August 15, 2013

Beyond Community-Building

posted by Swearer Center

Josette Souza '14 is a Impact Providence intern at Amos House.

When I decided to apply for the Impact Providence program, I wasn’t actually quite sure if I was ready. It’s not that I worried about whether or not I could do the job well; I knew I could.  What I was worried about was whether or not I was ready to enter into a community that closely resembled the one I grew up in—one that had allowed me to see the kinds of devastation that can happen when high unemployment rates, low quality education, and limited access to social services intersect. Growing up amidst poverty, substance abuse, and homeless is one thing. Being able to successfully work within a community struggling with these problems in such a way that the community actually benefits is another. I was not only afraid that I would freeze up because of something my aunt calls “survivor’s guilt”, but that I’d end up working for a non-profit that contributes as much to the problem as it attempts to solve.

The thing that most surprised me about my summer internship was not only that I was ready, but that I had unknowingly chosen the best possible organization for me to work for. Much to my relief, Amos House turned out to be the kind of place that truly lives its mission. Terms like “strength-based” and “community-building” can become empty if not lived in their entirety, but at Amos House these words extend beyond mission statements and into the everyday actions of each staff member.

I fell in love with the organization on my very first day when my boss explained to me what they meant by their “strength-based focus”. She said, “When one of our guests comes back to us after relapsing, we don’t ask ‘What went wrong?’ We ask, ‘What was going well last time and what can we do to help make that happen again?’” For me, this one statement holds within it the spirit of Amos House. They’re not in the business of mass-producing success stories. They’re in it for the long-haul and they give their all to every guest who walks through their doors, just as the guests are giving their all to change their own lives.

I’ve known my whole life that defeating homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and a lack of education is going to take a lot of struggle, but what I learned in my time at Amos House is that the journey towards building healthy, sustainable communities is also filled with joy, success, inspiration, and triumph. Each time I got to sit in on a group class where guests shared their stories of pain and of victory, I left feeling like the world was that much closer to becoming a place where change is possible for us all.

This summer has shown me that it is possible to do this kind of work and leave every day feeling good, not defeated and overwhelmed like I had thought, and that is the greatest gift any internship could have ever given me.

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