By Chessy S., 2022–2023 Avodah New York Service Corps Member
Ever since I can remember, interpersonal connection has been both important and natural to me. I have always loved connecting with peers in school, with family, and with peers or mentors I came in contact with in various extracurricular or community activities.
Before serving with Avodah, I worked as an Assistant Teacher in a preschool classroom at Wellspring Family Services in Seattle, WA. Wellspring’s Early Learning Center is committed to serving the needs of children experiencing the traumatic effects of homelessness in Seattle. In this role, I was markedly aware of the impact of race, education, health, housing, and immigration on young children. I learned to employ trauma-informed practices and to develop individualized learning goals for each child. Working at Wellspring emboldened me to utilize the advantages my positionality affords me to support individuals who suffer from socioeconomic inequality and disadvantage, as they are most in need of support and amongst those in our society who are least likely to receive it.
While I was living in Seattle and working at this nonprofit job I had a few major qualms. Firstly, none of my friends nearby were working in nonprofits or in direct-service roles. This made it difficult for me to work through the experiences I was having on a daily basis with others I was in community with. Relatedly, I had no Jewish friends in Seattle. I tried to root myself in Jewish community. One way I tried was by becoming involved in the Jewish Coalition for Immigrant Justice. I participated in events ranging from legislative session priority planning to a monthly book club. Although these experiences were exciting and engaging in the moment, they were once a month and over Zoom. I found myself craving continued learning with others and was invigorated by the prospect of living in an intentional Jewish community through Avodah. These experiences I had in Seattle motivated me to pursue the service corps program.
As a member of the Avodah Service Corps, I am working at Sanctuary for Families, where I am a Project Assistant in their Matrimonial/Economic Justice project. SFF is New York’s leading service provider and advocacy organization for survivors of DV, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence. On the Mat/EJP team, I (and three other Project Assistants) work alongside lawyers who specialize in culturally sensitive and trauma-informed lawyering.
In my role as a PA, I am able to triage client issues, prepare documents (for the lawyers, for the clients, for the Courts, etc.) and guide clients through the traumatic experiences of both sharing their stories of abuse and through the legal system at large. One of the most impactful recurring experiences I have had this year is of clients sharing that I have made this process easier, less scary, or less confusing. I have seen firsthand the pain and confusion that the legal system has had on clients at SFF.
In college, I received consistent messaging that working in a policy-related field would stretch my brain in ways I would find satisfying and important. Although that may be true, after the past two years working in direct service, I believe that is how I feel most fulfilled (at least for now!).
I have found myself routinely taking stock of what this year has meant to me. Avodah places emphasis on self-reflection and intentionality in what we do––a continuous growing edge for me. For example, we have had the opportunity to learn in havruta (pairs) which has been meaningful and often challenging; I have been granted the opportunity this year to find my voice more and more in the safe haven of our intentional Jewish community. Throughout our various programming days, we ask questions and delve into Jewish texts together. A main goal of ours is often reframing these ancient texts contemporarily. This practice has allowed me to reflect in many ways on how I have come to be and what feels important to me moving forward.
My placement at SFF has been full of the ups and downs that come with interacting with the layered red tape from organizations (internal and otherwise) as well as government officials. The friendships I’ve made with my fellow NYC cohort members are indescribably powerful. There is such strength in coming home each day to seventeen other humans engaged in similar work with similar ups and downs. After rant-filled dinners, we often devolve into giggles and singing the random songs that have been stuck in everyone’s heads.
This year has been informative for me on both a personal and professional level. I have enjoyed being able to help clients understand the legal system while I, myself, have been learning alongside them about systems of sexism, economic injustice, and racism (just to name a few) that they (we!) are all a part of.
I have spent many hours this year comparing and contrasting my work experiences at Sanctuary and Wellspring. I have learned so much from my colleagues and clients this year but have realized that the most authentic version of myself shares space and experience with children. I am most inspired by working alongside humans whose growing comprehension of the world changes drastically each day, and whose insights are brave and raw. Perhaps I’ll find myself back in the classroom next year or in the years to come! Wherever my path takes me, I am deeply grateful for Avodah’s role in helping me solidify my desire to work to support other humans in communities I am a part of and adjacent to with intentionality and care.
Applications for the 2023-2024 Service Corps program are still open! Learn more at avodah.net/serve.