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‘Finding a Voice’ at the Siena/Francis House Homeless Shelter
Siena/Francis House (SFH) Homeless shelter in Omaha NE, is one of the largest homeless shelters in the Midwest. It is operated in partnership with the Miracle Program – one of largest drug and alcohol recovery centers in the area. The guests at the shelter represent a broad social and economic background with a myriad of differences and similarities.
The ‘Finding a Voice’ project was developed as a service-learning program that brings homeless guests and health professions students together. It is based on principles of respect, openness, equity, generosity, and community engagement and collaboration, with a reciprocal approach: while students may be able to provide services that are informed by community identified needs, they widen their awareness of issues of homelessness, recognize civic responsibility and develop further commitment to social justice. With the ‘Finding A Voice’ program, we use creative expression, self-reflection, and interaction, while striving to develop a deeper understanding of self and society and foster wellness. There is mutual ‘ownership’ of the project distributed among the guests, former guests, the SFH leadership, and the SLA, UNMC, COPH.
‘Finding A Voice’ currently has four components:
1. Creative Writing workshop – Thursdays 3:30-5:00 PM; Facilitated by Rita Paskowitz, professional storyteller, and Steve Langan, writer/poet (Fall 2011, and later – rotating artists)
2. ‘Artists In Recovery’ (AIR) Initiative, designed to shed light on the unnoticed talents of guests and to foster the development of these talents, thereby promoting the overall health and well-being of homeless individuals. Saturdays 7-9 PM
3. Triad Mentoring Program and Scholarship Fund – allowing artists who show dedication and commitment not only to their work but the work of others, to express their voice through the arts. This would be accomplished by a triad of artists:
a) An individual who is an artist, and currently living at the SFH Homeless Shelter. A two-hour artistic expression session at SFH has already been established, and a guest from the class will be selected for the Mentoring Program based on his/her attendance, participation, and artistic potential.
b) An upcoming artist who has previously lived at the shelter/enrolled in the treatment program, who used her/his artistic abilities to recover and commit to a healthy lifestyle. The upcoming artist will serve as a communication link between the guest and the established artist and function as a second invaluable mentor. The upcoming artist will offer firsthand advice to the mentee building on his/her personal; experience, about the transformation from homelessness to a state of enhanced well-being and artistic development.
c) An established artist who is has committed time to assist an upcoming artist in their form of expression, helping them to gain self-confidence, advise him/her on the business aspect of art, help build the guest’s professional networks, encourage him/her to aspire to their artistic dreams, and learn how to be successful in life.
The two mentors will be instrumental in the amateur artist’s process of growth, both emotionally and professionally. The Triad Mentoring Program will provide gifted homeless guests with a chance to pursue their potential vocations in art.
4. The Turtle Project – for homeless children – Rita Paskowitz’s program with children and mothers at the shelter
The “Finding a Voice” team is committed to 4 different levels of project outreach:
- Homeless Guests: to create an environment where individuals can find a voice, grow and heal through the discovery of personal stories, in a safe and supportive community. We strive to build confidence and lift spirits by listening and learning, enabling the positive facets to be recognized and fostered.
- SFH homeless shelter – organization: to facilitate on site activities that will raise awareness to the shelter’s functions, activities and needs, and assist in public relations and support
- Health Professions Students: to increase student awareness to public health issues specific to homelessness and poverty, and facilitate personal and professional growth.
- Community: to increase community awareness regarding homelessness and poverty, through events, on-site activities, and publications.