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What I’ve Learned from 7 Months of Serving Homeless and House-Insecure Women in DC

AVODAHGRAs I finished my senior year at Wesleyan University, one of the things I was most afraid of for my post-grad life was losing the environment in which everyone is eager to share the learning process with their friends and peers. The desire to preserve that, and the importance of my Jewish communities and experiences to me, is what led me to Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps.

Avodah is based on studying the issues and approaches of our own service work as a way to navigate the centuries-old question central to Jewish life that is: how do Jews meet our obligation to serve? To do this, my fellow 23 Avodah Corps Members in DC and I are placed at leading anti-poverty organizations across the District – where we gain hands-on work experience and learn about the root causes and effects of poverty in this country. We work with individuals facing challenges related to healthcare access, food insecurity, housing insecurity, our immigration and refugee systems, and much more, as we also consider how to best organize the Jewish community toward a more just and equitable future.

For the past seven months, I’ve been serving as a program associate at N Street Village. N Street Village empowers homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C. to claim their highest quality of life by offering a broad spectrum of services, housing, and advocacy in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.

avodah

Before I started Avodah, I was worried that my position and responsibilities would be too far removed from the macro-level social justice that I had spent most of college thinking about and cultivating my skills toward; I was nervous that I would not only miss reading, writing, and critically thinking about social justice in these ways, but that I wouldn’t be qualified for the direct service work that our clients needed me to do. Within the first few months I definitely faced a steep learning curve, but have also since found that I continue to learn more than I could have ever imagined about the lived experiences at the heart of the issues that I care about. This has been due in part to all of the training and learning opportunities that my placement provides its staff – especially its Avodah Corps Members and social work interns.

One of the areas of learning that has profoundly impacted me this year is trauma-informed care. Trauma informed care is a holistic approach to providing services, based in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma. What fascinates me about this framework is that trauma-informed care is more about changing systems than providing brief interventions to navigate traumatic experiences: it’s more about how a person who has experienced homelessness feels in a space that is intended to provide care, rather than about agencies checking off boxes of predetermined treatment requirements.

Learning and exploring the principles of trauma-informed care has helped me imagine concrete ways in which the choices that I make at work can be empowering for clients, even when challenges within the systems can be endlessly disempowering for them. Having an understanding of this holistic approach to care, I’m able to better recognize symptoms of mental health instability as related to the traumatic experiences of homelessness and being deprived of basic human needs. Most importantly, this framework helps me as a staff person to focus on the sheer resilience at the core of human responses to stress and crisis, reduce the shame and stigma associated by homelessness and/or other crises, and ideally, help survivors feel respected, connected, and hopeful about their recovery.

Though I describe trauma-informed care as systemic, and at its core it is all about a widespread change to social work and the standards behind providing services, where it really manifests are the personal experiences I have with clients and my coworkers. In the fall, our N Street Village CEO wrote a letter to the organization’s staff in the wake of multiple acts of white supremacist violence – from the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to the murders of Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones in Louisville, Kentucky. She wrote that in our work at N Street Village, “every day we have multiple invitations to challenge our implicit biases and to seek interpersonal justice. We are invited to acknowledge our well-worn habits of mind which automatically see an ‘other’ — and instead to exercise new habits of heart which see our commonality and which instinctively reach for connection.”

Having experienced this work for the past seven months, and getting to see its impact, I’m so grateful to my workplace and to Avodah as a whole for bringing the interpersonal connections to the foreground in my understanding of justice. I can only hope that through the rest of the year and beyond, my fellow Corps members and I never stop finding ways to fold that interpersonal justice into greater action and movements for progress.

 

About the Author:

Sammi Aibinder is an Avodah Jewish Service Corps Member. She currently works as a program associate at N Street Village, which empowers homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C. Ms. Aibinder is a graduate of Wesleyan University.

