Beyond Trauma Care

MCC Great Lakes partners learn to practice self-care

pond with fountain surrounded by trees

Renee Dodson loves her role as director of employment services at Lexington Rescue Mission in Kentucky. But last year she started to feel the signs of burn-out and knew she needed to make some changes. The launch of a new co-hort program from MCC Great Lakes came at just the right time.

“Beyond Trauma Care: Care and Concern for Yourself” is bringing together MCC partners from throughout the Great Lakes region to practice self-care with the help of trauma healing facilitators, spiritual directors and lots of personal practice.

For Dodson, the co-hort has been a lifeline. “2022 was an extremely hard year personally and then also professionally,” she said. Three of her clients passed away due to overdose or suicide, and two other individuals she had placed in jobs had relapses and violent outbursts. “I kept thinking, ‘What have I done wrong?’ The exhaustion was really hard.”

Two women sit while another woman, who is standing, talks to them
Renee Dodson (standing) helps students in a Jobs for Life class at Lexington Rescue Mission where she serves as director of employment services.Photo courtesy of Lexington Rescue Mission

Like many folks working in the caregiving field, burn out and compassion fatigue are very real issues. Dodson has been working at Lexington Rescue Mission since 2017. According to their mission statement, “Lexington Rescue Mission exists to glorify God through a Christ-centered ministry that meets the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of hurting people in the greater Lexington area.”

They work to support people coming from incarceration and homelessness, including job training, transitional housing, employment placement, life skills training and an outreach center serving meals and other basic needs, all while pointing people back to Christ.

I really care about my work. I pour a lot of my heart and soul into it,” says Dodson. “So I knew 2023 needed to be a year of healing and taking care of myself. As soon as the trainings came out, I thought, ‘I want to do this!’”

Two women stand together. One of them is holding a pie
Renee Dodson (right) prepares for their community Thanksgiving meal with Becky Connell (left), one of the founders of Lexington Rescue Mission. Photo courtesy of Lexington Rescue Mission

Dodson, who is a member of Plowshares Brethren in Christ Church, has known about MCC for a long time. And she was excited when Lexington Rescue Mission began a grant partnership with MCC Great Lakes in 2018 to help support their re-entry services work.

Beginning in January, Dodson and the other co-hort participants have been meeting virtually every other month with skilled facilitators. There is usually a group of about seven attendees who receive practical advice and information on how to care for themselves and build spiritual practices to sustain them as they care for others.

On the off months, they are given specific self-care assignments to practice the skills they are developing along with resources to put into practice the rhythms they are learning. The year will culminate with a several day in-person retreat.

The mix of practical information along with time for reflection and practice has been helpful for Dodson in her role. From one-on-one coaching to learning pressure points and breathing techniques to an assignment to take a weekend retreat.

“Giving that opportunity, that time and space has been huge,” reflected Dodson. “It’s hard. You hear so many stories and things. It’s exhausting.”

Two women take a selfie together. They are both holding ice cream
Renee Dodson (right) enjoys ice cream with her friend Kim Livesay during her weekend retreat that was assigned as a self-care practice. Photo provided by Renee Dodson

For Dodson, learning the importance and skills to take care of herself has been eye opening. “You can’t help somebody else until you’re taking care of yourself,” she explained. “Taking care of myself is just as important as taking care of my clients. And I can tell you, my friends and my family have really recognized the difference and the growth that I’ve had in 2023.”

This co-hort is part of a concerted effort undertaken by MCC Great Lakes to listen to program partners and try to find ways to support their work beyond grants. “After surveying our partners about how they might want to build capacity, themes emerged and we were able to put together two co-horts to address the needs of our broad partnerships,” explains Krista Dutt, MCC Great Lakes Chicago Program Coordinator and one of the organizers of the co-hort groups.

The second co-hort - “Authentic Leadership” - focuses on both philosophy and practical skills of leadership such as communications, fundraising and how to be a trustworthy leader.

“MCC works around the world by walking alongside experts who are making great impact for people,” said Dutt. “These co-horts help MCC walk alongside experts in the Great Lakes region.”

For Dodson, the co-hort has been an answer to prayer. “MCC has been able to bless my soul is the best way to put it,” she says. “The topics and support that they’re giving literally brought tears to my eyes. It’s such a gift. I really appreciate how it has been a blessing to me personally - that MCC is doing this and investing in people’s lives that are helping other people. It’s been life changing.”