Tuesday, March 12, 2013

JMU Alternative Spring Break 2013

    • 10 students from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
    • The Journey here:
      • 16.5 hours and 6 states in our twelve passenger van!
    • We are currently on our Alternative Spring Break trip, a program designed for college students to utilize time off of school to pursue their passion for community service. Sheffield Place has been a part of the Alternative Break Program for over a decade.
    • The Students:
      • Janie Darone: Vocal Music Education (Trip Leader)
      • Jackie Sams: Health Science Pre OT (Trip Leader)
      • Nina Critz: Mental Health Counselor (Learning Partner)
      • Rachael Donnelly: Health Science Pre Med
      • Vanessa Burshnic: Communication Sciences and Disorders; Minor in Exceptional Education
      • Mary Blake Hinshaw: Communication Sciences and Disorders
      • Rylie Hurt: Public Health Education
      • Kaitlyn Schwartz: Health Science Pre PT
      • Heather Stempien: Psychology and Biology
      • Katherine Dooley: Hospitality Management
    • Our Accommodations:
      • We are incredibly grateful to Woods Chapel Church, United Methodist, for allowing us to stay in their youth building and shower in their gym. The church members provided us not only with the accommodations, but a warm welcome and friendly support!
      • In addition to sleeping on the floor, we are living on a poverty budget, this means less than $6/day/person. We eat breakfast (and make coffee!) before going to Sheffield Place, we pack our lunches each day and we take turns cooking dinner in the evening. We are reusing our dishes, lunch bags and each person has been refilling their water bottle throughout the day.
    • “Service” versus “volunteering”:
      • Each evening after dinner we hold our “reflection time.” We spend at least an hour talking together as we share our thoughts, emotions and reactions from our experiences during the day.
      • What? So what? Now what? This implies that our involvement is more than one time volunteering. Instead, we want to return home and continue to make changes, educate others and maintain our involvement.
On Monday, we split our group into smaller groups. Several of us cleaned out and organized the storage closet in the basement, another part of the group organized the clothes donations, and the last part of our group deep cleaned the upstairs kitchens. Later in the afternoon, we all cleaned and organized Project Hope, an after school program for the children living in Sheffield Place, and some who have moved out. After the cleaning, the children started to trickle in to Project Hope’s play area. The older kids were to either start on their homework or worksheets provided by the teacher, while the preschoolers and toddlers had a snack and played.  

  • Rachael: I decided to start the week off in the nursery with the infants and toddlers. I made sure to spread my time out and get to know all of the babies, and I started to understand each of them a little bit differently. I started with Reniah, the youngest infant, who I was with most the time holding and playing with. I also spent some time with her older brother Royce, who is a little over a year old. All the toddlers seemed so comfortable around each other, and they interacted very well together, a few of them even acting like they were the best of friends at such a young age. I really enjoyed working with the infants and toddlers, but I also couldn’t wait to work with all the older kids the next day.
  • Vanessa: Before our time with the kids of Sheffield Place we had a brief run through with Stephanie, the child and family therapist. She told us about each age group and asked who would like to spend time with the 10-12 year old boys (a sometimes difficult group to entertain). I felt comfortable volunteering for the task and was excited to meet them. The time began helping Manuel with his homework, I enjoyed helping him complete his worksheets while praising and encouraging him when he answered the problems correctly. Afterwards, Heather, Nina, and I joined the older group of boys for a little outdoor fun. We started with playing 3-on-3 basketball. After a few obstacles (i.e. losing the ball over the fence and breaking the hoop) we decided to switch to playing four-square and throwing the football. Overall, Heather, Nina, and I all enjoyed laughing, poking fun at our amateur basketball skills, and, most of all, getting to know Andrew, Anthony, and Antoine. I look forward to spending time and getting to know more about each one of them this week.
            On Tuesday, we began preparations for “Sheffield Idol,” a talent show for the families at Sheffield Place. We made bracelets, crowns, and certificates for every child as well as enough bracelets to give to the mothers. Decorations such as a banner and paper chains were also part of the preparation. We pondered on what type of talent we would perform at the show and decided to do the Texas Roadhouse version of the Cottoneye Joe dance. We were anxious to see what the children and their mothers would bring to the performance. Our group was nervous that the kids may not be as interested in performing as we hoped for, but during our usual time at Project Hope we heard talk of the talents that would be showcased and the excitement of the would-be participants. We were excited at Idol’s growing popularity and looked forward to seeing everyone’s talents put into action.

  • Janie: On Tuesday, we got to engage in a variety of activities here at Sheffield Place. A few of the other girls and I reassembled a greenhouse structure in the backyard. I love that there are garden plots for the women to work in and grow vegetables; this creates such a feeling of investment and ownership that is critical to independence. I also worked with some other trip participants in the clothing and storage closets, organizing donations. We packed up the unused winter jackets to donate to the Salvation Army - I think it is great that the homeless agencies/organizations in Kansas City work with each other so well. In the afternoon, we spent most of our time preparing for Sheffield Idol, which was a lot of fun. We tried to make it as exciting as possible for the children and mothers, since we had heard a lot about how successful and anticipated this event is each year. When the children arrived, I spent my time between the preschool age children and the infants. I noticed a lot of differences in the behaviors of the children from day to day; it seems as if some either have very good, or very bad days. I loved working with Elijah and Ben, who were so into everything, as typical pre-school age children are. Many of the children have brothers or sisters in Project Hope, and I found it interesting to observe the many different forms of relationships. Overall, I enjoyed spending one-on-one time with the children, because I know that they don’t often get this form of attention. As an aspiring educator, I have a passion for working with students, and I can’t wait to transfer ideas I have obtained from working with Sheffield Place to the classroom!

