From The Field: Using Mindfulness to Build a Better Community
By: Kristin McGee, Family Support Director, Rutland County Parent Child Center
Mindfulness, the simple ability to be aware of your surroundings and quietly reflect upon them, has physical and emotional benefits that have aided people for centuries. Here at Rutland County Parent Child Center, in our Transitional Living program named Poise, (Parenting On our own In a Safe Environment), Case Manager Andrew Juettner, M.E.d., has integrated mindfulness into the daily routine to help the residents live a more productive and peaceful life. Along with intern Kalie Dunican from Castleton University, Andrew is striving to educate the formerly homeless pregnant and parenting youth mind, body and soul.
Though rooted in Buddhist meditation, mindfulness has become more mainstream in American culture through the writings and teachings of such renowned masters as Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat Zin. By beginning with simple breathing exercises and slowly working towards guided meditation and other mindful exercises, mindfulness can help a person of any age and ability become more alert and focused, feel more peaceful and less angry or frustrated, reduce anxiety and fear and even help with physical pain management.
Since both Andrew and myself had backgrounds using mindfulness successfully, I was very excited when he wanted to integrate it in the Poise program. Having Kalie able to help with yoga classes was also a blessing. Andrew and Kalie begin each morning with the residents at 8:30 for an hour long mindfulness class. This class varies; sometimes it is a guided meditation, sometimes a yoga class, and sometimes it is a mindfulness activity.
Whatever, the activity, the residents begin the day feeling centered and peaceful. For some of them, it is their exercise for the day. For others, who struggle with anger issues, it helps them to feel more grounded as they learn coping mechanisms for frustrations throughout the day. Still others just like the idea of having some time to turn off their very active brains and feel at peace. For whatever reason they participate, the classes have made it possible for the residents to get to know each other better and bond over their similar life challenges.
The space that is used is a recently refurbished efficiency unit. When it is set up as the Family Mindfulness Room, it is a place the residents can use throughout the day to play quietly with their children, work on arts and crafts, read or simply have a peaceful reflection. There are no electronics allowed in the room, and no distractions from the outside world. It is also used for Community dinners, which traditionally were held in the hallway, because there was no group room available.
The mindfulness room doubles as an emergency shelter room when necessary. The simple furnishings can be easily replaced with beds and a dresser in a moment’s notice when needed, which makes it an ideal solution to two problems; the need for a community room and emergency shelter beds. Moreover, the residents have grown closer through these shared experiences and have begun giving Andrew ideas for more activities. We are all hopeful the residents will take the new skills they have learned with them when they move into permanent housing.