September is National Recovery Month and this year’s 25th anniversary theme is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Speak Up, Reach Out.” Schwanna Cockerham-Qualls leads individual and group therapy sessions, and offers a reflection on the National Recovery Month theme in relation to the experiences of women at Calvary.
By Schwanna Cockerham-Qualls, LPC, MA
“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” –William Ernest Henley
There is no easy way to give voice to yourself or your experiences. In order to speak up and reach out you have to first think that you can. Calvary Women’s Services provides a safe haven for women to begin to think they can. Through individual therapy, case management and group counseling services, Calvary educates and promotes speaking up and reaching out.
Women come to Calvary with multiple experiences of trauma, little or no family support, addiction, mental illness, unhealthy relationships, homelessness and low self-esteem. When an individual has been living in dysfunction, they become loyal to the dysfunction. They live and breathe it. Recovery becomes a challenge for those familiar with dysfunction. Groups and individual therapy help women learn how to take care of themselves so they can be present in recovery. In my work, I offer a safe place for women to lay out dysfunction and face it.
Through psycho-educational groups such as “Healthy Relationships,” “Understanding Mental Health Disorders” and “Relapse Prevention,” women find their voices. The psycho-educational groups are not just about offering information but helping women understand themselves on a deeper level. An example of this is through the “Healthy Relationships” group, where we focus on fear, attachment, control and entitlement that is brought into relationships. We also explore how we see ourselves in relationships, what we learned about relationships within our family, how we communicate to others and how to set boundaries.
These deeper levels of exploration help women talk about themselves. It is the stories we tell about our lives and our experiences that help us to reach out. At Calvary, women work to understand their stories, know their stories and voice their stories. In time, women become who they believe they are.
On Monday we welcomed health care professionals and volunteers for the Fall Health Fair, where women had the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about health issues that matter to them. Some of the topics discussed during the day included menopause, breast health, mental illness and colon health. The Fall Health Fair was organized by Calvary’s summer intern Sara Mullery.
Representatives from the Capital Breast Care Center located in Southeast DC started the Fair with a presentation on breast health, mammograms and the importance of doing regular self-exams. Students from the George Washington University School of Nursing followed up with a presentation on menopause. Women recognized some familiar volunteer faces from the first “Your Health” class at Calvary held earlier this month. Next, a speaker from the National Alliance on Mental Illness Northern Virginia, spoke candidly about her lifelong struggle with depression. She shared moments from her “dark days” as well as the diagnosis, treatment and coping techniques that allow her to manage her depression and still have a full life. Finally, women heard a myth-busting presentation about colon health given by Jessica, a program assistant from the Howard University Cancer Center.
Following a morning full of interactive and engaging presentations, residents enjoyed lunch and visited stations where they could have their blood pressure taken, get a relaxing massage, check their body mass index (BMI) and learn about sustainable farming practices that produce healthy fruits and vegetables.
The LEAP space bustled with activity as women visited different tables. Many women commented positively on the amount of information they picked up. It was hard for anyone to pick their favorite topic of the day! Conversations surrounding women’s health will continue as the weekly “Your Health” class focuses on subjects like diabetes and dental hygiene.
Thank you to all of the groups and individuals who contributed to the Fall Health Fair, including CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, the George Washington University School of Nursing, Howard University Cancer Center, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Northern Virginia, Common Good City Farm, the Capital Breast Care Center and massage therapist Kelly Bowers. Special thanks to CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield for generously donating reusable bags, lip balm, toothbrushes, hand sanitizer and pedometers.
View more photos from the Health Fair on our Flickr page.
Calvary Women’s Services had the opportunity last week to join the Theater Alliance for the world premiere of Spark, a play featuring strong female leads that delves into themes including recovery from trauma, poverty, strained relationships and healing. During the play’s September run, the Theater Alliance partnered with Operation Homefront, WAVE and Calvary Women’s Services, and engaged these nonprofit organizations in conversations on the themes that Spark explores.
On September 18, two Calvary volunteers joined Communications Associate Amanda Griesser at the Anacostia Playhouse for one of the performances. Following the show, they had an opportunity to talk with the actors and director about the story and its challenging themes. Audience members also had the opportunity to speak with Calvary volunteers during the intermission and learn more about ways they can get involved.
Spark focuses on a female veteran who struggles to re-adjust to home and family life in her small, rural hometown after active service. One aspect of the play that stood out was the main character’s hesitance to trust others – even members of her own family. Amanda says this reminded her of some of the experiences shared among women at Calvary and the process of re-building trust. Spark’s message of women taking care of each other through adversity also resonated with Amanda as she thought about the supportive relationships that are formed at Calvary.
The Theater Alliance’s mission is “to develop, produce, and present socially conscious, thought-provoking work that fully engages our community in active dialogue.” We thank the Theater Alliance for inviting Calvary to be part of this unique opportunity, and for advancing important discussions within our community!
Have you heard the news? Calvary launched the Step Up DC Job Placement Program this month! We also welcomed a new staff member, Robinson Cook, who will oversee Step Up DC as our first-ever Job Developer. Even though he has only been with us a few weeks, Robinson has already been making big strides as the program gets underway. He shared a little more about himself, including some goals for this exciting new program.
How did you hear about Calvary and what motivated you to work here?
I heard about Calvary through an announcement on a nonprofit jobs site. As I began to read and learn more about the organization, I became excited about the prospect of working here. What attracted me most about the position was that the entire organization had identified a gap in services and was committed to addressing the need. Having total organizational engagement and committed resources when taking an initiative from the idea phase to actual implementation is an exciting place to be in.
