Looking Back On My Time At WINGS

During training we were advised that these children came from traumatic backgrounds and that these backgrounds gravely affected them. While I’ve always known and been advised that these campers are not necessarily like others, I wish I had known more about how they might be different before I began this summer.

Many times during craft or a quiet activity, one of the campers would start talking about their home life. One child referred to her father as a monster of whom she was still afraid, another child spoke of his father’s shooting, and yet another spoke of the yelling and hitting that occurred in their home. Today, an inconsolable child spent thirty minutes trying to open a locked door as I stood by with Child Advocates. He had been removed from the classroom because he had begun hitting and kicking his brother, and with the locked door between them he was unable to force the brother into doing what he wanted. Similarly, a couple of weeks ago, two of our older campers stopped showing up regularly, and we were eventually informed that the older sister had been caught trying to strangle the younger brother. Situations like this never really occurred during any of my past jobs working with children, and I had to learn how to adapt to engaging with traumatized children.

However, I’ve also learned just how resilient these children are. Some of these kids have been in abusive homes their whole lives and are just now starting to get a sense of what safety truly is. Despite all that they have been through in their short lives, they still show up to camp with smiles on their faces. When selecting their feeling at the beginning of the camp, they oftentimes talk about how excited they are to see what activities are planned and what the “theme” is.

It may not look like much but we spent over an hour designing, testing, and perfecting our very own mini-golf course.

Most of the time, these kids are no different than any others—they laugh, they sing songs, they try to trick you into spelling I.c.u.p.—so it is oftentimes difficult to remember the trauma they have been through. It is oftentimes difficult to remember that at the end of the day they have fled for their lives.

The activity helped highlight how difficult it is for many to get help.

During training, one of the exercises that really stood out to me was a group activity in which we were placed into the roles of fictional domestic violence victims. My character was a wealthy lawyer who married the good-looking attorney that visited her workplace. It started with controlling behaviors, emotional abuse, and financial abuse. Then, the physical abuse began. As we worked through the game we were forced to make choices: would we speak to our local minister or try explaining the situation to our best girlfriend, would we call the domestic violence hotline, or simply wait, hoping that our mother would ask about the bruises dotting our neck? Even during the game the choices seemed nearly impossible, and even though we tried making the best decisions we still ended up back at the “Abuse Happens” station, where we had to each take a Band-Aid and place it on our physical body. The visceral image of being covered by Band-Aids is one that I will never forget.

I really enjoyed my time interning at WINGS. It was such a unique experience that led to an invaluable summer. Being given the opportunity to step into such a leadership position was something that I truly think I needed to experience. Through the position I was able to develop my planning skills, social skills, leadership skills, interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills, and a plethora of other things. I learned so much about a crisis that affects so many across the country and across the globe. Domestic violence knows no race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, class, etc. Domestic violence is a real problem that affects millions.  My experience with WINGS is one that will stay with me, and I am immensely grateful that I had the opportunity to interact with children, their parents, and the organization as a whole.

Learning How to Use My WINGS

Working at WINGS, I’ve picked up and developed quite a few skills. This has been my first internship and one of my first jobs working somewhere where I was not previously affiliated with anyone. So, other than the technical aspects of domestic violence, one of the major things that I have learned has been about life in a workplace.

Here’s a selfie from one of my first days at camp. Check out my fancy name badge!

Initially, I was very apprehensive about meeting coworkers and interacting with them.  Throughout the summer I have gained invaluable workplace skills and experience collaborating with coworkers. Additionally, within this internship I have been able to take on a leadership role as the head of the camp. Thus, I gained a lot of experience supervising other volunteers and staff as well as in planning and logistics. All of these skills are ones that I believe I can take with me as I continue on in the future, regardless of what my future job is. By nature, I’m not very outspoken, and I feel that during my time at WINGS I’ve made large steps towards being my assertive in my role.

For this self-care activity, we wrote things that we enjoy on slips of paper to randomly select when we are having a difficult day. Some of my activities include: playing frisbee, watching my favorite Netflix shows, and baking.

As mentioned before, during my training I learned a lot about not only domestic violence but also about elder abuse, suicide and suicide prevention, rural women, domestic violence perpetrators, rural women, and the legal system among other things. Though only 40-hours, I gained basic knowledge on all these topics which I can then take along with me in life. Self-care was greatly emphasized during the training and throughout my internship, and I know the self-care tips, tricks, games, and activities are ones that will be valuable throughout my life.

