Expanding Horizons - Therapeutic Communities
We are our brothers’ keepers. That example is illustrated at Camillus House, where it’s practiced every day, for every client, by every employee, partner and volunteer through the numerous programs provided to help the poor and homeless of Miami Dade County.
In addition to the various health, medical, legal, residential, job and career assistance programs Camillus provides, clients have been busy making a success of the newer Therapeutic Communities, designed to expose them to a world outside of the hub they may have grown up in or lived in.
Currently, that list includes art and yoga classes, a choir, and spoken word, all of which give clients a chance to tap into their inner, and often times, hidden talents.
“It’s an outlet to be creative and look at things from a different perspective”, explained Clarrissa Hazel, Camillus House Clinician for the Institute for Success and Personal Achievement program, or ISPA. “A lot of our clients have been living in a framework of negativity and hopelessness, so the other parts of who they are have sometimes been overlooked in the past. The premise is that you can expand, that there’s more you can do and enjoy in life as you continue to mature as an individual.”
Partnerships with various volunteers and organizations make these communities possible. Over the next few weeks we will highlight each one, beginning with Yoga.
The quiet calm of the room is influenced by the tranquil, meditative music playing softly in the background, and comforting instructions of the yoga teacher. Several people are actively engaged in the class, while others lie comfortably on their yoga mats, quietly relaxing.
It’s a very informal set up in the Bank of America Community Room at Camillus House NCL campus on this particular Tuesday morning.
“Not everyone participates actively in the yoga class,” says Nicolay Del Salto, the program’s yoga instructor. And, he’s very okay with that. “They’re breathing, they’re quiet, they’re listening. And this ultimately is what you want. Little by little, people start jumping in.”
Since December 2015, Nicolay Del Salto has led yoga classes for residents and day clients at Camillus House every Tuesday and Thursday morning, from 9:00 AM -12:00 PM. And he loves it! An instructor since 2003, Del Salto says that yoga is something that helps rid the body of toxins-physical, emotional, spiritual. So, Del Salto asks, “What’s better for someone who’s had a rough night than to come in, do a class, rest their mind, rest their body, get their digestion going and then take a little 10 minute nap? They leave rejuvenated.
“I don’t care if you’re homeless or a PhD or the CEO of Oracle, you have a lot of stuff that comes up throughout the day,” Del Salto continued. “When you attend this class, you put it on quiet and your subconscious processes it. This is what yoga does for life.”
Beveann Charles, 38, agrees. She is a very cheerful woman with a smile that lights up the room and a laugh that is quite contagious. “I participate in the Camillus Day Program because it gives you some time to release that negative energy. And, it RELAXES YOU! It’s a good thing. A very good thing.”
It has been a very good thing for Beveann, who has been homeless and living on the streets of Miami for the past 8 months. She lost her job with Forever 21 following a flare up from a previous injury. The yoga class at Camillus is an “oasis” for Beveann because “there’s a difference between being homeless in a shelter and being homeless on the streets,” she pointed out. “It’s trying, and sometimes I think it’s a lot of stress on the mind, and I think you have to be mentally prepared. No one can mentally prepare you for it. You have to dig deep down inside and be prepared because you’re the one walking the journey. It’s intense.”
“Yoga allows them to get out of their head and into this present moment,” according to Del Salto. “It gives them a chance to get some affection, some adjustments, someone guiding them in a caring way. And that’s very important.” He added that this one hour provides clients a worry free moment where they do not have to be concerned with “whether someone is going to steal from them, kick them or do anything to them, so they can rest. The ones who rest get a good rest. The ones doing the class are calm. They’re not looking over their shoulder thinking, who’s going to steal my bag.”
For 35 year old Valerie Davis, being homeless is scary and stressful. While she waits to get into the drug treatment program at Camillus, she has begun taking advantage of some of the other programs offered to day clients. She says the yoga class is a “release” for her as she struggles to stay sober, quit smoking and eventually find a place of her own.
“I have a lot of stress on me right now being homeless,” she told us, “not knowing where I’m going to be the next day. It’s scary for me because I haven’t had to do this before, this is something new to me. The yoga class just helps me get my mind off of it.”
Valerie initially joined the class to lose weight, but has since found that it also helps get her mind off things, even for just a little while. “It relieves a lot of stress on your body, on your mind, and in your soul,” and she was quick to add, with a smile, “It’s the best class at Camillus. I wish more people would come so we can get it five days a week instead of two.”
Nicolay would love nothing better than to hold his classes five days a week at Camillus, beaming when he says, “I see the group consistently, I see their progress, I see them graduate, I see them move on. And I see the change, I see their metamorphosis.”
Hazel says the therapeutic communities are very beneficial because “They offer clients the time to expand their horizons. It provides different kinds of coping skills, different ways to be creative, to enjoy themselves, to instill hope, to have an outlet to express themselves.”