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No Lone Wolves: The Importance and Necessity of Community. A Journal Entry from Social Justice Intern Naiomi Gonzalez.

By | Internships | No Comments

The 2017 Shari Prestemon Social Justice Interns have graciously agreed to share their experiences with all of us. From time to time, we’ll be posting ‘journal entries’ from Naiomi Gonzalez and Katy Morton. Below is one of these entries.

No Lone Wolves. The Importance and Necessity of Community.

In my academic studies, one term that I particularly dislike but hear over and over again is the term, “Lone wolf terrorism.” Lone wolf terrorism refers to individuals who commit acts of political violence without having any obvious ties or relationship to established terrorist groups. The problem with this phrase is that its disproportionate focus on the individual ignores the larger ramifications of political violence and the ways in which society at large often fosters an environment where individuals feel as if terrorism is an appropriate way to respond to their frustrations with society.

In a similar vein, when it comes to issues of poverty and homelessness, terms and phrases such as “personal responsibility” and “picking oneself up by one’s bootstraps” are often thrown about. Poverty and homelessness are portrayed as individual problems with individual solutions. “If only that person could quite gambling.” Or “If only that person made better choices then they wouldn’t be poor.” Of course, in many cases personal responsibility does play a role in causing and alleviating poverty and homelessness. Even though I grew up in poverty – living in public housings, with my family relying on Social Security and Medicaid to make ends meet – I still find myself wondering how other people in similar situations can make what I believe to be bad decisions. I absolutely believe in empowering individuals to make it out of poverty and in fostering better decision making; but poverty and homelessness are not simply a matter of poor individual decision making or individual free will. The systematic nature of poverty and homelessness matters because dealing with these issues requires a concentrated effort by numerous people and organizations. Working at Back Bay Mission has opened my eyes to how poverty and homelessness are issues that affect not only individuals but whole communities and dealing with those issues adequately requires a community response.

This past week was filled with meeting after meeting after meeting. The meetings more often than not involved a wide aware of businesses, other nonprofits, and community members. We attended meetings that dealt specifically with a narrow definition of homelessness-those who were living outside. Other meetings took a more expansive definition of homelessness that includes unstable housing situations. Other meetings focused on how the participants could more effectively work together and organize themselves in order to better serve their community. Still other meetings focused on promoting health and wellness to those with very little access to information on healthy living and eating. And others focused specifically on Back Bay Mission and how to ensure that it has the resources-financial and otherwise to continue providing its much needs services. In some of the meetings one individual presented information, while the others listened. In other meetings, multiple people spoke and shared with the larger group what they (and/or their organization) have been working on and they questioned, and offered critiques and suggestions to one another. The meetings, which often dealt with different aspects of poverty and/or homelessness, and provided different insights into the work of nonprofits all reinforced one thing: the fact homelessness and poverty are not just individual issues and as a result they cannot be dealt with by one individual or even by one organization.

It appears as if many organizations and individuals are under the impression that Back Bay Mission is an all-purpose nonprofit-meaning that it basically provides help and services for the myriad of physical, mental, and material issues that come with struggling with poverty and homelessness. However, while Back Bay Mission offers a lot of different programs and does a lot of good work, it does not do so alone. It works with other organizations not just because it wants to but because in order to provide effective solutions it needs to seek out and collaborate with other organizations. Just like no individual can be good at everything, no one organization can provide all types of services for all people. As mentioned earlier, homelessness and poverty do have individual components-sometimes people make things harder for themselves, but there are larger systematic issues that make it easy for people to slip into poverty and homelessness and difficult to get out. It is the complexity of the issues and its systematic components that make it necessary to work with others in order to lessen or idealistically, eventually element the problems caused by poverty and homelessness.

The importance of community was stressed, albeit it in a different way, in New Orleans. Katy and I unintentionally visited during Pride. Pride is a nationwide event in which members of the LGBTQA+ community and their allies get together and participate in numerous events. The purpose of Pride differs depending on location- with some cities focusing on unity and celebration, while others took on a more protest like atmosphere, but in essence Pride is about community. In a world where people are still viewed as less then human because of their skin color, sexual/gender orientation, and religious beliefs (or lack thereof) places like Pride provide an assurance that no matter how bad things may get-there are always others one can turn to for support.

Communities provide support but also a measure of accountability. When it comes to dealing with social justice issues-whether terrorism, poverty/homelessness, or discrimination based on gender/sexual orientation, the only way to move forward and challenge injustice is through community involvement and support.

