November 18, 2012 Post

Staff care…something that has become abundantly clear as I have been familiarizing myself with all that is UP is that the staff is in need of attention. Everyone is underpaid and doing the job of at least 2 people, all the while carrying their own baggage while maintaining a level of empathy for the youth whom they serve. Quite a few of the staff (after school program directors, interns) have grown up through UP, meaning they grew up in Camden, meaning they’ve had a challenging childhood, even if they have had a supportive family. Growing up in Camden means always having to watch your back, putting on a tough front, watching friends go into the drug industry. Watching friends make lots of fast money even while knowing they are putting their lives at risk, while you barely make minimum wage by “doing the right thing”. The youth being served are often hungry, struggle with anger and are desperately seeking love. It takes a lot of energy to manage this day in, day out.

Our faith can make this more of a challenge, I fear. There is this sense that if we are true Christians we will get our strength from Christ. I have heard this time and again when I work Credo conferences with the burned out Presbyterian pastors. We will often hear push back when we introduce concepts of emotional labor, balancing work with rest, the need to feed the spirit of the pastor, etc. We Credo faculty commonly hear stories of neglected families, a lack of personal friendships, and bone weary fatigue. When you neglect yourself there is nothing left to give others. The funny thing is, just as so much of Christianity is paradoxical – i.e. the last shall be first, the necessity of Christ’s death for his fullness to be revealed – so it is true with us. When we say no, when we honor our bodies and minds by taking the time to care for ourselves, then we are able to give more of ourselves, have more patience, and think more clearly thereby making better decisions.

The hard part, of course, is that there are so many children and families in Camden who need help. It is my practice to help those who show openness to being helped and to realize early on that not everyone is open to it. There are times when I wonder if I am ruthless and cold when I think something like this, but there it is.

So staff care…so far it’s looking like this: thanks to an awesome massage therapist from Merchantville, we have been able to offer 6 free massages to staff each week for the past 2 weeks, and this will continue. There is something about touch that is deeply healing. Our HR person, Pam Foxx, has been able to offer free services from three specialists – copays waved. This is great because when you are not earning much, a $50 copay can wipe you out, especially when you need to return a few times. I am offering weekly health advice via the staff newsletter that Liz Getman writes. Last month I gave an hour of education to all the staff about the impact of toxic stress as well as an introduction to self-care modalities. And I am in the process of organizing yoga instructors to offer staff classes twice a week.

I am arranging to have the space for providing clinical care to those who have no insurance – I believe my patients will primarily be the interns from other countries. Right now if they need urgent care they sit in a walk-in clinic for hours before being seen. I figure I can treat most ailments with $4 prescriptions from Walmart or Target.

Gradually, I would like to help staff at UP make connections with the world outside of UP. I think it’s great that everyone is so connected with one another here, but the truth is there IS a world outside of UP, and a little change of perspective can be a good thing. So speaking of this – if anyone is interested in maybe taking a staff member to coffee sometime let me know. I have already announced that our congregation welcomes visitors with open arms :).

Finally I hope to be a living example of a balanced life. I write this even as I struggle with the anxiety of wondering if this position will be long-term or not. But I am trying to honor myself with time to take daily walks, building in wiggle room throughout my daily schedule so that I am not always running and by eating and sleeping well. I have chosen not to teach at Penn any longer – a difficult decision for me, but one that will allow me more presence of mind at UP. I am trying hard not to get caught up in the rat race because, as Lily Tomlin once said, “The problem with being in the rat race is even if you win, at the end of the day you are still a rat.”!

May peace and self care be with you all…


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