Running a summer camp is nothing like simply being a counselor. The number of campers ranges from 2-10 and the ages range from 3-16, meaning a variety of different activities and games are needed to cater to everyone’s individual needs. On top of this, it is necessary to remember that the children are victims of domestic violence and, thus, a trauma-specific approach must be applied during all situations. Therefore, all these factors must be accounted for when planning each day of camp. One of the ideas we try to implement each week is to have a weekly theme. Past themes include: sports, summer, art, holidays, and carnival. Bringing themes into the week ensures that there will be different games and crafts each week and gets the kids excited about something as they try to anticipate themes and tie in their own recommended activities each week. As a result, planning can sometimes be difficult, but it’s very worth it. My planning, management, and administrative skills have all be tested and improved throughout the internship, and I know that the skills I have gained are some that I will carry with me throughout my future career and life.

For additional information, facts, and statistics about domestic violence please click here.

Nakeita Henry, ’19

Flying Towards the Future

With the help of thousands of donors, volunteers and staff, WINGS offers its services to men, women, and families that are survivors of domestic violence. WINGS does this in a myriad of ways, but it mainly accomplishes this goal through its housing program. WINGS safe houses, shared transitional homes, and permanent houses help tens of thousands of survivors each year. And while both shelters are in the greater Chicago area, the shelters cater to a large variety of people. Since I’ve begun my internship, we have received guests from Illinois, the Midwest, New York, and Arizona; as WINGS is one of the few domestic violence agencies in the Midwest that is large enough to offer housing services to men (and boys older than thirteen that might be fleeing with parents) along with women.

No one knows better the direction of WINGS than CEO Rebecca Darr who came to speak at our final day of training. With the opening of WINGS Metro last Valentine’s Day, WINGS became one of the largest domestic violence service and housing provider in the state of Illinois. And, while Darr hopes that WINGS will expand into cities all over the country, she truly wishes that her job ultimately becomes negligible as domestic violence becomes a thing of the past.

Here is an example of one of many information sheets that WINGS provides for members of the community

Though we are a long way from eradicating domestic violence, WINGS does what it can to help those in all forms of domestic violence situations. For those staying in the shelter, WINGS staff provide intakes, program referrals, phones through Verizon’s Project HopeLine, mechanical services through an affiliated church program, legal advice, a safety plan, and a plethora of other services. For those who use the WINGS hotline and who are alumni of the WINGS program, many of the same services are provided. Safety Plans are perhaps one of the most important services that WINGS provides. Guests along with various staff members collaborate together to create emergency plans for a multitude of different scenarios. Even if a victim is not ready to flee their abuser or they have successfully gone through WINGS’s entire housing program, they still create a safety plan because one never knows what scenario they can be found in as victims and survivors. WINGS also does outreach work in the community trying to educate men, women, and teens about domestic violence and dating violence.

The kids loved our very own “Easter in July” egg hunt.

Summer Camp primarily focuses on the children and how we can provide them with a safe space in which they can interact with peers and have fun. We do this through a variety of activities that stimulate conversation, movement, and thought. Many kids in the camp have never had experiences that are considered “normal” such as a celebrated birthday or watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. Thus, one of my favorite parts of camp is coming up with new, fun activities that the kids can then take with them and do themselves. At the end of each day of camp we do a different craft, showing the children what they can create when they put their minds to it. One child, Brad*, is oftentimes unresponsive and lashes out without notice, but when it comes time for craft he is actively engaged in creating a work of art for both himself and his mother. Creating a paper plate pirate ship is a big deal to some of the kids who have never made anything for themselves in their lives. I love being able to provide them with new experiences and activities, and—if I get to make a pirate ship or two along the way— I’m a happy camper.

 

Additional information, statistics, and facts about domestic violence can be accessed here.

Painting Social Justice

Here are a few examples of crafts that we have done this summer: homemade playdough, an Uncle Sam puppet, and a “floating” jellyfish

Five painted pictures sit on the brown countertop, each hand-crafted by a different camper, and each marked with considerable effort and thought. Scrawling black sharpie accompanies each of the paintings, proclaiming the creator.  For two weeks the paintings sit there waiting to be given to their respective owners—owners that will never return for them. These are the sad remnants of some of my campers, and a sad example for many of the families in domestic violence shelters everywhere. Owners who never return for their paintings, and residents who never return to the shelters. Sometimes, we know where they have gone (some transition to shared WINGS housing, others find family to stay with, and a few continue on to referred programs). Sometimes, however, families say a quick goodbye and leave without informing anyone of where they are going, leaving only the worst to be unbearably assumed. Those five children still have not returned to camp; and, when inquired about, sad smiles and hopeful words answer.

