Apply for the 2018 Shari Prestemon Social Justice Internship

By | Internships

Back Bay Mission is now accepting applications for the 2018 Shari Prestemon Social Justice Internship!

The Shari Prestemon Social Justice Internship provides young adults between the ages of 19 and 35 with a unique opportunity to participate in a 10-week summer program tailored to their interests. Drawing on the Mission’s long experience in community engagement and advocacy for justice, the internship will nurture participants’ passion for social justice and develop their appreciation for the church’s role in seeking social justice.

Applications must be submitted by March 1. Notifications will be made by March 31.

You can read more about the internship, and download the application, here.

Reflection on The Past Ten Weeks. A Journal Entry from Social Justice Intern Katy Morton.

By | Internships

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.

Reflection on the Past Ten Weeks.

Better late than never! This past summer has been an amazing whirlwind experience, complete with tropical storms, car troubles, and a whole new family at Back Bay Mission. To say that this summer went by quickly would be an understatement, it flew!

While I feel as though I was certainly able to achieve a great deal in my short time at Back Bay Mission, the last few weeks especially made me ponder some things about life in the social services field. For those of you who don’t know, I interviewed via phone, and was offered a job as a family therapist in my hometown in Pennsylvania. Naturally, I was ecstatic to have been offered an amazing job opportunity in close proximity to my family and friends. The only thing was that I was asked to begin the Monday after my last Friday at the Mission. Of course this was an opportunity that I couldn’t — and frankly didn’t want to — turn down, so a couple of weeks before the end of the internship, I began packing and preparing to head home.

During that time, Naiomi and I had also begun to take on some more responsibility at the Mission, especially since we knew how to do more tasks and felt more confident doing them! I had the opportunity to mainly split my time between working at the front desk in the Micah Day Center, and assisting client’s with their shopping in the food pantry. While I had an amazing time, met some wonderful people, and formed some great bonds and relationships, I found myself feeling more emotionally drained at the end of the day than I had in the previous weeks of the internship. Now, this is not a complaint, by any means, but simply a fact of life when you work in the social services field. Working with people day in and day out, especially people who may be experiencing some of the most traumatic, difficult, or frustrating times in their lives, does eventually begin to sap some energy away.

I think that as I prepared for another major life change, and felt confident enough to take on more responsibility at Back Bay Mission, I began to slip back into some old habits and forgot something very important. As a social worker, one of the most amazing feelings is being able to advocate for someone to get what they need to move forward with their life, or — even better — working to empower someone be able to work towards what they need to move forward with their life. On the flip side, one of the hardest things social workers and social service professionals often have to deal with is saying no, or not being able to help someone. Oftentimes, funding, time, and resources are limited in the world of social services, and try as we might, sometimes we have to say no. Saying no, or not feeling like you’ve been able to help someone is usually a huge contributing factor to that emotional drain I mentioned earlier. However, something as simple as listening to someone recount a traumatic experience, or assisting someone who is working through a difficult time, can also contribute to the drain.

It is in these times, that it is more important than ever for social service professionals — or really anyone who spends a great deal of time with other people — to remember self-care. This is something that I have always seemed to struggle with, throughout my academic and professional career. I find that I often want to go, go, go, and don’t realize that I really should be taking more breaks, until I begin to feel drained and frustrated. I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a family, church, and community that was huge on serving and empowering others. I always knew I wanted to help people when I grew up, and was ecstatic when I found out it was an option for a career! I worked hard to get my BSW and MSW, and have always been fortunate enough to be offered jobs and opportunities to help and empower people along the way. I fell so in love with social work and social justice, that somewhere along the way, I started forgetting to take time for self-care and de-stressing. I got into the habit of throwing myself into my work and my passion, and forgetting to take time to work on my own relationships and emotional well-being.

Fortunately, I have an amazing support system — often referred to as my tribe via Facebook posts — of family, friends, and fellow social service professionals, who gently — and occasionally not so gently — remind me that we all need breaks sometimes. I can honestly say I found some amazing additions to my tribe and support system in my newfound family at Back Bay Mission. Even during my last few — and slightly more stressful — weeks at Back Bay Mission, they were there to remind me to take breaks, have fun, and be kind to myself. This summer at the Mission has truly helped me to recharge and remember why I wanted to be a social worker in the first place. The love and passion that is felt and shown at Back Bay Mission is unlike any other place I’ve ever been. In the world of social services — as well as any other profession where you spend a lot of time with people — it is often way too easy to get sucked into our jobs and professions, and neglect our own emotions and well-being. Here is your friendly reminder to be kind to yourself, and to never feel guilty for taking time for yourself and your tribe.

Reflection on The Past Ten Weeks. A Journal Entry from Social Justice Intern Naiomi Gonzalez.

By | Internships

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.

Reflection on the Past Ten Weeks.