Community. A Journal Entry by Katy Morton.

By | Internships | No Comments

The 2017 Shari Prestemon Social Justice Interns have graciously agreed to share their experiences with all of us. From time to time, we’ll be posting ‘journal entries’ from Naiomi Gonzalez and Katy Morton. Below is one of these entries.

Community

This week, the welcoming spirit of Back Bay Mission has continued to be apparent in all things.

This past Monday, June 12th, was my 25th birthday. After celebrating this weekend in New Orleans at the PRIDE parade with Naiomi, we headed back to Back Bay for our second week of work. I wasn’t sure if anyone would even remember my birthday, but just about everyone wished me a happy birthday, and we were even invited out to lunch and dinner by members of staff. Once again, the sense of welcoming and community that drew me back to Back Bay in the first place, was alive and well.

Throughout this week, we have had the opportunity to shadow Kenney, as well as some of the other staff members, to a wide variety of community meetings. We have been welcomed in and invited to represent Back Bay with the staff at all different kinds of meetings, and boy have we learned a lot! We have been exposed to groups and organizations who work to end homelessness, hunger, health issues, and other concerns related to poverty in the lower six area.

Although we have mainly been active listeners at these meetings, rather than active participants, it has truly been an amazing learning experience. I feel as though I am beginning to gain a better understanding of the issues Biloxi and the surrounding areas are facing, and how the community is working together to combat poverty. It continues to be truly amazing to me just how invested these organizations and people are in working to end poverty and improve Biloxi. It has also been very interesting to me to see all the different ways social workers are involved with these efforts, whether through their agency of employment or just from personal interest.

I spent the year before this internship working at a very busy skilled nursing and rehab facility in southern Florida. Although I enjoyed working with the aging and memory-impaired population, I realized that working for a huge corporate entity as a social worker was probably not where I needed, or wanted to be, at this stage of my professional or personal life. The facility where I worked was beautiful and provided excellent care to the patients and residents, but I still felt as though I was not helping everyone that needed me. I even felt as though I may have begun to experience some of the symptoms of burnout, as I was constantly stressed and feeling like I could not help everyone that needed a social worker. I worried that I was beginning to question why I chose social work as my profession, and started to lose sight of the reasons why I wanted to help people.

I can happily say that Back Bay, and the staff here, have already started to remind me why I love social work and serving others. Back when I was only 15 years old, and had come down with my family and church group to rebuild after Katrina, Back Bay helped me to realize that I truly loved serving others and working towards ending poverty and related issues. Back Bay was one of the first places I was when I realized I wanted to be a social worker, and I feel so fortunate that it is here once again to remind me why I chose this profession and career path.

I also discovered the importance of having a support system when working in the social services/human services field, and feel as though Back Bay truly works to be a built-in support system for all of its’ staff and volunteers. That support system also seems to expand out into the community, as groups of people and organizations come together throughout the month to meet, discuss, and create plans to work to improve the issues facing the underserved population in Biloxi.

I am so excited to continue on this personal and professional experience of growth, and cannot wait to see what next week has in store for us!

Have You Doubled Your Gift?

By | Bridges Out of Poverty, Giving Opportunities, Sustainability Ministries | No Comments

Did you read our recent post about the amazing work that the Micah Day Center is doing to help people find steady employment? If you did, you know some of what Back Bay Mission is doing to help the people we serve begin their journeys out of poverty and to self-sustainability. This is important work. And we want to do more.

This year, we’re raising $150,000 for three of our ministries that help people towards self-sustainability: Bridges Out of Poverty, community health initiatives, and our veterans support fund. You can read about those programs here.

And now is your chance to support these amazing ministries by having your gift doubled!

From June 1, 2017, until August 31, 2017, a generous donor is matching up to $10,000 in gifts to our client sustainability campaign. We’re well on our way there, but we can’t do it without you.

This is your chance to see your gift do twice the work to help people begin their journeys out of poverty. This is your chance to see your gift do twice the work to strengthen neighborhoods, seek justice, and transform lives!

Head over to our campaign page to make your gift today!

Helping Micah Day Center Guests Find Steady Employment

By | Micah Day Center, Sustainability Ministries | No Comments

The Crawfish Festival in April, at the Coast Coliseum marked the beginning of Spring and the festival season. Many of our guests who have found regular work have found Labor Finders (located over the bridge in D’Iberville, Mississippi) to be a great place to jump-start their pathways back into the workforce. Labor Finders has placed many of our guests in food service, construction, putting up and taking down performance venues and carnivals, catering on the area’s four military bases, and even the seemingly never-ending road construction taking place here on the Back Bay and East Biloxi neighborhoods.

