director of Ripple
Finishing up my Ph.D. and heading down the university researcher route to work in community psychology, I was pitched the idea to join the organization at Ripple Community Inc. Instead of continuing down the path I had set, I was sold on an offer from a local pastor to lead the expansion of Ripple from its roots as Ripple Church, an Anabaptist congregation in the heart of Allentown, into a more influential community center. It was at that moment that I knew this was what I wanted to do. A local pastor offered me the idea of expanding from Ripple Church, an Anabaptist congregation in the heart of Allentown, into a more influential community center, instead of following this path I had set for myself. It was at that moment that I knew this was what I wanted to do.
I think that Ripple Community Inc. is legitimately a magical place. Not just because of what we do, but also how we do it. We’re so incredibly intentional when it comes to relationships, when it comes to community, and when it comes to forming genuine connections with people, which, in some cases, can be pretty hard. Our goal is to get those in Allentown facing problems with housing, addiction, the legal system, or pretty much anything else, get the help that they need to operate self-sufficiently in the world. At the very least, we want to give them a place that they can call home.
We don’t really follow the typical model when it comes to social services. They usually tend to operate on a client-management basis, with providers and case managers who run their clients through step-by-step programs to achieve results, but for us, the most important thing is for people to feel safe, for people to feel supported, and for people to feel connected. Here at Ripple, people have a lot to heal from, and in many cases, it’s not something that can be fixed on an eight-month plan, or a checklist, or even sometimes in a straight line. We move in circles, we cycle back, and we start over. Life doesn’t move in a straight line.
One of the characteristics of trauma is that it causes us to lose the ability to feel safe around other people. If you lose that, it can deeply affect your mental and physical health. It’s not permanent; it can be rebuilt, but it can also take a very long time. We understand that the pace that people heal is dynamic. That’s a big part of it; we want to make sure people know that they can come back. They can always come back at any time.
Once we can get the trust of our communities, we hold it very sacred. At that point, the largest hump has usually been crossed. From there, they often have something else they’re ready to work on; they might want to recover from addiction, access behavioral health services, or deal with problems in the criminal justice system they’ve been avoiding. We can step in and offer direct help, or at the very least, give people access to the right resources.
It’s hard work, and not everything has a happy ending, but we carry it around. That’s what it means to be part of the team. We find that so much happens here, though, that usually, our really rough days are also our really good days. When something lovely does happen, we often share it with each other. Working here isn’t easy, so it must be something other than easy that keeps us here.
Interviewed by Bennett Knight ‘24, photo by Tom Amico