When I started at Back Bay Mission, I had two main goals 1) learn about nonprofit work and how a nonprofit organization is run, and  2) find ways to integrate my faith and my passion for justice. I believe both goals were successfully accomplished by the end of my internship.  In regards to the nonprofit world, it was eye opening to be immersed in a nonprofit for ten weeks that has as many different programs and components as Back Bay Mission does. This, I believe, provided me with the ability to really see both the successes and challenges that come with being part of an organization that seeks to provide more than just emergency services and seeks to create clients that are self-sufficient and self-reliant. I also think I came to Back Bay Mission at an interesting time for the organization and for the nation. On an organizational level, Katy and I were at the Mission during Jill’s final months as a case manager as she retires at the end of august.

On a national and state level, there is a lot of anxiety regarding what will happen with the budget. The president drafted a budget that wants to sharply cut social service programs and grants. In the US, for a variety of reasons including an obsession with individualism and an aversion to taxes (except for course unless it benefits the military-industrial complex) means that social service programs have never really been well funded in the US. The one exception might be during the great depression which forced the government to take an active role in providing safety nets for its citizens. Since then however, we have seen the federal government go back on its responsibilities throughout the terms of both Democrat and Republican presidents. However, the president’s budget went further than what even many fiscal conservatives thought was wise. As a result, the House and Senate continue to debate and try to form a budget that is acceptable to enough members of congress to pass and be adopted. In the meantime, social service programs are in limbo. While they are fine for the next fiscal year, the future beyond that is up in the air while the budget is being debated. This in turn means that nonprofit organizations have to be wiser about how they spend their money. This, of course, should be a concern regardless of what is going on at a national level. But now, more than ever, nonprofit organizations need to take seriously the need for budgeting, keeping track of money and finding alternative sources of support.  Talking with Shawn, the Mission’s CFO, was particularly important in helping me understand how essential it is that nonprofits keep track of every cent that they spend. Finances or anything having to do with numbers and math is not a strength of mine, but without a clear understanding of the money going in and out, a nonprofit will not only operate inefficiently but will eventually cease to exist altogether.

In addition to concerns about funding, which will always exist even though at certain times the worry is much more pronounced and critical, I learned that nonprofits rise and fall based on their organizational and communication skills.  This of course applies to funding: it doesn’t really matter how much a nonprofit gets if it is unable to spend it wisely. But of course, this applies to other aspects of nonprofit work. Communication, for instance, is vital. Communication between leaders and other employees, between employees, and between the organization and outside community members need to be at the forefront of any organization. Communication not only helps convey information, but it also signifies respect. You communicate with those whom you respect because you want their input and you value their time and the strengths they bring to the table. Organizational skills and communication go hand in hand.  They feed off each other. Emergencies and chaos are a part of social service work, but organizational skills and clear communication can prevent some emergencies or allow those that can’t be avoided, to be managed in a way that does the least amount of harm to the organization as a whole and to the individuals within it.

My time at Back Bay Mission also reinforced how important it is to keep both the big picture and the little picture in mind. I tend to talk a lot about the big picture but part of that is because so many organizations and individuals are so hyper focused on the little picture that they forget that there is a bigger story to be told. For example, what is going on in Charlottesville, Virginia, is not simply about that particularly city. It touches on the larger history of racism, Nazism, and state indifference to the suffering of black and brown bodies. It touches on the disparate police responses between predominately black and brown protests against police brutality and a rally in which hundreds of white nationalists used violence and intimidation against black and brown bodies and their white allies. But the problem is that many Americans are tempted to focus only on the small picture. But what is going on in Charlottesville only makes sense if you examine it through the lens of centuries of racism and state indifference and even encouragement of violence against black and brown people.

Likewise, for the Mission, both the big picture and little picture are vitally important. Back Bay Mission needs to focus on the specific needs of its clients in the area. Back Bay Mission needs to keep in mind the specific resources they have in the area. However, the Mission also needs to ensure that it has a larger vision and that every program or action it takes helps serve that mission. Back Bay Mission is working locally, but it also needs to keep an eye out on national conversations about poverty and homelessness.

The nature of my academic work means that I often focus on the big picture, but internships such as that at the Mission remind me that I need to be able to also take action on a small localized level. There will always be tension between the little picture and the big picture, but in order to work towards a more just world-whether in terms of minimizing terrorism and state violence or minimizing poverty and homelessness, both the big picture and little picture need to be frequently examined and referred to.

The second goal I had for my internship was to integrate my faith and my passion for social justice.  Back Bay Mission provided the space for me to do that by giving me room to reflect on what I believe it means to be a Christian and providing ways for me to act in such a way. For example, for me, the heart of Christianity is justice and solidarity for the marginalized in society. I believe God loves everybody, but that God actively stands with the despised and rejected in society. What was Jesus but a poor, homeless, brown/black “thug,” killed by state violence?  Back Bay Mission, because of its focus on the homeless and the poor, provided me with an opportunity to actively serve that population.

I am grateful for my time at Back Bay Mission and the lessons I have learned!

If you want to keep up with my writing: I have two blogs: Whoviantheology, which examines the tv show Doctor Who through a political and theological lens, and One More Light: Reflections on God, Justice, and Politics.

