In Gender and Women’s Studies, we learn how to look at the world differently. This is exactly what this internship has made me do. I wanted to intern somewhere that would really make a difference in the community and I believe that I achieved this at Gryphon Place. We all hear about poverty, homelessness, and other community tragedies. Sometimes, we think that these issues are not close to home or don’t affect us. This is entirely untrue. Because I have only lived near WMU’s campus, I have not really experienced the poverty and hardships of Kalamazoo. This internship has made me realize how important volunteering and helping out the community really is. I did not realize how privileged I was to have food, a warm home, and the opportunity to attend college. Some of the callers that we get are homeless, mentally/physically/emotionally disabled, victims of domestic abuse, etc. Most of the time, the callers who are victims of abuse are women in the community. It is so important for women to be able to have somewhere to call and talk about their issues and to be able to get the resources to get them out of their current situation. It really is an amazing feeling when someone thanks you and tells you that you have changed their life.
Before this internship, I did not even know about 211 or Lifeline (suicide hotline). Now, I am constantly spreading the word for people to call us if they need any resources or just a listening ear. Gryphon Place does unbelievable things for people in the community and I believe that people need to know about them! I am really glad I interned at Gryphon Place and would recommend it for any GWS major/minor looking for an internship. I have finished my hours for the internship, but I am going to continue to volunteer at Gryphon Place and help out our community!
Because yesterday was Veteran’s Day, we answered Central Michigan’s 211 calls. Central Michigan includes Jackson, Lansing, Eaton, Hillsdale, and other counties in that area. My hometown is Jackson, so it was a little different to answer calls from this county. Most of the calls that I received were about Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. Out of all the calls I received about assistance for holiday baskets, every one was a woman. These women were calling to get help providing for their families during the holidays. Thankfully, there are a few different resources around town that help families with food and toys for children. I knew that the town I came from was not the wealthiest place, but I did not think about not having enough money to give your kids a hot meal or a toy for Christmas. Sometimes, people think that issues like this don’t happen to people they know or see everyday, but it does. I realized that we should not be quick to judge these single moms who really are trying their best to provide for their families. I cannot imagine being a single mother and barely making enough money to pay the bills. On top of that, having to make sure that your children have a few gifts to wake up to on Christmas day. Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality for a large number of families. I was really relieved and happy that there are agencies in the community that help families during the holiday season. Working at Gryphon Place has really brought me down to earth and helped me realize that people share a lot of the same problems, no matter what their class/race/ethnicity.
The other day, I had a female caller who just wanted to vent. She told me that she was completely exhausted from working a full-time job and taking care of her kids at home. She was married, but she told me that her husband did not help out around the house because he was always too tired from work. In some of my GWS classes, we learned about this “second shift” where working women still do more childcare/household duties than their working husbands. This caller was so stressed out and tired that a simple listening ear really helped her calm down and organize her thoughts. I understand where she is coming from because that has to be stressful to work the same amount as your husband, but still have to do all the work at home. Unfortunately, this is not unusual of many working women. During the call, I did not get to talk very much, which was fine. When the woman was finished with her stories, she let out a sigh of relief and told me how grateful she was that there were people to finally listen to her. It really makes a world of a difference to have someone to understand and identify her exhaustion with her current situation. In training, when we get calls like this, we are trained to repeat back “content to feeling words.” Meaning, if someone tells you about a very stressful or tired day, you could say “I can hear that your feel exhausted.” Sometimes, people get really excited and grateful that someone can hear and understand what they are going through. It helps them relax and feel like their problems matter to someone else.
In GWS 3200 Women, Multiculturalism, and Social Change (which was one of my favorite classes here at WMU), we learned about how gender (as well as ethnicity, class, race, etc.) plays a large part in social institutions. During this class, we learned about different policies that do not support women. Although some people like to believe that men and women have equal opportunities, this is usually not the case. During my time at Gryphon Place, I see these in real-life situations. Sometimes we get 211 referral calls that turn into crisis calls. This is how I learned about a woman’s experience because she was looking for general legal aid. This woman called looking for help because she had a male boss at work that had been harassing her. She told her supervisor and he said to just ignore the comments/gestures. The woman did this for a few weeks, but the harassment was getting worse. I cannot go into detail about the specifics of the harassment, but this woman did not feel safe going to work anymore. After talking to many people at her work, she was told by most people that it was not a big deal and to stop being a baby about it. This woman knew that she had rights, but she was literally too scared to confront her boss so she stop coming to work. Cases like this really make me angry. First of all, everyone should feel safe in a workplace setting. Second, the fact that people told her that it was not a big deal and to stop complaining really bothers me as well. Sometimes, it is hard to not put too much of your opinion in the calls at Gryphon Place because we are not trained therapists. Yet, situations like this really should not be tolerated. I was glad that this woman called to get herself some legal help and to see her options. Sometimes, women’s rights just get ignored and pushed to the side, but I hope that she found some justice in her situation!
A large number of our callers need assistance with their electric/utility bill. The first place people can go for help is the Michigan Department of Human Services. Currently, DHS is not helping anyone in the state with utility assistance because they do not have any funds. This is a scary thing to experience as a 211 worker. We are getting calls from people that cannot afford their Consumer’s Energy bill and are not getting any government assistance until November 1. DHS is now only helping people between November and June, which is a huge change to our government. I had a caller the other day that was so desperate and scared that I could hear it in her voice. She had a son with special needs and a husband that needed an oxygen tank. She literally had no money and no family to help her out. This shows how much people rely on these assistance programs to survive. We have some local agencies that help small portions of these bills, but they are not enough to keep the power on. In GWS classes, we not only learn about gender and sexuality issues, but also political and social issues. The government shut down and lack of funding is an extremely important issue right now. This is affecting so many women (and men) in negative ways. In GWS, we learn to think critically and analyze our world around us. This is such an important skill to have when working at Gryphon Place as well because sometimes you have to think out of the box to help people in need.
Today was a very powerful today at Gryphon Place. I had a very intense Lifeline (suicide hotline) call. It was a young, scared girl who was severely depressed and scared. She was having problems with her sexuality and her peers at school. Sometimes, it’s very hard to know what to say to a suicidal person, but our training really helped us know warning signs and learn how to talk to them. The girl I talked to today was a lesbian who did not want to come out to her family. She had told a few friends and they stopped being her friend. She was so scared and felt that suicide was the only way out. It really made me realize how hard gay/lesbian people can have it. This girl lost most of her friends just because she didn’t want to be with men. Situations like this prove that gender is dictated by society. People should be able to be with whoever they want and should not be judged for it. GWS classes do such an amazing job educating people about equality in gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation. Working at Gryphon has helped me realize how these inequalities can cause immense harm to people’s lives.
A major focus of Gender and Women’s Studies is to educate and empower women around the world so they can support and help themselves. This is exactly the work we do at Gryphon Place. Some of the women who call 211 or Lifeline feel that they have no power or control over their own lives. The workers here are not counselors (and we stress that to our callers). During training, we learned how to empower our callers. Most of the time, the callers want solutions to their problems, but we are not educated or trained enough to be able to do this. That is why Gryphon Place chose to train their workers to keep the focus on the caller and have them work through the issues themselves. When the callers come up with ideas and solutions for themselves, this is an extremely empowering and positive thing for them. This strongly relates to the strategy of GWS. The classes stress that in order for women to start being treated as equals to men, we need to feel empowered and realize that we are important too. We have learned that we do not always need a man to be able to support ourselves because we are privileged enough now to go to college and get jobs on our own. Feeling power and control over ones own life is an extremely important part of GWS and also the work we do at Gryphon Place.