HousingPlus partnered with the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn and the Beck Institute on Religion and Poverty at Fordham University to create “Phoenix Rising”, a life skills mentoring program.” Researchers from the Beck Institute trained mentors from First Unitarian. These mentors were then partnered with tenants from HousingPlus.
Over the course of three months, tenants visited First Unitarian once a week for a community meal prepared by congregants. “It’s like having a party on a Monday night every week,” Beth Evans, a mentor, said. After dinner, guest speakers led mentors and tenants through workshops on topics covering art therapy, Reiki, managing finances, and more. Tenants and mentors worked one-on-one to discuss emotional health, dealing with grief, strategies for resolving conflict, creating a safety plan, and healing past trauma.
At the graduation ceremony in May 2017, our founder and executive director Rita Zimmer thanked First Unitarian for welcoming our tenants. “You’ve created a home,” she said. “You’ve created a safe space for women to come and share their stories.”
Monica Bostick, one of our tenants, said that she was hesitant to join the program but was surprised by how rewarding she found it. “This has been a true journey, an unexpected delight, a growing process,” she said.
A key aspect of the Phoenix Rising program is sharing personal stories. HousingPlus’ Phoenix Rising Coordinator Debbie Leggio thanked the tenants for allowing themselves to be vulnerable and sharing their experiences. “We all have a story to tell. I encourage you all to keep sharing your story to advocate for yourself and for change,” Debbie said.
Both tenants and mentors talked about trauma they have experienced and what they did–and continue to do–to move past that trauma. Shirley Johnson, one of the tenants who participated in Phoenix Rising, said, “Everybody has a story to tell, and everybody’s fighting a battle that nobody knows about.”
“These ladies brought us to places we thought we could never go to, and got us out of places we thought we’d never get out of,” Gerry Danzy, another mentor, said. At graduation, each tenant received a certificate and a gift from her mentor. After the ceremony, they enjoyed one more meal together with the congregation.
Although the Beck Institute has created mentoring partnerships with different congregations before, Phoenix Rising is the first time they also partnered with a non-profit organization. One goal is use Phoenix Rising as a model that can be replicated with other congregations and nonprofits.
As part of its research on how interpersonal mentoring can help people deal with trauma, the Beck Institute will follow up in 6 months with tenants and mentors to measure the lasting effects of the program. In the meantime, all of the tenants and mentors promised to stay in touch. As Megan Sullivan, a mentor, told the tenant she partnered with, “You’re not getting rid of me yet!”