WWJD: What Does it Mean to Be a Christian? A Journal Entry from Social Justice Intern Naiomi Gonzalez.

By | Internships

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.

WWJD: What Does it Mean to Be a Christian?

The United States is a highly religious country, with about 70% of Americans identifying as some form of Christian. Some will see the high percentage of individuals identifying as Christian as evidence that America is a “Christian” country, based on Christian principles. Ignoring the fact that such a statement grossly misrepresents the diversity of religious opinions shared by the founding fathers, the reality is that Christianity itself is a diverse tradition, with thousands of denominations within Protestantism alone. And while there is a desire to want to turn Christianity into a simplistic checklist of beliefs where one can easily determine who is a Christian and who is not, the history of Christianity is fraught with theological debates that wracked the Church and in some cases society.

For example, the fledging Christian community was almost ripped apart numerous times by debates regarding whether or not Jesus was both the Son of God and human. And believe it or not, the issue’s resolution had just as much to with politics as it did with theology. Even today, if one studies what some consider to be the “fundamental” beliefs in Christianity, one will find that such fundamentals were not necessarily believed by the earliest Christians. As a student, I love examining the different beliefs that Christians have/have had throughout the centuries and I love studying the rich diversity of Christianity. As a Christian, however, I am less concerned about believing the “right” things about sex, marriage, drinking, cursing etc and I am more concerned with how my faith propels me to treat other people, particularly those who are vulnerable and marginalized.

American Christianity is obsessed with individualism. It is obsessed with individual salvation, it is obsessed with individual behavior, often at the expense of societal issues. For example, some forms of Christianity are so focused on regulating the sex lives of consenting adults, that it ignores larger issues: such as rape culture and the bullying of LGBTQ+ youth. Or, it focuses so much on trying to get individuals to stop cursing that it ignores, or worse, praises militaristic language that seem to relish the deaths of other people. I mean, the fact that some forms of Christianity see no contradiction between viewing cursing as a sin and praising a drone strike that kills hundreds of civilians, demonstrates American Christianity’s disconnect between the individual and the larger community. Orsome forms of Christianity claims to revolve around the life, death and resurrection of a man who challenged state authority, who broke the laws, and who was killed and abused by state power expressed through the roman military. (At the time there really was no distinction between the military and the police. The modern police force, understood as a separate entity from the military, is a modern distinction. Though, as some individuals argue, such a distinction is once again, becoming blurred). Yet amongst some forms of Christianity, there is an obsession with the state: patriotism is viewed as the hallmark of being a Christian, and those who are considered to be criminals, (whether or not they have actually committed) a crime are viewed as less than human deserving of death.

This disconnect is also seen in how some Christians treat the poor and the homeless. The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation asked a small number of individuals, “Which is generally more often to blame if a person is poor: lack of effort on their own part, or difficult circumstances beyond their control?”.  Forty-six percent of the Christians polled blamed poverty on individual efforts compared to 29% of non-Christians polled. The sample size is admittedly small. Only 1,686 individuals were polled and the answers also varied by denomination/politics/race etc. But while this attitude, of course, does not reflect the opinions of all Christians, the reality is that there are some who believe that poverty and homelessness are predominately individual concerns caused by individual factors. We hear this from some church pulpits. Some politicians routinely express this opinion and justify horrific cuts to social service programs. And individual Christians will say in one breath, “God loves everyone” and then they condemn all poor and homeless people as lazy and as deserving their fate. Such a view ignores the humanity of those struggling with poverty and homelessness. They are viewed as faceless individuals who caused their own suffering. Such a view seems to disregard grace, a concept in which God’s love and care is not reserved simply for those who “deserve” it. While I am for personal accountability and responsibility, a Christianity that is simply focused on the individual is not a Christianity worth following.

Interning at Back Bay Mission serves as a reminder that those struggling with poverty and homelessness are not just faceless individuals. But real human beings and as such they are Children of God that deserve respect and to be treated with dignity. It is amazing how so many Christians expect God to show them grace, mercy and forgiveness, but when it comes time to share that with others, we create barriers and checklists to determine whether or not someone is worthy of our compassion and help.

Many Americans identify as Christian. But what does it mean to be a Christian? Is it about following a defined set of beliefs that may or may not have been held by the early community? Is it about focusing on individual behavior to the exclusion of addressing larger issues? Is it a Christianity that continues the societal obsession with power and wealth, or does it demand that the poor and homeless, the “thug,” – the marginalized be treated as beloved Children of God?

You Can’t Save Everyone. A Journal Entry by Social Justice Intern Katy Morton.

By | Internships

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.

You Can’t Save Everyone.

This week, the community of Back Bay Mission suffered a tragic loss, and I was reminded of one of the toughest lessons in the social service world.

