...and not always just the people you think.
“In the interviewing process for potential staff, I always communicate that if they choose to accept employment at the Union Gospel Mission, the person who will grow and change the most will most likely be them” – JoAnn Zajicek, Director, UGM Center for Women & Children.
Linda Cook, Community Engagement Coordinator for the UGM Center in Coeur d’Alene, has an ambitious goal: “enrich the life of everyone in the community who partners with us.” Linda is convinced that UGM doesn’t just change the residents. It changes everyone who takes the time to engage.
“My experience has been so life-altering in a very profound and very good way. I have become interested in seeing everyone have that experience. It’s like happily married people on Valentine’s Day. They always want to match-make for all their friends because you just have to be as happy as me, and that’s my take on this ministry. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t benefit from the spiritual connectedness, from the increased emotional IQ, from the gain in introspection and the resulting gratitude and emotional maturity.”
Come and See
Making connections is a huge part of Linda’s job. She goes out into the community to tell the story of what’s happening at UGM, but whenever she can, she also invites people to come and see for themselves. She loves shattering stereotypes. The Center is not your typical homeless shelter. The work being done goes way beyond food and shelter. It even goes beyond traditional addiction recovery: it’s more about deep, holistic healing for the body and the soul. The women themselves defy labels like “addict” and “felon.” They could be our mothers, our sisters, our daughters. They could be us.
Linda said she used to be a “theoretical Christian.”
“Theoretically, I believed all this stuff. Now, I believe it right down to the ground. I take it to the bank. When God says, I can turn your wailing into dancing, I used to say, ‘Hmmmm…yeah, that’s nice.’ But no! He really does that. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve experienced it.”
Part of the beauty Linda has experienced working at the Center stems from the freedom to be open about her own shortcomings, her own woundedness.
“I have visibly and painfully failed. When I was first introduced [to the residents], I said, ‘Some of you may have done what I have, but none of you have done worse than what I have.’…Before I got here, I experienced the biggest wound in my life being healed so completely that I could remember the pain, but the only thing I was left with was joy. It was amazing, and I think I needed that piece before I could even be involved here. God was building things in my life even before I arrived, which was really amazing to reflect on.
“You wouldn’t want a Sherpa on Mount Everest who’d only climbed an over-sized hill. You can’t lead someone on the road to spiritual wholeness unless you know that road that winds its way from darkness to light.”
Linda said staff members often refer to being in "phase 6." (The Recovery program has 5 phases.)
“I want to blow the socks off this perception that we’re in some lofty place, looking down on sufferers and getting ready to thump them on the head with our Bibles. We walk this out with each other.”
Benefits of Partnership
Linda sees this "walking through life together" as being available to the entire community and the benefits freely flowing both ways.
UGM operates without government funding and is therefore completely dependent on the community's generosity. Financial donations. Gifts of quilts, clothing, food and toiletries. “But apart from physical resources, we are dealing with women and children who are so deeply traumatized, it’s an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of situation. Because of the leanness of how we operate as a non-profit, we can’t impact the lives as profoundly as we need to without partners. There aren’t enough paid staff, not enough hours in the day. When the community comes alongside, it fills a huge gap for us.
“It’s love with hands and feet. One of the biggest challenges here is convincing the women that they are worthy of being loved, and that’s what the community does for them. That’s what I say in the thank-you letters I send out: ‘You’ve enabled someone for whom love was just a dream to see that it is real. You’ve shown them they are valued and valuable and cared for. You’re making sure that not just their hearts are warmed, but that their feet are warmed and their bellies are warmed. It’s love in action.”
Linda shared a quote from George Bernard Shaw that summarizes her perspective on holding this job at this point in her life:
"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a might one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can."
"It's not a biblical quote, but that was a driving force for me all the way back in 2012 before I was even aware of UGM - to be called according to the purpose of God. And that's another impact that changed my life entirely because I feel like for the first time in my life - all the skills, all the connections, all of my experiences - have come together in this powerful little nexus of being in the perfect place with the skills needed to be a part of something so much bigger and so much more satisfying."
Feel inspired? Want to be a part of "something so much bigger than yourself"? We'd love to have you attend a volunteer orientation in Spokane or Coeur d'Alene. Click below for more information.