In the beginning of my year serving as a Good Shepherd Volunteer, I served as a Youth Development Counselor (YDC) at 17th Street’s Marian Hall—a group home for girls and young women ages 14-21. YDCs are responsible for managing the environment in an effort to keep the peace, providing one-on-one counseling to the girls, assisting them in implementing their safety plan when they are in a crisis, in addition to a variety of other administrative tasks. Before moving to New York and becoming a GSV, I had just recently graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Human Rights Studies. While earning my degree, I studied many of the injustices and human rights violations young women face on a daily basis all over the world. One of the main reasons I decided to commit to a year of service was because I was eager to gain experience working with and learning from the stories of girls who have endured injustice right here in the U.S. During my time at Marian Hall, I got to learn of many of the struggles the girls faced—including former instances of abusive relationships, sex trafficking, incarceration, hunger, poverty, and other complex trauma. The process of learning about the girls’ struggles, but not being able to make a change on a larger scale made me anxious to pursue my career in law and/or politics.
Moreover, my experience serving at Marian Hall helped me to realize that my vocation is not in being a social worker, case manager, or counselor, but being an advocate for human rights and against the injustices many of the girls faced due to an extremely flawed system of support in the U.S.—especially for underserved communities of color. My experience showed me what my strengths and weaknesses were. In my position at Marian Hall, I supported the girls by listening to them and just loving them. However, I could not honestly or genuinely tell them I understood what they were going through or relate to their pain at all, so I intentionally decided it would be best for me to transition to a different placement, where I could utilize my skills to assist in creating systemic change. It was a really difficult decision because I had spent the last four months building a strong rapport with the girls. However, I made sure to let them know it had nothing to do with them and everything to do with myself and the way I felt called to serve. Thankfully, Good Shepherd Services’ Strategy, Evaluation, and Learning Department welcomed me in with open arms and I could not be happier with my current position. It has been such a supportive environment all around.
In my current position, I am assisting a group of executives in planning for the monthly Strategic Intra Agency Team (SIAT)—where program directors and supervisors from across the agency are invited to brainstorm effective ways to implement the goals and strategic directions (initially identified at the SOAR Summit in 2017). It has not been easy to prepare for these meetings, but it has been so rewarding to be part of this community-based (bottom-up) structure of learning. I love that Good Shepherd Services is taking steps to pursue this type of leadership model—where employees from programs have a voice in the decisions that are being made in executive board meetings.
In addition, I have assisted in the planning process for the Mentored Internship Program at Good Shepherd Services Main Office known as 7th Avenue. This program, made possible through a grant from the Pinkerton Foundation, pairs past or present GSS participants with mentor supervisors at 7th Avenue. Many of the interns are looking to gain experience in several different areas, such as administrative work, human resources, government and philanthropy, facilities management, strategic planning, etc. The program has been operating for the past month, and it has been amazing to see the interns grow in their placements in such a short time. A few of the interns I knew previously from serving at Marian Hall, which inspired and motivated me to work hard in making the internship a success. I had so much fun helping staff set up a “pop-up shop” for interns to pick out professional clothing.
Recently, the intern, whom I help supervise in collaboration with my supervisor, and I took a trip to Brooklyn for a task force meeting on ending the incarceration of girls in NYC, which was hosted by the Vera Institute of Justice. Before the meeting, we stopped and got coffee together. It was a really great bonding experience in addition to being one of the most inspiring meetings I have attended this year. The room was filled with attorneys, executives, program directors, researchers, and social workers from many different sectors. However, the intern felt confident enough to raise her hand and comment on how she could relate to what the speaker was talking about. I was so proud of her. It is one of those memories I will keep close to my heart, because it motivates me to be brave and speak my truth even if I’m a nervous wreck and my voice shakes. It is people like her that keep me going in my everyday work—they uplift my spirit with their smile and passion for justice in the world.
Lastly, one of my favorite memories this year, as a GSV, was our retreat in Wickatunk, NJ. I loved getting a tour of Collier and learning more about the amazing work that the sisters and my fellow GSVs get to do every day. It was such a relaxing retreat away from the busyness of everyday life in the city. The sisters’ home is beautiful. I had the opportunity to take a step back to just be. And just love. Another favorite memory was visiting the sisters in Maspeth. The sisters were so welcoming and kind. We led a prayer service with the sisters involving a prayer chain. My prayer partner, Sr. Eileen O’Carroll, suggested that I put our prayer chain on the altar in their chapel. Afterwards, we had dessert and shared stories. Every time I am invited for dinner with the sisters, I am reminded of why I wanted to join GSV—to just love. To take this year to offer my kindness and warmth to those around me. Luckily, I have had the opportunity to do so every day since I have been serving here in New York—whether it was with the girls and staff at 17th Street or with the interns and staff at 7th Avenue. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such amazing, loving people. Written by, Christine Driscoll
Strategy, Evaluation & Learning Good Shepherd Services
Washington Heights Community '17-'18