Charlottesville: Acknowledging the Trauma and Getting Our Normal Back

Minutes before James Fields slammed his Dodge Charger into the crowd, we had been marching jubilantly down Water Street.

Two marching groups of anti-racists/anti-fascists had merged near the Charlottesville Downtown Mall and as we converged, so did our chants. The crowd was celebrating the fact that large groups of white supremacists and nazis had been driven from downtown: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Our group paused at 4th and Water. Several members were calling for a mic check, but their calls were drowned out by the noise of the crowd. We were standing in the middle of the intersection. The crowd looked as though it was about to turn up 4th Street toward the Mall, only one block away. My partner turned to me and shouted in my ear, “Let’s move to the side. I don’t like this. We shouldn’t be in the middle of this crowd.” She had noticed a few white supremacists infiltrating the group.

As she said this, the screams and quick series of sickening loud thuds happened almost simultaneously. My first thought was that a bomb or grenade had gone off, and more were on the way. What registered in my mind as bricks being hurled through the air at us were in fact not bricks, but people’s shoes that had been knocked off their feet upon impact. In the panic, we tried to run for shelter, but not before my foot snagged on a banner that had been dropped behind me. We both hit the pavement.

What registered in my mind as bricks being hurled through the air at us were in fact not bricks, but people’s shoes that had been knocked off their feet upon impact.

We crouched under a tree on the corner sidewalk and checked each other for damage. My body felt numb and sharply aching at the same time. Horrified, my partner said, “I swear to god I saw legs flying up in the air. I think those were legs. I swear they were legs.” She said the words over and over, as though repeating it would help it make more sense. We looked back at the scene. A burgundy minivan that had earlier been hidden in the crush of the crowd had lurched several yards into the intersection upon impact (trigger warning: drone video). It now rested a few feet from where we had been standing.

There were so many people hurt. So many people screaming. I called 911. I counted the time the line rang on the other end. 15 rings, no response.

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Getty Images

If you were part of or an observer in the counter protest in Charlottesville this weekend, you were likely either a target of violence or you bore witness to violence. Both can be traumatic experiences. Watching the scenes unfold on television can be traumatic too.

If you are a person of color, you have likely lived through being a target of traumatic racist oppression, and experienced the psychological and physical toll that racism exacts on people of color on a daily basis.

As advocates for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, many of us are familiar with the host of reactions that follow trauma. While everyone’s particular reactions to trauma are unique, the range of types of experiences is common. Here are four types of normal reactions to trauma that you may be experiencing after living through what Jelani Cobb has now called, “The Battle of Charlottesville“, along with some tips for helping yourself or a friend move through it over the next few days or weeks.

  1. A nervous system on high alert

What it looks like: Hyper-vigilance is a heightened state of awareness, which is part of our instinctual fight/flight response. It feels like being constantly on guard. Your brain is trying to protect you by constantly scanning your environment for danger (“That guy walking toward me with the short hair and khaki pants: is he a nazi?” “Do those tattoos/slogans on a shirt/bumper sticker tell me whether that person is a white supremacist?” “Am I close to an exit in case I need to run?”). An exaggerated startle reflex may mean you nearly jump out of your skin at the sound of a loud noise or startling sight. As a heightened state of anxiety and physiological tension, hyper-vigilance can be exhausting for both your body and mind.

What to do: Remember that this is your brain’s way of practicing risk assessment by gauging people, situations, and potential harm. Breathe; mindful breathing is a calming technique always available to us. If you need to, disengage with the stressor. As with any kind of healing, sleep is crucial. Reduce caffeine and/or alcohol consumption to promote better sleep and reduce jumpiness. Go for a walk or try any other physical activity that you enjoy, whether it’s sports, dancing, gardening, etc. Get some fresh air. Play outside.

