Collaboration and Reaching Out: Creating Change in Harrisburg

by Malinda Myers

Recently, I was asked to reflect on a recent collaboration with Brethren housing association.  Brethren Housing Association (furthermore referred to as BHA) is a transitional housing program for homeless single mothers working to get out of poverty.  Its methods are behaviorally solid in terms of how to help individuals make long-term changes in their lives.  I believe these answers also shed light on the powerful important work we do at Mynd Works counseling, as well.

What interested you in collaborating with BHA for the resiliency group? 

I have long admired BHA for their work in applying sustainable behavior modification to helping women face and move out of their current life circumstance.  Since I first started out in my career at Interfaith Family Homeless shelter, and did much of my graduate school work on poverty, it feels like a collaboration that was meant to be.  So often the correlation of poverty and mental health issues is true.  We want to change that.

At Mynd Works, we want to work educate the community about destigmatizing mental health issues, understanding trauma and our bodies’ responses.  We are an agency with a firm grounding and understanding about attachment and trauma which lends us to be more effective when it comes to helping make behavioral changes that don’t just fix the crisis at hand, but help people make long-lasting changes.

What are your goals for the group?

We hope the group will help the women understand themselves better.  Many times there are multiple layers of trauma existing for people in poverty.  This includes historical trauma, community trauma, and even developmental trauma.  Historical trauma refers to the cumulative emotional harm of a generation caused by a traumatic experience or event.  This cumulative harm actually physically changes our bodies.  For example, we might acknowledge the historical trauma for people of color, as they have been systematically oppressed for centuries in this country.

Community trauma refers to the exposure to traumatic events that individuals may experience in areas where there is more physical violence, more criminal activity, more group conflicts happening more often.  This results in higher levels of stress, even when something isn’t happening, because of the need to be prepared to protect themselves.  This is biological wiring – not something people choose willingly.

Then, of course, we have the higher potential for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse for people living in poverty.  There is also a higher potential for profound neglect due to the need to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.  If we can help these women understand what they have been exposed to, as a way to help them understand their responses to life, we can help them heal.

When we take away the judgement that is so often laid upon people who are poor, and realistically observe the structures that keep people oppressed, we are more able to effectively problem solve.  When we view ourselves as a failure, and experience the emotions that are tied with that assessment, we become wildly ineffective at being able to problem-solve even simple issues in our own life.  We want to increase these women’s effectiveness to make decisions, be consistent with their behavior, recoup from inevitable curveballs of life and experience peace and joy as a result.

What are you looking to accomplish with the collaboration? 

First of all, healing.  If we help one person remove the anger, frustration ,and sense of failure about themselves and free them to become an adaptive, creative problem-solver in their own life, it is a total success.  If we get further at helping others involved to understand trauma, which helps them view an individual’s behavior in a different light, then it’s even better.

How does this group support your mission? 

Our mission at Jewish Family Service is to be a forward-thinking mental health and social service agency dedicated to helping people achieve their full potential while honoring choice, diversity, and Jewish values through every stage of life.  We clearly want to do everything we can to help people reach their full potential.  We believe this group is a powerful step in the right direction.