapeutic play activities. Each day I volunteer with the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter, I experience the multifaceted ways in which trauma effects childhood development and behavior. Children within domestic violence circumstances experience a major transition leaving their homes and entering into a shelter. Their worlds are turned upside-down, and my desire is to help their transition go as smoothly as possible.

This year, I designed welcome packets for each child upon their arrival into our shelter. Throughout my experience at the YWCA, I have noticed that in domestic violence situations, the majority of the attention is placed solely on the primary survivors, commonly mothers, who have been the direct receiver of the abuse. Because of this, children as secondary survivors are often set to the side and not given the same attention and care. Witnessing this first-hand, my idea was to create a tangible item to be given to the children upon their arrival into shelter to show them they are thought of and cared for from the moment they arrive. Knowing that their needs vary between ages, I created three templates for three different age groups. Each packet contains an introduction to the children’s advocates at the shelter, guidelines to be followed during the child’s stay, feeling charts in which children can identify their emotions as well as be given tools of how to healthily express them, therapeutic coloring pages, and information about respect and healthy friendships/relationships. In addition to the welcome packet, each child also receives a blanket, a pillow, or a stuffed animal of their choosing to keep with them throughout their stay and take with them after they leave the shelter.

When I first began handing out the welcome packets, the word spread like wildfire. Once one child obtained a welcome packet, mothers began asking me about them even before I had a chance to meet their children. One young girl in the shelter expressed that she was very excited to receive her welcome packet, especially when paired with the little stuffed animal she picked out. Now, the young girl brings the stuffed animal almost everywhere with her. We often engage in therapeutic coloring activities together with the coloring pages in her packet.  Also, we have had incredible success with the feeling chart, which allows the young girl to identify her emotions and allows me to better my advocacy when knowing how she is feeling or what she is thinking about during the time we spend together. The packets are a wonderful resource for getting to know the children I am serving better.

Cat (middle) with her Missoula community mates

I believe these welcome packets have contributed a positive improvement for children entering into shelter. Not only do the packets affirm the children and their experience, they also provide materials for building the bridge of communication between the child and their parent as well as between the child and the children’s advocates. The welcome packets open up discussions about emotions and provide resources for navigating through complicated feelings. The packets will not be a success for every child who enters into shelter given the varying needs of each child. However, the welcome packets are a starting point, a step in the process of better advocating for and empowering children who have witnessed domestic violence.

The children I serve are the most resilient little souls I have ever encountered. I have learned from them, and I have grown from my experiences with them. They hold within them an abundance of hope, an overflowing river of love, and an ocean wide yearning for understanding and connection. These children desire to know that they are validated, that they are important, and that they are cared for. My hope for this project is that it will allow these children to feel valued as well as inspire other avenues of support for children experiencing trauma so that we can eventually break the cycle of abuse altogether.Save

AmeriCorps Week: Impact Stories!

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, we wanted to share the impact our JV AmeriCorps members are making on the communities they serve! Around 120 of our JV AmeriCorps members are completing two or more capacity building projects throughout this service year. These projects address organizational gaps and enhance the quality and scope of services to address local priorities, primarily in the areas of homelessness, domestic violence, and at-risk youth, as well as disaster/emergency services, the environment, mental and behavioral health, disability, legal services, and others.

JV AmeriCorps member Brian Thurow (Hays, MT ’15-16, Juneau, AK ’16-17) serves as the JCAP Program Specialist at Aiding Women in Abuse & Rape Emergencies (AWARE), Inc. Below is a description of his capacity building project,  Men Choose Respect Curriculum Implementation.

“My capacity building project involves the implementation of a new curriculum for the Juneau Choice and Accountability Program (JCAP), a state-certified Batterer Intervention Program operated by AWARE. JCAP is transitioning away from a crisis intervention program model to a more prevention-oriented program model. In an effort to better suit the needs of our participants and our community at large, JCAP will be implementing an adapted version of the Men Choose Respect curriculum.

