Connecting with Beautiful Ladies
The women come into the dorm all at once at 6:30 pm. I’m standing at the front of the room, there to greet them, sign out towels, and get anything else they might need. Many of them are bundled up, noses red and faces barely peeking out of hats and hoods and scarves. It’s evident that they’re all happy to be inside after a cold day out, and many of them drop off their things and go straight to the kitchen for a hot meal.
This is the usual start to every night I work. From there, it varies: welcoming new intakes, mediating conflict, solving problems, being a resource. Regardless of the night, though, it’s always sure that I’m in for some sort of adventure. The best part of being in the dorm is making connections with so many different kinds of women. I have learned where they grew up, what brought them to the shelter, what their families are like, and so many more of their little quirks. These women have become my friends.
Since starting in July, I knew I wanted to do more for the women I serve. I wanted to do more than provide a bed, more than just give them a safe place to sleep at night. I knew (and still know) that I alone do not have the capacity to change the way the system works and get everyone into housing quickly, nor do I have the power to eliminate addiction and mental illness, so starting small and on a relational level was something I knew I could facilitate.
I thought about all of the art therapy classes that were prominent where I went to college, and how art can really do things for people. Whether it’s taking our minds off of something or giving us a forum to express how we’re feeling, I know that art can be therapeutic and helpful. I also drew upon experiences I had in leading student groups to build connections and create safe environments for sharing. After a few months of brainstorming and dragging my feet, I was finally able to put a group together.
We met for the first time last Friday to make snowflakes and other holiday crafts for the dorm. I baked a few batches of Christmas cookies and some other goodies for the women were provided by the shelter. After everything was set up, I turned the Christmas music on and the women started coming into the back room where I was holding the group. It filled me with so much joy to see grown women sitting around a table, crafting snowflakes out of coffee filters and decorating them with glitter glue. I was thrilled to see how happy they all were – joking around and laughing, singing along to the music; even the ones who just came in to eat a cookie and watch were having a great time. It was wonderful to see the guests who usually kept to themselves out and about, crafting and having fun. The creations were beautiful, and we hung them around the dorm afterwards.
When I came back the next night for my overnight shift, one of the women approached me asking if we could do arts and crafts again that night. She said, “You know, Theresa, this is a really crappy situation we’re all in…but doing crafts last night was so much fun. It’s nice to forget about where I’m at for a little bit.” Hearing this in combination with seeing just how happy everyone was just a night before gave me a feeling of fullness that I haven’t felt in a long time. Seeing the joy in the guest’s faces filled me with an incredible happiness–knowing that I had a hand in facilitating this delight was an awesome feeling. But it’s not really about how I feel, is it? That’s just an added bonus, the icing on the cake brought about by the beautiful women I have the privilege to be with.
The feedback was positive. I hope to continue this group twice a month on a few of my nights off. We’ll craft for holidays, but I also have some ideas around gratitude, reflection, family, and connection. I am absolutely thrilled to see the progress this group makes over the course of my volunteer year.
If you’re interested in providing financial support to cover supply costs for our women’s groups, please email Theresa at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks!