If a good society is to be built, one that is MORE JUST AND CARING, and where the less able and more able serve one another with unlimited liability, then the best way is to raise the performance as servant of institutions, and sanction natural servants to serve and lead.” – In these words, Robert Greenleaf raises the bar on the purpose servant-leaders share.
I have reflected on these words for months and have asked myself what can I do and what can the Greenleaf Center contribute to bring about a more just and caring society? I continually come back to the concept of healing that Mr. Greenleaf first introduced in his seminal essay. In Greenleaf’s writing, he refers to the definition of healing as to make whole and recognizes that that wholeness is something to be sought.
When we speak of a more just and caring society, I think the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s second definitions of healing may be important for today’s world…
2 a : to cause (an undesirable condition) to be overcome, mind
2 b : to patch up or correct (a breach or division) heal a breach between friends.
Each day we are reminded that our society is in desperate need of healing. We are bombarded by media reports of divisiveness that threatens to deepen old wounds and inflict new ones. What is a servant-leader’s response? We have only to return to Greenleaf to understand our role as healers:
- Withdraw, reduce the stress and open your awareness to creative insight or foresight.
- Hold firmly to your dream, your overarching purpose.
- Realize that when you accept the role of “servant”, you have both the ability and responsibility to conceive of a new way forward.
- Respond by listening – especially to the voices who disagree with you.
- Own your place in “the system” and challenge it to create the society we want.
While we are doing our part, let’s also uplift the healing actions of the past and those taking place today, large and small actions that come together to change lives and build community. I think of the work being done by my friend Yvonne Nair, Founder and CEO of Saffron Strand, Inc. Yvonne answered the call – what can I do about needs of the homeless individuals in Richmond, California? Along with a committed set of volunteers and board members, she brings new solutions to the table to lift up the homeless, help them heal, and put them on a path of wholeness!
Homelessness is an intensely traumatic experience. Even during temporary or episodic homelessness, a person loses almost all resources, including supportive relationships with former co-workers, friends, and family members. Someone who is chronically homeless has a very difficult, nearly impossible time recovering alone, especially if they have a criminal record or substance abuse, mental health, or other health problems, which are common in highly vulnerable populations. To heal and recover self-esteem, dignity, and the trust of others, they need the help of those who practice many of the tenets of servant leadership.
Saffron Strand offers a focal point for servant leadership dedicated to helping the homeless and those at risk get off the streets and back to work. Richmond is a low-income, high-crime suburb in the East Bay region near San Francisco, which has one of the highest concentrations of homeless people in the entire Bay Area. Saffron Strand’s training center provides a warm, welcoming, trauma-informed setting for members — not “clients” or “consumers” — to be part of an intentional community dedicated to helping all members re-enter the workforce with marketable job skills.
The training center with 10 internet-linked computer workstations is located in professional office space. Volunteers, most of whom are local professionals and business people, provide necessary remedial education, basic job skills training, and life skills mentoring. There is individualized, one-on-one case management to advise members on other assistance — substance abuse, mental health, health care, housing, and other services — available from government agencies, charities, and other non-profits.
However, what makes Saffron Strand unique is the practice of servant leadership. In working with the homeless members, the volunteer mentors and trainers learn and grow like the members. They find it a wonderfully enriching endeavor. One volunteer says, “Trainers encourage members and members encourage trainers. And we, all of us, get as much as we give.”
One of Saffron Strand’s members was a 61-year-old man who had been homeless for most of his life and had not worked for 35 years when he came to Saffron Strand. He had “graduated” from high school unable to read and had been an easy recruit for local drug dealers until he was arrested. Working with his volunteer tutor at Saffron Strand, he learned to read and write. At the family-style lunch each day, he was able to listen to the challenges and solutions of other members. He gained elementary job skills and basic life skills to support his economic independence.
Today this member has a job and, for the first time in his life, an apartment and his own key to his home. He is no longer homeless, but he remains a member of Saffron Strand and now a productive member of the Richmond community.
What stories can you share?
by Pat Falotico
Chief Executive Officer
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