As helping professionals, it is often in our nature to want to try to “save the world” so to speak. We want to help everyone, empower everybody to live their fullest lives, advocate for those who are unable to do so on their own, and work towards a more just world for everyone. And, we often get frustrated when we aren’t able to help someone. As with anything, life in the social services world doesn’t always go according to plan, and sometimes we must face setbacks and tragedies. During my time at Back Bay, I have been fortunate enough to form bonds and relationships with both clients and coworkers. Although there are sometimes minor squabbles and frustrations, the Mission is truly a family, and for some of the clients, it is the only one they have left. Everyone is accepted, loved, and treated with respect, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, diagnosis, or past. Whether they walk through the door of the pantry, the Micah day center, or call in on the phone, everyone is greeted warmly, welcomed in, and asked how they are doing. And just like that, they have a family, a place where they can feel accepted and welcomed. A place where they can come if they need help finding food or assistance, or even just a listening ear.

This amazing family mentality that exists at the Mission makes it even harder when a family member is lost. This past week, the Mission tragically lost an amazing soul to suicide. This beautiful, kind woman was someone who had touched the lives of nearly everyone at Back Bay Mission. During my time here, she was a regular client at the Micah Day Center, as well as the food pantry, always ready with a warm smile and a kind word. As I began talking with her more, I learned her story and her determination to get back on her feet after countless roadblocks. Over the past few months, she had run into some issues with her social security disability payments, and had lost her home and nearly everything she owned. Desperate, she came back to the Mission, as she knew she had a family and a support system there. On several occasions, she told me how much the people at the Mission meant to her. The staff at the Mission worked to try to help her get what she needed, and to get into contact with the social security office, but after a lifetime of struggles, she decided she couldn’t do it anymore and took her own life.

Even though I only had the privilege of knowing this particularly client for a few short months, I can honestly say that she had an impact on me. Her story frustrated me, this was someone who had been knocked down so many times and had continued to get back up in the face of adversity, but felt like she just couldn’t do it anymore. As a social worker, it frustrates me that an agency thousands of miles away can make a decision to rip away something that a person quite literally depends on for survival, never even having a second thought about the effects of their actions. No amount of phone calls, emails, or work from that person or staff members of agencies like Back Bay Mission can make the agency realize the effects that they are having on someone’s life by taking away a monthly check. To those people at that agency thousands of miles away, these clients are usually nameless, faceless, simply a number on a form. But, I can assure you, each client at Back Bay Mission is a person, with a story and a unique personality. As a person, the loss of this beautiful soul angers and saddens me. I kept wishing there was something more that I could have done to help her, but I remembered that no matter how hard we try, sometimes we can’t save everybody. This is not to say that I won’t keep trying, and I will certainly never forget her or her story, but this tragedy is truly a reminder that we never know what someone is going through, ad sometimes, despite our best efforts, we can’t help everyone.

Who Cares? Well, I Do. A Journal Entry from Social Justice Intern Naiomi Gonzalez.

By | Internships

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.

Who Cares? Well, I Do.

If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do

Linkin Park, “One More Light

One of my favorite things about school in general is the exposure to new ideas and points of views. I love learning about how different individuals, groups, societies, etc., view the world and how they make sense and respond to violence, pain, and death as well as joy, love, and justice. I might not agree with every viewpoint I come across but I believe that, intellectually at least, I am enriched by learning about different viewpoints. I mean, I study terrorism not because I necessarily agree with violent action, particularly against civilians, but because I believe that in order to minimize it, we need to take the time to understand the motivations, grievances, and pain of those who believe violence is their best or only option to bring about change. 

In seminary, I was exposed to different theological beliefs, but one system of thought that has radically shaped my understanding of God is process theology. Now to be fair, there is a lot about process theology that I don’t understand, particularly its metaphysical aspects. The aspect of process theology that has captured my imagination is its emphasis on God as changing and responding to the world around us. Moreover, God is presented not as an angry deity that controls all aspects of humanity, but as a companion who encourages humanity to do what is right and who grieves at the violence and pain in the world. One of the fathers of process thought referred to God as, “the great companion – the fellow-sufferer who understands.” This understanding of God continues to shape how I view the world and the suffering that goes on it.

I think one of the most helpless feelings I have both in my academic work and during my internship is when I realize that I can’t help whomever needs help. Back Bay Mission, like every social service organization, is limited by funds and resources. Back Bay Mission can’t help every person that is eligible for its services, much less everyone that calls or walks in with a legitimate need. And after a while, for better or worse, I have gotten used to saying “no” or “sorry we can’t help you and there is no one else I can refer you to”. But occasionally a story will still tug at my heart strings. Whether it’s a mother or grandmother seeking resources for her children/grandchildren, someone struggling with a debilitating medical diagnosis-the sadness at being unable to help is the same.

In my academic work, I listen, watch, and read a lot about terrorism. The least pleasant aspects of my research is having to read or watch videos or photographs of children being blown to bits by both the so-called terrorists and those who fight them. I mean, a dead child is still a dead child, whether that child was killed by ISIS or by the US. And with my academic research there isn’t much I can do tangibly to help anyone. At least at Back Bay Mission there are occasions where I can direct people to the right sources within the organization or somewhere else. My academic research – at least right now – offers very little opportunity for me to actually do something tangible to reduce non-state terrorism and state violence. And as a result, despair and frustration is never really that far behind.

