I enjoy summer days like today, when the overcast sky provides a slight barrier between the sun and myself. The air is heavy with humidity and I can feel its moist weight, yet it is not oppressive, just a soft atmospheric blanket. I have come to pay attention to the weather recently and the feelings it evokes perhaps because I have become more attuned to the subtle factors that shape my sense of reality. My relationship with Grinnell has changed drastically and I realized this as soon as I pulled into Grinnell in late June. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was greeted with a calm silence that I had never before experienced in Grinnell; a sharp contrast to the environment I stepped away from after graduation weekend in May. Initially, I was disconcerted by what appeared to be a dearth of activity and now as students start to return, I am ambivalent to accept the influx of new people into town. I feel divided: perched on a ledge between the college community and the town, yet my goal isn't to jump from one side to the other, but rather tread between the two. The purpose of my position is to serve both communities in a cooperative manner.
Each morning I awake to a plethora of feelings based on the previous day's activities and the current prospects for the new day. I would describe my life thus far living in Grinnell and working with the Domestic Violence Alternatives/ Sexual Assault Center (DVA/ SAC) as an existence of constant flux, characterized by a dichotomy of emotions and experiences oscillating between feelings of progress and stagnation, success and frustration, and purpose and aimlessness. Accordingly, some days I pop out of bed and I am immediately out the door, while on other days I linger slightly longer in the shower. Thus, an interplay exists between assurance and ambivalence affecting my daily cycle.
The DVA/SAC Poweshiek Outreach office is new, coming to Grinnell in the spring of 2002 and has witnessed a fair amount of staff turnover since then. DVA/SAC serves a four county area, which represents a large area to serve with a limited staff. Therefore, the Grinnell Corps fellow's responsibility is to establish the agency and promote its resources within the Grinnell community. Thus far, the community has proved quite welcoming. I am currently working on a collaborative effort between local law enforcement agencies, the sheriff's department, the county attorney's office and DVA/SAC to establish a Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART) in Poweshiek County. The function of the DART team is to efficiently coordinate efforts between these agencies in order to more effectively handle domestic abuse and sexual assault cases through the establishment of protocols and procedures. I am also working with the Poweshiek County Domestic Violence Coalition and the Healthy Choices Coalition to establish a cooperative relationship geared toward enhancing communal resources and creating a more effective network of organizations.
Typically, I require a caffeine infusion and a stream of hot water to reach a state of full consciousness in the morning, yet I have learned to rapidly summon alertness when the crisis line rings at 6:30 am while working at the shelter. The character of the calls vary from questions on available resources to offering a safe space for people to share their fears. My responses to the calls fluctuate accordingly. At times I feel overwhelmed by the severity of an individual's situation and struggle with my own sense of futility in being able to offer meaningful assistance. There is a strong emotional weight that comes with this position and I am grateful to have a support staff that recognizes the importance of processing such feelings, both on behalf of the client and the staff member involved. Conversely, on other occasions a call can prove to be empowering, such as talking with a person who has decided she wants to leave a long standing abusive relationship and is taking the steps necessary to do so.
Aside from managing the crisis line, my duties at the shelter primarily include the administration of the house's daily activities and meeting the needs of the people staying there. My first nights at the shelter where challenging, as I was acutely conscious of being a male in an all female environment and the people staying in shelter were somewhat guarded themselves. However, upon a recent visit to the shelter I encountered one of the occupants and she inquired as to when I would be returning to work the night shift. Her comment gave me pause and she must have caught the look in my eye, for she continued by saying that she was initially skeptical of my presence, as men have often played a negative role in her life, but she grew to appreciate my presence. Again I paused and then smiled. My position with DVA/SAC is a challenging one. My surroundings remain the same in that I'm in Grinnell, yet I'm delving into completely new territory and progress can seem slow and difficult to measure. However, it is such interactions that strengthen my faith and give me confidence to proceed.
As we enter late summer, I have some clear goals for the coming fall. I want to increase the degree of direct service in Grinnell by communicating more with local law enforcement agencies and the court system to gain a clearer understanding of victims in order to make our outreach services more readily available. Also, domestic abuse and sexual assault awareness month is approaching in October and the organization of activities is under way. Furthermore, I am developing educational materials to be presented before varies school groups and youth organizations. Concrete goals aside, I realize the immediate importance of first forging relationships within the community and sometimes, although it may no seem germane, accomplishment comes in the form of acts such as teaching a boy to toss the Frisbee in the park after an evening concert. My position is, in many ways, an act of community building, which is a dynamic process that embodies numerous manifestations.