2. Re-experiencing the trauma

What it looks like: This can often take the shape of intrusive thoughts: an unbidden replaying of the trauma-inducing scene(s) over and over again, often especially when falling asleep. Flashbacks may make you feel as though you are back in the situation, reliving the memory. Traumatic memories are heavily sensory-related; intrusive thoughts and/or flashbacks will often replay or are triggered by sights, sounds, and/or smells.

What to do: Mindfulness, breathing, and other grounding sensory strategies can help. Consciously slow down and deepen your breathing. Feel the weight of your body sitting in a chair, or your feet holding you to the ground. Rather than fighting the encroaching thought, notice that it is simply a thought, a way of your brain healing itself by trying to make sense of the event; there is no need to react to it. Do yoga. Turn off your screen and stretch before bed to help prepare your body for deep sleep.

  1. Problems concentrating

What it looks like: Inability to focus, or feeling mentally foggy. You may pause a task to start another and then wonder, “What was I supposed to be doing?” You may also notice impaired short-term memory and/or “checking out”.  You may constantly want to check news reports or other accounts of the incident (or avoid the topic altogether): the wealth of commentary and perspectives about the events and impact of what happened in Charlottesville seems limitless. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of news stories, videos, eyewitness accounts, analyses, and troll comments, especially when the incident has captured national attention.

What to do: Consciously carve out a set time for no news consumption. Give yourself a time limit and then put down your phone. If possible, choose work and home tasks this week that don’t require a lot of mental focus. If you must focus to accomplish a series of tasks, keep a running list to help you remember. Get fresh air. Rest. Know that this will pass.

 4. Emotional responses

What it looks like: Anger, fear, sadness, guilt, numbness, feeling overwhelmed. Avoidance of things that remind of you of the trauma. Perhaps thinking the world is more dangerous than you did before. Guilt in the form of criticizing yourself for how you handled the trauma. Survivor’s guilt: feeling guilty for surviving the trauma when others were killed/seriously harmed. Isolation/traumatic bonding: feeling as though only the people who were there can truly understand how it felt. Isolating yourself from people who didn’t share the traumatic experience with you because words are insufficient for conveying the experience to others.

What to do: Activate your support system; find a friend to talk to and share your experience. Journal and/or make artwork about what you experienced and how you feel now. Make plans to expand your actions to build racial justice, and find a community who is working on the same thing. Seek physical comfort by cuddling with a loved one (person or animal). Cook (or order) a delicious and nourishing meal. Tap into your community (whether that community is family, faith, political, academic, athletic, etc). Make time to do activities that normally bring you joy.

Most of us will at some point in our lives encounter and be affected by trauma. Whether you are experiencing a few or many of these symptoms, often understanding that they are all related to the same source will help the symptoms feel more manageable. Most people will discover that the symptoms subside over a period of days to months. If you find yourself struggling to get back on track, seek a survivor advocate or other professional trained in responding to trauma reactions. It will get better.

Healing is happening right now; help it take root. There is much work to be done to confront and dismantle overt and covert racism and oppression; we need you here for the long haul…strong, resilient, feisty, and compassionate…to help build the world that serves and nourishes all of us. We need you here to help build collective liberation.

 


Helpful resources:

4 Self-Care Resources for Days When the World is Terrible (Self-care for people of color after trauma)

21 Common Reactions to Trauma: It helps to know what to expect after a terrifying event

Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Healing from Trauma and Moving On

Simple Self-Care Practices for When It Feels Like the World is Falling Apart

Featured image: Tasos Katopodis/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

#Charlottesville #racialjustice #whitesupremacy #DefendCville


Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance’s Racial Justice Task Force, and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence and build racial justice nationally and in Virginia.

 

Awareness + Action = Social Change

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month; whether you are doing paid/volunteer work in a Domestic Violence Program or going it alone in your struggle to disrupt the patriarchy, your efforts are critical.

You, dear visionary and brave souls, are part of a larger movement to undermine domination and oppression and replace it with compassion and radical connection. This is good stuff, and we are so glad you are here.

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NRCDV

Our friends at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and Move to End Violence are allies in this work too, and have a wealth of resources to help you stay present, connected, and moving forward this month and in the future.

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence has cooked up some delicious webinars this month: October 11 “Keeping your Cup Full: Self-Care is Essential to Trauma-Informed Advocacy”, will offer strategies for dealing with daily work related stress, increase awareness of the issue of vicarious trauma, and provide ideas in order to gain organizational support to help sustain and support those working with survivors of trauma.

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NRCDV

Also check out the October 25 “Girls for Gender Equity: Centering Girls of Color within the Racial and Gender Justice Movement of the 21st Century”, where you can learn about two organizations’ radical and visionary approaches to promoting racial and gender justice and the critical importance it has to addressing and preventing domestic and sexual violence. Download NRCDV’s entire #DVAM2016 events flyer here.

The National Network Against Domestic Violence sponsors the National Week of Action October 16-22. NNEDV invites you to add your voice to the national conversation by participating in National Week of Action activities, such as: Conversation Sunday, Media Monday, Tie-in Tuesday, Write-in Wednesday, #PurpleThursday, Film Friday, and Shout-out Saturday. Check out the multitude of additional NNEDV #DVAM2016 ideas and offerings here.

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NNEDV

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Move to End Violence

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, let’s talk about you. This work is long-haul, expansive, heartbreaking, life-giving, joyous, and hard, and we need you here—really here—for the long-term. To make that happen, resilience is key. Move to End Violence promotes self-care as a core practice of movement building, and has an abundance of resources, like the 21 Day Self-Care Challenge to help keep your batteries fully charged so you can show up in all your glorious awesomeness Every. Single. Day.

Kate McCord is the Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the National Domestic Violence Awareness Project Advisory Group, and is currently participating in Move to End Violence’s work with state coalitions to interrupt state violence against communities of color.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

The Light of Moons Above

Richard Wright’s poetic description of leaving the South to “see if it can grow differently …respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom” could not be more resonant than at this cultural moment. His words speak to a longing for opportunity that has been fleeting for many of us, particularly Black folk. Wright’s imagery also reflects the profound uncertainty that is widely-felt and the collective fragility that it exposes that we can no longer deny. Right now, we live within a world where it hurts to exist, and yet,

shaman imageThis week the Action Alliance hosts the Warmth of Other Suns Conference, of which the title’s significance looms large. I am humbled to be part of a supportive gathering for survivors and advocates. Our intention to hold healing space, which calls upon Richard Wright’s cautious hopefulness, imprints on my soul as a Black folk healer. While the promise of the Great Migration for our fore-mothers has not been fulfilled, our commitment to their liberation, and that of our own and our children’s remains resolute.

My hope is that our communion can invite the The Light of the Moons Above. It is, by contrast to Wright’s vision, a metaphor for healing wherever you are. Indigenous Black traditions, like other nature-based spirituality’s, associate the moon with transformative feminine power.

richaelMother Moon ushers in the deep intimacy of night-time where we encounter all of our shadow selves. Her great luminosity gifts us privacy for our suffering, opportunity for refuge, and means for escape. Her vessel represents the “dark night of the soul” but too, affords us a cycle for reflection and preparation. Moon’s medicine aided my enslaved ancestors to survive and her energies will continue our healing today across time and space.

Whether we follow the sun or moon, we can be assured that a search for realities better than the ones we occupy is a wise strategy against the backdrop of such an explosively vulnerable period. I look forward to bringing together our power, resilience, and wisdom in service to bloom.

Richael Faithful will be speaking at the Warmth of Other Suns Conference this week. You can find out more information here.

