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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.

 

Photo of the Week

This week our community celebrated our four amazing yearlong volunteers as they complete their year of service. From left to right: Anne Steeves (Volunteer and In-Kind Gifts Coordinator/Lutheran Volunteer Corps), Ilana Krakowski (Wellness Center Program Assistant/Avodah Volunteer Corps), Molly Chamberlain (Bethany Women’s Center Program Assistant/Loretto Volunteer Corps), and Grace Park (Residential Support Services Program Assistant/Lutheran Volunteer Corps). 

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.

 

A Knitting and Crochet Movement at N Street Village

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.

DIY — Do It Yourself. It seems that as the world grows larger and more interconnected, people are seeking to empower themselves and their communities with a DIY attitude. DIY means the ability to create something original we’ve grown to assume can only be mass-produced in a factory and purchased at a store. DIY puts personal choices and money back into the hands of those who make their own products, and it also offers them inspiration, a sense of fulfillment, and increased self-esteem.  I’ve seen these results in the women who participate in knitting and crochet classes here at N Street Village.

Our first knitting class was introduced in 2006 by volunteer Jane Saari, who wanted to share her love of the craft.  Jane invited her friend Wendy Mayer to teach crochet skills during Jane’s knitting class.  Not long after tapping into her own talent, Barbara, one of N Street Village’s client volunteers, began to teach her own crochet class in the Wellness Center. This past January, Wendy and  Barbara started offering an advanced crochet class because so many women had mastered basic crochet skills and wanted to learn to read more challenging patterns.

Knitting and crocheting have become a part of daily life at N Street Village. Almost everywhere I go in the building I see women working on yarn projects – scarves, hats, blankets, and caftans.  I see ladies sporting knitted or crocheted garments that they have made or a friend has made for them. I see projects completed and new ones started right away. I see the distribution of new yarn skeins greeted with anticipation and excitement. Most important of all, I notice the growth of community and individuality among our clients.  While working on their projects, women chat, joke, develop friendships, and share information on different services available to them in the city.   Many women find their unique styles and voices in their yarn work.  Some shared their gifts outside our community by taking part in the Hyperbolic Coral Reef Project, while others started selling pieces at Luther Place Memorial Church’s art fairs and on Etsy. One client was able to quit smoking after she began crocheting, while others have completed something they’ve started for the first time, showing them that they have the ability to set a goal and achieve it. The Do-It-Yourself ethic inherent in our knit and crochet program really has and continues to change lives.

We are grateful for all of our donors and volunteers who continue to bring knitting and crocheting to N Street Village. Our community is always in need of yarn donations — now more than ever as many women are improving their skills and creating more elaborate pieces. Your donation of yarn will also offer newcomers the very experience that so many women have already benefited from. To make a donation of yarn, please contact Anne Steeves at asteeves@nstreetvillage.org.

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The 2012 Point-in-Time Homeless Persons Count

On January 25th, I participated in D.C.’s Point-in-Time Homeless Persons Count.  This annual census – one of 4,000 that took place nationwide this year — collects data on homelessness in our community.  Results of the census are used to see what programs may have worked to reduce homelessness over the past year and to help our local government develop policies that can ultimately eliminate it.

SA homeless woman sitting at a monument in Wash...ocial service agencies conduct the census at their sites during the day while volunteers search the streets for people at night. For the nighttime survey, each neighborhood in the city is assigned to a team leader who divides that neighborhood into several parts.  Two or three volunteers then search each area, armed with census surveys, information on emergency services, and gift cards to distribute. As a volunteer, my job was to walk around my assigned area for four hours to identify and speak with as many homeless persons as possible.

Within my few assigned square blocks in Foggy Bottom, we discovered homeless people in George Washington University’s emergency room, in parks, and under highways.  Many people were hidden under piles of blankets and tucked away in nooks in the dark. The last were the hardest to see and the hardest to reach.  After seeing the horrible conditions some live with outside, I found myself getting pretty upset.

The survey asks for as much information as a person is willing to share, including employment status; annual income; veteran status; histories of substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and physical health; and social services utilized. At first, I was mortified by the idea of disturbing individuals to ask them these very personal questions. Yet, I found that most people were willing to talk to me and share their stories. Many people I spoke with attend programs where they can receive meals, clothing, showers, and case management; receive food stamps or other benefits; and even have part-time jobs – yet they still struggle with homelessness. Listening to them, I learned that navigating the social service system to get adequate help requires a lot of patience and a strong will. It also can cause humiliation and shame for those who have to share so much personal information and give up their independence in order to get services.

After four hours conducting the census, I was reminded, as I am every day at N Street Village, that those who find themselves homeless are people like just like me who have goals and dreams. It is so easy to overlook our homeless neighbors on our streets. The Point in Time Count is an important way to make the problem more visible and to encourage the public to demand more support for the homeless and for policy solutions that can end 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.

Cleansing with a Purpose; an N Street Client Takes on Health

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.

Healthy minds and healthy bodies are key to recovery and empowerment for the women in our community. No one knows that better than Terri Wade, an N Street Village resident and our newest Wellness Center volunteer instructor.

It was only a few months ago that Terri became a regular of N Street Village’s “Strong and Fit” class led by volunteer Wellness Center instructor and personal trainer, Jean Simons. Terri started attending the weekly class after noticing that she had gained weight. Soon after beginning to work out with Jean, Terri started seeing weight loss results and felt motivated to keep moving.  After a while, Jean noticed that every week someone in her class kept calling out the correct exercise count to help her.  That person was Terri.

Jean quickly became a mentor to Terri. The two met for an hour once a week before Jean’s class.  Jean taught Terri more about human anatomy and exercises that work different muscle groups, and they shared ideas about how to improve “Strong and Fit.” Jean then asked Terri to lead the cardio warm-up for class each week.  As Terri’s knowledge grew, she and Jean realized that if Terri taught her own class, more women at N Street Village could work out regularly.

At first, Terri was uncertain whether she should teach a class for her peers.  But Terri recognized that it is because she is in the same boat as other clients at N Street Village that she was uniquely qualified to lead a health class. She understands that women experiencing homelessness often carry the biggest loads — physically and emotionally – and that regular exercise can help ease their burdens.  Jean agrees, adding that “Terri brings her understanding of the difficulties the women of N Street Village face when trying to improve their fitness.”

I had the pleasure of attending Terri’s first class, “Village Workout with Terri.”  Terri timed her class to follow lunch so that the women could healthily digest their food and overcome the afternoon energy slump. Terri describes this as “cleansing with a purpose.” We started with slow stretches and bends, feeling out various muscles from head to toe. Terri calmly transitioned from move to move, telling us what to do at each step. As the playful music picked up, we moved more quickly, getting the benefits of a cardio workout. Terri even made time for each woman to come up with her own stretch for everyone else to follow. We all broke a sweat and felt great. I left the class singing the tunes of her workout track, and feeling ready to take on the rest of the day. Many of the women left telling Terri they would recruit others to join the class.

Leadership can come from anywhere and from anyone.  Many volunteers at N Street Village do wonderful work in helping our women grow into personal and professional leaders.  Jean selflessly gave her time to encourage and empower Terri.  And clients like Terri have the drive to take on new challenges and give back to their community.  As Terri told me, “no day is promised to you, so it matters how you spend it.” Terri is an inspiration to herself and to everyone else at N Street Village.

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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