A Safe and Welcoming Place
by Ellen Nieman, Loretto Volunteer
Ellen is currently serving as a Loretto Volunteer at Bethany Women’s Center in N Street Village, a day shelter for women experiencing homelessness in Washington, DC.
We are N Street Village.
We are a community of respect, recovery and hope.
We create a safe and welcoming place with our words and our actions.
We expect kindness and we value honesty and diversity.
-N Street Village Statement of Culture and Community
We say this statement every morning at N Street, squeezed in between a blessing offered by someone in the community and the Serenity Prayer. It is just a brief moment of calm after the chaos which the lock removed from the door brings and before the rush of breakfast, but it is a powerful moment of unity. These words, led by the most powerful voices and filled in by the rest with a musical lilt, ring through the small space of Bethany Women's Center and I wonder what they mean to the women sitting, waiting, and repeating these words for yet another day.
Some of the ladies enter slightly wrinkled from a night riding buses to stay warm and off their feet, some come straight from the street or emergency shelters. Others from our night shelter across the street and our recovery housing come preparing for a day of check-ins, AA/NA meetings, case management, activities, chores, the list continues. But no matter the crisis of the moment or the preoccupations of the mind, every morning it is the same shuffle to move tables and chairs to their usual positions, requests for soap and towels to wash and get warm, inquiries into the breakfast menu, and a multitude of other movements, conversations, greetings, hugs, plans, laughter, and hurts. But once breakfast is ready and most have found a seat, everything pauses for a moment and through a blessing and this statement we go back to remember why we are there, what we are doing and how we are doing it. That pause is brief but full.
Once this morning ritual is complete, we return to the buzz of a new day. Working together to build something new, each woman for herself and in support of the other women in the room.
My days at Bethany Women’s Center are very full. I spend my time preparing for meals, helping women get acquainted with the services at N Street Village, helping to meet clients’ basic needs, keeping the day center running efficiently, and socializing with the women who enter the center. Facing a population which deals with the difficulty of homelessness, addiction, and mental illness is overwhelming at times, but also enriching and rewarding. I am grateful for the learning, creativity and growth which this community has allowed me to express and experience. My days are blessed with the routines of running the center and the unique gifts and spirit of each woman who passes through.
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In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.