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CAMILLUS HOUSE CELEBRATES EASTER BY SERVING VERONICA AND FRIENDS THROUGH THE PANDEMIC

Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the wrath is past. -Isaiah, 26:20

Wednesday, April 15, 2020 by Daniel Palugyai

Authors like Andrew Solomon and R.O. Kwon tell us in this week’s columns that sharing our grief is a must.  And maybe that’s why Veronica, a Camillus House resident-in-healing, is the kind of modern-day messenger we need just past Passover on this Good Friday to make sense of the moment.

“Our program, Project Phoenix, we’re quarantine on top of quarantine,” Veronica says from the outset about her cohort.  She repeats the expression well into our 30-minute phone interview.  Like my Camillus colleagues who can work remotely during this pandemic, we pledge allegiance to the social distancing of these United States of Dr. Fauci.  And to our front-line workers serving the Camillus housing campuses, for whom we stand, we are one family, under COVID-19, with personal protective equipment and portable hand-washing stations, for all.

 “At first, it was like, ‘Oh, we can’t go nowhere.’” Veronica continues.  The women of Project Phoenix, a 16- bed residential program for survivors of human trafficking, is one of many programs housed at the main Norwegian Cruise Line campus.  She explains that the work of group therapy continues through this pandemic.  The strategies she and her program-mates practice of identifying and sharing feelings and anxieties and coping strategies shine through as she analogizes to the teaching of letting go of what we cannot control.

Veronica also works on healing while housed at Camillus by volunteering at the clothing room as part of her work therapy routine.  In this way, through the generosity of community donations, Veronica continues doing her part to help ensure that women and men sleeping on the streets get clean clothing through the Camillus House Day Center Services, a program which continues offering showers, bagged meals, mail service and more, in coronavirus-conscious ways.  Long before required by city and county ordinances of the public at large, Camillus instituted glove and mask policies on campus for everyone’s protection. “Given the circumstances, I wouldn’t want to be nowhere but here because I know I’m protected, I have the support that I need from my staff and also you know the girls here…” Veronica relates.

The Resident Assistants of Veronica’s dorm-like abode take food orders and bring it back to the floor to protect the ladies’ health.  There is still time for art therapy through painting and karaoke-like turns at the microphone.  And after work with the licensed clinician and case management staff wraps up, leisure time begins, adhering to strict social distancing guidelines.

“We’ve grown closer through this coronavirus.  Everybody hangs around each other now instead of like two people and the other people in their room.  Everybody is like all together now.” 

So in the living room after 5pm it’s games like Uno that get competitive.  And Family Feud.  Films like Contagion are processed.  And then lighter fare like Madea’s Big Happy Family by Tyler Perry and Soul Plane with Kevin Hart.  YouTube workout videos from Pop Sugar also stream through the TV with hip-hop, salsa, and Zumba workouts.  And the women have their own floor-length, furnished balconies for fresh air.  Veronica is also regularly reading her Narcotics Anonymous books with the extra energy afforded by these days..

Historian Jon Meacham wraps up his new book this year, The Hope of Glory, by quoting Jesus— “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  In her preternatural command of all she is grateful for—from Dr. Austin Jerani, Director of Behavioral Health, going beyond his regular duties by looking for a new couch for the ladies, to the culinary classes starting April 20th through Camillus’s collaboration with Miami Dade College (including newly online learning portions adapted for the pandemic)—Veronica is living proof of the hope and glory of services still offered.

When pressed on the source of her poise, Veronica points to the Hebrew Bible’s teachings on going inwards in Isaiah, 26:20, referenced above. “I came here to sit still,” Veronica shares in approval of this time for self-exploration.

Camillus House is honored to serve and care for brave people like Veronica and the additional 1,100 women and men sleeping under our roof each night.

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