Saturday, April 22, 2017

Spring is Here

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and April 26th is Denim Day- Ask me about Denim Day! 

Shoshone Falls- Very windy, but truly beautiful! 

The State House the day before St. Patrick's Day! (There were people lining the streets taking pictures!)

About to get on the road for our trip to Yakima, WA

The sunrise on my walks to service 

March and April have flown by, as has this year. There has been a lot going on as the winter has turned to spring here in Boise. My community and I went to Yakima, WA for St. Patrick’s Day. We got to see a lot of other JV communities there and we had a great time seeing a new city. The farmers market has opened up again for the season in Downtown Boise and we have greatly enjoyed spending Saturdays there. We saw Shoshone Falls, which is called “The Niagara Falls of the West,” at the highest water level it’s been in a few decades. It was a beautiful sight on a sunny day with many rainbows over the falls. Boise has had record snowfall over the winter and a lot of rain this spring, which has led to a lot of flooding along the river. There is a biking/walking trail which runs along the main river running through Boise, which has been shut down due to flooding. This has been a big deal for the community and an inconvenience for so many. We are all waiting for the flooding to subside, but the rain keeps coming. We are taking in every sunny day as it comes this spring!
                This spring has been full of wonderful opportunities to partake in. In late March my community, along with all other AmeriCorps members in the area, were invited to an event hosted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) where the mayor signed a document supporting national and community service, especially highlighting the service that has been done in Idaho. At my placement we held a gathering for our volunteers, of which we have more than eighty, where they all had a chance to meet and talk with each other. Many of our volunteers are from different shifts and don’t get to see those from other shifts very often. We had a panel of mental health workers and housing specialists who explained about different disorders, addictions, and experiences to be aware of in order to be the best volunteers they could be for our guests. The gathering was successful in many ways and was well received.
                In April we were made aware of the fifth death this year among our guests. There have been guests who have passed of cancer, car accidents, other illnesses, and one who was killed by the police. This was a big story in Boise surrounded by a lot of controversy and opinions. This guest was named Ben Barnes. I regularly sorted and received his mail for him. He was a quiet man who always carried a very large backpack with a fishing pole. He usually ate at the shelter, but he didn’t stay overnight at any shelters. He camped, fished, and hunted as necessary to survive. On the day he died he was in the foothills surrounding Boise. There was an incident that occurred and for some reason he shot a dog on a hiking trail. Why he did this we may never know. When police arrived he shot at them and, in turn, he was shot and killed. Investigators came to my placement after this happened and asked about his belongings, his family, and any information we had about him. As I said, he was a quiet man and while he did talk with us, we did not know about his family situation. After a national notice went out that investigators were looking for family, they were finally located in the South. His family went through a difficult time after Ben’s death, as did many in the shelter. People were heartbroken and left confused, wondering how this could have happened. We reached out to his family, telling them that we knew who he was before this event. We knew him before he was labeled “Homeless Shooter” by many newspapers in the local area. We knew him as a quiet man who meant no harm. We held a memorial for Ben in our facility, which many guests attended. It is always important, no matter who the guest was or how long they had been at the shelter, to hold a memorial for a guest who has passed. As our Mission’s Coordinator put it, it lets everyone there know that they will be remembered when they pass, which is a valid concern for many without families or connections outside the shelter. I have many mixed feelings about everything that happened, as it was very sudden and unexpected. Ben was gentle and did kind things for people. During the winter we had a lock and hinges that kept freezing and they were difficult to get open each day. He greased the hinges and would work at the lock for me before I needed to use the door. He would quietly mention to be careful with the door, as the hinges had been greased. He was not looking for recognition for the deed, but just wanted to let me know so I wouldn’t get hurt. He did small acts of kindness and looked out for others in this way: guests, volunteers, and staff. It is difficult to believe he was capable of this amount of harm. Marc, the Mission’s Coordinator at my placement, wrote an article about Ben which reflected how we knew him. That article is attached below.
                I have had the privilege this month of attending two meetings of a women’s group that happens weekly. This group is put on by case managers for the overnight shelter located directly behind to my placement. Both of the meetings were about domestic violence, which is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children. There were many women present who told about the violence they have endured and the violence they have tried to keep their children away from. There were many women who had been homeless for years because of these situations. Many women had turned to drugs and/or alcohol to cope with the trauma they had endured, and many had their children taken from them at some point. Witnessing the raw emotion and honest stories from these women who I see almost every day was really difficult. Imagining them in these situations made my heart ache for them, more than it already did. I feel grateful to get to know them in this way and for them to let me see that part of themselves. I think about these situations often and how far too many people experience domestic violence and sexual assault. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and there have been great efforts nationwide to share stories like the ones I have heard and to support prevention efforts as well as supportive services to assist survivors.
                I also had the opportunity very recently to shadow case managers at the overnight shelter where many guests who use our services stay. I helped out some while I was there, doing some intakes and connecting with guests, as well as observing the procedures and protocol of the shelter’s operations. As the guests entered the shelter and saw me there, the reactions were priceless. They couldn’t believe I wanted to see where they lived, as they put it. They were excited to show me around and that I could see where they stayed. Many were happy to see me but confused as to why I was there, but I gained a lot of perspective and understanding in seeing where guests spent the other half of their time. There were a few new guests who had to be checked in and I was fortunate enough to do a few intakes while I was there. There was a man who was renting a house with a friend and he had just found out that the friend had been spending their rent money on drugs. He has a college degree and he can’t find work right now. This was his first time in a shelter. Another man didn’t have anywhere else to turn and he told me he needed work. He had no other resources and no one to turn to. I left the shelter at the end of the night when everyone was going to sleep. Outside, the world was still going on in just the way it usually does: cars driving by, people walking on the sidewalks, the lights in people’s homes going out as they turn in, but my perspective had changed. There were many guests who genuinely thanked me for being there. This baffled me at the time, but it truly mattered to them, and to me. It made a difference in what I do every day.
                Recently, time has been flying by. I am somehow three-quarters of the way through my year of service and that just seems so odd to me, and to the guests I serve, as some of them are getting nervous for the end of my time there as well. I am so grateful for all of the experiences I have had this year, even on the difficult days, and it will be really weird to leave at the end of the year. Just last week the former Jesuit Volunteer in my position came back to visit after almost nine months since she left. Seeing her visit was wonderful and heartwarming, but also strange knowing that will be me visiting in the same way in the future. While she was there on a Friday afternoon there was an ambulance called for a guest who was short of breath and having heart issues and the police came by when another guest caused issues in the back of our facility. There’s an interesting dynamic with anyone who has served at a shelter, and she understood everything that was happening. She and all of the Jesuit Volunteers from last year came to Boise for a reunion, which was so nice to see and to be a part of. Community is a very unique part of the service we do and it makes service so much better knowing I can come home to people who know what I’m going through. Service is difficult, but it’s the little things that make everything so much better. Thanks to them and to everyone else in my life for continued support throughout this year. I appreciate everything you all do for me and for those I serve.