Shelter Director Rebecca Pichardo: Courage, compassion, and patience
Manchester Ink Link
Thursday October 10, 2019
MANCHESTER, NH — Rebecca Pichardo, who likes to be known as Becca, begins her day by rolling out of bed at five o’clock in the morning before the sun has risen. After 30 minutes of preparation, she’s off to the gym for a 45-minute workout. Her last stop on the way to work is usually anywhere to grab a cup of coffee. When her shift is long, she’ll start at 6:30; otherwise, she’s working at seven in the morning.
In 2010, she hit rock bottom. She had to decide whether she wanted to continue being self-destructive or take ownership of her own life. Her personal experiences allow her to empathize with the people she works with on a daily basis. Becca struggled through both high school and college and only made it with the support of her community. In 2013, after rebuilding her life, she started her master’s degree. During this time, she changed her outlook on life which resulted in increased personal optimism and personal accountability. As she likes to put it, “I’m the captain of my own ship.”
Becca is the Director of Shelter Operations for the New Horizons shelter on the east side of Manchester. At first glance, she doesn’t seem like someone who would have a master’s degree in special education from the University of Phoenix. With her winning white smile, short blonde hair, and casual dress, she looks like someone who could be a shift manager at a Starbucks. She doesn’t wear a suit to work; in fact, many of the shelter participants dress just as well as she does. Despite her position, she does not exude privilege or authority. She seems like just another person trying to live her life.
From September 30 to October 4, 2019, she worked a total of 60.5 hours in five days. While her normal working week is on average 50 hours long, she has been personally on hand to oversee a multitude of changes in policy at the shelter following a spate of drug overdoses on a particular weekend. Since then, she’s had her hands full trying to figure out how best to solve the problem. Holding shelter participants more accountable for their behavior, and requiring participants to see their caseworkers at least once a week to access the shelter during the day, have been among some of the changes she has implemented.
Despite working so many hours, she never lets her fatigue show. She shows up to work early in the morning with a bright smile and leaves work late in the evening, sometimes as late as nine-thirty at night, with that same smile still intact. She’s happy to be where she is; she has no plans to leave anytime soon. The position, for her, is not merely a stepping stone to something greater in her career. It is her calling. She’s right where she needs to be.
Becca was hired at New Horizons as the Outreach Program Manager in March of 2019. Within four months, she was promoted to her current position. Always reticent to take credit for her own achievements, she shies away from any acknowledgment that her fast promotion was due entirely to her hard work, dedication, and skill on the job.
During the morning, she is often seen talking with shelter participants, addressing their concerns, speaking on an individual basis to anyone who has something to say. In particular, she once spoke with a gentleman who was struggling with substance abuse. He had just about given up. He was going to leave the shelter and sleep on the streets. Becca spoke with him for 45minutes, during which time he opened up about his circumstances and difficulties.
He had lost his family and his job. He had a great deal of anxiety. Having lost everything, he no longer believed that he could work himself out of his present situation. Since he enjoyed reading, Becca lent him her favorite book, Can’t Hurt Me, by David Goggins. Further conversations ensued — in particular a heart-to-heart in the parking lot. Seventy-two hours after this, the participant in question left the shelter to seek third-party help to get him through his struggles.
This is most often the approach that Becca takes when speaking with people. She cannot provide herself the housing, employment, and medical care that homeless people require. Instead, she can listen to them, make them feel as though they are valuable and heard. A person who has lost everything, as is often the case, has lost their support system. They’ve lost their friends and family. They’re stuck where they are just to have shelter and food. Few, if any people, hear them — really hear them.
After a lunch break during which she walks down Elm Street in search of a smoothie or a coffee, Becca returns in the afternoon to long meetings, most of which when put together average three hours a day. Often these discussions revolve around problem-solving. Various issues arise at the shelter (such as the showers always leaking downstairs). Becca often discusses how policies were implemented, and whether they are working. If something isn’t working, she’s open to changing them.
One change she regularly likes to see is helping people who have been repeatedly disappointed by life so that they learn to trust again. Conversations with shelter participants become opportunities to demonstrate that not everyone is out to bring financial ruin or emotional distress. She has a strong passion for helping people face their fears, see their own worth, challenge themselves, fulfill their dreams, and achieve their goals in life. Rather than a place where homeless people are simply given a bed and meals to eat, Becca does her best to provide an environment that allows every person to succeed.
Her vision for New Horizons shelter is one where people help each other and encourage one another. She wants to participants and staff to see the place as somewhere where they leave a piece of themselves behind, where they treat it like their own home. When people know what to expect on a day-to-day basis, they are less stressed out. When things are unpredictable, when nothing is for sure (as is often the case when sleeping on the street), stress only increases each day to the point where it becomes unmanageable. Becca’s goal is to eliminate as much stress as is possible in whatever way is available.
The shelter offers activities during the day, such as coloring and water painting. Holiday cookouts, while rare, have been known to happen. A small new library was recently added so that shelter participants unable to get a library card would have something to read if they so choose. In a short amount of time, so many books have been added through donations that the same five books and a collection of board games have grown to more books than anyone knows what to do with. Laundry services, medical services, and three meals every day are provided free of charge. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the bottom two – Physiological and Safety Needs – are provided for so that people can work their way up to Love, Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization. To put it another way, those who are constantly scrambling to find something to eat have no time to meditate.
At the end of her workday, whether that be five in the evening or nine at night, Becca returns to a family she loves very much, often on her motorcycle. She often engages in self-care, enjoying her alone time. Regret doesn’t find her, if ever. Satisfied with her job and the positive difference she has made in the community, she goes to bed every night ready to do it all again the next day.
During the weekends, Becca likes to go to the gym and relax with her 2-year-old daughter at home. This sometimes involves naps. She is also fond of reading self-help and personal development books. She started a 52-week book challenge on January 1, which she is still doing. She enjoys riding motorcycles, but not in the rain or cold weather. Every Sunday is family day, which means spending time with family members. After working so hard through the week, Becca goes home to relax.
In her office, she puts her feet up on her desk and contemplates a wall full of her favorite quotes. From time to time, she will bring down and look at a photo collage of her family members. On her desk can be found a “You are a Badass” quote-of-the-day on a miniature calendar. She reads spiritual daily reflections every morning before writing down her goals. While she’s in her office, people regularly come in and out to speak with her, sometimes just to talk and sometimes because they need assistance.
If her patience seems inexhaustible, it’s because she has seen the results that courage and compassion can bring. She has seen it for herself, and she’s not going to stop anytime soon.