What have you enjoyed the most about your work so far?
I’ve enjoyed the daily interactions with residents. Because I work in close proximity with them, they often stop by my office to make small talk. It is through these daily, informal interactions that I am learning more about womens’ past lives and future ambitions. The welcoming atmosphere and energy from the entire staff has allowed me to find my space quickly within the organization.
Is there any upcoming project that you are especially excited about?
I am very excited about starting to have Calvary residents participate in Step Up DC. Soon we will begin taking a limited number of residents through the enrollment, employment planning and job placement process to test and refine our model.
What is one of your goals for Step Up DC?
My goal is for Step Up DC to be the preeminent resource for other organizations looking to implement a job placement and retention model for similar populations.
Share a fun fact about yourself!
I once served as the president of the Twin Cities Badminton Club and helped organize one of the largest annual competitive badminton tournaments that to this day still draws 100+ players from around the upper Midwest for two days of competition.
Good health sometimes starts with gaining knowledge and asking a lot of questions. A group of four enthusiastic volunteers from the George Washington University School of Nursing are helping women increase their health knowledge in the new “Your Health” class that started this week. Over the next several weeks, women will learn about topics including diabetes, menopause, dental hygiene, podiatry and breast care.
The first “Your Health” class offered women a lesson on anatomy. Nursing students pointed out various organs in the body and their vital functions. One woman who attended the class said she was surprised to learn the location of the gall bladder (under the liver), and said she plans on going to the class next week to pick up other interesting facts. She also spoke about the importance of drinking plenty of water to help regulate bodily functions.
Women are not just learning more about common diseases and how to better manage their personal health; they are also increasing their comfort level with asking questions that could be helpful during visits to the doctor’s office.
Classes on women’s health issues and wellness topics have always been a core component of the Life Skills, Education and Arts Program (LEAP). “Your Health” follows up on the popular “Ask a Nurse” class that was offered at Calvary on a monthly basis. Over the last year women have also been enjoying Nutrition Education Program classes that help guide them in making healthier decisions about what they eat.
Thank you to GWU School of Nursing students for teaching this week and helping women become more comfortable talking about their health!
One of the things that makes Calvary unique is the Life Skills, Education and Arts Program (LEAP), which happens every afternoon during the week. Women participate in classes that teach practical skills like how to put together a budget or computer basics. Other LEAP activities like meditation, writing or painting provide opportunities for internal reflection and expression. It’s also a time every day when women can socialize with one another and build friendships.
During a recent writing workshop, one resident reflected on her experiences at Calvary and positive outlook for her future. Her writing shows that there is always time and space to keep learning.
I enjoy art. Being able to learn how to knit, crochet, paint, and use beads causes me to interpret emotions that are deep inside. Engaging in art brings relaxation, peacefulness and contentment. These make me feel a sense of my individuality and wholeness.
I enjoy having the freedom to pursue my future. I’ve been meeting people and learning the importance of interacting and making friends for life. This way I’ll be there for others and they’ll be there for me throughout my life.
I enjoy being able to participate yet follow my own needs like everyone else does. This is why it’s important to respect others and mind my own business so we all have space to enjoy life in our own ways.
I’ll be moving into my own space soon. I’m very happy about that.
Grace Hansen started volunteering at Calvary in December 2013 and has logged an amazing 230 hours of volunteer service since then! She faithfully volunteers for overnight shifts almost every Monday night and has become a familiar face to staff and residents alike. Calvary staff note that “Grace is always on time, consistent and open to learning. She engages with the residents and takes initiative in a gentle way.” Thank you, Grace, for the energy and consistency that you bring to your overnight volunteer shifts. It is nearly impossible to imagine the last year of overnight coverage without you!
Where are you from?
I’m from Portsmouth, VA.
Share a fun fact about yourself!
Some of the residents already know this, but I’m a really good knitter! I’ve mastered hats and made a few sweaters. I’m learning to make clothes as well.
How are you involved at Calvary Women’s Services?
I’ve been an overnight volunteer for eight months now. I love coming to my shift at Calvary—everyone is so warm and welcoming.
How did you first hear about Calvary?
I just did a Google search for shelters in need of volunteers and Calvary popped up! I like that Calvary is specifically for women, and that it focuses on helping women regain economic independence instead of just providing them shelter for a night or two.
Why do you volunteer at Calvary?
When I moved to DC, I was struck by the degree of economic inequality that is visible in the District. Opportunities for financial security and stability are unfairly distributed in our community. I want to be part of the solution to this problem, so I spend some of my time at Calvary, where women are building a brighter future.
What do you like best about your work with Calvary?
Hanging out with the ladies in the evenings is my favorite part of a shift. Whether it’s watching Law & Order, playing Uno or just chatting, it’s always a relaxing, pleasant time.
What has been your most memorable experience at Calvary?
Overnights during all the snow days this past winter, with everyone crowding around the TV, seeing if the news station would announce a snow day, and whether we would be going to work or not!
What has surprised you most about volunteering at Calvary?
The sense of mutual support and community that you feel at Calvary is continually inspiring. Everyone is from different places and some of the residents have had difficult periods in life, but people treat each other with such gentleness and kindness.
What would you tell someone considering getting involved at Calvary?
I would tell them to do it and not let the commitment of an overnight shift deter you. With the help of a Calvary staff member, it’s no problem. You’ll have a great time!
If you had to choose one word to describe Calvary, what would it be?
Overnight volunteers like Grace support our staff and residents by supervising our programs from 9:00 pm until 7:00 am every night of the week. If you would like to learn more about volunteering at Calvary, please contact Catherine Bisson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 678-2341.