As graduation approached, I realized that I was becoming more uncertain about applying my undergraduate degree as an elementary education teacher. Having a strong affinity for working with women and children, I knew that my skills could be used elsewhere so I turned to a friend who had just been accepted to a different post-graduate service organization. Once I read GSV’s mission statement, I was hooked and after interviewing and accepting me, I was placed as none other than a teacher! I would be working at the school in a domestic violence shelter teaching fourth, fifth, and six grade in Los Angeles.
Nothing could have properly prepared me for the adventure I was about to take. Hopping aboard a flight to L.A. with three perfect strangers, arriving jet-lagged and greeted by two nuns and In-N-Out Burger, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into!
Right from the start we were thrown into Domestic Violence 101 training, curriculum writing, and lesson planning. As soon as I met my students I realized instantly that no matter how many math problems we solved together, how many spelling tests they took, and how many books we read, they were going to teach me exponentially more that I could ever teach them.
Pretty soon I became not only their teacher but their mentor, guidance counselor, and big sister. I taught them in all academic subjects but we also swam in the pool, went on field trips, practiced movement breaks to shake our sillies out, and made s’mores for their first time. I visited them at home, ate lunch with them, and was introduced to the most amazing Mexican cooking I have ever experienced. We celebrated Posada (a Mexican Christmastime tradition) together with singing and eating; put on plays; had talent shows. Outside of the shelter, we held Christmas for families that had been through the program in past years, helped at the HandCrafting Justice sales at churches, and explored and learned to love the richly diverse, wacky, fun city of Los Angeles. I lived an extremely rich life, even though financially we had little money from our stipends, I was completely immersed in the culture and language of my students and their families, the spirituality of my community members, and the bizarre and lovable intensity of the city.
Through Good Shepherd Shelter, I discovered an organization called A Window Between Worlds that uses art as a healing tool for survivors of domestic violence. My students and their mothers both used this program during the day and I had initially just seen this hour and a half period as art class. However, once I started observing my students after they had returned from their “Windows” time and upon learning more about the organization that piloted their children’s program at the shelter, I began to view it quite differently. I began attending the exhibits that the organization hosted, participating in training workshops, and volunteering at their events. It soon became clear to me that this art program had a wonderful and therapeutic power to heal that not only positively impacted my students but the domestic violence community as a whole as well. When the women’s program coordinator position opened up I jumped at the opportunity. I now serve as the liaison between our organization and the staff at domestic violence and sexual assault agencies and shelters we collaborate with. We train “Windows” leaders on how to utilize our curriculum of over 500 art workshops and read their monthly reports about the daily impact that the art is making on their lives and the lives of the participants. While I do not work directly with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, every day is fulfilling and rewarding and I am blessed to work with an amazingly supportive staff and for a mission that I strongly believe in.
I truly cannot imagine what my life would be like without Good Shepherd Volunteers. It has so strongly molded and impacted not only the decisions I have made and continue to make but also the person that I am. After finding that one year with GSV was simply not enough, I signed on to recruit for Good Shepherd Volunteers and was excited to express my passion about an organization that I loved and whose mission I stood behind. I also had the amazing opportunity to live in community again! Through my two years living in community, I learned what it means to be a person for others; to keep trying, even when I desperately want to give up; to think before I speak; to notice and appreciate differences with curiosity; to communicate effectively, calmly, and kindly; to be patient – but have not necessarily mastered this yet; and to work for causes that I strongly believe in! GSV has completely changed my life for the better. I am a stronger, more loving, compassionate, and balanced person because of the tremendous impact the four tenets have made in my life and heart!