Social Justice at JOIN

By: Colleen Sinsky

JOIN was a little short-staffed on the House this weekend while four of our full-time volunteers were on retreat. Three of us were on the Jesuit Volunteer Northwest retreat, held in St. Helens, WA and spent the weekend talking about social justice.Keith, our House Coordinator was in Texas for a United Church of Christ retreat, coincidentally held on the same weekend.

On his way to get a blanket from the donation closet for a visitor to the House just now, Keith was kind enough to stop by my desk and ride his razor scooter around in circles while he told me about his retreat. In San Antonio, TX, Keith met many UCC volunteers who are serving throughout the US, most of whom were foreign.Keith learned many German phrases. Each of the volunteers gave presentations about their service sites and what they do, and it was interesting to learn about what the other volunteers were doing in their capacity to better the world.Keith showed me a project that two UCC volunteers are doing to raise awareness about various placements.The duo will be coming to Portland this month to film Keith and include his work at JOIN as part of their project.Check out

On the Jesuit Volunteer Corps retreat we joined the 75 other JVs who have placements in Oregon and Washington and spent a weekend focused on how social justice is part of our various jobs. Going to a Jesuit college, “social justice” was one of those buzzwords that I heard often but didn’t realize the impact of until I began work at a place that consciously embodies the value. By operating through a relationship based, empowerment model, JOIN brings the idea of social justice to life every day in a way that I might have written off as idealistic.It’s hard to put into words, and I’m underqualified to try to explain it anyways, but being part of this JOIN community has reminded me that there’s still space for hope, no matter how overwhelming injustice can seem.

The retreat leader teaches Social Justice at Portland’s Jesuit High School and introduced us to the idea of the “two feet of social action.”Essentially, in order to move forward towards a just and humane world, we need both charity (immediate, direct help) and justice (actions that foster lasting change).A balance between the two ensures that people’s most basic needs are being met, and that we’re moving towards a place of self-sufficiency and freedom for everyone.

Maybe this is all obvious to you. Of course we can’t expect to bring about positive change by only operating in one of the two realms. But it was helpful for me to see this diagrammed out in a tangible way.And in a way that I could so easily apply to what JOIN does.I understood the distinct “feet” as the services that JOIN offers.Upstairs, the House provides creature comforts; showers, laundry, coffee, internet, etc. and most importantly a safe place for community.It’s very direct, and the benefits are immediate.Downstairs and on the streets, Outreach and Retention treat getting folks into long-term sustainable housing as a means towards social justice.Much of the beauty is in the overlap between the two, and it has been incredible to watch people I’ve met make the dramatic transition from accepting direct services to self sufficiency and long-term empowerment.