There is a need for a curriculum that aims for systemic, community-based change to end men’s violence against women, rather than an intervention-based curriculum that addresses the violence after it has been perpetrated. The implementation of the new curriculum will be a permanent structural change to the Juneau Choice and Accountability Program. Once the new curriculum is adapted, and the new contracts and paperwork created, the resources needed to facilitate the program will be available to any new staff.”

JV AmeriCorps member Dawn Thomas (Wenatchee WA ’16-17) serves as the Community Outreach Specialist & Healthy Lifestyles Educator at Columbia Valley Community Health (CVCH). Dawn’s capacity building project is called Retinal Eye Exam Flow.

“My project involved creating a flow for eye exams and communicating that flow to Primary Care Physicians, Medical Assistants, Radiology, and members of the patient services team. At the outset of this project, the percentages of CVCH’s diabetic patients that were not receiving annual retinal eye exams were fairly high. The process I helped create will hopefully begin to lower that number, by increasing communication about eye exam availability between providers and the radiology department. Establishing a process for same-day retinal exams is important for CVCH as we move forward in attempting to reach short and long-term goals for quality whole-person care for diabetic patients.

Dawn Thomas (middle) with her Wenatchee community mates

I have been able to be the point person for communicating about the schedule and helping to develop a flow that works well in order to get patients seen for their eye exams. I also conducted eye exams in the month of December, and will begin conducting them again in March onward, helping for me to see the “on the ground” work of planning, conducting, and completing these eye exams. We established a flow for same-day eye exams, getting radiology more comfortable with doing walk-ins of these just as they do for other types of exams.”

JV AmeriCorps member Tricia Tyson (Yakima, WA ’16-17) serves at the Yakima Neighborhood Health Services. Her capacity building project is called Depot Job Match.

JV AmeriCorps members Tricia Tyson (right) and Aleina Tanabe

“I planned, designed and implemented a new program to connect individuals experiencing homelessness in Yakima with employment opportunities. I meet with clients and identify barriers for employment, obtain Social Security and ID cards, and identify employment-related programs that would interest clients. I created the infrastructure for a sustainable project to hire the most vulnerable homeless in a temporary, transitional employment program in order to lay the groundwork for future employment. I find this project uniquely benefits my clients as they feel a sense of empowerment and increased self-respect as a result of working, increasing mental health and overall well-being. Fundamentally, it helps transition clients off the street and into housing by providing them a routine and source of income.”

JV AmeriCorps member Joy Macatangay (Aloha, OR ’16-17) is the Children’s Activities Coordinator for Monika’s House Shelter/Domestic Violence Resource Center. Her capacity building project is called Creation and Implementation of Trauma Informed Structure into Kid’s Club.

“A trauma informed curriculum and positive reinforcement system for Kid’s Club was developed and implemented with the Children’s Advocate at Monika’s House. The Domestic Violence Resource Center works with individuals who have experienced vast trauma in their lives. Monika’s House tries to be as trauma informed as possible and this includes the aspect of consistency.

The curriculum and positive reinforcement system were necessary in order to provide consistency for the kids. A binder has been created containing the curriculum and positive reinforcement system for Kid’s Club. It includes directions explaining the rules to go through with the kids at the beginning of each Kid’s Club, how to perform an appropriate time out, an explanation of the positive reinforcement system, the time line for Kid’s Club, and a wide variety of activities that whoever is implementing Kid’s Club can go through and choose from.

With these directions, Kid’s Club can be executed easily in the future. The program has become more trauma informed in order to better serve the clients staying at Monika’s House. It has also been improved to be more organized and clear about the proper procedures for everything with the curriculum and clear instructions outlined in the Kid’s Club binder. Because of this, the Kid’s program is running a lot smoother.”