Richael Faithful is an African-American healer raised in Virginia. She/They serves as Shaman-in-Residence at Freed Bodyworks, a body-positive wellness center based in Washington DC, and birthed Conjure! Freedom Collective, a group of creative healers committed to healing trauma from U.S. slavery, ending racial caste, and building a love politic. Her/their main areas of practice are energy healing, spiritual counseling, and sacred drumming. Faithful, before her/their integration as a traditional healer, was a community organizer and peoples’ civil rights lawyer. http://www.richaelfaithful.com/

*All pictures courtesy of Richael Faithful.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Breath…Movement…Meditation – DeStressing in a Stressful World

We all experience stress in life.  It is a fast pace world and it often feels like daily crises are occurring at any moment. So, how do we manage our busy lives and avoid burnout, emotional fatigue, or becoming generally unwell?

We often believe that self-care will require too much effort, too much time, or too much energy to put to practice. We become determined to plow through without the interruptions of self-care practices.  However, finding caring and replenishing ways to ‘interrupt’ our stress filled days is exactly what we all need, and it only has to take a few minutes!

Two great tools for fostering self-care into our daily lives include yoga and essential oils. Many forms of yoga allow us to ground, center, and relax our bodies and mind; while essential oils can foster balance and rejuvenation mentally and physically.

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There are many kinds of yoga and yoga does not need to be an impossible or all consuming practice. The yoga I practice and teach is called Kundalini Yoga. Kundalini yoga is a meditative, restorative, and transformative form of yoga. Through such restorative practices you can transform stress into peace, tension into ease, and hardships into strength. As we are learning more and more, about the mind-body connection we are coming to understand just how influential our physical health is on our mental health, and just how much our mental health can influence our physical health. Yoga offers tools to rebalance both the body and mind through breathing, movement, and meditation. Here is how breathing, movement, and meditation can help you with daily self-care!

 

  1. Breathing – Forward Breathing

Many people are what is often referred to as ‘backwards breathers.’ This means when they breathe-in they suck their bellies in and when they breathe-out they poke their bellies out. To breath properly we are meant to deeply breathe into the belly, letting the belly expand with air (like a balloon filling with oxygen), and then breathe-out, letting our belly buttons come in towards the spine (as we allow the muscles to push the air out). To practice this spend 3 minutes breathing in for a count of 5 (with your hand placed on your stomach, your hand should move forward as the stomach expands with air), hold your breath in for a count of 5, breathe-out for a count of 5 (allowing your hand to move in towards the spine as the air is pushed out of the body), then hold the air out for another count of 5, and repeat.

Breathing in this manner allows your heart rate to lower and synchronize, calms the nervous system, brings oxygen into the brain, can lower blood pressure and sugar levels, and it can foster a feeling of calm and focus.

 

  1. Movement – Stretching and Flexing the Spine

Many have said that a healthy and flexible spine is central to our youthfulness and vitality. The movements in yoga help to stimulate specific muscles of the body, increase circulation, and helps to remove mental and physical blocks. A stretch that is great for keeping the spine flexible, the muscles around the spine loosened, and circulation going is a stretch called ‘cat cow.’ This can be done sitting cross-legged on the floor, sitting on your heels, sitting in a chair, and/or resting on your hands and knees. If seated you can hold your ankles, shins, or knees as you flex the spine forward and back (bringing the heart forward and up, and then letting the heart roll towards the space behind you; while keeping your base planted firmly to the ground and letting the shoulders straighten and roll forward). These different variations can stretch various areas of the back, so feel free to practice 3 or more variations at one sitting. Each exercise can be practiced for 1-3 minutes at a time. This is a great way to get some movement going in the back, spine, chest, and shoulders. These areas are often tight due to posture and lifestyle. They will greatly benefit from regular breaks and movement.

 

  1. Meditation

Through meditation one is able to foster new and healthy patterns, develop a clear and neutral mind, and develop a deeper intuition. It often feels very challenging to begin a meditation practice but a great way to begin is to tune in to the rhythm of our own heartbeats. To start find a comfortable seat and then either place two fingers on your left wrist or on your neck, finding your pulse. With each heartbeat you can mentally repeat the word ‘Sat’ ‘Nam’ (yogic words meaning true self), ‘True’ ‘Self,’ or feel free to choose your own two words. Close your eyes if you are comfortable and for 3 minutes simply feel your heartbeat and repeat your two words to the rhythm of your heartbeat. Often a practice such as this can help us become more present, foster a connection within ourselves and to the world at large, and allows us to observe and respond to our experiences, rather than becoming reactive.

