In the 'homelessness tsunami'

Joy Eckstine '89 is a social worker with the soul of a poet.

As the executive director of the Carriage House Community Table, a day shelter and resource center in Boulder, Colorado, she cares for the poor and homeless. But she also writes eloquently about her experiences, in essays that have appeared in, with titles like "617 Days of Peace" and "The Day the Coroner Calls."

"I have always been interested in the way people make sense of suffering," said Eckstine, who links her vocation to her Kenyon religion major. "Each religion has common themes about how you understand suffering and how you choose to have faith in light of the fact that even the most ordinary life has a lot of suffering in it."

After a pause, she adds, "And hopefulness, and transcendence. Even the most ordinary life has those, too."

Since Eckstine became the executive director at the Carriage House in 2004, the shelter's budget has grown from $50,000 to just over $500,000. Meanwhile, she's leading a capital campaign to increase the size of the shelter.

"We have at least 125 people come through Carriage House every day, and we're at 1,250 square feet," she said. "We have people eating lunch in the bathroom, in my office, out in the parking lot. And things are getting worse. We're in the midst of a homelessness tsunami."

Poverty has touched Eckstine's own life. "My family did not have much money," she said. "So I got scholarships and loans, and worked two jobs to get through Kenyon. It was worth it being a waitress at the Cove and taking care of the rats in the science lab to attend Kenyon."

She went on to earn a master's degree in social work from Boston College and later moved to Colorado. A "traumatic" divorce led to difficult times for the single mother of two (Laurel, seven, and Galen, five). "I have used some of the same services as my clients, like the local food bank, WIC, Medicaid, and financial support for daycare."

She's loath to talk about her own trials, though, for fear of coming across as self-pitying.

"Because I'm blessed," she said. "But it's about putting yourself in someone else's shoes."

Recently, Eckstine was named Social Worker of the Year for the Boulder Region by the National Association of Social Workers.

"I find peace in the little moments in between," she said. "I'll be running an errand and I'll look at the mountains and remember that I see amazing beauty all around me every day. I have wonderful friends. That's sustaining."

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