 

Around Town

Copy of Around town template (1)Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Poetry Slam! (night 1) *This event is accepting volunteers
DC SCORES

The DC SCORES Poetry Slam! is the largest youth slam in Washington, DC, and the culminating event of the DC SCORES fall season. The two-night event showcases original works of poetry written by over 2,000 students representing District of Columbia public and public charter schools in seven of the city’s eight wards. In a competitive format, each school takes the stage for five minutes to perform group and individual poems in front of capacity crowds. The DC SCORES Poetry Slam! funnels the energy and creativity of youth into self-expression as a means of improving their literacy rates and raising their self-esteem. The event has been featured in The Washington Post &n Capital Community News, and participants have read their poems on NBC-4.

When: Wednesday, November 15, 2017 (5:00 PM – 8:00 PM)
Where: Columbia Heights Education Campus (auditorium), 3101 16th St. NW, Washington, DC 20010 map
Volunteer Info: Volunteers are needed for setup, breakdown, ushering special guests, and more.
Contact: Lindsey Sharp, (202) 393-6999 ext 310
For more information: click here

Maryland Solar Info Session
Solar United Neighbors

This info session will cover everything a you need to know if you’re interested in going solar. Solar United Neighbors of Maryland will present on solar technology, financing options, and the basics of solar policy & markets. We will also discuss our solar co-op process, which works like a bulk purchase. Co-ops bring together a group of homeowners to get the best quality installations for the best price, plus free 1-on-1 support from Solar United Neighbors, a neutral nonprofit solar expert.

When: Wednesday, November 15, 2017 (7:00 PM – 8:30 PM)
Where: Rockville City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave, Rockville, MD 20850 map
Contact: Andrea Hylant, (202) 888-3601
For more information: click here

Thursday, November 16, 2017
Poetry Slam! (night 2) *This event is accepting volunteers
DC SCORES

The DC SCORES Poetry Slam! is the largest youth slam in Washington, DC, and the culminating event of the DC SCORES fall season. The two-night event showcases original works of poetry written by over 2,000 students representing District of Columbia public and public charter schools in seven of the city’s eight wards. In a competitive format, each school takes the stage for five minutes to perform group and individual poems in front of capacity crowds. The DC SCORES Poetry Slam! funnels the energy and creativity of youth into self-expression as a means of improving their literacy rates and raising their self-esteem. The event has been featured in The Washington Post & Capital Community News, and participants have read their poems on NBC-4

When: Thursday, November 16, 2017 (5:00 PM – 8:00 PM)
Where: H.D. Woodson High School, 540 55th St. NE, Washington, DC 20019 map
Volunteer Info: Volunteers are needed for setup, breakdown, ushering special guests, and more.
Contact: Lindsey Sharp, (202) 393-6999 ext 310
For more information: click here

Reach’s Book Release Party *This event is accepting volunteers
Reach Incorporated

Each summer, selected Reach teens author children’s books as part of our Summer Leadership Academy. On November 16th, we will celebrate these teen authors at our annual Book Release Party. The event will take place at Pepco Edison Place Gallery, near Chinatown, and will provide an opportunity to honor our young people, celebrate their new books, and raise funds to support our continued work.

When: Thursday, November 16, 2017 (5:00 PM – 8:00 PM)
Where: Pepco Edison Place Gallery, 702 8th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001 map
Fee: Tickets start at $50. Volunteers are free.
Volunteer Info: We are seeking volunteers to run our registration table and assist with book sales.
Contact: William Ross, (202) 827-3795
For more information: click here

Saturday, November 18, 2017

What’s Going On

Dance Place

Returning home after a sold-out nationwide tour, What’s Going On is Dance Place’s critically acclaimed producing debut that offers the sweetest solace possible: people coming together. (The Washington Post). Artistic Director Vincent E. Thomas looks through the lens of Marvin Gaye’s transcendent music and finds a reflection of the world today. Taking inspiration from 1971′s inimitable What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye’s insights into life, love and social justice are given fresh perspectives with choreography by Vincent E. Thomas, Ralph Glenmore and Sylvia Soumah.

This evening-length work features Modern, Jazz and West African dance. What’s Going On seeks to provoke thoughtfulness and spark conversations to ignite change in each community it touches.