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picture credit: Becky Jacobson

ESSENTIAL OILS

As for essential oils, these are the oils found in the bark, stems, fruit, or leaves of plants.  These oils help to sustain the plants’ health and longevity and, when extracted correctly, these oils can provide the same healing properties to people. Additionally, smell is the one sent directly linked to the olfactory system (where emotions and memories are stored and produced) and so essential oils can have positive effects on our mood when used aromatically. In using essential oils, not all oils are created equally and so I stick to using doTERRA therapeutic grade essential oils, to ensure I (and my clients) receive the most effective results from using the oils. There are three ways to use doTERRA essential oils: topically, aromatically, and internally (this is unique to the oils produced by doTERRA).  Here is more information on how oils can help with our daily self-care!

 

  1. Topically – Lavender  

When used topically oils are placed directly on the skin.  This may include the bottom of the feet (where oils are quickly absorbed into the blood stream), the temples, or directly on areas needing remedy. For some oils it is recommended to dilute the essential oil using fractionated coconut oil or almond oil, particularly if you have sensitive skin.  To learn more about this please feel free to email.  Lavender essential oil is an oil that many apply directly on the skin. As well as an emotionally soothing effect, lavender also has a soothing effect for the skin. When placed on areas effected by a burn, bug bite, or cut lavender has shown to help the body soothed and heal itself.  Lavender can also be placed on the temples to help us to feel more calm and relaxed.  Lavender is a great oil to carry with you for times when you may need to relax the mind or soothe the skin.

 

  1. Aromatically – Wild Orange

To enjoy the aromatic benefits of essential oils you can us an oil diffuser or place a few drops in your hand and cup your hands over your nose as you inhale and exhale.  For both an uplifting and relaxing effect many turn to the oil wild orange.  Wild orange essential oil can help the mind return to a state of equilibrium, if stressed the oils will relax the mind or if fatigued wild orange brighten the mood.  Wild orange is a great mood booster to have on hand throughout a busy day.

 

  1. Internally – Peppermint

Using essential oils internally is unique the essential oils produced by doTERRA, as they have ensured that these oils are up to the food grade standards. Putting peppermint in your water bottle, preferably a glace water bottle, can add freshness to your water (helping you enjoy staying hydrated throughout your day), it can help with nausea or an upset stomach, it can give you a mid-day energy boost, and it can bring some coolness on a hot summer’s day. One drop of peppermint oil is equivalent in potency to 26 cups of peppermint tea!

No matter what you decide works best for you there are many ways to take ‘mini-self-care’ breaks throughout your day. Whether you stop for a moment to practice deep breathing or meditation, or to inhale some calming or energizing essential oils these mini-breaks can make the difference between thriving and surviving. May you enjoy your self-care daily interruptions!

Becky is presenting today at the THE HEART IS A MUSCLE: TRAUMA-INFORMED APPROACHES TO SEXUAL & INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE MAY 4-5, 2016 CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. For Information on upcoming training, check our Training Institute for what is coming up next.  