These impact snapshots are just a few examples of the amazing service our JV AmeriCorps members provide their organizations and the communities in which they live and serve. We are proud of the hard work and determination our JV AmeriCorps members showcase each and every day. Thank you to all AmeriCorps members who are ‘getting things done’ across the country!

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Celebrate National Service This AmeriCorps Week

AmeriCorps Week is upon us! From March 4 – March 11, JVC Northwest and organizations across the country are showing our appreciation to current AmeriCorps members and alums, thanking our community partners, and sharing AmeriCorps’ impact on individuals, communities, and organizations throughout the country!

AmeriCorps Quick Facts

AmeriCorps, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service iheartnationalservice_120x90(CNCS), engages more than 80,000 Americans in intensive service each year at 21,600 unique sites including nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country. Since the program’s founding in 1994, more than 1 million AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 1.4 billion hours in service across America while tackling pressing problems and mobilizing more than 2.3 million volunteers for the organizations they serve.

JVC Northwest/AmeriCorps Partnership

JVC Northwest has been an AmeriCorps Direct Grantee since 2010, and we are grateful for our seven years of collaboration with the CNCS/AmeriCorps. This partnership has provided a range of benefits to our overall program:

  1. partner agencies are able to host JVs at a reduced rate
  2. our program has expanded to new communities allowing us to serve more people
  3. members face fewer barriers to service thanks to the education award received at the completion of a successful term of service, and much more!

JV AmeriCorps members serving in Billings, MT

JVC Northwest currently places 142 AmeriCorps members in 21 remote, rural, and urban economically challenged communities throughout Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Our members serve at nonprofits, schools, and community health clinics. Our program’s focus areas of service include disaster relief, economic opportunity, education, environmental advocacy and stewardship, food and hunger, and homelessness and housing.

Our JV AmeriCorps Members’ Impact

JV AmeriCorps members are a visible testimony to the power of service and actively address critical community needs. Below are some examples of our JV AmeriCorps members’ impact on communities they serve.

Aberdeen, Washington – With the service of ‘13-14 JV AmeriCorps member Jonathan Strain, Catholic Community Services of Aberdeen, WA began a Youth Works Program to connect youth to meaningful employment experiences/training. Jonathan took the program from 0 students, schools and internships to 5 schools, 16 students, and over 20 internship possibilities. Students reported overwhelmingly positive experiences, with several making plans to pursue further education and training as a result of their participation.

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American Red Cross of Alaska volunteer looks at the after effects of a wildfire

Anchorage, Alaska – During the 2014-2015 service year,  JV AmeriCorps member Anna Nilles served at the American Red Cross of Alaska in Anchorage. Throughout the service year, she responded to 50 disasters, assisting 196 individuals primarily through single family fires, a shelter created for flood victims, and an assistance center following a wildfire.

Billings, Montana –16-17 JV AmeriCorps member Haley Ehleringer serves as the School Program Specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County in Billings, MT. Haley is responsible for ensuring the effective delivery of the school-based mentoring program that connects 50-55 at-risk students in grades K-8 with high school mentors.

Follow the Impact & Share Our Story

JVC Northwest believes National Service is an important American value which solves local problems, unites communities and creates a generation of leaders. From March 4-11, follow our blog and AmeriCorps’ Facebook page as well as #AmeriCorpsWorks and #IamAmeriCorps on social media to learn about AmeriCorps amazing impact on members, individuals we serve, communities, and more!

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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!

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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.

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’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.

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’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.

AmeriCorps Milestone: One Million Strong

October 7th marks the day AmeriCorps celebrates an exciting milestone, exceeding one million members! Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest is proud to partner with such an amazing and impactful program that provides services to the most vulnerable across the country.

