Friday, August 27, 2010

The who of abuse

It's been quite a week; over the past 4 days I have logged quite a few hours in training and observation at the YWCA's House of Peace shelter, with several more shadow shifts to go until I am completely on my own. I'm still learning all of the policies and procedures in place at the shelter, and I am hopeful that I'll get it all down.

There were a couple of things that I picked up right away:

1) Domestic violence affects women from a variety of backgrounds. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, age, socio-economic status, disability, or any other factor. However, as I learned in training, we tend to see more women from low-income backgrounds come into shelter. It isn't that poorer women are abused more--it's just that shelters tend to be a more common solution for this group. Wealthier women may have more connections or resources in place, allowing them to stay with friends, in hotels, or to travel out of the area. Again, this is a generalization, not a hard and fast rule. Abuse is all about power and control, and abusers frequently exercise control over every aspect of a woman's life, no matter what their income. From visits with her family, to outings with friends, and even limiting employment, an abuser can ultimately isolate her from the outside world, thus cutting off those resources. Women from high-income backgrounds may come through our door because it is their only safe option--it's the only path left to escape their abusers.

2) Domestic violence is a big problem for women. You might be saying: "Yes, Kaitlyn, it is. *pat on the head* Good girl, here's a cookie." But I don't think we realize how BIG of a problem domestic violence is in this country. Based on a survey conducted by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. And every year in this country, more than 1000 women are killed by their partners or husbands. That's four women every day dying at the hands of their abusers.

Despite knowing how prevalent domestic violence is in our society and working in a domestic violence shelter, I still find myself surprised when we have a new resident or the hotline rings with a woman needing help with leaving her abuser. I guess it's just hard to stomach the fact that millions of women (and their children) are in danger every day.

I continue to find correlations between my work with the Butler County Rape Crisis Program and my work with the YWCA. Sexual assault and domestic violence are close cousins, as one can be categorized as the other. Remember, a majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the woman, like a boyfriend or even a husband. In these types of relationships, rape is domestic violence, as it is used to take power and control away from the victim. Similarly, topics of domestic violence and sexual assault are clouded with all sorts of myths and misconceptions, usually wrongly blaming the victim for the abuse. In the coming weeks and months I will explore more of those issues and debunk the myths--someone's got to!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Last day, first day

So there are a few reasonably-sized changes in my life that you all should know about.

First, I quit my receptionist job at the property management company. Friday was my last day, and yes, I only had the job for two and a half weeks. Having a paycheck was great, but I missed having a more hands-on role in an organization; I missed making a measurable difference in people's lives. And turns out there were some organizational things I just couldn't adjust to (and yes, that statement is left intentionally vague).

Also as it turns out, I had a new position waiting for me at the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati. After an extensive interview and background check process, I finally got the call last week that I had been cleared for employment as an on-call shelter advocate.

So what does that mean?

Well, it means I am the back-up person for the part- and full-timers at one of YWCA's domestic violence shelter. When someone is sick, goes on vacation, or there is just a gap in coverage, they call me to fill the slot. While it won't offer consistent hours, it does allow me to keep a flexible schedule that will allow me to go full time to grad school, which is, of course, my number one priority.

Today was my first day, so I am still getting a feel for the position. So far, though, I have learned that I will be answering crisis calls on the hotline, giving referrals for community resources, performing intake procedures for new clients coming into the shelter, monitoring the facility, and resolving conflicts among the residents. It's a lot to learn and manage, but I am confident that my experience with the Butler County Rape Crisis Program (along with my AmeriCorps experience) has laid the foundation for this position.

It probably goes without saying, but with this position comes a lot of confidentiality. I won't be able to share much about my shifts at the shelter, but I hope to shed some more light on abuse and violence in general. These are topics that most people tend to shy away from, yet affect millions of people every year.

So there you have it--I'll be making social change this fall by going to graduate school and working for the YWCA. And putting in a few hours a week in work study at a different non-profit. And volunteering for Butler County Rape Crisis.

No big thing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Happy school year!

I am pleased to announce the final results of the Butler County School Supply Coalition. Even though my AmeriCorps term ended in June, the supplies weren't distributed until about a week ago. Krupa worked diligently to make arrangements for distribution, and it sounds like everything went off without a hitch. Had I not been hired a week and a half ago at my part-time job, I would have loved to see the tangible results of my hard work.

Still, the numbers are rewarding in themselves. The final tally put us at 8569 kits, a 71% increase from last year's efforts. Through donations from community foundations, service clubs, individual donors, faith-based organizations, and the county commissioners, we raised more than $47,600 for school supplies.

I'm really proud of this initiative. It feels really great to know that because of my hard work and dedication, more than 8500 kids are going to start the school year with the supplies they need to succeed. Happy school year!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The value of volunteering

I was reading "Get Rich Slowly," one of my favorite personal finance blogs, and the guest post today really caught my eye. It's titled: "Reader Story: I Quit My Job and Joined the Peace Corps." In the article, the author discusses the sacrifices he made to spend two years abroad in service, which were significantly outweighed by the benefits he gained during that time.