 

Becky Jacobson graduated from The George Washington University, with a Masters in Art Therapy and Counseling. She has experience working with adults, teens, and children. She has provided art therapy to hospice patients and their families; provided bereavement support; worked within several behavioral health programs; and worked with at risk youth. She offers individual, family, and group art therapy at Mind-Body Art Essentials, LLC, and provides art therapy based workshops throughout Richmond, VA. Becky truly believes in the power of art therapy, and in the innate power of creative expression and healing. You can contact Becky via email: mindbodyartes@gmail.com

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Secrets of Healthy Trauma Organizations

Olga Phoenix is presenting at the THE HEART IS A MUSCLE: TRAUMA-INFORMED APPROACHES TO SEXUAL & INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE MAY 4-5, 2016 CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

Vicarious trauma is a profound negative psychological change  produced in  “helping” professions as a result of exposure to traumatic material of their clients. Continuous exposure to trauma of others may lead helping professionals to manifest the same or similar symptoms as victims they work with. In other words, symptoms of vicarious trauma are essentially the same as symptoms of primary trauma, and include re‐experience, avoidance, and hyper‐arousal.

Untreated, vicarious trauma leads to severe emotional and physical exhaustion,  deep sense of ineffectiveness at one’s work; and can result in emotional distress, detachment, ineffective professional behavior, and depression. Helpers who are worn out, traumatized, and fatigued, often tend to work harder, thus going farther down a dangerous path, which often leads to physical and mental health difficulties, such as chronic pain, clinical depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

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Self-Care Wheel – courtesy Olga Phoenix website

Leadership, including Boards of Directors, has primary ethical responsibility for creating environments which promote and support organizational and individual vicarious trauma prevention. While personal efforts are important, individual health can still be compromised in contexts where people are denied the opportunity to make use of these skills and knowledge. The most effective way to address and prevent vicarious trauma is through sound organizational processes.

Here are some ways healthy trauma organizations promote thriving environments for their staff:

  1. Provide sufficient training for every member of their team on vicarious trauma, its symptoms, effects, and tools to address and prevent it.
  2. Assure staff that vicarious trauma symptoms are a completely normal reaction to trauma work and encourage them to seek help.
  3. Establish organizational systems of care for staff who disclose or present with vicarious trauma symptoms.
  4. Provide adequate training in trauma-specific and trauma-informed outreach, intake, and service delivery strategies, to increase staff sense of effectiveness in helping clients and reduce the sense of demoralization brought on by trauma work.
  5. Establish a diverse caseload of clients in order to limit the traumatic exposure of any one worker.
  6. Create work environments which facilitate staff bonding and emotional support of each other, as this limits emotional fatigue and depersonalization, and creates a greater sense of personal accomplishment (e.g.: a vicarious trauma prevention/aka “We Thrive” support group).
  7. Institute regular relationally based clinical supervision to normalize staff feelings and experiences and provide support and tools to address and prevent vicarious trauma.
  8. Provide safe and comfortable space for staff to engage in their personal vicarious trauma prevention activities during the work day (e.g.: therapy, 12 step meetings, meditation, long lunch with support group).
  9. Nurture a culture of shared power in making organizational decisions, empower a sense of autonomy in staff-as trust, empowerment, and self-efficacy are the antidotes to a sense of powerlessness associated with vicarious trauma.
  10. As an organization, continuously planning and taking steps towards improving their organizational health and practices.

Would any of these work for your trauma organization? What are your organizational secrets you can share with us? For more on this, please visit www.olgaphoenix.com or see “Victim Advocate’s Guide to Wellness: Six Dimensions of Vicarious Trauma-Free Life” book by Olga Phoenix, MPA, MA.

Olga Phoenix, MPA, MA is an internationally recognized expert and speaker on the topics of Vicarious Trauma, Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Trauma-Informed Services, as well as personal and organizational cultures of Sustainability, Self-Care, and Wellness. Through her books, trainings, webinars, and keynotes Olga helped thousands of victim advocates, therapists, substance abuse counselors, law enforcement, criminal justice and medical professionals to find their way to full and thriving life, free of vicarious trauma.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

 

 

An Intention Toward Wellness, Self-care, and Community in the Workplace

“What could be wrong with giving myself my full attention for 15 minutes? Turns out, nothing. The very act of not working has made it possible for the hum to return, as if the hum’s engine could only refuel while I was away. Work doesn’t work without play.” – Shonda Rhimes, TED2016 

