Local Courage: Improves Lives of Others
Feb 01, 2018 10:47PM
By Allie McFee
Teenagers at a Twitch and Shout Camp
In Rising Above Adversity: How to Strengthen Your Resilience Muscle, Dr. Steven M. Southwick, professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, says strength comes from “having a purpose and mission, or believing what you do has meaning.”
Our choices to help those in need have become the backbone of strength to courageously make a difference. Two local residents are doing just that, and here are their stories of encouragement and example.
Risking Her Health to Help Others
Amanda Bossi has used her personal recovery from self-harming tics from Tourette’s Syndrome, a nervous system disorder, as motivation to help children with this same ailment.
“I risk my own mental state by doing what I do for these kids to be the role model that I never had,” says Bossi.
Each summer, she works as a camp counselor and unit leader in Atlanta, for children ages 8 to 17 with Tourette’s Syndrome, that gather from all over the country. Her role is to help them learn about their brain and develop coping strategies to express their “tic” without having it control them. Tics are defined as repetitive, involuntary movement or vocalization.
However, working with this population is potentially unsafe for Bossi. “The brain can adopt a tic, just like a yawn is contagious and if their urge is like the ones I used to have, my brain remembers that,” says Bossi.
One in 360 children in the U.S. has Tourette’s. In every five kids with the affliction, one girl will have it and it’ll likely be the most severe.
Bossi fitted that statistic. “My brain was basically taking over my life in the wrong way; it would focus on one thing such as biting my tongue or punching myself, over and over again.”
Bossi, who spoke about her healing journey for Walk the Talk: Miracles—an Indy-based TedTalk speaker series—said she was on about 30 medications at the peak of her syndrome and spent time in a psychiatric ward.
The loss of personal power she experienced from the medication’s side effects and from the ward’s treatments (that felt more like punishments), motivated her to try a holistic approach, in which she discontinued her medications and retrained her brain.
“When I felt the urge to punch my nose, I instead followed it and would just gently touch my nose,” says Bossi. “I call it shaking hands with my brain.” This method created long-term recovery and she applies it, along with meditation, visualization, empathy and listening to help the children she works with.
Bossi is currently in the process of writing a book on these methods and has plans to develop an online program for parents, doctors and neurologists with a protocol on how to support the children. Her drive to be the mentor she never had gives her the courage to continue to help even with the potential of a triggered relapse.
Advocating with Courage
Donald Sawyer, local filmmaker and advocate for the homeless, is on a mission to spread awareness of current homeless rights and solutions for affordable housing.His passion for being a voice for the voiceless has fueled him to team up with other filmmakers to courageously address gaps in service systems in their film Under the Bridge, which was shown in Washington, D.C. to promote legislative changes.
Initially, his intention was to dispel stereotypes by filming those living on the streets, yet once he heard their narratives versus the narratives of the service providers, city officials and law enforcers, he realized there was a large miscommunication at play.
“‘These people have the opportunity to get off the streets but it is their choice,’ is what the service providers were saying,” says Sawyer. “Yet, we realized this was not true. An astonishing percentage of homeless have jobs, but don’t make enough to sustain an apartment, and there are other loopholes, such as the housing list may take up to a year to access and they remain on the streets until that time.”
In addition, if there’s history of criminal record or a debilitating mental illness, these types of barriers make it less likely to get housing.
This miscommunication sparked the birth of their first film Uncharted: The Truth Behind Homelessness, which aired at the Keystone Arts Cinema in 2014, and captured this miscommunication in on-camera interviews.
The film was reedited into Under the Bridge which won the best Hoosier Lens award at the Indy Film Festival in 2016, and was viewed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice in D.C. accompanied with a panel discussion. Since then, there was an approval for an ordinance in Indianapolis that says the city cannot close a camp without having transitional or long-term housing provided for the residents.
Sawyer is currently working on his next film Beyond the Bridge: A Solution to Homelessness, which highlights a solution called Housing First. “This is a different concept and has been around since the 1990s where we house them first,” says Sawyer. “It will be easier for them to recover with a roof over their head, and then when their foundation is stable, they can start building their lives.”
Traditional methods first focus on helping the individual become sober and employed, yet there is only a 24 percent success rate. When cities have applied the Housing First method, there is an 80 percent success rate, which saves the country millions of dollars.
“It costs thousands of dollars to arrest someone, to keep them in jail, for emergency visits and court costs,” says Sawyer. His courage and persistence to show the realities on camera provide the evidence and awareness for real change to occur.