Written by Susan Barron, Ph.D., Director of Integrated Health Services
Labor Day is a holiday that highlights the contributions and achievements of the American worker. Since 1894 after a hard-won fight for workers rights and conditions, Labor Day has been our end of summer celebration appreciating workers and the products, goods, and services provided by them to our community.
The labor force in the U.S. has been declining over the past decade or so. Scholars and pundits offer differing views on the reasons and results. Some factors argued include the shape of the economy, aging baby boomers leaving the workforce in retirement, and those discouraged job seekers who have dropped out of looking for work due to seeing little the results of their efforts.
I see two primary concerns regarding the above: 1) a general unawareness and undervaluing of how lacking purposeful work may fail to develop or chip away at one’s sense of being a valid contributor to a larger purpose; and 2) that the status of non-contributor robs the community of the growth, activity and optimism.
At Saint John’s, our vocational training program is central to preparing women to have increasing impact on their lives and those of their families. As we celebrated Labor Day, I think of the wonderful gifts I’ve received through laboring. At Saint John’s Program for Real Change, I am grateful for our work, guiding and supporting clients and their children to build better lives for themselves.
We work with women who experience different types of barriers to enjoying employment. Some have been born to and reared in poverty; not experiencing the community where one’s neighbors are the workers one sees impacting their daily life. Some have not received the ongoing preparation that many children receive that reinforces reward and satisfaction for efforts and a job well-done. Not only does poverty often run along generational lines, so does despair, disillusionment, and resignation.
Other women have experienced different types of tragedy and trauma that have left them feeling injured, isolated, and inadequate to being able to be an effective worker. They are overwhelmed with loss of integrity and feel ill-equipped to “re-boot” their lives and regain their previous level of personal and vocational functioning.
“A general unawareness and undervaluing of how lacking purposeful work may fail to develop or chip away at one’s sense of being a valid contributor to a larger purpose”
If something is broken, it doesn’t work. If we fix it, it works. Something in these women’s lives has been broken and needs fixing to allow them full access to all life offers. It sounds like a simple equation, doesn’t it? In fact, it is a complex task that requires multi-faceted approaches and services to support a woman to fix her life and make it work. I am so privileged to witness women obtaining jobs, and securing a wider, more robust world for themselves and their children, rife with opportunities and promise. And being witness to see the fruits of these labors, I can tell you from personal experience, is awe-inspiring.
At the kernel of this goal is freedom from dependence. As we provide for ourselves and contribute to others, we build our experience of independently and successfully navigating our lives. As we discuss in class from time to time, living in poverty is often fraught with hazard and fear. As we learn to earn and manage our wages and, by extension, improve our lives, it provides us the confidence and safety to grow even further.
Labor Day means something at Saint John’s Program for Real Change. Work feeds us in ways far beyond putting food in our stomachs. It feeds our sense of worth, that we play an important role in our family and community well-being. Work at its best contributes to the greater good; providing purpose and sustenance for us all. We work together to better develop and understand ourselves–to know and internalize, as our friend and teacher, Suk Bihr shared with us, “I am the Solution.” We develop the trust in ourselves to seek out what we need and, when we find it, embrace it fully to gain the best result. We build and contribute to our world best from the inside out, having developed a firm foundation of confidence, self-love and self-respect.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Working together for greater and mutual benefit provokes a synergy that creates far more than the sum of the individual efforts of each person. I see this every day I work at Saint John’s. I see the energy and engagement of our team members as they implement our program services and respond to anticipated needs and challenges, undeterred by the depth and breadth of our undertaking.
So, this weekend, we celebrated labor; the activity that propels us to more fully-developed living. Far from monetary gain, we derive pride and purpose, which incidentally, is the equation for happiness and well-being. I so appreciate every worker — fabricator, craftsperson, mentor, service person, healer, entertainer, and more. Providing preparation and opportunities for our women to join this group and receive all the tangible and intangible benefits derived from their work is our business at Saint John’s Program for Real Change…and business is good! To every person who reads this, I thank you from my heart for all you do in whatever jobs you perform and contributions you make!