I feel closing this agency was a mistake. I want to explain why I feel this way. I do not aim to blame anyone or dwell in past issues. I’m only interested in sharing these thoughts with hope for a spark.
I began working at the Elizabeth Ann Seton Springfield center (on 7th Street north of Carpenter) last summer. I worked as a volunteer and mentor under the training and supervision of Dawn Morris and Kandi Histo. Dawn took training very seriously. She wanted me to understand the sensitivity of each individual, and the over-arching implications of sharing myself – there would be no going back to the me before my work here.
And she was right.
The clients are women, often mothers, with a dire need for practical assistance (not money assistance) but goal-setting, accountability, parenting classes, trust-building, how to not only survive, but get ahead amidst poverty. They met with the counselor (Kandi) during open hours either Tuesday from 1-4PM or Thursday from 9-12PM.
Over this past year, the waiting room was packed. Long wait times. They receive things like baby formula, laundry detergent, clothing, strollers, etc, but only if they are dedicated and demonstrating focus on their goals.
Their goals are things like getting a driver’s license, completing GED, enrolling in college classes, making and keeping dr. appointments for themselves and their children, staying away from abusive partners, enrolling in parenting classes, applying for jobs and making it through the interview process, etc.
I was nervous upon my entry into the facility. Although I work hard, I live an extremely privileged life. Why should the clients trust ME? Why would they open up to me?! What if they hate me?
The first couple of days I worked were difficult. I worked sorting clothes and answering phones. I felt awkward and uncomfortable.
I decided all I needed to do was show up, be me, and stay present.
I kept showing up. The more they saw my face on a consistent basis, the more I listened and shared of myself (some of my own vulnerabilities), the more joyful our meeting the next time.
Eventually I was getting regular hugs, asking when I was coming back, telling me about their most recent successes (or failures), and asking for my opinion on something happening in their lives. One woman told me she loved me, and I knew exactly what she meant and the feeling was mutual.
I attended the annual client conference “Breaking the Cycle” last summer. It was at a campground by Chatham. It was a well-attended and fun evening of trust-building and confidence building. Babysitters were there so they were able to immerse themselves in the experience. I watched Dawn give of herself in a way that is inexplicable. Kandi also. Kandi’s mom was there, and they helped arrange transportation. I helped bring families out to the camp as well. They brought out food and the clients enjoyed dinner with their children. Sr. Katherine was there helping and playing with the children.
Miracles happened that evening!
If the clients attended “breaking the cycle”, and met their goals throughout the year, they were able to attend “Mom Prom”, which was an evening of celebrating their accomplishments and our community. My husband, Scott, was able to attend with me. It was important to me that he meet the women I came home bragging about so often.
Another magical miracle…”Mom Prom”.
Little did I know the gift they would give me – a gift of love, trust, and vulnerability, and one that I hold dear. I can’t name their names here, but their names and smiles (and children’s names and smiles) are in my heart.
I know finding a replacement for Dawn is not a simple task.
I know that finances and sustainability were a concern.
But that’s just it? Close the doors?
Our community will step up if we ask.
But we have to ask!!
We have to share these stories!
The clients aren’t ‘representing a construct.’
They’re real people, and they rely on the comfort of ringing that doorbell and being greeted with a warm hug. It might be the warmest or one of the most important parts of their day.
I know it was mine.
While acknowledging the hard work and sacrifices made by these board members over the years (what a hard working board!), I can’t sit by idly and say “Oh, alrighty, things got bleak, so we threw in the towel.”
Not when the need is there.
Not when the agency has been around for almost 25 years!
I say no.
Something this unfortunate can’t fall blame on a single person, and it’s not time to point fingers.
It’s time to come together and figure out a plan.
The need is there, and the community and funding will be there.
God is at the heart of this agency.
My aunt Barb Danner (also known as “Baba”) sang a song to me when I was little…
It’s called “Pass it on”, and it begins like this:
“It only takes a spark to get a fire going. And soon all those around will warm up to its glowing.”
I believe that. I believe in our larger community. Give them the opportunity to better understand the miracles of this place and why it’s been functioning for so long. If it’s in disarray and dysfunction, let’s find the money and fix it.