There have always been individuals at the Action Alliance who took special care to infuse our halls with magic and play, music and kindness. Some of these people took care to notice when a colleague had a particular obsession – bacon, Nintendo, chocolate crème eggs, or ceramic elephants to name a few – and offered tokens of love and appreciation in these tastes and shapes. There have always been staff who took pride in knowing the names of each other’s children and grandchildren, no matter the number, and asked each other about them with genuine curiosity. The Action Alliance has been a place where relationships are valued and we are encouraged to invest as much in each other as in the practical day to day work of the coalition. These individuals have always floated about spreading good cheer on their own and in 2013, after a particularly challenging year of change, the random encounters of positive influence became an institutionalized practice within the Action Alliance organizational culture and the Wellness Fairies were born.

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credit: positivedoodles.tumblr.com

The first iteration of Wellness Fairies was a trio of staff committed to creatively bringing wellness and self-care to the office environment. Self-care may be on its way to cliché status in the grand scheme of things but it is still a revolutionary act in our work. Carving space to celebrate each other, to play and dance together, to eat good food in the company of friends is not always easy. Encouraging a diverse set of introverts, extroverts, and everything in between to get involved in games and embrace this commitment to staff wellness can be a challenge too. The Action Alliance sees the importance of these strategies nonetheless and commits staff time and financial resources to this greater purpose of supporting self-care and sustaining a culture of wellness. And for the staff who volunteer to become Wellness Fairies the challenge and the creativity becomes part of their self-care too. Designing scavenger hunts, decorating the office, organizing bubble wrap dance parties, bringing in massage therapists, and creating small gifts for every staff person are just a few of the endeavors keeping our Wellness Fairies busy each year.

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credit: Portland State School of Social Work

I joined the second cohort of Wellness Fairies after experiencing a year of being on the receiving end of so many awesome adventures thanks to the first cohort. I joined as a member of the Management Team to exhibit my full commitment to celebrating staff and supporting work-life balance. I joined to have fun and bring good food for my friends. Ahhh, the food. So much good food has been part of the Wellness Fairies events that we even released a staff cookbook highlighting recipes that had been shared at potlucks. We are potluck goddesses at the Action Alliance. Sharing food is a quick way to share a bit of one’s self, one’s history, and one’s desires. Sharing food builds resilience and relationships. Building resilience and relationships ensures that our team has what it needs to show up every day in this space – talking about trauma, working on tight deadlines, answering the Hotline, navigating dicey political environments.

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credit: Quillin Drew

Some suggest that if it is not hurting, if you are not stretched to the point of pain, then you must not be working hard enough. That may be a fine assessment of the gym, but that is not the environment where I want to spend my energy during my career. Non-profits are often limited in the resources available to support staff retention and sometimes do not have access to the most enticing salaries or most robust benefits packages. The Action Alliance has made commitments to pay living wages and to offer other regular benefits. We make staff development opportunities available because whether someone has been here 20 years or 5 minutes, we all have more to learn. And we use out of the box tools like the Wellness Fairies to create a workspace where people feel supported, loved, valued, and able to have fun while digging into the very hard work we do each day. The Wellness Fairies are a strategy for helping some of us get through the day and helping all of us stay in the movement to end violence a bit longer. The Wellness Fairies are a vaccine and an antidote – this organizational practice inoculates us from certain despair and cures us when the pressures of life and work become too great. Now in the third year and with a new set of fairies at the helm, the practice of cultivating wellness continues, the potlucks continue, the celebrations continue, and we are able to continue.

If you would like to learn more about how you can incorporate an organizational wellness practice like this on a shoestring budget, we will be glad to help you think it through. Get in touch with us!

Quillin Drew Musgrave is a Programs and Services Manager at the Action Alliance, a Board member of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, and operates Harrison Street Café with their partner. Quillin is learning to engage the world from a place of connection and gratitude and gets great joy from seeing their child, StaggerLee, learn to navigate life as a four-year old.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org