During the months of April, May, and June, thirteen guests applied for openings in jobs ranging from general labor spot jobs to a variety of food service positions. Of those thirteen applicants, nine have secured jobs, but just a few of these could be called steady jobs.

Job readiness activities are ongoing, in preparation for the EmployAbility Job Fair, June 28, 2017, at the Lyman, Mississippi, Community Center, sponsored jointly by several state agencies concerned with employment opportunities for Mississippians with disabilities. Here in the Day Center, our guests have ongoing help with applications, resumes, cover letters, and other preparations for employment.

Jona Burton, Coordinator of the Career Center at the University of Southern Mississippi at Gulf Park, has volunteered to visit the day center once a month, for two hours, to lead workshops for job seeking and job readiness. The first workshop will take place on Friday, June 30, 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. and will cover the basics of writing resumes and cover letters, how dress for interviews, how to speak with a prospective employer, and how to master a 60-second “elevator pitch.”

With partners in our area, we offer several services to support those who want to return to the workforce:

  • Goodwill vouchers for work clothing and shoes
  • Back Bay Missionlimited bus passes for proven job reporting
  • Hope Credit Unionfees waived for first-time homeless clients who become employed, auto-deposit of earnings, limited withdrawals
  • Computer stations donated by generous volunteers, placed in the day center for job searching, job applications
  • Daily assistance available for resumes, references, and cover letters

Our guests face many obstacles: transportation, stable housing, suitable work clothes, regular laundry and personal care and hygiene, just to name a few. Returning to work is not simple – it takes a concerted focused effort to start rebuilding a kind of muscle needed to strengthen a life that has fallen on hard times. We do a good job of supplying showers four mornings and laundry three mornings a week. But this barely moves the mountains facing our guests every day. Building up to a job with a living wage can take a very long time.

An efficient monthly bus pass costs over $50.00, and can take several days of labor to purchase along with food, rough shelter, and other basic needs. Securing housing and all the necessary deposits can take a very long time in this area where there are no overnight and transitional shelters for our average guest.

Two Welcomes. A Journal Entry from Social Justice Intern Katy Morton.

By | Internships | No Comments

The 2017 Shari Prestemon Social Justice Interns have graciously agreed to share their experiences with all of us. From time to time, we’ll be posting ‘journal entries’ from Naiomi Gonzalez and Katy Morton. Below is one of these entries.

I will preface this by saying I promise not to tell long, drawn-out stories every week, but that I have received two very different welcomes to Biloxi since my arrival in Mississippi.

After traveling over nine hours from the small town in Southern Florida that I had called my home for the last year, I was relieved—to say the least—to have finally arrived at the house at Back Bay Mission. My mom had graciously offered to come to Florida to make the journey with me from Mississippi, and I’m sure she was just as relieved as I was to have finally arrived. We began to unload my belongings from the car into the house.

After a few trips, we decided that we needed to take a water break, partially due to the heat and humidity—something I figured I would be more used to after living in Florida for the past year! Within a few minutes, we realized my entire purse was missing. Remembering I had left it in the car, I raced back outside and down the steps, only to discover it was not there.

My mom and I tried not to panic, and did a complete search of the house, but still came up with no purse! We quickly made the decision to call the local police, and within minutes, an officer was at our door. Understandably, my mom and I were both very upset, as we realized my wallet, phone, glasses, medicine case, and a set of car keys were all missing. We scrambled to cancel my credit and debit cards, find a phone store that was open on the holiday, and make sure I had enough of all my medicines, all while using my mom’s cell phone and attempting to file a police report with the officer.

At the time, I was completely devastated. I had been unbelievably excited and looking forward to living and working at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi since I heard I had been chosen for the program. I could not believe this was my welcome to Biloxi. I couldn’t help but think why me!? Someone had stolen my entire purse with all of my most important things. But that was just it, they had only stolen things. Always the voice of reason and wisdom when I am at my most upset, my mom reminded me that it was only things they had stolen, and that things can be replaced. She and I were both safe, and nobody had hurt either one of us. Still upset and angry, I continued to question why this had happened and why this was my welcome to Biloxi. My mom reminded me, once again, that things happen all the time that we can’t explain, but that God has a plan no matter what.  To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive to return to Biloxi after what had happened, but continued to feel called to learn and serve at Back Bay this summer.

On Sunday, I boarded my plane from PA and headed back to Biloxi to begin my summer.