Now of course there is a solution to the depression and despair that comes with seeing the injustice and violence of the world up close: and it’s to not care. To blind myself completely to the suffering of others. To simply say, “well there are millions of people in the US alone struggling with poverty and homelessness, and I can’t help them all, so who cares.” Or, “well state violence and violent responses to the state have occurred since nation-states became a thing, no use getting upset over something that will continue to kill millions of people.” That attitude, however, gives the illusion of offering protection to one’s soul and heart, but in reality it simply hardens a person. In my opinion, not caring would make me less human. But the reality is, I can’t care about every injustice or every instance of violence with the same intensity, or I won’t be able to function. So what do I do? I think this is where, for me, faith and my understanding of God comes in.

There’s a tension within most faith traditions-including Christianity: the tension between trusting in a higher power, especially in the face of violence, and injustice and being active and working towards a just world. The belief in a God that is right there suffering with us, makes the challenge of living with this tension both easier and much more difficult. On the one hand, it allows me to recognize that I can’t take on the pain and sorrow of the world. I can barely take on my own pain and sorrow. But with a God that is right in the trenches with us, there is no need for me to try and act like a super hero. Additionally, I believe that even when I can’t help someone that God is with that person, suffering right alongside with them. This belief can verge on the cliché, if it assumes that just because God is suffering with a person that everything will eventually turn out all right. For example, I believe God is with a person suffering from severe mental illness, I believe God is suffering right alongside this person and his/her family and friends. But this doesn’t change the fact that mental illness, can be deadly.

On the other hand, I believe that the predominate if not the only way God works in the world is through human action. If I want to see poverty, homelessness, war, violence end  (or more likely minimized), I and everyone else needs to take active steps in making the world a better place. It means caring. It means being open to having one’s heart broken by the violence and poverty in the world. Believing in a God that cares and suffers with humanity but also works through us means being willing to allow our hearts to be broken by the suffering around us, without being completely destroyed by it.

Who cares if one more light goes out? God does. And I do. You should too.

First World Problems. A Journal Entry by Social Justice Intern Katy Morton.

By | Internships

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.

First World Problems.

A few years ago or so, a very popular meme/hashtag combo was circulating around Facebook and other social media outlets. It was generally comprised of a photo of a young man or woman with head in hands, sometimes even tears, and an accompanying caption containing a phrase such as “forgot I was watching a recording, sat through commercials” or “my laptop is dying, but the charger is in the other room,” followed by the phrase, “first world problems.” Though it may seem like a silly concept, the idea behind it is to point out just how trivial many of the day-to-day “little things” we all complain about really are. And, to remind us that the things we often think are a big deal are nothing compared to some of the situations and concerns that people living in poverty experience every single day. This week, I definitely had a “first-world problem” moment. Unfortunately, my first reaction was to get frustrated, upset, and to over-react, but with some help from some friends, and some time to reflect, I realized just how silly I was being and how lucky I am in so many ways.

Towards the end of last week, my air conditioning in my car ceased to work, and began blowing hot air into both of our faces anytime we drove it anywhere. Although broken AC would normally not seem like such a big deal to me, it is smack-dab in the middle of summer here in hot and humid Mississippi. Sometimes, even just walking outside can make one feel like they are melting. After a long day of phone calls back and forth, and two different mechanic opinions, I was fortunate enough to be put in touch with a reliable shop. Thanks to the amazing Laura, I was able to get my condenser replaced and the AC fixed in my car for less than $400! It seems that the road construction here in Biloxi, and a loose chunk of road were to blame. As annoying as the whole ordeal was with my AC, it made me realize a few things, and at the end of the day, I realized just how fortunate I am.

As I sat in the Micah Day Center this week, entering service data in HMIS and fielding questions from our homeless clients and families, I began to think about my AC and put things into perspective. Granted, I was extremely upset at the time, hearing that I had to spend hundreds of dollars to fix something just because I drove on a certain road. But, as I continued thinking about it, I realized that with a quick couple of phone calls, and some help from an awesome coworker, my problem was fixed in just a few days. I was initially worried about the $400, as I had only budgeted $200 for possible car troubles this summer, but after explaining the situation to my mom, she generously offered to let me use the emergency credit card and pay her and my dad back in increments, thus alleviating some of the monetary stress on my summer auto budget. I thought back to our time in financial class with Everett, and our Bridges class with Loretta, and realized that so many people in poverty don’t have the luxury of a supportive family who is willing and able to assist them financially when emergencies pop up. I wondered to myself, what would they do in this situation? How would they cope with this heat? What if they have children or elderly family members? At the same time, I realized that my annoyance with the road construction here has only been for a couple of months, while the people who live and work in Biloxi have been coping with it for years. Some of Back Bay’s clients have experienced health issues from the road dust and dirt, as well as their own car troubles and personal struggles caused by the construction. Additionally, that heat I mentioned earlier, you know the kind that can make you feel like your melting as soon as you step outside, I only had to deal with it for a couple of days before my AC was fixed. I realized that so many of the Mission’s clients don’t even gave the luxury of a car, and are forced to walk everywhere in the heat and humidity. Thankfully, the Micah Day Center provides a place for those individuals to escape the heat for the day, but any time they need to get anywhere, most of them have to walk, and with most of their belongings strapped to their back, to boot.

