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How Can We View Homelessness?

 

By Ilana Krakowski – Ilana is a member of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps and serves as the Program Assistant in the Health and Wellness Center. Ilana organizes Wellness Center programing, coordinates volunteers, and manages the Wellness Center receptionist team. Ilana is from New York City and graduated from Barnard College with a BA in Comparative Religion.

As I sit here on my last day working at N Street Village, I want to take a moment to share what I learned working with individuals experiencing homelessness.  The overall theme of the various realizations I’ve had this year is this: never think that you are immune to the challenges that other people face. Most of you would probably nod your heads, easily agreeing — but how much do you actually believe it could be true? What if one day you became homeless?

I believe that understanding the actual possibility of hardships like homelessness happening to us allows us to better connect with those who are currently experiencing them and eliminates the “us/them” mentality that prevents real social change.

It wasn’t until I started working with individuals who experience homelessness that I realized how little separated them from me.  While poverty and homelessness disproportionately affect some populations more than others I met so many women who do not necessarily fit into our preconceived notions of “the homeless.” Some held steady jobs and raised their children in their own homes, and suddenly — either because of hard economic times, divorce, or health issues — lost their income and housing. Even those who had friends and family willing to provide a temporary safety net eventually needed to find income and housing on their own again.

For a while I was really upset at the realization that homelessness could happen to anyone.  As the year went on, I decided to channel my feelings about this into really getting to know clients as individuals and focusing on how I could best provide services that would help them move forward. Now I see our clients as women working incredibly hard to overcome hardship while trying to enjoy each and every day.  That’s why I like to describe them as women experiencing homelessness rather than women who are homeless. This mindset is what makes it possible for N Street Village to provide clients with the high-quality and meaningful services that we would hope to have for ourselves and our loved ones if we were in their place.

Spending my service corps year at N Street Village has been an eye-opening and insightful journey. I am forever changed and committed to the act of leveling the playing field for all in society. Thank you N Street Village for allowing me to have this experience.

 

Staff Spotlight – Ilana Krakowski

This month, we would like to introduce you to N Street Village staff member Ilana Krakowski.  Ilana is working as a Program Assistant in the Wellness Center as part of her Avodah Volunteer Corps service year.  Ilana is from New York City and graduated from Barnard College with a BA in Comparative Religion. Ilana recently shared with us more about herself and her experience at N Street Village.

NSV: What inspired you to work in the Wellness Center at N Street Village?
IK: I was inspired by how N Street Village tends to the full needs of individuals who experience the tragedy of homelessness, treating them in the exact way I would want to be treated. So many of us regularly participate in classes where we tend to our artistic, emotional, spiritual, physical and mental health needs that we can come to take such recreation for granted. Before working with the Wellness Center, I never saw these as basic rights that everyone should have to experience.  The Wellness Center showed me that part of empowering individuals in their recovery, education, and economic goals is assisting them with building confidence, self-esteem, and healthy ways to deal with stress. I knew that my interest in alleviating poverty with my experience in studying religion, dancing, gardening, and teaching would be a perfect fit.

NSV:  What do you do on a daily basis at N Street Village?
IK:
My main responsibility is overseeing our Wellness Center activity schedule. Each day we provide 4-5 classes and 1-2 health services for our clients. I am in contact with every volunteer and staff member who leads these activities and make sure we are on time, that each client’s need is taken care of, and that our day runs smoothly. I also facilitate sign-ups for our medical clinic, conduct health screenings for prospective residents, provide OTC services, and teach several of my own classes including dance, gardening, and spiritual literacy. My favorite part, however, is collaborating with the Wellness Center client receptionists and supporting them in their professional development goals.

NSV: Describe working at N Street Village in 3 words or less.
IK:
Empowering, fun, and a privilege.

NSV: What is the greatest thing about N Street Village culture?
IK:
I love that N Street Village maintains itself as a safe place exclusively for women.  Having gone to a women’s college, I see a similar culture of creativity, care, collaboration, energy, and empowerment that I felt on campus. I am also inspired by how staff supports each other, works outside their specific areas of focus, and understands that nothing gets done as well without a team of people dedicated to a shared goal of moving women from homelessness to independence.