While I didn't necessarily quit my job to join the AmeriCorps national service program, I did make sacrifices in income and time to serve others (just ask my husband). Still, I wouldn't trade that year for anything, and I am grateful to have had such a powerful, life-changing experience at such a relatively young age. My perspective on the world is forever changed--I learned the difference between want and need, and the importance of empathy.

I strongly believe that every American should devote some of their life to service. Whether that service is overseas in the Peace Corps, here at home in AmeriCorps or Teach for America, or in your local neighborhood once or twice a month, the more you invest of yourself in service, the greater return you'll receive. Not only will you be making the world a better place, but you will shape yourself into the type of person you want to be.

There are hundreds of opportunities right where you live to make a difference. Find something you enjoy, something you are passionate about, and get out there and do it! You will be happy you did.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What it's worth

I came across a pretty interesting article today on a friend's facebook page that I thought I'd pass along. It's titled "Five 'Impractical' College Majors That Just Might Make You Rich," and originally appeared on a Daily Finance section of AOL. As the title suggests, it talks about college degree programs that many believe will lead to a life of limited job opportunities and general failure. But as this author suggests, that's just not true! At least, it doesn't have to be.

When I tell people that I am entering a career in social work, I get a range of reactions, most involving crinkling the nose and skeptical eye brow raises. "Not much of a living," they say.

Aside from being completely rude, those kinds of statements may just be inaccurate. Yep--check out the top of the list of majors: social work! In fact, here is the segment specifically on the subject:

Social work is all about communication -- and the study of the dynamics of human relationships and how to improve people's lives in the context of themselves and their communities. I would argue that this background in understanding relationships is a big part of what helped Suze Orman reach millions of people in ways that more conventional finance-major-turned-financial-planner types couldn't.

  • Social Work Major Who Struck it Rich: Suze Orman, financial advisor, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author and host of The Suze Orman Show on CNBC.

See full article from DailyFinance:

So yeah, maybe social workers aren't known for rolling in the dough, but it doesn't mean the skills I learn in social work are worthless! The general skills, the soft skills if you will, that the programs develop can't always be taught. You can teach people how to process paperwork, but you can't teach people to empathize with their clients. And that sense of empathy is a valuable asset in any work environment.

I guess what it all comes down to is that you can make the most of any situation, of any knowledge or educational background as long as you don't limit yourself or put your career into a box. So don't listen to the naysayers who scoff at English majors and tsk drama students. If you're smart, resourceful, and a little lucky, you can be happy and successful in your career, even when everyone tells you it's impossible. I hope to be living proof of this very notion!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Making social change

I came across this article on the Cincinnati Enquirer's website that I thought I would pass along. It's about a group of teenagers from Mason who "panhandled for panhandlers" at Fountain Square today. Their mission was to raise awareness about homelessness in Cincinnati, where government officials have proposed legislation to ban panhandling and even withhold funding from shelters that house panhandlers.

Being from a pretty small town, I never had much experience with panhandlers growing up, though in hindsight I am sure there were many homeless families residing in my hometown. My first real memory of panhandlers was during a junior high school trip to Washington, D.C. Before we left, our teachers held an assembly to go over the itinerary for the trip and to lay out some basic ground rules. Rule #1? Don't give anything to panhandlers. Our teachers told us that all panhandlers were out to scam us and they would probably even hurt us if we looked at them or got too close. From that time on, I learned to fear people who were homeless. I learned to fear people who were different from me; I learned to fear the unknown.

I think that's one of the biggest reasons for inaction in this country. People are afraid of what they do not know. Sure, no one wants kids to go hungry or for a veteran to have to sleep under a pile of blankets in the park. But these problems seem too big and scary to actually do something about them.

Maybe that's why I was so struck by this article. Here is this group of teenagers from an affluent part of Southwest Ohio who saw a problem and decided to do something. Instead of saying, "Someone should do something about this," they decided that they are 'someone' and they can make a difference. The city of Cincinnati continues to foster a hostile climate towards people who are homeless, and many people either don't know or don't care enough to speak out against it. These teenagers recognized that once you know something, you can't 'un-know' it, and they set out to spread the word to anyone who would listen. They took a step to raise awareness about an ongoing issue in Cincinnati to people who typically have the privilege of not paying attention.

This group is taking action and making social change, all before their 20th birthdays. Rock on, young people. This is what it's all about.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The new girl

The unthinkable has happened. A Wessels went to work today, and it wasn't Taylor.

That's right--I have a job!

I interviewed for an Office Assistant position with a local property management firm on Tuesday at 10 a.m. Forty-five minutes later I was filling out payroll paperwork, and less than 24 hours after that I was fielding calls and navigating my computer screen like a pro. Yep, today was my first day.

I can't honestly say I set out five years ago to become a receptionist. With a Bachelor of Science degree and a year in national service under my belt, I would have preferred something with a little more influence, and a little more pay. But jobs are scarce, especially when you require more flexibility than the average bear to go back to school. So I'm grateful for the opportunity to work, gain more experience, and contribute financially to our household.