Once again, I felt the pangs of guilt well up in my stomach. I had gotten frustrated and upset, only able to see the annoyances and frustrations of my situation, while forgetting just how lucky I truly am. My support system was right there for me when I needed them, and I was fortunate enough to get my car fixed and back to running fine in just a few days.  I’m still human, so I find myself getting frustrated, overwhelmed, and stressed, sometimes about things that seem trivial in retrospect. But, as I spend more time working with the clients at Back Bay, and learning about poverty, I am beginning to stop and think far more often before I get flustered and start to “sweat the small stuff.”

Bridges Out of Poverty. A Journal Entry by Social Justice Intern Katy Morton.

By | Bridges Out of Poverty, Internships

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.

Bridges Out of Poverty.

This week, Naiomi and I had the opportunity to attend the Bridges out of Poverty class held at the Micah Day Center on Tuesday evening. I believe I may have touched briefly on the Bridges program in an earlier journal entry, but let me just say again, it truly is an amazing program and having the opportunity to meet some of the participants was an awesome experience.

Bridges out of Poverty is a program based on a book that seeks to explain poverty on both an individual as well as a systemic level. Earlier this summer, I received a copy of the Bridges book in the mail and began reading. While some of the information was similar to what was said in my college textbooks about poverty, the author describes a more personal and individual perspective of poverty through examples that immerse the reader in probable situations. The author then goes on the lay the groundwork for the Bridges program, which has been enthusiastically adopted and put into play by some of the amazing staff of Back Bay. The way it works is that there are mentors and their mentees, which are also referred to as investigators. The mentors each take on one investigator and agrees to be their mentor during the program, and for two years following the end of the program. Many times, however, the participants in the Bridges Program end up forming relationships that last a lifetime.

The entire work day before the Bridges class was held at Back Bay, several members of the staff were busy setting up and preparing to ensure that everything was ready for the class. I couldn’t believe the amount of work and preparation it took to ensure that everything was set up and that everyone would have dinner. When we arrived to the class, each table was set nicely, complete with bowls of candy!

The class was amazing, eye-opening, and informative. Two guest speakers covered the world of finances, savings plans, and how to budget and pay off debts. Through personal stories and examples, the speakers were able to keep the whole room engaged, with ease. Once the speakers had finished, we got to hear from some of the current and past mentors and mentees. Each individual had a unique story to share, but it was particularly interesting to hear the similarities between some of the mentors and their mentees (also referred to as the investigators). Equally as interesting, was hearing from the mentors that they recognized these similarities and were able to share instances where they faced financial and social hardship in the past. One mentor even shared about how his participation in the Bridges program has changed his social and political perspective over the past few years. This mentor shared how he had come into the Bridges program as a conservative Republican who firmly believed that poverty was a choice and happened as a result of people not wanting to work hard. Upon meeting his investigator, hearing her story, and spending only a short time with her, his opinions began to quickly change. As he worked through the program with his fellow mentors and investigators, he started to see that poverty is truly not a choice and that it is an extremely difficult lifestyle cycle to break. Upon seeing his investigator’s successes, and struggles, the mentor was able to see how poverty affects all facets of a person’s life and just how hard it is to get oneself out of poverty.

The Bridges program is an amazing thing, and it was awesome to be able to see firsthand the positive effects it can have on not only the investigators, but also the mentors.

Isolation and Alienation: The Societal Aspects of Poverty. A Journal Entry from Social Justice Intern Naiomi Gonzalez.

By | Internships

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.

Isolation and Alienation: The Societal Aspects of Poverty.

I dreamed I was missing
You were so scared
But no one would listen
Cause no one else cared

After my dreaming
I woke with this fear
What am I leaving
When I’m done here?
So, if you’re asking me, I want you to know

When my time comes
Forget the wrong that I’ve done
Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed
And don’t resent me
And when you’re feeling empty
Keep me in your memory
Leave out all the rest
Leave out all the rest…

Linkin Park, “Leave out all the Rest.”

The political and individual factors that contribute to poverty and homelessness are often well discussed. Another aspect that is rarely addressed is the societal aspects of poverty and homelessness. There are many good things about the individualistic society in which we live in. For example, the emphasis on individual human rights means that at least on a theoretical level, the humanity of black and brown people, LGBTQ+ people, women, the disabled, etc., is acknowledged. In many ways this is just a lofty ideal but the notion of individual worth supports the belief that society should care not only about the majority or those in power, but also about those who are marginalized. In other words, the rights of individuals who aren’t powerful or the most popular are thought to be just as worthy of protection as those of the powerful and privileged. Additionally, an individualistic society can also encourage independent thinking and a bucking against the status quo spirit.