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A Brief History:

Back in 2010, JVC Northwest began our partnership with AmeriCorps by receiving a three-year National Direct AmeriCorps award from the Corporation for National and Community Service. Through this partnership that continued on in 2013 with another three-year grant, JVC Northwest was able to serve more people and increase our reach to more communities. 134_15-16photocontest_jvinservice_tutoringnook In 2016, we are pleased to report we received an additional three-year National Direct AmeriCorps Grant, which allows us to expand our program to support 142 AmeriCorps members (up from 135 in previous years) serving in 22 locales, including opening up a new community in Woodburn, Oregon. These 142 AmeriCorps members serve in rural and urban areas across Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington providing intensive service in the areas of disaster services, economic opportunities, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military.

AmeriCorps Benefits to Members:

Throughout the service year, full-time JV AmeriCorps members receive a living allowance that funds their housing costs, food, utilities, transportation to and from the service site, medical co-pays and deductibles, and other costs that may incur. Upon successful completion of their service year, members receive an Education Award.

Not only does AmeriCorps benefit members through a monthly stipend and Education Award, the program offers true personal and professional development and enlightenment for their future endeavors:

FJV AmeriCorps member Amanda Pena (Gresham, OR ‘15-16 ) served at Catholic Charities of Oregon as a Case Specialist.pena-amanda Amanda shared, “I have never felt more loved, supported, encouraged, pushed and needed in a position than I have this past year of service. I was entrusted with great responsibilities and given true opportunities to grow and help grow this organization. I feel so respected and valued for my ideas and skills and potential, and I am forever grateful for this placement and the personal/professional development it has given me.”

JV AmeriCorps member Jesus Espinosa (Portland, OR ’15-16) served as the Ventanilla Outreach Coordinator at Wallace Medical Concern. espinosa-jesusJesus had this to say about his AmeriCorps experience: “The entire staff at Wallace has been incredibly supportive and allowed flexibility in my position to cater to my strengths. I’ve been able to grow tremendously in 12 months and feel fortunate to have been able to leave a small mark in the clinic by the implementation of a new program aimed at increasing literacy in children of low-income families. My year of service exceeded greatly all my expectations and I will apply much of what I’ve learned to my future career in the health field.”

 AmeriCorps Benefits to Agencies

There are also countless benefits to the agencies where AmeriCorps members serve:

According to Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) in Seattle, WA: “The impact of JV AmeriCorps members cannot be overstated, for the agency or for the clients served. The members bring new energy, thoughtful insights, valuable experience in other work, and volunteer positions to the agency, as well as much-needed and highly appreciated help to the staff in this very challenging day-to-day work. To the clients, the members bring willingness, compassion, and a commitment to do their very best to help DESC’s most vulnerable clients get the information, resources, and consistent, caring support they need to stay alive and continue moving forward in their lives, to the best of their abilities.”

YWCA Missoula in Missoula, MT: “The YWCA Pathways Program offers crucial crisis intervention services to victims of domestic and sexual violence 24 hours a day. It is the largest program of the YWCA Missoula, operating with a limited number of employees but providing services to a large amount of women, men, and children in the community and outside of Missoula County.

JV AmeriCorps members are invaluable to the Pathways Program and we could not provide ’round the clock services without them. 150_15-16photocontest_jvinservice_tutoringlittlegirlThroughout their one-year term of service, they impact individuals on a micro level and our community on a macro level. They might serve with an individual over the crisis line and help them solve a current crisis situation. They might serve with a woman at the shelter for several weeks setting short and long term goals with them, safety planning and providing personal advocacy, and connecting the woman to valuable resources in the community to start building a life free of violence for herself and her children. They also serve with children that have witnessed or experienced violence and are able to provide therapeutic play and a safe environment to kids that have often never been able to be true kids before. Some of these impacts can be measured in numbers (e.g. how many women and children stayed at the shelter), while others can only be measured in emotions and moments of safety, empowerment, and happiness.”

THANK YOU

JVC Northwest wants to thank all the past, current, and future AmeriCorps members who pledge a year to ‘get things done’ throughout the country!  Also, we want to thank CNCS, partner agencies, stakeholders, and all those involved in making the JVC Northwest and AmeriCorps partnership a success!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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