Written by Amy Lynch, Mission employee
I opened the door to my office and audibly sighed, Lord, what did you get me into? My eyes scanned the file drawer bulging with unorganized pamphlets, a desk littered with bits of paper, all covered with notes from ladies that have stayed here overnight. I read a few:
Sally snores really loud at night, can you talk to her?
The tile is loose by the shower, I stubbed my toe this morning, NOT ACCEPTABLE.
I set the papers down. I heard a knock at the door. It was my only program participant, oxygen tank in hand, “You Amy?” she asked me. “Yes, nice to meet you, I heard so much about you,” I extended my hand to her, she took it limply. “Um, I just wanted to let you know that I am leaving the program today, I need to grab my things.” Thus began my first day as Women’s Program Manager at Fort Collins Rescue Mission.
After she left I walked through the women’s dorm, praying silently, touching a bunk where a homeless woman would find shelter that night, straightening a mirror along the way, smelling a flower someone had placed in a mason jar by the sign-in sheet.
God, can I do this?
I was at loss of even where to start….and then I was reminded of the power of compassion and dignity. This was where I could start. I wasn’t sure yet of the specific intervention to use, the classes I would begin to teach, the resources I would reach out to, but I did have access to those two meager and powerful offerings.
And that is how we have begun; offering compassion and dignity, extending opportunities for security and the room to try something DIFFERENT, teaching that even small changes have the power to alter a pattern.
The women’s program has low numbers, but the women who grace my caseload are mighty. I have had the honor to see women challenge a destructive thought, begin the journey of writing a resume, create a budget for the first time in their lives, and giggle as they try a new Pilates exercise.
Some days are harder than others. Sometimes they take a step forward only to take three back. Some days those meager and powerful offerings of compassion and dignity are difficult to administer. Yet, we return to a new day, we try the challenge one more time, and life moves forward. Even in a shelter, the women throw birthday parties for one another, hug one another when the days are rough, fill out a crossword puzzle to help ground themselves so they can stay another day in a safe place and not on the street.
Although, not so long ago, that first day I walked through the Mission’s doors seems a life time ago. We have begun a series of Life Skills classes, including emotional awareness, financial planning, community resourcing, and job readiness. We have included a nutritional track and have a wonderful intern who plans and prepares bi-weekly meals with our participants. We have begun to sharpen our case management skills to meet the needs of our ladies the best we can. We have also begun to extend our program to women re-entering society from prison in hopes of reducing recidivism and decreasing traumatic decisions.
And when we don’t know the right words to say, or the correct approach to take, I recall those meager and powerful gifts of compassion and dignity, and they serve us well, the women and me.