I probably won't blog much about my job, but what I will tell you is that the company has about five employees (six now with me!) and is located about as many minutes away from my house. They manage rental properties and help people get into affordable housing. According to the president of the company, about 60% of their tenants receive some kind of housing subsidy, such as Section 8. I'm still learning about this program, but one thing that took very little time to learn is how important each and every one of the tenants is to the company, no matter how much they personally pay in rent. The property managers know every tenant by name and they pride themselves on providing responsive, quality customer service. This service-minded perspective makes me feel right at home, even outside of the non-profit sector.

I look forward to many more days at my new job. I look forward to having a purpose everyday, to helping people find good housing. And I look forward to having a paycheck again--weekend renovation projects, here I come!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fixer Upper-ing

Just over two months ago, Taylor and I purchased our first home in Cincinnati. It was a short sale home, making the entire complicated transaction span more than four months. We closed with two days left before our apartment lease was up; we signed the papers and moved in the next day.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, we've been taking on some minor home decorating projects. Before Taylor accepted his new position in the ER we did a lot of this stuff together. But now that he is working overtime at all hours of the day, I've started to venture out on my own into the world of home renovation. Without a regular job to go to, I've decided I can contribute to our household by pumping time and energy into our place.

Some of the projects I'd like to do take money, so I've been careful not to go too crazy in spending Taylor's paycheck before he brings it home. But mostly I've been putting in a little elbow grease for the biggest payout.

Here's a picture of a recent re-furb I completed on a built-in dresser in our bedroom:

Before I refinished it, the dresser was painted ivory with antique bronze handles (note to self: take a 'before' picture next time!). It had a cool vintage look but wasn't really what we were going for. Originally we had pushed our bed against that wall to cover it up, but one day I decided to switch up the furniture in the room, exposing the built-in dresser, which prompted a total renovation! I dismantled the drawers and handles, sanded them down, and applied a few coats of paint. Then I found some new drawer pulls and attached those, as well. And voila! The dresser has new life, all for less than $20.

I imagine quite a few young people are in my shoes right now. With the recent tax credit for first time home-buyers, many people snatched up older foreclosed and short sale homes on the cheap, knowing that they were in for a long road of renovations. With good jobs scarce, many people have all the time in the world to do this work themselves instead of contracting it out (which probably partially contributes to the job shortage in general labor). For my fellow DIYers out there, check out this blog for more practical, affordable tips for any project you are ready to tackle. It's one of my new favorites, and you can link to it directly from my "fave blog list" on the right of my page.

When I was younger, my dad was laid off from quite a few factory jobs as companies bought and sold the plants where he worked. And every time he was between jobs, a new project in our house would get done, like refinishing the hardwood floors or stripping wallpaper or working on an old car. I think this is a pretty common experience for people looking for work--there is plenty of work to be found right where you live and somebody's got to do it! It doesn't pay too great now, but it keeps me busy and it keeps my morale up. At the end of the day I have something tangible that I have contributed to our house, which is important to me.

I'll post more pictures--hopefully of the 'before' and 'after' variety next time--as I get more work done. If you'll excuse me, I need to go clock in!

Monday, August 2, 2010

R & R

This past weekend Taylor and I journeyed down South for a wonderful Wessels Weekend at Pickwick Lake, TN. Taylor's aunt and uncle own a fantastic house on the lake that has served as a family hang-out for many years, but this was my first trip down. We left on Friday morning after Taylor worked all night in the ER, and returned home Sunday evening. The 8+ hour drive was well worth the days of sunshine, water, good Southern cooking, and family that followed.

We are very lucky to have had the opportunity to make the trip at all. Because I'm still unemployed, my schedule was wide open, and with Taylor's new supervisory scribe position, he was able to tweak the schedule to accommodate our travel plans. And this weekend getaway couldn't have come at a better time. Taylor has been working days upon days of overtime lately, and we haven't had much time together. This trip gave us a chance to reconnect not only with extended family, but with each other as well. On the way home I was reflecting on the importance of continuing to take time out for ourselves even after the vacation ends.

I wanted to share a few pictures with you. Check them out below:

The lakehouse came complete with a dock, sea doo, and a golf cart to shuttle us up and down the steep hill to the house.

One of the rocking chairs on the wrap-around porch. Great views made this one of the best seats in the house.

One of the beautiful flowering crepe myrtles surrounding the house.

I realize that not everyone has the time, money, or circumstances for a weekend vacation to a beautiful lakeside property. But I hope that you can at least make a little time to recharge your batteries. You don't have to go far away to reap the benefits of a little time to yourself--it might mean an afternoon at a local park, a few hours in the garden, or even just a few minutes in a quiet corner of your house to read or meditate.

My year in service as a VISTA exposed me to many over-worked, overwhelmed, exhausted social workers. In less than two months I'll be starting my MSW program and soon I'll be joining this group of workaholics. I'll have to keep this blog post handy to make sure I can maintain a good balance between work and play.

In the mean time, we're still working on Taylor. Poor guy.