I can honestly say figuring out what to write about for my blog has been very challenging! This opportunity has helped me sit back and reflect on this year and everything I have experienced in this program so far. I went from not knowing how to drive in January, to driving for almost 40 hours a week in March. I went from living in a small home with just my mom, to now living in a community with seven people. In my first year I had no idea what sort of work I was getting into. All I knew was that I wanted to help kids. Kids who had it rough like I did while growing up. I would have never thought I would be the first person they see in the morning to get them up for school or the person they could confide in while I drive them home after school. I remember the laughter, the off-tune singing, and hard discussions my kids and I had while driving in Brother Charles Kitson’s* old green Toyota. As I think about this service year, I wonder what can I bring from my time at Tides Family Services in Rhode Island last year to Part of the Solution (POTS) in the Bronx now.
The word dignity was given to me from Maggie Naughton herself. She told me to think about what it means and how I showed it to my clients back in my first year in Rhode Island and how can I show it to my clients now in the Bronx. Dignity is one of those words that just sounded right in a sentence, but as I thought about what the actual definition was, I was stuck. The definition from the amazing world of Google, states that dignity is “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” To me, that’s common sense while working in social services or just being a decent human being. But common sense is not that common. I remember as a child while going to food pantries with my mom or services that were supposed to help people down on their luck, and I could see my mom’s face was full of embarrassment as she was talked down to by people who were supposed to be helping her. I am not saying this to put shame on social workers, it is a very demanding field that puts a lot of emotional strain on the nicest of people. However, everyone deserves that respect and should never be ashamed for being in a tough situation. We as teachers and social workers, should check ourselves and emotions at the door because it’s not about us, it’s about our clients.
I had to check myself multiple times throughout my first year and remember that my client who just cursed me out was just having a bad day. I had to remind myself to simply say, “I see you are having a tough day today. I will talk to you tomorrow but it was a pleasure to see you and your family’s faces.” It wasn’t always easy, but usually by the next time I saw them, they either apologized or treated me with the same respect I had given to them.
Before I began working at POTS, I was really worried about how my interactions would be with adults compared to kids. With kids, I am closer to their age, and I could let them know the tricks of how to succeed in school and at home. But with older adults there has always been an unknown hesitation. I’ve started to feel overwhelmed with all of the information about immigration laws and SNAP benefits, and I fear I’ll make a mistake that will have a lasting impact. And while being in my second year of service, every person who sits beside my desk reminds me of my mom. I treat them how I want my mom to be treated. I can guarantee you that if someone disrespects my mother, I am the first person to handle it for her. I believe if everyone thought about someone they cared about while serving a client (even the difficult ones), people who are being served might be more receptive to receive help without shame.
I pray everyone can bring the concept of dignity to their ministry, community, job and family.
*Brother Charles Kitson passed away in March 2016. Brother Charles was a transformational leader and lifelong advocate of Lasallian Volunteers, who was a champion of inviting young people to engage in the Lasallian mission and deepen their commitment to a life lived in a way that others may “have life…and have it in abundance.”
Ashley Mitchell is a second-year volunteer serving at Part of the Solution (POTS) in Bronx, New York. She is a 2018 graduate of Lewis University.