When: Saturday, November 18, 2017 (8:00 PM)
Where: Dance Place, 3225 8th St NE, Washington, DC 20017 map
Fee: $15 -$30
Contact: Amanda Blythe, (202) 269-1601
For more information: click here

Sunday, November 19, 2017
Girls on the Run – DC Fall 2017 5K presented by PepsiCo *This event is accepting volunteers
Girls on the Run – DC

Join us for the fall 5K on Sunday, November 19th, at Anacostia Park. Girls on the Run – DC brings the community together to support and celebrate girls across the city. The race is open to the community and there are many ways to get involved — from being a buddy runner for a girl who doesn’t have an adult to run with, a community participant or a volunteer who makes the day memorable for a girl.

When: Sunday, November 19, 2017 (10:00 AM – 11:30 AM)
Where: Anacostia Park, 1101 Howard Rd, SE, Washington, DC 20020 map
Fee: $35 race entry
Volunteer Info: Various 5K volunteer opportunities include: course safety marshal, information team, general volunteer, parking metro guide, photographer, and race packet pick-up.
Contact: Kelly Makimaa, (202) 607-2288
For more information: click here

What’s Going On
Dance Place

Returning home after a sold-out nationwide tour, What’s Going On is Dance Place’s critically acclaimed producing debut that offers the sweetest solace possible: people coming together. (The Washington Post). Artistic Director Vincent E. Thomas looks through the lens of Marvin Gaye’s transcendent music and finds a reflection of the world today. Taking inspiration from 1971′s inimitable What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye’s insights into life, love and social justice are given fresh perspectives with choreography by Vincent E. Thomas, Ralph Glenmore and Sylvia Soumah.

This evening-length work features Modern, Jazz and West African dance. What’s Going On seeks to provoke thoughtfulness and spark conversations to ignite change in each community it touches.

When: Sunday, November 19, 2017 (4:00 PM)
Where: Dance Place, 3225 8th St NE, Washington, DC 20017 map
Fee: $15 -$30
Contact: Amanda Blythe, (202) 269-1601
For more information: click here

Thursday, November 23, 2017
13th Annual Turkey Trot This event is accepting volunteers
Laurel Advocacy & Referral Services

This Thanksgiving Morning, over 800 runners, walkers, and spectators will flock to Laurel’s Historic District for the 13th Annual 5K Turkey Trot to Benefit Laurel Advocacy & Referral Services, Inc. (LARS). This event has gained a loyal following and continues to grow each year, raising crucial funds for LARS, a non-profit organization helping homeless and low-income families and individuals achieve stability and self-sufficiency. This event is LARS’ biggest fundraiser, raising over $50,000 last year to help us provide food, financial help, and housing to Laurel residents in crisis.

When: Thursday, November 23, 2017 (8:00 AM – 10:00 AM)
Where: McCullough Field, 7th & Montgomery St, Laurel, MD 20707 map
Fee: $35 through end of October; $40 Nov 1-Race Day
Volunteer Info: Registration, course marshaling, set up/clean up, cheer on race participants
Contact: Laura Wellford, (301) 776-0442 ext 27
For more information: click here

In The News …

DC parents raise concerns about middle schools (Washington Post via Greater Greater Washington): “Middle schools are the latest hot spot in DC public education. With preschool and elementary enrollment ticking up for the first time in decades, parents and policymakers are scrutinizing the lack of attractive middle-grade options with increasing urgency [...] Without dramatic improvement in middle school quality, the long-term prospects for reform are bleak.” Back in March, we commented on a New York Times piece on the development of middle school pedagogy. Arguably, the “middle years” are neglected nationwide as much of the attention goes towards elementary school (formative years) or high school (pre-college years). Has the same been happening here?

Dismal DCPS Statistics Shared at Council Hearing (DCist): “ afternoon, D.C. Public Schools chancellor Kaya Henderson and other officials appeared in front of the DC Council’s Committee of the Whole to talk about middle school education [...] Among the figures that Henderson and DCPS officials quoted: 18.4 percent of DCPS middle schoolers have missed classes because they didn’t feel safe traveling to school; 13.9 percent of middle school students were afraid of being beaten up at some point in the last year; around 40 percent of DCPS ninth graders repeat the grade, while one in three DCPS ninth graders fail algebra.” In other words, many of the most dire problems in DC middle schools have little to do with academics. Schools need to be effective, absolutely, but they also need to feel safe and protected.

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