Topic: Cultivating Resilience and Building a Trauma-Informed Organization
Perry Dougherty of Still Harbor presented at the Next Mile Project to educate the nonprofits about how to best care for their employees’ well-being.
What is Still Harbor?
- Still harbor works with individuals and organizations to understand their purpose and elicit their ‘gifts’ to make change
- They operate at the intersection of spirituality and social justice
- Discerning purpose, vocation, and call to service
- Aligning to and attuning values, beliefs, motivations
- Healing, reconciling and understanding in relationship to self, others, and the sacred
- They believe in ‘accompaniment:’ the notion that one needs to take a holistic approach and consider all factors to understand an issue or organizational entity
Still Harbor strongly believes in helping yourself before helping others (Metaphorically – On an airplane they ask you to place your mask on before assisting others). Why?
- Social justice work is very personal and often intermixed with employees’ past pain.
- This can interfere in accomplishing one’s goals
- When we don’t feel healthy and whole our work is often compromised
- Many nonprofits’ ultimate mission is long term change
- Thus, employees cannot burn out as human resources are the most valuable assets many social justice organizations can provide.
- Those attempting to effect positive change need to model what it looks like to heal and to be healed
- If the ultimate goal of a nonprofit is to promote equality or oneness, it is important to consider oneself not only as helpers but also as those in need of help.
- Everyone deserves to say ‘me-too.’
- Becomes a point of solidarity
Dougherty discussed the importance of fostering a nurturing, healing environment in times of peace so that during crisis or after trauma exposure employees are better equipped to cope.
What is trauma exposure?
- In simple terms: witnessing trauma (See slides for a full list of symptoms)
- Seeing suffering, observing substandard qualities of life, listening to those involved a natural disaster or social unrest, etc.
- Individuals and organizations often neglect the employees who are exposed to trauma
- Many are quick to dismiss their own feelings about such exposure due to the relative nature of their experiences: “I didn’t live through it,” “she had it worse than I ever did,” “How can I be upset when they dealt with x, y or z?”
- Organizations can get so wrapped up in their goals to help others they forget to help themselves
- Every social justice nonprofit is exposed to trauma as a result of going to the most marginalized areas in the world
Proactively create resilience in a time where there is no crisis. What is resilience?
- The capacity of a person, group, or system to sustain its core purpose and wholeness in the face of dramatically changed circumstances
- The capacity of a person, group, or system to recover from stress and adversity well.
- Not simply ‘get-over-it’ psychological toughness. It includes healthy, though often painful integration of new information or circumstances.
- Need to cultivate resilience on an individual and collective levels
How to Cultivate Resilience:
- Grapple critically with our purpose, beliefs, values, and understandings
- Connect with ourselves, others, and something greater than any one of us
- Open ourselves for potential change
- Need to create an environment that integrates reflection, focus, connection, and integration
What it takes to build a Trauma- Informed Organization
- Establish a safe space to foster open discussion
- Embrace the various ways trauma can impact someone and encourage justice workers to understand that their responses are not signs of weakness but of humanity
- Place real value on caring for oneself as well as for others.
Case Study: Haiti Earthquake and Still Harbor’s Akonpanye program
- Still Harbor established a safe haven where Haitians, Haitian-Americans, and emergency response personnel could gather to openly discuss their feelings about the disaster
- Lessons learned:
- People yearn to find ways to communicate their feelings. They need a space to fully understand their feelings then discuss them.
- Often have profound spiritual questions they need to muse on in a safe setting. (ex. Why do bad things happen to good people)
- People often feel alone as a result of their experience. They believe others cannot understand or they try to rationalize feelings away (They had it worse, so I shouldn’t worry).
Take a look at the PowerPoint here