Wednesday, February 22, 2017

An Oasis Within the Chaos

By Kassandra Villarreal, Good Shepherd Volunteers

Kassandra and fellow Good Shepherd Volunteer Allie exploring Los Angeles
It’s so great to be back at the Good Shepherd Shelter after the 3-week long holiday vacation. Although it’s been a cold and rainy start to 2017 here in Los Angeles, that only means that we are slowly but surely exiting our 5-year long drought! The rain has never been my favorite thing but I definitely appreciate it at the moment.

I’m about halfway finished with my year of service through Good Shepherd Volunteers at the Good Shepherd Shelter in Los Angeles and I honestly cannot believe how the weeks fly by when you love what you do! The Good Shepherd Shelter is a year-long residential shelter where women with children who are fleeing domestic violence get the chance to physically, spiritually and mentally heal. The shelter has a trauma-informed on-site school for children ages 0-10 and a Learning Center where the mothers receive yoga, cardio, nutrition, parenting, ESL, GED, advanced career prep, typing, math, life skills, DV therapy, and art therapy classes.  I have several different roles at the shelter: I am a toddler classroom teacher with Ms. Sally, I teach ESL, math, typing, life skills to the mothers in addition to translation in the Learning Center with Ms. Lara, I coordinate the afternoon homework club for the children with Ms. Allie (my fellow GSV-er) and lastly, every Thursday I work with DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team) as an advocate at the LAPD West LA division station.

Although at times it can be a bit demanding, I love that I get to work with everyone who we serve at the shelter! The toddlers at the shelter are the cutest and so incredibly bright. At the moment, Ms. Sally and I are pushing them to learn their colors and letters. We have one toddler who we believe is ready to move on to T-K at the school, so that should happen in the next month or so. Another one of our toddlers is almost ready but her mother is still not 100% on board so we are going to have to work on getting her on board because her child is almost ready for the next step. The rest of the little ones have some time to go but they are such a joy to teach. They are guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face!

From the Toddlers’ classroom, I go to the mothers’ classroom in the Learning Center with Ms. Lara who is the Learning Center Coordinator. I started off my year of service in the Learning Center doing something I had never done professionally before; translating for a Codependency class with a therapist. Every Wednesday for about 10 weeks, I would translate this important topic in domestic violence for the mothers. Although it wasn’t an easy task, I am so happy I did it because I have gained so much from it. I got to learn about a different area of domestic violence that I had not learned about before and on top of that, I got to learn a lot about our mothers’ individual DV stories. The women at the Good Shepherd Shelter are such incredible women and I look up to them in terms of strength and resilience. Many of them have experienced homelessness, violence or verbal abuse because of the DV and somehow still had the strength to get up from that and ask for help. Although translating for the Codependency class was probably one of the harder things I’ve done mentally, it was so rewarding for me to understand where our women were coming from.

Another task I have in the Learning Center is to teach basic beginning ESL to some our Spanish-speaking mothers. I currently have two students; one is at the beginner level and the other is in between beginner and intermediate. This semester Ms. Lara and I thought it would be a great idea to start them both on the Rosetta Stone program for English, and so far, it has been going super well. I have been helping them a bit with it, and so far it looks like they have learned a lot through my ESL class which is so exciting! One of my ESL mothers/students, who is at the beginner’s level, said she was on the bus with her sons one day and could understand that they were conspiring to throw trash out of the bus’s window. When she told her sons not to do that, they were so surprised that she could understand them. She was so proud of herself and when she told me I was so proud of her too! It’s the simple stories that put a smile on my face and reassure me that what I am doing is worth it.

In addition to the ESL class I teach, on Fridays Ms. Lara and I teach computers/typing and math to the mothers. I consider this as more of a relaxed day for the moms because we touch up on a lot of skills that the moms really have fun with. In the computers segment, they are currently working on the Mavis Beacon typing program where they learn to correctly and quickly type. Even though some of the mothers came in with no typing/computer background, they have made so much progress from when they first started. In the math segment, we review some basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals, fractions, and percentages. The math is great for the mothers because not only is it a way in which we can teach and support them in helping their children with homework but also a great job skill to have. The mothers really enjoy this time and many of them have said that it is therapeutic and helps with their healing process. Since Fridays are more relaxed, we end the day with some fun games with the mothers. Two Fridays ago, we decided to play kickball outside on the lawn and rather than have teams, Ms. Lara and I decided to just have us all rotate from position to position. It turned out to be a great idea because rather than worry about the score, the mothers just had fun playing outside in the beautiful post-rain sunny weather.

So far, my experience as a Good Shepherd Volunteer at the Good Shepherd Shelter has been sublime. I never have the exact words to describe how amazing this place is and how much I love what I do, but what I can say is that this place is an oasis within the chaos. Not only is it an oasis in terms of how it’s hidden within the chaos of the city of Los Angeles, but also because of the meaning it has for the families we serve. For our mothers and their children, the Good Shepherd shelter is their home and refuge. Although the mothers arrive at the Good Shepherd Shelter from domestic violence experiences that have stripped them of who they are, once they finish the program they leave as empowered confident women ready to pursue independent life with their children. I am honored to be part of such a remarkable and empowering program.

Just love,
Kassandra Villarreal
Good Shepherd Shelter
Los Angeles Community 16-17

This blog originally appeared on the Good Shepherd Volunteers blog, and is reposted here with permission.

To find out more about Good Shepherd Volunteers, please visit their website by clicking here.