Community Support Network eNews, August 2014 issue
|We hope this newsletter finds you well!
Before diving into LIRS updates, we would like to continue to applaud your action and leadership in response to the border crisis. We are inspired by your continued dedication, and also find inspiration in the outpouring of support from concerned citizens and interested volunteers. LIRS is currently receiving 100 volunteer inquiries daily. We encourage everyone to sign up for Action Alerts through the LIRS Stand for Welcome initiative, to keep up-to-date on border developments.
In times of higher stress, self-care becomes all the more important. Last October, Claudia Antuña led a fabulous webinar on self-care. During her presentation, participants shared valuable personal and office-wide strategies for burnout prevention. In case good habits have fallen to the wayside in the stress of recent months, we wanted to mention here a few of the strategies you shared at that time. Some of those strategies included walking meetings, meditation and therapy, listening to music while working, eating lunch as a group daily, going regularly to happy hour and letting others help you rather than being a lone ranger. To learn more, attend Claudia and John Keller’s breakout session, “The Importance of Self-Care” at the L4.
Additionally, we wanted to review here the ATJ staff transitions. Megan Bremer departed LIRS at the end of August for an exciting new opportunity as Managing Attorney at the Maryland Disability Law Center. Julia Coffin, our Lutheran Volunteer Corps member since August, 2013, will be remaining with ATJ as a temporary Training and Research Coordinator. Lastly, we are excited to welcome Christina Andeweg (Lutheran Volunteer Corps Program Fellow) and Sarah Harrs (Episcopal Service Corps Program Fellow) to our team. Christina will work closely with DTS and Community Support partners, while Sarah will be focusing on visitation and housing partnership recruitment. The ATJ team currently consists of:
We look forward to seeing many of you next week at the L4, and to visiting our Arizona and Seattle/Tacoma sites in September. As always, thanks for your continued partnership in this important work!
Rev. John Guttermann is no stranger to the difficulties individuals face while in immigration detention. Since March of 2011, he has been leading an immigration detention visitation ministry program called Conversations with Friends at the Ramsey County Detention Center in St. Paul, MN. He currently has twenty-two active visitation volunteers at the Ramsey facility. He is also in the process of establishing a Conversations with Friends program at the Sherburne County Jail in Elk River, MN, with nine volunteers already trained.
This month we are honored to highlight the motivations behind Rev. Guttermann’s vital work, gaining insight into the world of immigration detention visitation ministry. Thank you, Rev. Guttermann, for taking the time to share your inspiring story.Q: What brought you to do immigration detention visitation ministry, and what motivates you to continue in your work?
A: Several years ago, following a difficult intentional interim ministry during which both of my parents died, I took time to rest, reflect, attend a variety of local social justice events, participate in anti-racism trainings, and attend some classes at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Included among those classes were visits to, first, Chiapas, Mexico, then, the following year, Guatemala.
After my return from Chiapas I was invited to an immigrant rights march, attended, and at that event – literally for the first time – saw that the same people who had taught and cared for me in Chiapas were also here and that here I was being called to be their ally.
I also began meeting with a group of four clergy in the dining room of one discussing how to help immigrants. We assumed that a clergy credential gave us the right to visit detainees, soon learning that was not the case. This was the genesis for Conversations With Friends for which I became the lead organizer.
After our first visit, one of the Sisters who is a visitor declared, “John, this is ‘so’ the right thing to do.” There are also the many times I leave after an evening’s visit, my own faith and values strengthened by the witness of the person I have met with.
Q: How does your faith impact the work that you do?
A: To be with someone in the midst of the trauma of detention is to live the words in Matthew, “I was in prison and you visited me.” It is gritty and traumatic. In the beginning I spent months dreading visit night and going into the jail. Those words kept me coming back. Visiting is an experience of grace. Being the Lead for this visit program brings me into a relationship of gratitude with and for the volunteers who are the doers of this ministry. Being welcomed into the jail by staff and the detainees we visit gifts me with a sense of hope.
Q: What is the most valuable thing you have learned through participating in visitation ministry?
A: I am not sure this is “the most valuable thing” I have learned, but it was an unexpected learning from an unexpected source: Several of the first group of volunteer visitors said, “I do not want to visit someone convicted of a major crime.” Wanting to accommodate that boundary declaration, I brought it to the jail detention center staff and asked how to make it happen. Their response was, “How can we tell one detained immigrant that they can have a visitor, then tell another that they cannot?” I brought that back to the group, and we agreed – all were to be invited to have a visitor.
Q: What do you do outside of volunteering with Conversations with Friends?
A: I am a homebody. I enjoy simply being in my home, caring for my home, and being with my wife. I love riding my bicycle, reading, watch too many shows on Netflix, and do what is often called ‘adventure travel’ – trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp three years ago, hiking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro last year, and will soon be leaving to hike Peru’s Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to either start or expand an immigration detention visitation ministry?
A: Keep the faith. Listen. Develop and maintain a network of informed local supporters. Connect with local and national groups working on detention and immigration issues. Show courtesy toward and respect of ICE officials and the correction’s officers with whom you will work. Respect the integrity and privacy of immigrant detainees.
If you are interested in joining a ministry or learning more, please visit www.lirs.org/visitation
Who is the Community Support Network?
In partnership with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) LIRS launched the Community Support Network in 2012, a national service model to examine the efficiency of community-based services as an alternative to immigration detention. This initiative inspires volunteers and funds non-profit service agencies to offer a continuum of care that facilitates immigrants’ release from detention, immediate support and stabilization services, torture and trauma rehabilitation, and eventually long term integration. In 2012, the Community Support Network served approximately 85 people post-release and brought together over 80 practitioners for a conference about alternatives to current enforcement practices.