Category Archives: Jim’s Blog

Look for the helpers

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July 2019

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Mister Rogers said to his television neighbors, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Can you tell I recently caught the documentary about Fred Rogers? It was telling that they offered the quote above toward the end of the film—wanting to make sure that was the message left on the viewer’s mind.

I have been doing a series on generosity and gratitude in my reflections this year and the message to “look for the helpers” certainly fits. When Rogers offered this sentiment, he directed his message to children. From a child’s eye, they ought to look for “grown ups” who might help them when challenged with difficult situations.

The Center is fortunate to have “helpers” on many levels. Certainly the clinicians and staff who work with COOL (Children Overcoming Obstacles of Life) who directly serve kids in need of help. As with all of our counselors, the work is challenging but incredibly rewarding as we support clients on the path to healing and renewed hope.

This month I’d like to highlight a different kind of helping: those who work on our development team. We are celebrating a new hire in that department, Laurie Sloterdyk. Laurie comes to us with a wealth of fundraising experience and is well known in the philanthropic community of Des Moines. As the Director of Development, she’ll be working with Terri Speirs, who has been promoted to Director of Community Relations.  Many others on our team, but especially Allison Peet and Paige Kennedy support these efforts. So much of this work is relational and, dare I say, helpful.

As one who has spent years working in development, I firmly believe that this relational work is all about helping. Certainly, our generous donors are helping our clients by sharing with us the precious resources of time, talent and treasure. Without our donors, we could not live out this important mission. What isn’t noticed or discussed as often is how contributing to the Center also helps those who give. Much of our time in relating to donors is listening to their life stories and considering how they want to make a difference with their gifts. Philanthropy is really about discerning purpose and directing that energy into mutually beneficial efforts. Generosity and gratitude are all about building community and experiencing the fullness of life. Keep this in mind should you receive a call from Terri, Laurie or me.

I am grateful to be surrounded by such a talented staff and supporters who help—and are helped—by sharing in our mission of hope and healing.


The Wonder of Generosity

Tis the season of March, which invites me and others of Irish heritage to celebrate the memory of St. Patrick. Not the usual distortions of all things green, but literally a heritage. I’ve been known to sing a traditional ballad now and again. I often set aside time in March to read a bit of Irish history or literature. Options abound. This year I’m reading John O’Donohue, whose lively imagination has helped me and many others to pay attention to the little things each day in order to experience the joy of wonder. Here’s a quote that inspired pause:

One of the most exciting and energetic forms of thought is the question. I always think that the question is like a lantern. It illuminates new landscapes and new areas as it moves. Therefore the question always assumes that there are many different dimensions to a thought that you are either blind to or that are not available to you. So a question is really one of the forms in which wonder expresses itself. (p. 6)

John O’Donohue, Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World. 2015.

The power of a question to guide us to wonder.

I experience it on a regular basis when I’m working with the generous people who support our work at the Center. I often begin conversations by asking people how they became connected with the Center in the first place. I’ve reflected on answers to that question in previous posts, but suffice it to say that a relationship was established in which the Center played a role in helping someone to find their way to hope and healing.

A follow up question regularly inspires wonder: Where did you learn to be so generous with your time, or talent, or treasure/resources? The answer often involves modeling. Donors grew up in families that valued generosity. They encountered someone whose generosity benefited them and made a difference in helping that person to find a path to success and fulfillment. They engaged in the work of an organization like the Center and saw the direct connection of supporting a mission in order to help others thrive. Lanterns illumined new landscapes and possibilities.

I encourage the community of stakeholders engaged in our work to keep these questions in mind as you’re out and about in the community. “How did you become involved in mental health issues?” (It’s a great way to fight stigma). All of us are touched in some way by these issues. There are too many tragic tales, but also inspiring narratives of healing. Don’t be afraid of the follow up question of how folks learned to be generous as they engaged an issue like mental health. My guess is you’re going to hear more inspiring answers of how one learns to be generous and engaged so as to live a fulfilled life. It’s the path to leading a life that matters and there is much work to be done.

I stand in wonder each day when I see how our work is made possible through the generosity of so many  who participate in and support our mission.

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A mighty thaw

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

January 2018 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.


Winter 2018 certainly struck with a sudden and wicked fury. It’s cold! We closed the Center and 2017 on the afternoon of 29 December, heading home to celebrate the New Year long holiday weekend and the great work that happened here during the year.

When we returned to the Center after the holiday, we quickly discovered that long weekends, still water and frigid temperatures don’t blend well. Our sewer pipe had frozen over the weekend and the backup into our drains was hardly a delightful way to welcome the New Year. Many on our team quickly transitioned from the mundane to crisis mode.

