What I’ve learned at SMGW: A Testimony from Onysha Boak



My name is Onysha, and I am a casework intern at SMGW. Before I started working at Samaritan Ministry, I studied philosophy and classics at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Being a philosophy major, I was both excited and pretty nervous about being a caseworker. After all, in my honest opinion, if there’s anything you take away from philosophy school it is that a lot of things sound great and perfectly simple in theory but aren’t like that in practice.

On my first day at the Northern Virginia office, one of the busiest days at SMGW I’ve ever had, one of the first participants I met that day was someone who’d been a Next Step participant for a few years. He asked for some snacks and toiletries. I told him I’d be right back and that I was still learning what to do and figuring out how things work at the job. He responded with, “That’s fine, take your time. When you rush through things you make mistakes but when you take your time, you give yourself the ability to do your best.”

He’s absolutely right. I keep finding that the pressure to do things quickly gets in the way of doing things right. Being a little slower means paying more attention to what I’m doing, having a little more time to think things through so that a participant is better served. They appreciate this, and it’s why SMGW makes a difference to them. Simone Weil, a French philosopher and activist wrote about how she believed that attention is love, and for our participants, the attention we give them makes them feel cared for. I’m still working on being better at paying attention and remembering that every participant is an individual not only to be served by me or anyone else at SMGW, but to be encouraged to act for themselves. Paying attention to someone also requires being patient with them, even if it’s difficult.

I’ve also learned a lot about what participants go through. When participants make mistakes, these mistakes are a lot more costly for them than they would be for me. many people who are incarcerated for crimes in DC are held in federal prisons all across the country. They can be sent to places like Texas or California, and this tears them apart from their community and families. Because when it’s already difficult for incarcerated people everywhere to communicate with and get news from the outside world, it’s even more difficult for incarcerated people from DC, who are locked up hundreds of miles away from the people who knew them. And when they return to the world, they are far behind in terms of understanding how anything like employment or job skills work.

These are things I would’ve never thought about unless my colleagues took the time to understand what participants were going through and unless I met these participants in person. So, I am thankful for being at SMGW, where I can meet and speak directly with the people who live in the situations I’ve mostly only read about. I hear firsthand from them about the things they go through and what they need. And I get to work with wonderful volunteers and colleagues, watch what they do, and learn from how they handle the complexities of working with participants.

Thank you all for being a part of SMGW!