Fast forward a week to my first day on the job at Back Bay Mission. My fellow intern Naiomi and I met with Dr. Alice Graham who provided a completely opposite welcome to the one I had received the week before. As she toured us around the buildings and introduced us to staff, I couldn’t help but remember the feelings of warmth, community, and welcome that I had remembered about Back Bay so many years ago. Everyone was kind, loving, and even listened intently to my above-mentioned, long, drawn-out story.

As we walked through the buildings and witnessed the staff at work, it continued to show just how much everyone truly loved what they were doing and the people they were serving. Another thing that became apparent almost immediately at Back Bay, was the sense of community amongst the staff. I have never seen a group of people who love working together as much as the staff of Back Bay. I continue to be amazed at the number of people Back Bay manages to serve on a daily basis, all the while smiling and enjoying being and working with one another.

I was nervous that Naiomi and I might be viewed as the newcomers, and may not fit into the tight-knit group of staff at Back Bay. Oh, but how wrong I was. Once again, the sense of community and kindness was alive, and we were welcomed right in as if we had been working here for years. In the first week, Naiomi and I have had the opportunity to help answer the phones, man the front desk, re-think and re-draft organizational policy, attend meetings with other area agencies, create a client survey for the food pantry, and most importantly of all, meet a number of the individuals that Back Bay Mission serves on a daily basis.

In my down time, I have found myself thinking back to what happened when I first arrived in Biloxi, and realizing just how truly fortunate I am. Although it is frustrating that I lost my pair of prescription glasses, and scary that someone is still out there with a key to my car, I have been able to replace the glasses with a different pair and put a steering wheel lock and tire boot on my car.

When I take a minute to stop and think about how bad it could have been, I am so thankful that all that was taken from me were things. The staff at Back Bay has welcomed me with open arms, provided suggestions and reassurance, and I can say with certainty that they have made me feel much more secure and excited about my decision to work in Biloxi and at Back Bay this summer. This week has flown by, and I have enjoyed every minute of being able to learn new skills and ideas. As I look towards next week, I cannot wait to see what is in store for Naiomi and me. We have several meetings scheduled with different community organizations, as well as time allotted to work with other employees, staff, and volunteers on various programs and projects. I am so excited to have been chosen for this opportunity and cannot wait to continue to share my experiences with all of you! 

Why Back Bay Mission? A Journal Entry from Social Justice Intern Naiomi Gonzalez.

By | Internships | No Comments

The 2017 Shari Prestemon Social Justice Interns have graciously agreed to share their experiences with all of us. From time to time, we’ll be posting ‘journal entries’ from Naiomi Gonzalez and Katy Morton. Below is one of these entries.

Why Back Bay Mission?

I am a perpetual student. (Fellow intern Katy is probably sick of me using that phrase to describe myself, but it is true.) I have a M.Div. from Brite Divinity School and am currently attending George Mason University in the hopes of earning an MA in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. My academic interests center on the connection between terrorism and other forms of non-state violence, and state/institutional injustices. In the fall I will be applying to PhD programs in anthropology and history.  On the surface, my academic interests appear to have nothing to do with Back Bay Mission. Moreover, although academia and social services are not necessarily at odds with one another, they are not necessarily interconnected either (except for degrees that are specifically geared towards the social service industry).

So why am I here? What purpose could I have in spending time at a nonprofit in Biloxi Mississippi that focuses on poverty and homelessness at the local level?  Shouldn’t I be taking classes in the summer or interning at a think tank in DC that focuses specifically on terrorism? Interning at BBM seems to be random and out of place for someone with my interests. My professors and some of my classmates at George Mason University were definitely confused when I told them about my summer plans and I am sure some of the people I’ve met this past week have been wondering how I went from spending the school year studying terrorism to spending the summer focusing on homelessness and poverty. But I believe that this is where I need to be over the summer and that what I learn over the summer will only help me in my future endeavors. I am here because:

  • Nonprofit work is an area I am interested in exploring. Of course, one possible career option is working in academia but the reality is that academia is undergoing major shifts and the opportunities available are not as abundant as they used to be. As a result, I believe it is necessary for me to have an open mind about potential career opportunities. While I have some nonprofit experience, BBM is providing me with an opportunity to spend an extended amount of time learning about the ins and outs of nonprofit work; the struggles and the successes.
  • Moreover, the cliché of academia as the ‘ivory tower’ is simplistic, but it has a measure of truth to it. Focusing on large scale issues is important, but at least for me, academic work should propel social justice work forward. And the danger within academia is to become so involved in research and large scale issues that you forget about the people that you claim to want to help. And while there is something to be said about studying just for the sake of studying, in my mind, if my research doesn’t contribute, at least in a small way, to making the world a better place, I am wasting my time. Back Bay Mission is forcing me to step outside of my comfort zone of books and research and to talk with real human beings who are suffering and struggling.  
  • Many large scale issues are interconnected and while on the practical level it is necessary to separate them in order to tackle them, it is also important to remember that there aren’t always clear divisions separating issues that impact the most vulnerable. For instance, terrorism is a complex subject and there is no singular reason why some individuals join terrorist groups. Moreover, different terrorist groups might have different reasons for engaging in violence. However, in at least some cases poverty plays a role in allowing terrorist groups to gain recruits and to gain strong holds in certain areas. Additionally, western countries are scaling back on social services and beefing up their military presence in hopes of defeating terrorism. Not only is such an approach doomed to failure, but it risks hurting citizens in a deeper and more prolonged way. Al Qaeda and ISIS wish they could harm and kill as many citizens as poverty and homelessness does. Despite what the media says, it is important to recognize that terrorism in the west is relatively rare. Poverty and homelessness, however, are not.
  • Graduate school is pretty solitary. I have great professors and classmates, and I am part of a fantastic campus Christian group. However, the majority of my time is not spent in the classroom but rather on my own doing research. Most of the time I love that, but even as an introvert there is such a thing as too much alone time. And when dealing with difficult subjects it is easy to feel hopeless and when one is isolated it is easy to feel as if no one else cares about the injustices going on. Being at BBM serves as a reminder that there are plenty of people who do care about helping others.  And it is always helpful to have multiple people to turn to when dealing with a frustrating and at times, unjust world.

I have no doubt Back Bay Mission is where I am supposed to be right now.

…and the food is great.

It also doesn’t hurt to be near the beach…

Back Bay Mission is Coming to General Synod!

By | United Church of Christ | No Comments

The United Church of Christ’s General Synod 2017 is in Baltimore, Maryland, June 30 through July 4, and Back Bay Mission will be there!

We will be exhibiting with other member organizations of the Council for Health and Human Services Ministries of the United Church of Christ (booth 413) Executive Director Alice Graham will be present July 1 and 2. Church Relations Associate Christopher Marlin-Warfield will be present throughout Synod.

This is a great opportunity to stop by and learn more about the great work that Back Bay Mission is doing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And, if your interested in supporting our client sustainability campaign, we’ll be happy to help you.

If you’re going to Synod, be sure to stop by. And, if your not, be sure to keep an eye out for stories and photos! Just watch the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+!

2017 Volunteers: Congregational Church of Batavia, United Church of Christ (Batavia, Illinois)

By | Volunteer Photos, Volunteering

You know that we love our volunteers. Thanks to their hard work, we’re able to strengthen neighborhoods, seek justice, and transform lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Our most recent batch of great volunteer photos are from our friends at Congregational Church of Batavia, United Church of Christ, in Batavia Illinois! Thank you!

Your Gift… Doubled

By | Bridges Out of Poverty, Giving Opportunities, Sustainability Ministries

You know Back Bay Mission as a place that meets the immediate needs of the poor and marginalized of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Over the last few years, we’ve been adding ministries that not only meet those immediate needs, but help people begin their journeys out of poverty.

And this summer, your gift to those programs could be worth twice as much.

In 2017, we’re raising $150,000 for three vital ministries: Bridges Out of Poverty, community health initiatives, and our veterans support fund.

Bridges out of Poverty helps people move out of poverty through an evidence-based curriculum that includes mentoring. A 16-week class helps participants create plans and strategies what will help them achieve their goals. During and after that class, participants receive mentoring from community members as well as ongoing support from Mission staff.

Community health initiatives help people be good stewards of their health. Through classes and activities, participants learn about common health problems and how to prevent them. Through case management, people with health problems are supported through their illness. Together, these initiatives address the barriers caused by poor health, make our community healthier, and position our neighbors for sustainability.

The veterans support fund gives immediate help to veterans who hit a bump on the road to self-sustainability. This fund helps veterans fix their cars, buy clothes for job interviews, and overcome other obstacles on the way to a better life.

A generous donor has offered to match up to $10,000 in gifts to these programs. Make your gift before August 31, 2017, and it could be matched.

I hope you’ll join us in supporting these powerful ministries. Go to our campaign page and make your gift today!

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