  • Nina: As we continue to become familiar with the staff, mothers and children of Sheffield Place, I am continuously amazed to see the strength and courage of each of these individuals. It is often a quiet, but constantly present, strength that shines through each of the people with whom we interact. We continue to learn about the challenges of homelessness; the years of trauma, untreated mental illness, substance abuse, abusive relationships, limited financial support, and lack of emotional support that support generations of instability often leading to homelessness. Despite these challenges, the women of Sheffield Place continue to push forward to better their lives for their children and themselves. Despite the terrifying and tragic incidents of their young childhood, the children of Sheffield Place continue to smile and enjoy childhood activities. Despite the challenges of limited resources and overwhelming demand, the staff of Sheffield Place continue to move forward with their efforts to provide for the great need of the homeless women and children. While the problem over homelessness feels overwhelming, I feel inspired to continue raising awareness regarding this issue. We all have a responsibility to ensure that all can live lives that are stable, safe and free of abuse, violence and substances.
On Wednesday we spent the earlier portion of the day completing our preparation for “Sheffield Idol.”  It was exciting to hear the women talking about their plans for the show! We also noticed that the residents all seemed to enjoy our “Sheffield Idol” banner as well as the personalized stars we created for each child. The evening of the show proved to be a huge success! We had over 10 acts, including singing and dancing numbers. One of the biggest hits was Rayonna’s stunning rendition of “Love on Top.” We would not be surprised to see her on X-Factor in the near future! The older boys were also a hit with their dance moves! Several of the mothers even performed; they are incredibly talented! All of the children seemed to love their golden crowns as well as the personalized signs we used to cheer for each act.

  • Katherine: On Wednesday, we briefly visited a men’s shelter in Kansas City called Benilde Hall. After our visit, we prepared more for Sheffield Idol. We decided on a dance that we would be performing for everyone—“Cotton-Eyed Joe”. Practicing the dance and preparing for Idol took up most of our afternoon until the kids got there. Once the kids got there, some of the group hung out with the babies in the basement while the other half was upstairs hanging out with the moms and the older kids. As Idol came closer, the excitement of the moms and children was building. Sheffield Idol was a success, having almost every family participate, even some of the younger kids. It was a really great confidence boost for some of the kids, since they received so much individual time to shine up on the stage in front of everyone. This was the first time we saw just about every kid break out of their shell and be themselves.
Our day on Thursday focused on competing some yard work outdoors, thankfully the
weather was warmer, which allowed us the opportunity to cover some of the plants in the garden, organize the shed and clean out the window wells. We also worked inside sorting through donations and preparing materials for the children’s lesson plans. We have seen several different groups as well as individuals come by Sheffield Place this week, it is heart warming to see how many donations are brought to the shelter and how many community members seem to care about Sheffield Place. One of the volunteers, Rhonda, made a particular impact on us; she seems so dedicated to the work that she is doing, her heart for the women and children is evident!  We treasured our evening in Project Hope; we knew that it would be the last time we would spend with the children before our departure. Each of us made sure that we were able to interact with each child. That meant different activities depending upon the child; reading a book, building “lego land”, working on a lesson plan about the letter B, putting together a puzzle, playing with cars or simply rocking a baby. We truly care for each of these precious children and wish them a future of hope. It is so powerful to recognize that each human enters the world as small and precious as these babies, but has no say over the environment into which they are born.

            One of the most powerful parts of our experience was hearing some of the personal stories of the women at Sheffield Place. We were honored that these women shared some of their life experiences with us.  It was incredibly difficult to hear about some of the horrors that these women have experienced. Addiction, abuse, and mental illness know no boundaries. Tragically, however, these women had limited, or no, emotional/logistical support from family which led to homelessness when they left their abuser or addiction. Sheffield Place was a support during a difficult time and allowed the women stability of safe housing while providing support, training and guidance to begin to think and act differently in order to become independent and move to provide a life for their children and to live a life without abuse and a life that is substance free.

Our final day on Friday was bittersweet. Coincidentally, it was “International Women’s Day,” which feels symbolic as our week has focused on women’s issues. It feels exciting that our group of female students was able to learn from, and provide support to, the women of Sheffield! We enjoyed meeting with the kind ladies of Zonta, an international group of professional women focused on service, who shared cookies and support with our group. After completing some final projects at Sheffield, we enjoyed a send off lunch with some of the staff. It was difficult to leave, even though we were only here for a week, we have come to care so much for the women and children at Sheffield. This was an incredible experience and while we leave tomorrow morning to return home, the journey has really just begun!