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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Like a Mighty Tree*: When Women Found Themselves

It looked like a promising Monday. However I didn’t know what I would encounter because a regular Monday for me was a challenging day since I started volunteering at the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association).  It was 9 in the morning when I got to the place and found out that one of the crisis desk specialists was sick, so I would have to be by myself at the client desk, attending crisis calls and client’s needs such as giving medication or unlocking the doors. As usual, someone would come to me to yell and blame me because I wasn’t quick enough to sign her out so she missed the bus. “Come on. You could have come earlier!” I would think to myself as I smiled at her, because my duty was not to lecture any of the women in the center, my job was to accompany them in their healing process and provide services that they might need.

Early on, I learned that the mission of that shelter was empowering women through women and every single thing I did was part of a network whose purpose was helping women overcoming domestic violence, addictions, mental illnesses or homelessness. YWCA is a place “dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all”.  My assignment at this place was part of a formation program I went through in Notre Dame, IN so it wasn’t a random choice. I had previously stated to the director which kind of ministry I wanted to do and I thought since I’d pursue social work in my future it would be good to have an experience in that field. So here I was, trying to attend clients the best I could, telling myself that their overreactions were just an expression of the hell they had been through.

Picture of woman with bruise around eye and tape over mouth with "Abuse" written on itFor a while things calmed a bit and I could enjoy a quiet moment before the police brought in a woman. During the intake interview she told me it was the third time her husband tried to kill her and a neighbor called the police. She said she suffered verbal, psychological and physical abuse. She looked in total distress and was staring at the floor the whole time but suddenly she hunched over and told me: “He wanted to kill me! He put a gun on my temple! He told me I deserved to die. Why? I have loved him so much and I have done everything he wanted!” I reassured her she would be safe in the shelter and she would get the help she needed.

This woman caught my attention because I followed her progress. She stayed in the shelter for six months and what happened during that time was something amazing to me. It may sound corny but her healing process was like a caterpillar when it turns into a butterfly. Some days she was depressed, like nothing mattered to her, no makeup, no nail polish, no heels, just shabby looking. Other days she was aggressive and she would argue about everything. She would say she didn’t like the food, she didn’t get the shampoo she wanted, she didn’t like the chore she had, the world was against her and she had to defend herself.  When in a good mood she was very nice. She was polite, smiling and patient to wait for her turn to get the services she needed. With the help of a social worker, she received counseling. She got a job and later on she got a little house. I remember the day she left. She was dressed as if going to a party, smiling and grateful for what we did for her. The mission of the shelter was accomplished: she was empowered. It was a big deal for her to go out and face the world by herself. Now she had the means to do so. She took her few belongings, said goodbye to the friends she made there and walked out to live a better life. I’m sure, she realized she wasn’t alone. She knew she could come back to the shelter for help and now she had some friends: women who encountered the same situation like her.

Although the women I encountered there were victims of social injustices, discrimination and violence, they were not the only ones suffering. Some had children who came along with them. The shelter offered daycare and I used to help babysit at times during the day. One day a four month old little baby girl was brought to my attention. She was crying all the time. We gave her food, changed diapers, held her, and nothing worked. We thought she had an allergy because her face and body were red, until a nurse saw her and he said: “It’s incredible, how come this baby still has the placenta stuck on her body? Who is the mother?” The little baby was bathed and cleaned carefully until the entire placenta was off of her body. Once we finished it was like the baby relaxed and stopped crying.

After some time I got used to these kind of experiences. Just when I thought I had seen everything, I had to conduct an eviction and that was one of the hardest things to do. First of all, I had no idea about the procedure so I had to learn in a second what to do. My supervisor told me, “Laura, we are running out of personnel and this person needs to be evicted immediately, so you go and escort her because she cannot be alone. She needs to pick her things up and once she is in the lounge room with all her belongings, you come for her medication and fill out the eviction paperwork”. And I did so. It was hard for me because I didn’t know the reason why she was being evicted and she was crying and claiming injustice. She told me, “Last night I bought a bottle of Nyquil and I didn’t know it was forbidden to have it in my room. My case manager didn’t believe me. She is nasty to me, and she hates me!” I felt so terrible, she didn’t have any place to go aDrawing of a tree made out of three women shapesnd there was no way for me to help her. I was following an order and that was hard for her and also for me, to learn that during the recovering process, rules exist for a reason. Later I learned that it was the second time she had done this. The first time she was forgiven but she messed around again and there was not a third chance.

Women came, women left. I came and I left too. But I wasn’t the same, as some of the women who left the place. My time at the YWCA is one of those moments that stands in my memory because I was in touch with so much suffering. Suffering in different ways such as: poverty, violence, mental and physical illnesses, and addictions.  But what I learned was that suffering is not the last word. We, as women are not fragile. We are not princesses waiting for a prince to save us because we can save ourselves. We can make our way to freedom if we want it. We can go against the “socially acceptable”. We have dreams and those dreams can come true. We are like a mighty tree, we just need to believe that we have the power to change our stories. We can make our voices heard and we are not alone.

Note

*This is a quote from Father Basil Anthony Moreau, founder of the Holy Cross Family. The entire quotation is as follows:  “Holy Cross will grow like a mighty tree and constantly shoot forth new limbs whose branches will produce yet others, and all nourished from the same sap and endowed with the same life.” Circular Letter 65

Work Cited

YWCA North Central Indiana, 2013 http://www.ywcancin.org/site/pp.aspx?c=6oJKL0PuF8JSG&b=7960705

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