In GSV, the tenet of community is practiced and strengthened consistently. We talk about how we can support our community members and help each other through our tough jobs and the other sometimes-difficult aspects of GSV. Bonding amongst my community has come easily. We all get along and are able to communicate openly and have hashed out any issues with maturity and ease. However, I have found that community is harder and, for me, more important to build with the youth I work with and my coworkers.
While the community members I live with understand my GSV struggles and personal struggles, it’s hard to fully describe the extent of stress and strain my job brings. All of our jobs are very different and come with their own unique issues. Building community with my coworkers has been one of the most important things I have done for myself this year. They are the only ones who truly understand the difficulty of our work environment and I often find they have been through the same battles and have had the same concerns at some point. Throughout the day, I spend time connecting with my coworkers because in such an intense work environment, it’s hard not to feel linked in some distinct way. During our staff holiday party I was so happy to be able to spend time with all of my coworkers in a neutral setting; I felt like I really got to know them and strengthen the trust between us.
Building community with the residents at Rose House has been the most complicated. As a staff, I am automatically viewed as someone who’s against them—someone who is different. To state the obvious, I am white, from across the country, a much more affluent background, college educated with a supportive family, etc. Aside from all of those differences, I am supposed to relate and connect with these girls somehow. And I do. But it was not an easy journey to build community with them. Some of the girls I still have to try really hard to get to talk to me. Building community with my residents has required a lot of tough conversations about my privilege—a conversation that a few residents are unwilling to talk about with me and a few that bring it up in the first 10 minutes of meeting me. Despite the many challenges of my job, these conversations have pushed me and helped me to grow the most. The moments of discomfort bring the greatest growth.
Building community requires vulnerability, honesty, trust, and faith. One of my favorite books, Tattoos on the Heart, written by Father Greg Boyle, talks about the idea of kinship, which directly correlates to the work I do and the communities I am a part of. He writes, “kinship– not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not ‘a man for others’; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that.” I try to always ask myself how I can be with and for my various communities. It’s inevitable that people get burned through the process of establishing kinship/ community—a girl gets angry and throws a chair at me, our relationship is tarnished. If I fail to mail out a letter for them in a timely manner, our relationship is tarnished. But in a way, these things just seem to intensify our bond. If I can apologize and own up to my mistakes, my residents learn to do the same and issues can be quickly repaired. There’s very few things at this point that I think could destroy the community I’ve established at my job with my coworkers, residents, and roommates—and that’s the beauty of kinship: once it’s been built, it lasts.
Written by Anna Engstrom Non-Secure Placement Brooklyn Community, 16-17