By: Samantha Forst
December 15, 2015
Going into Journey House, many of the volunteers did not know what to expect. Some of us had a broad background in volunteering and some of us were experie
ncing volunteering for the first time. Journey House is a transitional living community in Natchaug Hospital that provides intensive, comprehensive mental health treatment and special education for court-involved adolescent girls. The girls in the program were ages anywhere from 15 to 18, among varying backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures. As shown in the graph below, in 2014, 39% of the admitted girls were Caucasian, followed by 32% being Hispanic, and 25% being African
Going into the volunteering program, I was nervous that I would not be able to relate to the girls based off of age, ethnic, and individual differences. All of these girls were from different walks of life, brought up with varying sets of ideals and values, depending on their family life and e
thnic structure. My biggest fear was that we would not be able to get past these foundational differences. Upon my first impression, it was reaffirmed that I had nothing to fear.
The girls, mandated by the State of Connecticut Probation Program, resided in this house and continually experience rigorous interventional, rehabilitative, and behavioral treatment in aims to steer them away from a life in criminal justice system. Now what was our job as volunteers? Our most pressing objective was to meet with them as a group and form a connection and through these interactions, we are giving these girls a figure in their life that they can look up to, trust, and seek guidance. Our goal in each of our meetings was to develop, most importantly, a sense of empowerment through our self-designed innovative activities. As each week passed, the girls became more comfortable with the volunteers. They began to open up more about their lives and even at times express how this program had given them the inspiration to pursue a future in higher education, or
other programs like cosmetology school. Throughout this program, we saw the girls, grow, develop, and mature into young adults ready to reenter their community. Witnessing this was one of the most rewarding aspects of this volunteering experience and as time went on, I began to learn that it was not just the volunteers making a difference in these girls’ lives. However, it was they who had made a lasting impression on me.
We volunteered every Thursday in the evening, one of the few time slots they had open for outside programs. Each evening spent with the girls would be different. Some days we would do arts and crafts, others we would play volleyball and basketball in their recreational facility. Sometimes we would simply play board games and talk to each other. One of the most interesting observations I made in my first visit was how outgoing and open these girls were to meeting us. In fact, it was actually the volunteers who were a little shy upon meeting! This act of compassion resonated with me and showed me their true strength. Not only was their outgoing nature vibrant, but their supportive compassion was clear. In the games of volleyball or basketball, it was not about being the best player, winning the most games. It was a time to laugh, bond, and learn from each other as people. In the outside world, I think it is easy for people to get caught up in a busy, competitive lifestyle where you forget to enjoy the simple pleasures or enjoy those around you. I often walked out of Journey House in awe of the experiences I had with these girls. Volunteering here truly taught me how valuable it is to donate your time to the people in your community.
This program reminded me that despite the past mistakes people have made and the stigma that
may be attached as a result, they are still individuals that want to be successful and lead a fulfilling life. This program highlights the many amazing qualities they have, and how important it is to not judge a book by its cover. Most importantly, this program highlights how important it is to volunteer your time to those around you. Volunteering has a crucial impact on the community, and its morale as a whole. It creates a foundation that fosters kindness, selflessness, and solidarity. Although this is only a semester long program, I look forward to returning in the spring!