There must be a lesson in this, I thought to myself.

The thought rose as I was fulfilling that part of a job description that most employees dread: “Other duties as assigned.” It was midnight and I was spending some quality time with a qualified employee from a sewer service. It was hard, cold and unpleasant work—but it needed to be done. Interesting what a simple pleasure it is to hear water flowing again after a few hours of wrestling with an ice dam. I was giddy knowing that we were once again operational and ready for our highly trained staff to help others on their path to understanding, hope and healing.

What did I learn from this? I thought to myself?

Many of the clients we serve are stuck in the mundane and not recognizing blocked emotions or negative thoughts that keep them from “flow,” living a full life. Then it happens, a crisis which renders the status quo untenable. Thankfully, through the advice of loved ones or learned referral services, they find their way to the Center and our qualified staff. Then the hard work begins. It can often lead to exploration of cold and dark places. Sometimes it is so unpleasant, that they are tempted to give up. Then it happens. Through teamwork and shared responsibility in the healing process a trickle of hope leads to a mighty thaw and flowing, lively waters. Call it wellness, well-being, a full life or whatever image or words work for you.

I just know it’s inspiring work and I’m grateful to be a part of this story.

Thank you for all you do to engage in our mission. I hope your connection to this special place regularly provides life lessons for you and yours.

May your 2018 be full of joy and blessings.



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It’s been a great year

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

December 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.


It’s been a great year.

December 5, 2016 I began my tenure at the executive director of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center (DMPCC). I had the privilege of two weeks of sitting at the feet of Ellery Duke who served this institution for forty years. He didn’t quite impart all his wisdom in that time, but had a plane ticket, so had to depart for warmer climes on December 23, 2016. The way I see it, my tenure really began once everyone returned from holiday break on January 3, 2017.

It’s been a great year.

How do I capture all that is good about this place? It’s been a whirlwind for me personally and professionally, so putting my thoughts into a tidy box of memories hardly seems fair. One construct that works for me is all that we learned undergoing a strategic planning process ably led by our consultant Sheri Vohs, thanks to a generous grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. During the process, we explored the “Value Proposition” of our work here at the Center. Let me reflect a bit on how I have witnessed one of those values lived out in the day to day lives of the many people connected to our organization.

People. It is clear to me on a daily basis that this place is special because of the people involved in our organization. It starts with our clients. They are courageous. They accept the responsibility of vulnerability in order to face whatever it takes to work on hope and healing in their lives. There are often stigmas to our work. These folks testify to the brokenness that is a part of each of us and that it’s ok to own the limitations and contingency of our lives and that by doing so in the context of a safe environment, we can all live more fully. Wow, that was a long sentence, read it again! One comment that came up during the planning process is that we meet people where they are and not as a problem that needs to be fixed–as a person who just needs someone to walk with them. We respect the people who come through our door and the values they bring with them. We love them rather than manage their issues. That’s a high bar and an important value added to our community.

People in our organization are talented. Clinicians, spiritual directors and all our staff live out our mission to bring understanding hope and healing to others each day. The quality of our staff and the diversity of our services make this place hum with activity. There is a tremendous amount of intellectual curiosity around this place. Folks are always trying to figure out how to get better. Our value of trying to serve as many people as possible regardless of ability to pay requires great sacrifice of time and resources. I am inspired by the commitment of my colleagues and have learned much from them in my first year. I thank them for grace and patience as we all grow as leaders in this field.

The value of people in our organization stretches well beyond the confines of this building. There are many stakeholders that contribute to our success: volunteers, friends, donors, foundations, politicians and anyone who recommends to a friend or family member that we can help. I have enjoyed meeting many of you and look forward to meeting many more. Thank you!

All of you contribute to other values that we had a hard time naming. Words like peaceful, holistic, and spirit came up. When pushed to the limit of words, I often resort to stories. As I head out of this place for a meeting or engagement in the community, I often hold the door for someone entering the Center and say hello. I respect their privacy and don’t make much small talk. There is still a connection, at least for me. I know that regardless of why they are here, for counseling, spiritual direction, scheduling a future appointment, addressing a question about a bill,  a class, a prescription re-fill, or any other number of reasons, I know they will encounter someone who cares. I like to think they will leave this place with a stronger sense of peace; that whatever strategy for healing is necessary, their whole story (body, mind and spirit) will be taken into account; that their spirit will be lifted up as a result of their time with us.

Knowing that I work in a place that does that kind of work brings me great joy, along with a healthy dose of humility and privilege. Thank you, all of you, for all you do to make it possible to carry on this crucial mission.