But with the positives, there are also negative aspects to this emphasis on the individual. These negatives center on the fact that the importance of community is often deemphasized and the idea that individuals should be able to succeed on their own is presented as an easily attainable goal that we should all strive for.  The myth of the ‘self-made’ person continues to capture the imagination of American society. We idolize people we view as being successful and we believe that somehow they became successful by their own intelligence and strength. Ignoring the fact that yes, while individual talent and intelligence are important, we are each shaped by those around us.

This value on individual strength and intelligence and the downplaying of community has a particularly negative impact on the poor and the homeless. Poverty and homelessness often creates a vicious cycle of isolation and estrangement. Sure, there are times when poverty means a reliance on others in the community. An of quoted cliché I often hear from well-meaning middle class folks is that “the poor are so much more community minded than we are…” In some cases that might be true, but that ignores the massive amount of stress that poverty and/or homelessness places on a family or a community. Combine poverty with addiction and mental illness and instead of bringing families together, they are often torn apart. And this of course, is devastating in any circumstances, but more so when as a society the belief in individualism means that there are very little systematic safety nets in place for the poor and the homeless.

To be sure, there are some individuals who want to be homeless and who don’t really thrive on human connection. I believe that there should still be support systems in place for that group. But many homeless people and those struggling with poverty don’t want to be isolated from others and from society.

The Linkin Park Song I quote from in the beginning of this post touches on feelings of alienation and fear. Alienation from others, except for the anonymous ‘you’ the song references, and fear that one’s life is meaningless. It also touches on the fact that our lives are made meaningful by our connections to other people. Our value is not based on race or gender, not on our sexual orientation, not on our economic status. We need one another. And this isn’t a one sided relationship; I’m not saying that those who struggle with poverty and/or homelessness need the rest of us and they offer little or nothing in return. That again is based on tying a person’s value with what they can offer-often in terms of economic output-to society. As a Christian, this is a gross distortion of the value of a human life. As humans we are interconnected and we need one another. The hyper focus on individualism, which in some cases is a good thing, also causes us to forget that humans can’t survive as isolated beings. We rely on one another for material needs yes but also for the intangible things that often make life worth living-love, trust, friendship, companionship.

It is tempting, in a society where the so called ‘self-made” person is essentially worshipped, to view those that we deem to be unsuccessful as not being a part of society. We want to isolate those who are poor, who struggle with addiction, with mentally illness. We try to render them invisible. And that isolation, just like the numerous political, systematic, and individual factors that contribute to poverty and homelessness, makes it that much harder for the homeless and the poor to find some sort stability in their lives.  I think as a society we need to keep some of the best aspects of individualism, focus on individual rights and independent thought and combine them with a concern for the larger community. This means ensuring that those struggling with addiction, poverty, mental illness are recognized as valued members of society.

If we were honest with ourselves, many of us are just one bad mistake or catastrophe from poverty. As someone who struggles with mental illness, whose relationship with my family is strained, I know that I am one bad episode with depression away from poverty and/or homelessness. I know I have friends, but friends who would be able to care for me during a particularly bad episode of depression? Probably not. This is why I believe that caring for the poor and homeless is not just about the efforts of individual organizations and people, but about society.

Desperation: What Poverty and Terrorism have in Common. A Journal Entry from Social Justice Intern Naiomi Gonzalez.

By | Internships

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.

Desperation: What Poverty and Terrorism have in Common.

The internship at Back Bay Mission is allowing Katy and me to meet numerous people from a variety of different organizations.  Of course every time we meet someone new, we are expected to introduce ourselves by providing not only our name but also some quick facts about who we are and about why we decided to intern at the Mission. Most of the time I prefer Katy to talk first since her social work experience is more directly applicable to the mission of the Mission. Many times after Katy speaks a bit about her education and prior work and internship experience, people turn to me and ask, “so are you a social worker as well?” After giving an awkward laugh I then explain my how my academic interests focus non-state violence/terrorism and state violence/injustice. They often seem… puzzled. An understandable reaction. To be honest, when I first started my internship I struggled with articulating why someone with my research interests wanted to spend the summer at the Mission. My first journal entry was an attempt to explain to others (and to myself) why the Mission didn’t make a mistake in hiring me. But now that I am more than halfway through with my internship, I think I can better articulate the connection between my academic research and my experiences at the Mission.

On a daily basis I see or hear the desperation of people who are struggling with poverty or homelessness.  I can’t tell you how many calls I have received where the person on the other line is frantically seeking rental assistance in order to avoid becoming homelessness. Nor can I adequately explain the fear and hopelessness that is evident in some of their voices after I tell them that not only do they need to contact a different agency, but that said agency may not be able to help them at the moment because this year’s funding cycle is nearing its end.  

