Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Minors: Art History, Poverty and Human Capability Studies
Agency: N Street Village, Washington, D.C.
What did you enjoy most about the internship?
My favorite part of working at N Street Village was getting to know the clients and hearing their inspiring stories. Whether we were eating lunch together, line dancing in the Afro-Brazilian Dance class, or editing resumes in my Job Seeking on the Internet class, the women of N Street Village always impressed me with their optimism and determination despite the hardships they have experienced.
What was the greatest challenge?
At first I was nervous to talk with many of the clients because they intimidated me. But I soon realized that my work in the development office was not as exciting or as meaningful if I did not know the women I was trying to help. Once I began to serve lunch and participate in the women's activities, I realized that I had nothing to be afraid of. These women were full of kindness and compassion, and I am proud to call them my friends.
What was the greatest lesson you learned through your experience?
Working at N Street Village completely changed my perspective on homelessness. Many of the women have had successful careers, raised families, earned college degrees and achieved merits that we assume will protect us from the pain, affliction and struggles of homelessness. But an event as sudden as a house fire, a relative's death or a job layoff can turn worlds upside down. To quote several of my friends at N Street Village, "Homelessness is not a choice." But even with the physical losses that homelessness entailed, these women never lost their hope. They refused to let homelessness set them back, and I am humbled to have spent my summer with such inspiring individuals.
How might the internship affect your career path?
Regardless of where I live after W&L, I will continue to devote my time and efforts to serving the needs of women. After my experiences working at a women's homeless shelter this summer and a women's domestic violence shelter last summer, I cannot ignore the pains and struggles that so many women fall victim to each day. I gain so much happiness and fulfillment from helping others. As a politics major, I am interested in policymaking and going to law school. So whatever my career entails, I hope that it will work to the benefit of others--especially those who need it most.
"Homelessness is not a choice."
The twelve or so women ranging from their thirties to their sixties nodded in agreement and continued discussing the misperceptions they endure each day.
Listening to clients discuss society's false assumptions about homelessness was one of the many ways in which the women of N Street Village proved me wrong. Before my summer internship, I blamed homeless individuals for their unfortunate circumstances. I believed their poor choices resulted in the financial losses and addictions so often associated with homelessness. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I assumed my lifestyle and experiences were completely different from those of the homeless.
But the compassionate, inspiring women of N Street Village showed me that homelessness can happen to anyone, including college graduates, mothers, grandmothers and steady jobholders. An event as unexpected as a house fire can destroy everything a woman owns; a job layoff can result in not only the loss of income but also in the loss of health insurance. But these women refuse to let self-pity hold them back from regaining the stable lifestyles they once had.
In weekly classes like "Love Your Body," clients could share their hardships and aspirations while nurturing their self-esteem. As each client revealed her past, the other clients gained appreciation for each other. Many of them faced similar struggles--they were laid off because of the recession, or their adult children refused to speak to them until they broke their addictions. One Thursday afternoon, our class icebreaker was to describe ourselves with adjectives beginning with the letters in our names. I was surprised that some of the most intimidating, hopeless-looking women described themselves as optimistic. These clients explained that people should not assume that they are unhappy or depressed just because they do not smile or exude enthusiasm. Their words were a refreshing reminder that I should not be too quick to judge others, especially homeless individuals. Before my Shepherd internship, my experiences with D.C. homelessness were limited to the sleeping individuals I passed on my way to Capitol Hill during W&L's Washington Term Program. Now I can empathize and better understand these individuals' circumstances without racing past them because of my intimidation and discomfort.
Fortunately, N Street Village offers homeless women an escape from the judgments and misperceptions of the D.C. streets. In fact, this organization goes above and beyond providing a safe haven for women. In the words of Bethany Women's Center's Manager, Evelyn Green, "N Street Village will love you until you are ready to love yourself." A former addict and N Street Village client, Ms. Evelyn is a testament to the empowerment and transformations that N Street Village has to offer. It is a community where optimism and determination flourish. As one client and former alcohol addict said, "I look at life when I wake up as a positive thing." N Street Village truly is "a community of empowerment and recovery for women" that inspires each client to love herself, just as this woman now does.
But in order to teach clients how to love themselves, N Street Village must look beyond the short-term needs of women. In a society that looks down upon the homeless more often than helping them, these women deserve more than the bare necessities. As one volunteer told me, "N Street Village is more than a Band-Aid. It's a community." This community focuses on the short- and long-term needs of its clients. Like many homeless shelters, it provides food, clothing, showers and laundry services. But meeting these daily needs is not enough. Resources like the Wellness Center and the Education and Employment Center exemplify how this organization emphasizes the physical, mental and spiritual needs of its clients. Clients can meet with doctors and nurses, receive counseling, edit their resumes and practice interviewing for jobs. The N Street Village community focuses on all of the needs of each woman in order to encourage and empower her. The staff wants clients to realize not only that they can do it, but also that they have a choice as they strengthen their capabilities and skills.
After witnessing and experiencing the success of a community like N Street Village, I assumed similar resources existed for women across the nation. But after searching for organizations like N Street Village, I realized that few shelters focus solely on women. Most women's homeless shelters are devoted to women and children, leaving women whose children are grown with few options. Now that I understand the value and demand for organizations devoted to homeless adult women, I hope to continue my involvement with N Street Village and women's issues as a whole.
Since working in a women's domestic violence shelter last summer and a women's homeless shelter this summer, I cannot ignore the hardships so many women must deal with each day. As one N Street Village client said to me, "We as women like to nurture others. But sometimes we need to look inward and focus on ourselves." N Street Village not only helps its clients focus on themselves, but it also helps a volunteer like myself look inward and think of how I can contribute to this organization's success. Wherever my passions take me after Washington and Lee, I will continue to devote my time and efforts to serving the needs of women. Just as my supervisors predicted, I will take a part of N Street Village with me wherever I go.