Saving Souls for a Lifetime of Service
Meagen Farrell is an AmeriCorps Alum, blogger, and educational consultant in Cleveland, Ohio.
Studying Religion for my BA and MA, people often ask me: “So what do you plan to do with that?” Right now, I’m trying to save the souls of AmeriCorps members so they can provide a lifetime of service.
Obviously, AmeriCorps is not a faith-based organization. Proselytizing and worship are prohibited activities. So what’s up with this soul talk? It’s not what you might think, and even atheists might want to try out my techniques by the end.
After graduating college, I served for a year at the West Side Catholic Center in Cleveland, Ohio through a faith-based service program called Humility of Mary Volunteer Service. I didn’t proselytize or count worship towards my AmeriCorps hours. Instead, I learned firsthand that homelessness and poverty are traumatizing.
Trauma can have devastating physical, psychological, and spiritual impacts. This can prevent someone from getting and maintaining stable housing and employment. It can be a vicious cycle. I also learned that serving traumatized people every day can crush your spirit.
I will never forget one Thanksgiving lunch: I was eating with our homeless clients. One man said to me, “We need to you to stay in this. That means you have to go forget about all of this stuff. Sometimes you’ll have to go into your basement and just ‘Aaaaugh!’ Do what you need to do. Take care of yourself so you can take care of us.”
Like many AmeriCorps members, my year of service launched a career in non-profit work. I began to connect the dots between my academic studies and non-profit work. I found the technical term for what my homeless friend described: secondary trauma. I began to see spirituality, prayer, and religious ritual as tested, millennia-old methods to prevent burnout and maintain compassion. Personal balance and integrity increases quality of care and reduces further trauma for vulnerable people.
I became a GED instructor, then educational consultant, and proposed the creation of a literacy-focused AmeriCorps program. Northeast Ohio Literacy Corps was born and I became the member training coordinator. During our first year, after our spring retreat, one member told me: “Working with kids every day, I feel like I need a retreat like that every week.”
I knew religion was not allowed in service. How could I bring my members some of the benefits of spirituality while complying with AmeriCorps regulations? I found two solutions that programs and alums are welcome to try:
PROQOL 5: The Professional Quality of Life survey is a free, 30 question tool to assess one’s rate of professional satisfaction, burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary trauma. I have posted a version adapted for AmeriCorps to my website for you to download.
Daily practice: This concept was adapted from the book Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others. I end the first day by introducing the concept of burnout, and explain that we want to promote a lifetime of service. Members sign up to lead a stress-reducing daily practice during the last 10 minutes of each training. We’ve had hoola-hooping, guided meditation, writing something positive about each member, even practice SMILING! It’s fun, relaxing, and hopefully helps our members reconnect with their souls.