Other calls that tug on my heart strings are the ones where people are asking for shelter. For some reason other people and organizations in the area seem to be under the impression that Back Bay Mission is a shelter, so it is crushing to have to tell the person on the end of the line that no, we don’t provide housing and that there are only a handful of shelters we can refer them to. One call from last week vividly stands out. A woman called asking about shelters in the area. I then asked her if she was looking for shelter for a single female and she tells me no, she has a 7 year old daughter. My heart broke for her and her daughter, yet she sounded so relieved when I gave her the numbers of some shelters. But of course I was worried. What if the shelters were full? Where would she and her daughter go? Of course, in order to continue to do my job, I can’t dwell on those questions. Dwelling on the “what ifs” and wishing I could have done more to help her doesn’t do anything for the woman and her child, but it also prevents me from being there for the next person that calls or walks in. But I can’t help but imagine what it would be like to have no place to go and yet still needing to care for a child. What would I do if I were in a position where I was afraid not only for my own future, but that of my child? How would I react if the help I sought was not available or not what I expected?

I firmly believe that in order to help clients I need to at least try to see things from their perspectives. I approach my studies of terrorism in a similar way. I try to answer the following questions, why does terrorism arise? Why do some people join terrorist organizations? Why are some countries more impacted by terrorism than others, from the point of view of someone in dire straits. In many instances-terrorism is a rational, strategic choice that nonetheless is grounded on and exploits desperation. I argue that despite the numerous factors that contribute to the rise of terrorism, desperation is a vital, often overlooked factor and that in order to minimize terrorism one needs to understand and, dare I say it, empathize with said desperation while condemning the methods used to express it.

When people are desperate they can react in ways that seem counter-productive. For example, when seeking help, common sense says that yelling or antagonizing the people that you come to ask for help from, is probably a bad idea. But when you feel as if your options are limited and that the help you need or want is not being provided, then it makes sense to get angry and yell. When it feels as if you have been let down by numerous other organizations or government programs, as well as by loved ones, it makes sense to be weary and distrustful, to the point of hostile to the very people that you seek help from. Or, there are clients who are respectful, kind, etc.,  yet they seem to be making the same mistakes over and over again. It is tempting to be like, “ok, stop performing that same action that got you here in the first place. It is irrational and doesn’t work.” But from the point of view of the client, that action that I consider to be stupid might have been a coping strategy that helped them survive. From their point of view, that action is rational and necessary.

Similarly, terrorism, at first glance seems stupid and counterproductive. First, terrorism targets civilians and often involves killing the very people you need a measure of support from. Next, terrorism is often a reaction against forces that are much more powerful. Non-state terrorist actors can’t fight the armies of nation-states in traditional warfare. They don’t have the numbers or the technology to do so. Yet terrorism often provokes nation-states to react even more violently towards the terrorist group. Yet if terrorism is so stupid and doesn’t work why do people keep in engaging in it? The answer is because sometimes terrorism works. It might not work in the sense that it immediately fulfills whatever goals the terrorists have in mind but terrorism can point out the flaws and weaknesses of nation-states. In countries where the central government is weak, terrorism often serves to highlight how ineffectual and frail the government, allowing those who use terrorism to project an image of strength. In other cases, the government, in response to terrorist attacks, becomes even more brutal, alienating larger swath of the population allowing those using terrorism to capitalize on hatred and distrust of the government. And of course terrorism provides the illusion that one isn’t given in to hopelessness but that one is taking proactive action to make a change.

In addition to helping me empathize with those who act out in desperation, my internship at the Mission is also allowing me to see on a small scale the importance of social service work. The lack of interest in helping the poor and homeless is endemic at the local, state, and federal level. And the impact on the marginalized is clear. Families struggle to feed their kids, individuals and families are unable to find affordable housing and jobs are scarce. Lack of funding prevents organizations from being able to help as many people as effectively as we want. This lack of attention to addressing the root causes of poverty ensures that the cycle of poverty continues.

In a similar way, the refusal to address the root causes of terrorism means that it will continue to be a tactic that is used over and over again by those who are hopeless and desperate. The connection between poverty and terrorism is not direct. If it were, there would be millions of would-be terrorists as opposed to thousands who come from a variety of economic and educational backgrounds. But in the countries where terrorism is rampant, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, etc.,social services provided by the government, nonprofits, and NGOs are essentially non-existent. The military in terms of weapons and technology might be well funded, but help to minimize poverty, for schooling, health care for the majority of the population does not exist. This, combined with different political factors and desperation ensures that terrorism will continue.

Both terrorism and poverty create a desperation that makes breaking the cycle of poverty or violence that much more difficult. Additionally both terrorism and poverty require a sustained, community response that combines political action with social services. And yes, providing social services can mean empathizing with those with whom we think are undeserving. How many people divide those struggling with poverty into the “deserving poor” and the “undeserving poor?” Meaning one group deserves to receive assistance while the other group should just be ignored and left to their own devices. But such an approach does little to ease poverty. Likewise, dealing with terrorism cannot just happen through the barrel of a gun or via dropping bombs. Hope for an alternative society must be provided. And this alternative society must include former terrorists. Or the stage is set for violence to continue.

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