Friday, September 16, 2011

At a women’s homeless shelter, learning how to feel again

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The common room at our Harriet Tubman Emergency Women’s Shelter was erupting with “amens!” last Tuesday during a Feelings Workshop hosted by One Sister to Another Outreach, Inc.

Denise Burns, founder and executive director of One Sister to Another (OSTA for short), leads these bimonthly workshops to help her sisters at the shelter release any emotional baggage they may be carrying—like feelings of anger, frustration, abandonment, or hopelessness. 

These emotions, she feels, get in the way of the women moving on from the shelter to the next phase of their lives. Once grappling with problems similar to those of some of the shelter’s clients, Denise now donates her time and talents to improve the lives of women in distress.Tuesday’s workshop, themed Let Go and Let God!, had lots of lively interaction. 

After opening prayer and song, Denise turned the group’s attention to Exodus 14, where Moses and the Israelites faced the Red Sea with the Egyptians hot in pursuit. “Moses panicked!” Denise said. 

“But God told him, ‘Don’t worry about the army! I got the army under control! You need to have faith and step forward!’”

Clients at the shelter then discussed how they can take a step forward in their own lives. Some pledged to research jobs the following day, others to contact people regarding permanent housing situations, still others to reach out to family or friends with whom they’ve had a falling-out.

That type of encouragement and positive thinking is what draws so many of the women who regularly stay at the shelter to attend OSTA’s Feelings Workshops. One client, Darlene Francis, said she always feels good after the workshops “because there has been an exchange of positive energy and positive information we could use.” Lillian Clark, another client, agreed. “The workshops always put positive into my life, and hope and wisdom. I enjoy them very much.”

Dianna Monitor said the workshops have guided her life’s journey. “When I first came to Harriet Tubman, I was in bad shape physically and mentally. It’s helped me spiritually find where I needed to go and think things through.”

With Oprah-like charisma, Denise applauded the initiatives the women were willing to take to enact change in their lives. She encouraged them to repeat these mantras: “I’m not stuck unless I want to be stuck!” “I’m in my now moment!” “God is more than able—he will!” The noise in the room rose about 10 decibels. The spirit level? Off the charts.
All too often, the women at Harriett Tubman feel invisible and marginalized. The opportunity to simply be treated as an equal can have a very powerful positive effect on their self-confidence.

This empowerment is exactly what Denise is after.Recognizing the women’s physical needs as well as their spiritual and emotional ones, the OSTA members brought along two delicious-looking cakes, colorful gift bags filled with toiletries, and several bins of gently-used clothing for the women at the shelter.

The Harriet Tubman Emergency Women’s Shelter offers showers, toiletries, a hot meal, and beds to 100 women each night, almost always reaching its maximum capacity. Your church or parish or workplace group can make a difference – be creative! Other organizations sponsor clothing drives, or offer to donate a meal.
Want to help? Find out how to get involved: http://www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/harriettubman. You can also learn more about One Sister to Another here.