[By Kaitlin Abrahams, Shalom Project alumna] The other day I opened the back door of the Shalom House and was welcomed by a rich, savory aroma. I found Shalom participant Melissa Betancur frying vegan empanadas in the kitchen. A recent graduate from the nearby Eastern University, Melissa brings a passion for restorative justice and a desire to build community to the Shalom Project. She heard about the program from her counselor last year and she was drawn to exploring what Shalom means for her. So far, Shalom has meant both taking care of her mental health and building relationships. Since Melissa studied youth ministry in college, it is important to her to connect with children and young people. This translates well into her internship, where she occasionally deals with juvenile offenders.
Melissa’s internship is with Advoz, a center for conflict resolution that emphasizes face-to-face mediation. On the average day, Melissa spends a lot of time in the office, answering phone calls. However, since she has been trained in conferencing and mediation, Melissa started taking some cases. She says, “I call a lot of victims…to see if they want to hear an update from a facilitator because they will meet with the young person [who caused them harm]…I’m learning that a lot of them [victims] we don’t get in touch with, so when we do I want to not take it for granted.” Some victims even share their story and that can open up meaningful discussions.
Her other duties include running the Advoz table at various events and meeting with teachers and professors to discuss how to incorporate restorative justice into their lesson plans. Melissa enjoys the balance of work at Advoz between office time and working with people. She is also enjoying her research project, an activity new to Shalom Project this year. Her theme is marriage because she wanted to dive deeper into something so relevant to her work at Advoz―divorce and custody are the most common issues leading to the need for mediation. On February third, she will start a second internship with the New Holland Early Learning Center. Melissa is looking forward to a chance to work with young kids.
So far in her Shalom year, Melissa has also enjoyed building community with our neighbors on High Street. “Getting connected and affiliated, walking around and actually knowing their names and saying hi was really cool because at first I didn’t know what to expect but…now it’s like coming into a setting where everyone is family and it’s cool because you don’t encounter that on every street.” The house is another source of community for her and she says it is a good center to keep her grounded. She has also found community among her coworkers, both at staff meetings and in going out to eat to celebrate birthdays. Yet another source of community for Melissa is church. She attends Puerta de Refugio, also known as Place of Refuge, a bilingual church in walking distance from the Shalom House.
When not at work or church, Melissa makes the most of her free time to read poetry, cook, and explore Lancaster. She is also looking forward to taking some piano lessons. These activities are a part of her search for Shalom by becoming better at self-care. Overall, Melissa describes her experience with the Shalom Project thus far as a season of growth, both growing in self-awareness and growing in relationship with others. Mellissa describes this as “being honest with yourself about how yourself about number one how you want to spend time, and number two how you will go about doing what you need to do so the time you spend on things actually reflects the goals that you have for the year. And through the year getting close to other people…[by] knowing when you need to pray for someone and when you need to reach out.”