In the spring, Gallup-certified strengths coaches spent a “Day of Service” hosting a strengths training session specifically for residents in Ozanam Manor, St. Vincent de Paul’s transitional housing program and shelter for senior and/or disabled adults. The first session was such a success that the coaches came back three more times in the months that followed!
“We all have strengths. We all have talents. We all have gifts. We all have a unique journey that we’ve been given,” said JW Rayhons, the facilitator, as he began each session. “And the more you focus on those strengths, the stronger you become.”
The residents sat with the coaches and openly shared their past, present and hopes for the future. They shared their life stories and their dreams. After getting to know them, the coaches helped each participant identify his/her strengths.
Each session aimed to inspire and uplift its participants. There was a visible change in the residents from the moment they stepped in the room to the time they left it at the end. They transformed from people who were unsure of themselves and their purpose to having smiles on their faces, hope in their hearts and belief in their life’s value. Here are just a few of their stories.
Jennifer used to work as an emergency medical technician (EMT), but when her deteriorating health left her unable to keep a job—any job—she fell into homelessness.
“[When I was homeless, I wasn’t] even thinking a day ahead,” Jennifer shared. “[My only thought was] ‘Can I get through today?’”
Jennifer was homeless for almost five years before coming to Ozanam Manor.
“Some of us call it the ‘Land of Oz,’” she said. “Coming from [the places we’ve been] it is like the Emerald City.”
Some of what makes it feel magical are the opportunities residents have like the Strength Training sessions. Jennifer participated in multiple sessions because after a few minutes in to the first one, she quickly realized this could help her rediscover her passions.
“[It was] eye-opening how many strengths I actually had,” she said. “Focusing on what I actually love—photography and [being] outside as much as I can.”
From a young age, Jennifer has loved photography. She enjoys capturing nature, what she calls “the beauty of God’s creation.” She used to travel to Alaska every year to take pictures of the aurora borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights. She hasn’t been in ten years. Her hope is when she is able to go again, it will be a year that the Northern Lights are really strong and she can capture some amazing photos.
Participating in the Strengths Trainings helped Jennifer rediscover this passion and her strength to pursue it. During one of the activities, each participant picked a picture that describes them and shared it with the group. Jennifer picked a picture of a camera.
“It’s the camera lens,” she explained. “I keep seeing this as ‘Don’t lose focus! Don’t lose focus in life or yourself.’ I never want to lose focus.”
Stuart has often had difficulty defining himself.
“I didn’t understand school, and I had nobody to explain to me, help me with all the questions I had in my mind,” he said. “I’m the kind of person that likes to really dig in.”
As a working adult, he had many different jobs that he came to through referrals.
“I learn from whatever other people say about me,” Stuart said. “I look at the referrals and think, ‘That’s more me.’”
During the Strengths Training, the coaches engaged the participants in rich discussions about themselves and challenged participants like Stuart to dig deep. Thanks to their guidance, Stuart was able to piece through some of the things that were taught and start to understand that his talents are making order out of confusion and creating harmony.
“That was very rewarding,” said Stuart, who loved the opportunity to express and share himself. He shared with the group that he’s an introspective person, he likes to listen to others and loves to analyze.
Stuart recently moved out of Ozanam Manor and into a trailer that is fully furnished, in a quiet adult mobile home park. He continues to work part time in a training program through the Area Agency on Aging and is looking for full time work.
“Everything works together and whatever was relayed [in the Strengths Training] is still there [along with] the work I’m doing in [finding] the greater strength within myself,” he said. “I’ve come around, and I’m moving back into my power.”
One very joy-filled and endearing resident, Pamela, actually invited other residents to the first session she came to, without even knowing what it was going to be about!
“I enjoy the deepness of humanity and people and their life stories,” she said.
Pamela was struck by the session’s comforting, inviting and sincere the environment.
“The communication was relatable and the participants were responsive to it, including myself,” Pamela shared, “and I really enjoyed that because when you can get a group together that can correspond with the group as it’s supposed to be, that’s a good thing. It gives you inspiring ideas. When people pour their hearts out, it’s cool.”
During the session, the facilitator JW shared the poem “Our Deepest Fear” by Marianne Williamson, often remembered from the movie Coach Carter. That poem really resonated with Pamela. It’s in her room, and she looks at it every day.
Pamela didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she decided to attend the Strengths Training. Now she knows her strengths are influencing others and staying positive.
She also experienced a sense of commonality between all of the residents who participated. She noticed that there was a new level of respect and understanding among them. They were all in the same boat.
“A little bit of powerful positive time makes a huge difference,” Pamela said. “A little glimmer of hope, which is a lot, could make a big difference in the community itself. It already has.”
Jeff started on a new path the day he stepped into the room for the Strengths Training. He was used to living by disconnecting with everything, being hard on himself, being depressed. In just a couple of hours, his mindset began to change.
“I started feeling good about me and my future again. I started the process of forgiving myself. I picked up some tools,” he said.
Jeff learned about the importance of showing up and making an effort. He was reminded that we are not just meant to exist, but to live. He chose to stop disconnecting and instead, connect with everything.
“I believe in having opportunities of meeting people that will change your life.”
Through some one-on-one time with one of the coaches, Jeff was able to identify with his strengths again—the ability to fit in anywhere, being a leader as well as a good follower and communicating with every kind of person.
“I’m complete when I’m interacting with someone else, and it’s positive. Without that, I’m just here, I’m just existing,” he said.
The most important thing that Jeff learned is simple, but one of the hardest things for humans to feel sometimes, but Jeff found it that day.
“I have some worth and I matter,” he said.
Help make addtional Strengths Training sessions possible for current and future Ozanam Manor residents. Donate to today by visiting stvincentdepaul.net/strengthstraining.