It’s been a great year.

I can’t wait for an even better 2018.



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If you are still making end of year philanthropy decisions, please consider helping children, teens and adults who need access to mental health counseling and education.DonateNow

Consider the roots

August 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. This post originally appeared in the Center’s 2016 annual report.


Have you ever noticed the symbol of our “brand” for the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center?

I see roots. I am told others see a blossom.

I have experienced the blossom born from these roots in my first days and weeks as the Executive Director of the Center. The clearest manifestation has been the staff—my colleagues. The Center has incredible talent. I have seen many examples of folks working together to get better, to find creative ways to bring hope and healing to the people we serve.

As I think more deeply, I am aware that so much of the good work that we do springs from seeds planted by many people I may never meet or come to know. I think of Ray Martin who worked with others to found the Center in 1972—45 years ago. Also nestled in this fertile soil are the many staff members who gave so much of their time and talent to refine our mission and serve our clients. Ellery Duke and Jeanne Schossow come to mind, who both retired in 2016 after decades of service. I am grateful for the hundreds of board members who wrestled with questions of mission and vision, along with the complex decisions and answers such questions require. I am humbled by the thousands of donors whose resources have made it all possible.

I witnessed such commitment when I recently attended the funeral of Betty Durden, who is highlighted in this issue of the annual report. I only came to know her through the ritual of her passing. I never got a chance to see her leadership on the board or to see her promote our work in the community.  Her heritage, however, continues to sustain us through memorials and planned giving as she remembered us in her estate.

As you read through this annual report, by all means celebrate the inspiring work that happens in this special place each day. But also remember the myriad roots of this fruitful mission.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

In gratitude for all who committed to our past to make the present possible,



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Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose

June 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


Click image to take our volunteer survey.

I have spent a good bit of my life exploring the notion of vocation. Think of this as your answer to the question, “What should I do with my life.” A book that I have found helpful along the way is Brian Mahan’s, Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose: Vocation and the Ethics of Ambition.  Among the author’s many findings in the succinct composition is that giving our time to others enlivens us—draws us closer to the experience of being fully alive.

In other words, volunteering is good for us on many levels.

Many of you involved in the work of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center already know this. People offer countless hours to our organization and other worthwhile causes and organizations. I encounter these generous spirits almost daily. Board members who give of their time to make sure we have what we need to fulfill our mission. Staff who offer time to one another to study cases in order to continually improve as clinicians. Donors who attend events or enter into conversations with others to promote the importance of our work. Most recently, witnessing the commitment of the Women Helping Women Committee devote hours of energy to achieve record breaking resources to help us serve our clients most in need. If you could have been a fly on the wall of those committee meetings, you would have seen a group of people fully alive.

Volunteering at the Center is tricky business. We want to respect the privacy of the many clients were serve as we go about our daily work. Thus, we don’t have as many direct service opportunities as, say a food pantry. I have asked others to explore with me how we can imagine possibilities for volunteerism at the Center—for a number of reasons:

  • Volunteering is good for you, and we’re all about hope and healing for all. Thinking of others and giving of our time for others helps to diminish some of our daily concerns.
  • We are a non-profit, so often struggling for the resources necessary for daily operations
  • Some of our corporate partners from whom we seek sponsorships require volunteer opportunities for their employees at the non-profits with whom they partner as those employers also recognize the value of volunteerism and community engagement
  • Volunteers tend to be more deeply committed to the organizations they serve
  • A community of volunteers is just that—a community. Gathering volunteers occasionally will build up our sense of community at the Center.

Conversations about this topic have generated some great ideas on how we might expand appropriate volunteer opportunities at the Center. If this list of examples sparks other ideas for you, please send them my way.

  • A volunteer coordinator to help organize and recognize volunteers at the Center
  • Data entry
  • Volunteer receptionists who can cover for short periods of time in order to free up our excellent administrative staff to do training or other needs that might take them away from their very important “front of house” duties
  • Simple maintenance jobs around the Center
  • Landscape work. As we continue to grow into our building, our landscape plan matures and is often in need of tender loving care. We would love to have some folks “adopt a garden.” We need immediate help in this area. We’re also exploring spring and fall clean up days as events to bring people together to celebrate and support our work
  • Board subcommittees. We have many needs on these committees which require expertise. Examples are finance, human resources, fund development and community engagement
  • Board of Directors

These are just a few examples. We’ll continue to provide such examples and are certainly open to other opportunities or gifts. Send me your ideas, or even better, let me know which of these opportunities are of interest.

