Women who have experienced oppression, violence, addiction, and incarceration often have little sense of empowerment. In some cases, programs providing services to these women unintentionally perpetuate feelings of oppression and helplessness by implementing rigid rules or limiting decision making in order to protect residents. For example, programs may require residents to submit paychecks to the program and receive an allowance, thus forcing residents to save money. This may seem in the best interest of the resident, but does it actually empower residents to save money on their own? What if the resident does not agree that saving every penny is in their best interest? Rules and regulations are necessary to maintain balance and safety, but often do little to encourage residents to feel a sense of empowerment. In our program, we asked “How can we do both?”
Like any residential program, Magdalene Serenity House has rules and restrictions in place. Many of the rules are non-negotiable throughout the two-year program: Residents must not engage in substance use and must participate in at least 15 hours of programming per week. Some restrictions are lessened as residents advance in the program. For example, after 90 days in the program a resident can leave the property without a staff or volunteer. In Phase 3, residents have a later curfew. Women earn privileges as they demonstrate accountability and responsibility by completing each Phase of the program.
MSH provides life skills programming to address problem solving and decision making, but in order to exercise autonomy and self-determination, residents must be given the opportunity to make their own decisions and make mistakes. For example, MSH tries to empower residents to make wise financial choices, but also recognizes that they should be given choices in how to spend their money. This is a learning opportunity in a safe, supportive, and controlled environment.
The difficult part of self-determination and empowerment is when residents do not make positive, healthy choices. Our residents can choose where they work and some have even secured their own transportation to work, meetings, and appointments. Residents have freedom, choice, and the opportunity to continue to practice the skills they have learned in real world settings. More importantly, residents become responsible and are held accountable for the decisions they make. In the worst case scenario, a poor decision (i.e. substance use, dishonesty) could result in a resident leaving our program prior to graduation.
An initial reaction for staff working in recovery programs when clients relapse or make poor decisions is to increase control through heightened surveillance and implementation of more rigid restrictions. We want to keep our residents and community safe. Still, we must think about how our actions will impact the therapeutic alliance which is the best predictor of resident success. For example, more rigidity may indicate to the residents that we do not trust them. Therefore, our team recognizes that we must continue to build relationships that promote self-determination, empowerment, and mutual respect. Our residents earn the opportunity to exercise autonomy, graduate, and successfully reintegrate into the community.
We are taking part in NWA Gives, which is happening from 8am to 8pm on April 4th. Our fundraising goal is $10,000. We have already received $4,000 in matched funds.
We are raising funds for an outdoor classroom for our residents.To date, we have provided over 1,073 groups to support our residents. An outdoor classroom will give us the opportunity to take our programming outdoors, breathe in the Arkansas air, and connect with nature.
Help us create a relaxing and peaceful outdoor space for our residents to learn, heal, and move forward in their recovery. Find us at NWAgives.org on April 4!
Resident Success Story
“What is a time you felt accomplished at Magdalene?”
“I would say the biggest thing for me would be reconnecting with my children. I have been working hard at my full-time job, and, through this program, I have been able to save enough money for an apartment that I will be getting after I leave. I will be able to have my children the entire summer. It will feel really good to have my family back together again. So, it feels like the full circle of what I’ve been trying to get back to, and Magdalene has helped me move forward. I just really appreciate that.”
For more resident success stories, follow us on Facebook and Instagram!
• Instagram: @magdaleneserenityhouse
• Facebook: @magdaleneserenityhouse
This month’s Volunteer Spotlight is Lydia Adair! Lydia is a trained yoga instructor and teaches a weekly yoga class to our residents. Lydia comes to us from Memphis, Tennessee and is an accounting and finance major at the University of Arkansas. She is also a Younglife Leader at a local junior high and a fitness instructor through the U of A Recreation Program.
“I decided to volunteer at the Magdalene house because it allows me to use my knowledge as a fitness instructor to positively affect others. I wanted to show that physical fitness can be very exciting and have positive mental health benefits. I believe that there is a fitness program for everyone, and I hope to encourage physical fitness as a priority in the resident’s lives.”