My name is Sarah Karerat and I’m spending this summer working at WomenSafe, an organization in Addison County that works towards the elimination of domestic and sexual violence. WomenSafe’s services include a 24-hour hotline, direct advocacy services, outreach to underserved communities, support groups, supervised visitation for parents, and community education. I primarily work as a direct service advocate. This advocacy consists of providing survivors with whatever kind of support they may need, or directing them to whoever can. Thus, sometimes my advocacy works consists of simply picking up the phone and lending an ear, but it can also involve providing emotional support during relief from Abuse hearings at the courthouse, or facilitating survivors’ entry into an emergency housing program to enable them to flee their abusive partner. The key word here is certainly ‘support’, though I’ve learned that a fundamental part of this job is knowing that we are not here to help survivors, but rather, to enable them to help themselves. After all, it is their strength that has carried them thus far and that will continue to. This has been an incredibly valuable lesson that solidified itself for me at WomenSafe, and is something that I will hold with me throughout my future work in any communities.
As for now, I am glad that the bubble of Middlebury College has popped in my life; it has been incredibly informative and humbling to learn about the realities of poverty in Addison County. I spent half of my childhood living in large cities in India where a significant population lives in poverty, but this summer has shown me that poverty takes on many different personalities. I have started to understand poverty as it manifests itself in Vermont, and the community response to it in this area. My training and subsequent experiential learning at WomenSafe has also vastly increased my understanding of the intricacies of trauma and violence. Despite telling myself to separate my work and my personal life, with work like this, I feel that I have experienced a fundamental shift in perspective that influences all aspects of my life. The way that I view my own behavior, my interactions with others, and relationships and interactions around me has changed. In fact, it would probably be most accurate to say that my perspective has grown; I feel that it will constantly change, hopefully for the better!
Of course, WomenSafe is a nonprofit organization, and I’ve learned from my time spent on meticulous data entry that there are many hoops to jump through in order to do anything community-related. Luckily, among the stress of this all, WomenSafe is an incredibly supportive workplace where self-care is key. The empathy that I see as so essential to my advocacy work is ever-present among colleagues too.
Needless to say, I feel blessed to have this opportunity to learn at an organization like WomenSafe and to have the privilege of witnessing the strength of individuals across Addison County. I look forward to these last few weeks as an intern and volunteering thereafter.
Jonah Heiser ’17 writes on his experience as an Addison County Shepherd Intern at John Graham Housing & Services.
This summer I am interning at the John Graham Housing and Services Shelter which serves the homeless population in Addison county by providing emergency shelter, food, affordable transitional housing, case management, counseling, and hope. The experiences I have had at the shelter thus far have exceeded all expectations I held coming into the summer. Each day brings new tasks and new challenges. I may spend one day moving furniture into an apartment and the next day playing games with kids at the shelter or bringing a family to the doctor’s office. While the work is incredibly varied from day to day, I take great comfort in knowing that each task I do benefits a resident in the shelter. Scrubbing a kitchen clean for five hours is not always the most fun job to do, but knowing that a woman will get to move into her own new, clean apartment because of that laborious work makes every second of cleaning worthwhile. Still, the most meaningful times at the shelter for me have come in the quiet moments. I have come to realize that giving someone a kind smile, an ear to listen, or a bit of hope in any way needed can often be more powerful than giving that person a piece of furniture, meal, or a sum of money. I have made some exceptionally deep relationships with certain residents of the shelter and find myself caring so much for them both at the shelter and at home after a long day of work, as this is not the kind of work that stops the minute my shift is over. I carry these people’s stories with me throughout the day and often find myself reflecting back on my own experiences, thankful for every bit of privilege I have had throughout my life and equally thankful for every challenge, trial, or difficult time that I have faced, for it is those hard memories that have driven me to this work and motivated every act of compassion offered. I am truly humbled by the knowledge that I am a part of this mission to change the lives of those we seek to help. It has been such a blessing to work at the Shelter this summer.