Some of these needs can be met through capital campaigns and fund development. We shall continue to work hard on that. I am of the conviction that it is not only the sharing of treasure that makes us stronger, but in the sharing of our time and talents that we find our way to the fullness of life—by forgetting ourselves on purpose.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

We celebrate and are grateful for the many ways people help us to serve others in our mission to bring hope and healing through counseling and education.



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Good grief

May 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


My mother, Winifred (Winnie) Grace Hayes, died April 24, 2017, after a three year dance with pancreatic cancer.

We all face death, dying, grief, and the support necessary to endure at various points in our lives. I have spent a good bit of my career walking with and counseling folks who have lost a loved one. As I recently mentioned to a colleague here at the Center, when it comes to grief there’s a big difference between the theoretical and experiential. As one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, put it in one of her letters (collected in The Habit of Being), “pity the one who loves what death can touch.”

It’s disorienting. As much as I like my new job, I find myself regularly distracted as I think of my Mom—or my Dad who is now navigating life without his wife of 59 years. I worry. You reach out to pick up the phone and then realize it won’t be answered. It hurts.

One of the great benefits about working here at the Center is that I’m surrounded by folks whose job is to be sensitive and empathetic. Their concern is sincere as they ask me how I’m doing.  Like many people in our lives, my perfunctory response is that “I’m fine.” Usually I am. When I’m not, it’s nice to be able to open up a bit. One of those colleagues gave me a bookmark which we hand out to those who have lost someone. It captures this quote from Helen Keller: “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us.”

We distribute or reference many books on grief here at the Center. Among the popular authors is James E. Miller, who just happened to live across the hall from Ellery Duke in grad school. Miller’s books are eminently practical. In his book, “How Will I Get Through the Holidays?” he enumerates 10 ways to cope:

  1. Accept the likelihood of your pain.
  2. Feel whatever it is you feel.
  3. Express your emotions.
  4. Plan ahead.
  5. Take charge where you can.
  6. Turn to others for support
  7. Be gentle with yourself.
  8. Find a way to remember.
  9. Search out your blessings.
  10. Do something for others.

Many who visit us for counseling and spiritual direction have been touched by death and grief. I am so grateful that they will find at the Center a place of hope and healing as they go through the grieving process.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Thank you for all you do to make our mission possible.



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The Center at 45 Years

April 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


6 April 1972. Ring a bell?

That date, 45 years ago, was when the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center was formally incorporated. How do I know this? One of the first things Ellery Duke (executive director 1976 – 2016) provided me when I arrived in December 2016 was a faded and only slightly tattered copy of the board of directors’ minutes of the first four years of the Center.

It’s a great read, thanks to Glenna Evans, who was the secretary for all those meetings. She has a distinctive voice and wry wit as she captures some of the drama of our first years. The document begins with a thematic “This is Your Life” summary, based on the popular TV show of the day.

Click page to launch a readable version of the Center’s history, “This is Your Life” by Glenna Evans.

I often think of Glenna, of Dr. Ray Martin, our Founder and all the others who have made this mission possible—and vibrant. Reflecting on their efforts inspires gratitude. We had cupcakes at our April staff meeting to commemorate the 45th.  As our 50th anniversary arises on the horizon of our consciousness, I hope that we can put together a quality history of the many great stories of hope and healing that occurred over the decades. We’ll also need to have an appropriate celebration on or around 6 April 2022. Pencil it in!

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Until then, thank you again for the many ways you support us and inspire our mission.



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A reflection on trust

March 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


In God We Trust.

When is the last time you looked at a dollar bill—I mean really examined it?

The currency claims we trust God, meanwhile we’ve created a legal tender that is itself an idol. Ironic, eh?

I have been in many conversations of late that have touched on the issue of trust. The topics of the conversations varied: politics, workplace, religion, family relationships, among others. Trust as a common thread certainly helps one to appreciate the necessity of trust in the tapestry that makes up all of our relationships.

As an organization that helps clients to navigate the complexities of relationships—and to bring hope and healing through counseling and education to the scary places where despair and pain lurk—trust is not simply a concept, but life’s blood for the healing process.  For those who bring questions of spirituality, faith and theology into this mix, we raise the stakes by wondering about our trust in the almighty, the creation, the cosmos. If we can’t trust that power, what’s left?

In God we trust? In others we trust? In our country we trust? In our therapist we trust?  In . . . what do we trust?

