Greetings from sunny California! While I do miss my East coast summer rain, I can’t say I miss having to make rainy day plans, especially with 20 (or more) energetic campers to entertain.
I’m writing this at the end of the fourth of seven weeks of camp and I can’t believe we’re so quickly approaching the end! I’m content with all that we’ve done so far and the relationships that we (my co-director, the counselors, and I) have formed with the campers living at the shelter. This past week was “Going Green” week at camp. We went on a hike, made leaf rubbings and stamps, and led the campers on a street cleanup around the shelter. All the kids were engaged and excited about the activities, which was encouraging to see. Over these past few weeks, I have come to get to know the kids and what is special and notable about each of them. They continue to surprise me with what they are interested in, what they’re not so interested in, and how they interact with each other and me.
One of my favorite things about my internship is getting to be part of the community at Haven, even outside of my work with the campers. I speak to the parents about their kids, their housing searches, or their hometowns or home countries. I also have the opportunity to chat with the parents whose kids are too young for camp and spend time with direct services staff members who are dedicated, supportive, and knowledgeable. Every once in a while I pop into the main building for LifeMoves to meet with the administrative staff who are focused on the big picture and are able to give me some more insight into the organization as a whole and my small part of it.
At Brandeis I am a coordinator of the Waltham Group program, Hunger and Homelessness, a group that works with local organizations attempting to address the causes and effects of housing and food insecurity. We talk with our volunteers and community partners about how homelessness carries a stigma. As a society, we have learned to make assumptions about who is homeless, why they are in their situation, what they look like, how they act. The list goes on. It can be incredibly damaging to those individuals and families who are living without stable homes.
Through working with and alongside those who are experiencing homelessness, I am continually finding that there is no one way to be homeless and there is no one path to healing. In my orientation, the psychologist who is serving as the Vice President of Program and Services at LifeMoves spoke to us about how the organization must always “meet people where they’re at.” He explained that he often fields calls from frustrated clients upset that they were not being treated fairly, that their neighbor had it “better” than they. He recounted that he responds to these kinds of calls by letting the caller know that, congratulations, they had figured it out—the program is not fair! In other words, no two program participants follow the same path because each person needs something suited to the particulars of their situation. The National Coalition for the Homeless does a good job of explaining some of the causes of homelessness in this fact sheet. For some families and individuals, they can point to one of these headings as the root cause of their homelessness. For some, it is a more complex mix of many factors.
I’ve found that this principle of different paths can extend to my work with the campers. Of course, each camper gets the same number of graham crackers or time on the bikes. However, some campers need extra attention to get the same results. For example, one camper might need a sticker chart that rewards her for saying goodbye to his mom without crying, while another camper might need to be assigned her own project to be in charge of in order to feel like she is being challenged. Some might want to sit and talk while some learn best by getting their hands and knees dirty on the soccer field. It’s been one of our largest tasks to adjust to these diverse needs, but it ultimately is leading to far better results.
I’m looking forward to what these next three weeks will bring and letting you know what I learn!
Mira McMahon ‘18