The following is a reflection from CBF field personnel Lesley-Ann Hix Tommey, who serves alongside Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries in Hells Kitchen of New York City. You can learn more about her ministry and support her work at www.cbf.net/tommey.
There’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Since the beginning of September, I’ve been repeating that proverb a lot. It’s how I explain the essence of Living Well to prospective participants during their intake interviews.
Living Well is an NYC trauma-informed life skills empowerment program for women who have experienced both domestic violence and homelessness.
When we’re able to gather in-person, the group of about four or five women meets twice each week for 14 weeks, working through trauma education, life skills training, story-telling and goal setting. We sit down and share a meal together. We provide childcare and MetroCards. And we celebrate each person’s 14 weeks of growth, accomplishments, strength and healing with a graduation ceremony. During the intake appointments, I explain that this program isn’t easy—it’s a lot of work and can be frustrating—but if they stick with it, I can promise where they find themselves at the end is worth it. Healing isn’t possible, especially from the trauma of interpersonal violence, if we don’t have a community of support rallying around us, proving that we are not alone.
“Attendance is mandatory,” I tell them. “It’s mandatory because our healing is wrapped up in our community. My healing is dependent on you, and your healing is dependent on me. So, we have to keep showing up for each other.”
At some point this summer, it was clear that, due to Covid, we weren’t going to be able to hold a traditional Living Well group this fall. For a while, I thought about focusing just on our alumnae. An alumnae program would be easy because they already have their community established and it wouldn’t be a challenge for the communal support to translate virtually. But then I had honest conversations with one of our closest Living Well partners—Nurse Family Partnership—and one of the nurses really encouraged me to consider a virtual group with a new cohort of women. She said they had been surprised by the women who are engaging virtually with their programs—women who hadn’t regularly been very engaged. So, I asked our group facilitator, Monique, what she thought. And she reflected the same. In her work at Bellevue Hospital and Fordham University, they had had better attendance and engagement virtually. “It seems to be meeting a need for people,” she said.
I started making phone calls to all the women who had been referred to our program and had not yet joined the group. Over the past month, I’ve been steadily doing intake interviews with those women. Instead of four we had nine women who were eagerly waiting for group to start on October 6. I know that many are able to commit to the group now because travel is not an issue and timing with bedtimes is not an issue. I also know that we have nine women who know that they are not alone right now.
They need connection, even virtually. They know that the first few sessions will be hard because they don’t yet know anyone else in the group and because we’re just not sure what to expect in having the group over Zoom. But they all already know how to use Zoom. And they believe (and I know because they told me), that the connection and community will quickly rise to the surface and support them. They want to be a part of that giving and receiving of support because they know that it is only together that we can go far. They know their lives depend on it.
I have no idea what to expect in the long term. But I thank God for the opportunity to stand in this space and provide hope in the midst of isolation and grief. And I’m excited to see how God will show up with us.