I have worked hard in my first couple months as the executive director to build trust. I have been meeting with colleagues here at work to better understand what is great about the Center and to deepen my appreciation for the talent and gifts that our staff members bring to work each day. I have been in conversations with board members and lots of donors and others committed to the success of our work. It is clear to me that we need to be an organization worthy of the obvious trust people place in us in spite of the limits imposed by the human nature of all involved. How do we earn and maintain trust? Here are some spontaneous musings:

  1. Keep your word and maintain the integrity of words and actions.
  2. Trust takes time and work. It is only earned through depth of relationship, so never take it for granted.
  3. When we have relationships in our lives worthy of trust, we should continually offer thanks to others for the hard work they have done to earn our trust.
  4. Finding common ground. We certainly don’t need to all think alike or believe in the same things, but we do need to take the time to know one another and appreciate our similarities.
  5. Trust your own values and beliefs. Given all the diverse systems of understanding and belief, we need to be honest about who we are. It certainly opens us up to ridicule and rejection, but we can be trusted to be who we are in all times and places.

What else would you add to this list?

Let me offer an example out of my own faith perspective. The Christians among us (we are a diverse group of many beliefs, who serve an equally diverse clientele) are in the midst of a Lenten journey, preparing for the foundational feast of Easter. It is often a journey of exploration of the many ways we have not been trustworthy.  Before the glory of the resurrection, Jesus becomes the exemplar of trust in the God of creation. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as the powers of distrust, death and darkness close in on him, just when it seems that God has abandoned him and the earth, he offers this prayer: “Abba, all things are possible for you . . . if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will, but yours be done.”  Talk about trust!

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

My hope is that the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center will always do our best to be worthy of the confidence our community offers us as we live out our mission. Part of that mission is to help all those we serve to build or re-build healthy relationships, worthy of trust.


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Hope is the thing with feathers

February 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily DickinsonHope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul…

So begins the poem of Emily Dickinson on hope. The poor bird is abashed by chill and storm and somehow perseveres.

Hope has often been on my mind of late. We have had many discussions as a staff about how to live our mission of hope and healing in an age of turmoil. For many, the current social and political context, along with the accompanying shouting, has ratcheted up the anxiety levels of many of our clients who already struggle with heightened emotions. They are not alone. Others experience emotional intensity by holding feelings back—not wanting to risk exhibition of feelings or thoughts for fear that they will be judged. If the mission of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is to bring hope and healing through counseling and education, what is our role in this age of turmoil? Such storms threaten to blow the feathers right off us!

My response is rooted in the theological understanding of hope. If you’ve ever run across the word “eschatology,” count your blessings. It’s rooted in the Greek notion of the end times, when all will be brought to fulfillment. You find good examples of the notion in many spiritual traditions, particularly the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Think “apocalypse” and you’re in the ballpark. Eschatological hope is rooted in the notion of that which is fulfilled already and that which is yet to be fulfilled. We experience the “already” in moments of flow, love, and right relationship when the world seems to be a good place. The “not yet” is when we bump up against the limits of this life. These are the scary times of fear, loss, and injustice. Such moments raise questions such as why? Why now? Why this? Wait, what????

As one of our staff mentioned when we were discussing how such moments impact our therapies, spiritual direction and everyday conversation, we stand in the gaps between the already and the not yet. A reference was made to Parker Palmer’s fine book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, which names such gaps and potential responses to such moments. The gaps are not places of comfort, but certainly offer opportunity and hope. For the “already” members of our tribes, it means getting busy making the world a better place in the face of fear, loss, and injustice. Hope doesn’t allow for passivity in such moments, but inspires engagement and getting our hands dirty in doing the good work that needs to be done. The “not yet” folks offer us a message of hope that reminds us that we are a part of a creation that existed before us and will continue after us. As one of my heroes, Oscar Romero, put it: “we are prophets of a future not our own.” Such prophets remind us that we have work to do, but that we also need to acknowledge our inability to bring the fullness of good to fruition.

Let me move from the philosophical and provide an example. I volunteer every Friday at a place called “Hope Ministries,” which works with the homeless. I spend every Friday with men who have messed up their own lives and those they love in ways beyond the imagining of most of us. And yet, we have the audacity to meet every week and talk about hope—a future of possibility. Some of them get there—sober, reconciled with families, re-engaged as employed and contributing citizens. Others return to the streets. Already and not yet.

As each of us contemplates our calling and role in our current social and political context, remember that we are rooted in hope. We take hope and healing very seriously in our daily mission here at the Center. In the moments it’s evident, we celebrate. And we give thanks for all of you who make it possible. In the moments the turmoil tempts us with despair and fear, I encourage us all to remember the following gem from a survivor of one of history’s greatest evils:

“Everything can be taken from a man (person) but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

Let us choose hope and healing.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div.

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