NSV: What story about a woman we have served has stuck with you most?
IK:
The personal journeys of our receptionists have stuck with me the most.  Finding themselves homeless for vastly different reasons, each woman came to the Village looking for help and a fresh start. After participating for a while, they gained enough exposure to the Wellness Center and interest in helping other women learn the ropes that they requested to volunteer. Each receptionist plays a vital role in helping run the Wellness Center, whether it is teaching their own classes, working with our volunteers, setting up for different programs, or providing information for new clients. I see that despite everything they need to work through, they have confidence, a real sense of purpose and personal fulfillment, and knowledge that they are extremely helpful members of the NSV community. I am impressed every day with their courage and leadership!

NSV: What was your greatest accomplishment of the past year?
IK: My greatest accomplishment has been running several Wellness Center activities. In my first month on the job my supervisor asked me to teach a dance class. I was extremely nervous about this but have now been doing it for almost a year and love dancing with our women every week. I then increased my teaching involvement and started up the garden club again and helped teach spiritual literacy, which I now lead.  Facilitating such classes and dialogues with our clients has been one of the most rewarding and impactful experiences of my year at N Street Village.  I am a better listener, speaker, and teacher for it.

NSV: Where are you originally from? What do you miss most about your hometown?
IK:
I am originally from Brooklyn, New York. Besides my family, friends, Broadway theater, and the general energy of New York City, I miss the ability to eat a delicious slice of pizza or a freshly baked bagel no matter what time of day it is or what city block I find myself on.

 

Taking Charge of Self-Care

By Ilana Krakowski – Ilana is a member of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps and serves as the Program Assistant in the Health and Wellness Center. Ilana organizes Wellness Center programing, coordinates volunteers, and manages the Wellness Center receptionist team. You may find Ilana teaching a dance class from time to time too. Ilana is from New York City and graduated from Barnard College with a BA in Comparative Religion.

When you think you can’t do something, you often realize that you can.” These are the words of N Street Village resident, Debra Green.  As a senior peer and Wellness Center receptionist, Debra fills various leadership roles.  This month, Debra took on another responsibility– educating those who walk through the Wellness Center about self-care.

Every month the Wellness Center features information about a health topic on its main bulletin board. The Wellness Center’s receptionist team takes turns researching and presenting material for the board. Past topics focused on breast cancer awareness, diet and nutrition, sleep apnea, diabetes, and dementia.  For October, Debra created a board focusing on of self-care.

Debra presented tips on both physical and mental healthcare, offering advice on balanced diet, physical activity, adequate sleep, smoking cessation, hydration, creative expression, and helping others. Debra’s board is not only informative — its vibrant colors, photos, and user-friendly layout draw in anyone who passes by.

Debra proudly stands next to her completed bulletin board.

The board is not only a professional success — it also serves as a testament to Debra’s personal successes. Since arriving at N Street Village, Debra’s dedication to self-care has grown immensely. She started maintaining her physical health through better nutrition and weight loss and staying on top of her doctor appointments. She also took on professional and recreational goals in addition to volunteering her time to help other women at N Street Village. Debra felt it was important to create a board on self-care in order to inspire others to take care of themselves holistically like she does.

Organizing the bulletin board was something new to Debra.  When first asked to make the board, she thought she couldn’t. With motivation and calm persistence, Debra worked with me to research self-care topics and condense them into several tips. Our joint research efforts helped Debra understand the preparation process in a lesson plan as well as how to make information accessible.  Debra had all the ideas; she just had to overcome the initial hesitation in starting a new project.

It was a pleasure to watch Debra create her first educational board and to see her pride as she passes the board every day. Debra is now excited to do another…and another. She now has even more proof that she can achieve what she sets her mind to.

I too, was touched by Debra’s growth. Debra taught me that having courage can develop self-confidence and in turn, having self-confidence can make one courageous.

I encourage you to visit the Wellness Center to see Debra’s self-care board!

Related Links:
Client Stories – Debra’s story on N Street Village’s website