This chart displays some of the necessary services that WINGS provides

It is hard for victims of domestic violence to leave their abuser and the control and fabricated stability that the abuser presents. And, while WINGS staff wants to ensure that no one returns to their previous unstable situation, there is nothing that can be done. This is the harsh reality for many in shelters across the globe. WINGS supplies women, men, and children with tools to safeguard themselves and attempts to ensure that no one will return to such conditions. WINGS does this best through offering housing, support, advice, and knowledge to the patrons of the shelter.   And, while I do not directly work with most of the adults, my job—providing both children and parents with an escape—is just as important.

Since camp has started; parents, staff, and other women have approached me exclaiming just how great the camp has been for both parents and children. While the children get to have fun, play games, and do crafts; parents get a respite and are able to work on crucial matters whether it is applying for transitional housing or taking a much-needed nap. The environment in camp also provides a safe space for children to talk about and discuss things from their favorite superheroes to their feelings to their innermost thoughts about the situation their family is currently in.

I have spent the past two years taking various education and childhood development classes and, thus, have briefly studied the impact violence and broken homes have on children. At WINGS I, unfortunately, witness the outcomes first-hand. In the camp, each child presents themselves in different ways. Some who are initially quiet and reserved, must first become comfortable with everyone in the room before interacting with anyone. Others, who are silly and wild, will lash out—both verbally and physically— at the smallest of irritants. Through this internship I am learning how to better navigate children who were raised in these situations. During my training, we discussed how oftentimes younger children are more impacted by the violence then their older counterparts, and through the camp I have seen that the younger children are often the first to become aggravated and physically aggressive, while the older children look for different outlets such as removing themselves from the situation. Nonetheless, all the children have a bright outlook when it comes to their futures; a future we all pray isn’t marked by a leftover painting and a sad smile.

Statistics, facts, and additional information about domestic violence can be accessed here.

Giving Flight to Hopes and Dreams

The WINGS logo and motto (which I handily borrowed for my blog title).

For the past month, after a rigorous 40-hour training session, I have been interning at WINGS, a not-for-profit domestic violence housing agency that provides critical relief to those who are victims of domestic violence. While WINGS primarily offers housing services, anyone can call the emergency hotline that WINGS offers 24/7 in conjunction with the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline. Over the phone WINGS volunteers, interns, and staff provide callers with emotional support, help develop a safety plan, give advice, offer appropriate referrals to other programs, and, if possible, complete a shelter intake. A shelter intake occurs if the three following criteria are met: one of the shelters has space, there was a recent inciting event that led to the victim fleeing the abuser, and the guest does not pose a major safety concern.

WINGS runs two emergency shelters: the Safe House in the Northwest suburbs of Cook County; and another in downtown Chicago known as WINGS Metro. These emergency shelters offer temporary housing for victims and their children. WINGS also offers transitional housing that survivors can qualify for where they are able to live in a shared home for up to two years, additional access to counseling services, and case management. Permanent housing is the final stage of housing support that WINGS offers, and provides survivors suffering from disabilities including PTSD with permanent housing. In conjunction with all the housing programs, WINGS offers community based services and extended services such as: back to school items, doctor visits, legal services, and a plethora of additional services.

As an intern at WINGS, my primary job is organizing and running a 3-day/week summer camp for children residing in the Safe House. A conscious approach is required when interacting with the children and parents. Every day the children begin the day discussing their feelings in conjunction with the Feelings Chart,

We use a similar but more comprehensive chart with the campers in order to discuss how we are all feeling and our expectations for the day.

and we take time to learn and apply various coping mechanisms and stress relief practices. At the end of each day interaction notes are written for each child in which their overall attitude and emotional state are cataloged for record-keeping.

The primary purpose of the summer camp is to provide children with a fun, welcoming, and loving environment (a concept that is foreign to many of them), while also providing parents with a respite that allows them to work on reaching their goals (finding a job, going to referred programs, applying for transitional housing, etc.) Providing these children with a safe environment is critical as it removes them from the cycle of violence which shows many domestic violence abusers have been abused themselves. In collaboration with the summer camp, children’s advocates work with the children to develop a safety plan, offer counseling, therapy, and other services. By the end of summer, I hope to have been able to impact these children in a positive manner by providing them with a safe, fun escape. As aforementioned, this internship requires a trauma-specific approach, and I hope to further develop my experience working with children using this specific approach.

Statistics, facts, and additional information about domestic violence can be found at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.

 

Nakeita Henry, 19