Share the Journey — Rhythm of work 

Marissa Castellanos

I’ve been at Catholic Charities of Louisville, working in the anti-trafficking program we now know as Bakhita Empowerment Initiative, for almost 15 years. So much has happened over the years. We have worked hard, grown, changed and served. And through it all, we have learned. We’ve learned how to do this work better. I have personally learned more than I could have imagined was possible.

I continue to be amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit, of our capacity to hold both pain and hope at the same time, to continue, one foot in front of the other, day by day, through the hardest of days.

The days can be long and chaotic. In a moment, a day can change into hours of crisis coordination and response, not knowing when a situation will stabilize so that safety and well-being are realized. In my experience, “work” and “life” are often more of a rhythm than a balance. The rhythm changes based on what is needed most at a particular time, and that is okay. This understanding has been a tremendous help to me.

Life happens in community. This work happens in community as well. I keep good company among agency and community colleagues who teach, listen to, support and inspire me. This work wouldn’t be possible for me without community. Even when we were a program of one staff member in those very early days, I was never truly alone. I have always been supported and upheld by family, friends and colleagues, too many to ever name.

Now we have a staff of seven, and just as love can always expand, the support and inspiration we receive from others has also expanded to envelope each of us. I am so grateful.

There have been some very difficult times. Many crises involve program participants, collaborative partnerships, funding and programming. I have felt overwhelmed, ill-equipped, unprepared and unable to do it all, much less do it well. It is in those moments when I have learned to focus in close on just the very next step, the very next decision and let the rest fade into the background.

These moments have become manageable by asking myself, “What is the next right thing?” I ask myself that question often. And then I take another step and ask again. Step by step I get through it.

I approach this work differently now than I did 15 years ago, or even seven years ago. Bakhita works now not only on response, but also prevention. We must focus more on the upstream work of addressing the root causes of human trafficking such as poverty, racism, misogyny, homophobia and exposure to violence and trauma. We are building prevention programming to increase protective factors and reduce risk factors for exploitation. It is my hope that we expand prevention programming while continuing the work of empowering support services.

As we start this new year, I am reflecting on the word “onward.” We stand on the shoulders of the many who have gone before us, the lives they led, the work they did, the love they shared and the change they created. I am holding closely to the word “onward” as a guide and reminder to continue doing the work that is in front of me. In my life. Among others. Within myself. I am hopeful for what is to come as this journey continues. Onward.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. To learn more about human trafficking and Bakhita Empowerment Initiative programming, visit the Catholic Charities website: www.cclou.org

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