Our November 2011 Groundviews newsletter features a remarkable young woman who is both one of the first residents in permanent housing at our Brettler Family Place and is giving a year of service through our Washington Reading Corps. To read the entire issue, visit our Publications webpage.
A year of AmeriCorps service can be challenging for anyone. Members of Solid Ground’s Washington Reading Corps, for instance, tutor children who read below grade level five days a week – and take intensive leadership development, social justice and anti-racism trainings – all while living on a subsistence stipend. For Penni Carter (not her real name), add to that the struggle of landing on her 27-year-old feet, fresh from escaping domestic violence.
“I was with her dad,” she says, pointing to her two-year-old cutie pie in a pink tutu. “And it was not a healthy relationship. I just got to the point where [I felt], ‘I can’t do this anymore and I don’t want my daughter to end up getting hurt.’ So, I packed up a suitcase and a stroller, and I literally just walked away from my life.”
Accessing support while giving back
Solid Ground provides a range of services that meet people at various stops along their life journeys. When Penni was preparing to exit her domestic violence shelter, she connected with a Solid Ground JourneyHome Case Manager who helped her apply for permanent housing in our new Brettler Family Place program. In addition to housing, Brettler provides support services and case management for formerly homeless families. People accepted to live there must have stable jobs or be moving in a positive direction in their work lives.
Penni moved into Brettler last spring. Soon after, she learned of Washington Reading Corps (WRC) through a coworker and became a volunteer in its summer program, Cities of Service. From there she applied for and was accepted to serve a year with WRC. Thus, she became both a program participant and an AmeriCorps Member with Solid Ground.
Opportunities for self-awareness & growth
Like all Solid Ground employees, Penni and her fellow WRC Members were sent to Undoing Institutional Racism (UIR) training, an intensive experience that unpacks the impacts of racism in America.
“I went to the UIR training and that was life changing,” Penni says. “Being white, you have to look at yourself. It is not them that is the problem, it is me, too. And I have mixed kids, so it really hits home. A lot of these things that people of color are expressing, my kids are going to go through, too. I’m a white woman, so it is hard to find that balance: How do I support them and not let them think that being white is bad or being black is bad?”
And Penni says the UIR training helped her learn how to talk to other white neighbors about racial dynamics and make better connections with neighbors of color.
“Talk about being an ally; Brettler is the best place to do it,” Penni says. “It is good to talk to my neighbors about white privilege, and let them know there are people out there that know it is real. It is going on and it is not OK – and you are not crazy for thinking it. It is nice to know that I can be an ally to so many people in my community that live just where I live.”
Building bridges at Brettler
Over the summer, Brettler Family Place turned from a location where 51 formerly homeless families live into a true community. Penni says, “This summer was incredible. A lot of families had just moved in, so they were just trying to get on their feet.”
One night, “Everybody was outside and I just said, ‘I really want to play kickball.’ We ended up having a big kickball game. I think the youngest kid playing was three, all the way up to the parents and everybody in between. People were sitting on the sides even if they didn’t want to play. We had wheelbarrow races and jump rope and handstand contests – just fun stuff. And all the moms got together and everybody watched everybody else’s kids.”
From this stable sense of community, Penni has started to rebuild her life and imagine her new future. “Last year during my internship, I learned so much,” she says. “I definitely want to do my second year in WRC, then I want to go back to school. I want to either be a teacher or work with DV [domestic violence] abusers or inmates, and help them go through treatment, and realize, ‘Just because you did these things, you are not a bad person – but what do we need to do to help you not fall back into that pattern?’ ”
Raised by a single mom in Section 8 housing, Penni’s experience could have been one of succumbing to generational patterns. But a continuum of Solid Ground programs supported her in finding stable housing, establishing a goal plan, and getting employment training, community service and leadership development that will help her family thrive.