Redefining Paradise


How We See Success

“When she was just a girl
She expected the world
But it flew away from her reach so
She ran away in her sleep
And dreamed of
Para-para-paradise, Para-para-paradise, Para-para-paradise
Every time she closed her eyes…”

Those are the lyrics of Paradise, by a band called Coldplay. Ever heard it? 


Try something for me – picture yourself working at the HER Shelter. Imagine you have a new client who has just arrived and who has come from a horrible situation. You leave that day, jump in the car and this song comes on the radio. You’ve heard it before, but for the first time you envision that little girl as one of your clients. Listen:

“When she was just a girl
She expected the world
But it flew away from her reach
And the bullets catch in her teeth
Life goes on, it gets so heavy
The wheel breaks the butterfly
Every tear a waterfall
In the night the stormy night she’ll close her eyes
In the night the stormy night away she’d fly…”

It changed the entire way you see the song right? But more importantly, did it have any effect on how you hear or understand the key word: paradise? This isn’t just a mental exercise to make our blog more interactive. This is an experience straight out of my life a few weeks ago. And with the shift in perspective on the music, came a shift in perspective of paradise.

Here at HER, when our clients come into Shelter or choose to take part in our community services, they are making a decision: to uproot their current existence; to pack 2 bags and begin again; to leave the bad in search of something new – an oasis of calm or peace. And where they end up – if they enter a situation where the have control over their finances, feel safe, and are happier – is this not paradise comparatively? Though I’ve always associated the word with a beach scene out of a Hollywood film, in reality, paradise is different for every person – and here’s the key: each person’s paradise is worthy of respect. Right? Some people would truly not comprehend how happy a person might be securing a $300 studio apartment in an only okay neighborhood – at least, not without context huh? With this adaptable framework of a definition, let’s talk about how we work within this mindset to help our clients find their oasis.


HER Four Steps to Paradise

1) Acknowledging Differences: The most essential step, and the beginning of helping someone. Each and every client we admit into shelter will have a distinctly unique past and set of barriers. [Barriers are the industry name for things that might hinder a person from achieving a goal.] After we have completed an intake and have a good idea of the direction the person would like to go – we say okay and we help them try to get there. Along the way we might offer suggestions about programs or services that might benefit them – but we do our best to let the client’s have control over their trajectory. We have to do our utmost not to force any of our own standards or beliefs onto them during their stay. For example, perhaps a client is desperate to get their own car (perhaps free movement was denied to them in the past), but we would rather see them focus on getting a better place to live. We can argue, but most often we choose to support. If a car is their paradise, who are we to shatter that dream? We each see the world differently – and therefore we each imagine our version of paradise differently. And it’s okay!

2) Respecting Choices: Remember that classic movie trope? The one where a child is about to fly the coop but uptight parents want them to go to a certain college and get a certain degree in accounting to take up a certain family business? Then, predictably, the child wants to dance or act or pursue a passion that, heavens be, is just not what the parents find acceptable. At the end of those movies, what is nearly always the case? The kids goes to dance school and mommy and daddy grow up a little. Right? Life at the Shelter is often the same way. A client comes in, works hard, makes choices about her future – and we respect them (even if we think it’s not the best choice). This is simple – in the end, it’s not about us or how we might feel about something – it’s about the clients achieving some or all of their current version of paradise. Is there a place in your life this needs to be true also? Got a kid that wants to be an painter and not a football player? Perhaps a sibling that doesn’t want to be a half-owner of the family feed store? A friend that doesn’t want to be in her abusive marriage anymore? What realities or standards do we unknowingly project onto people in our lives? Are we truly respecting choices?


3) Choosing Goals: Back to the Shelter. Once a client is more familiar to us – their version of paradise has been explained, and they have had time to catch their breath – we assist as best we can in setting reasonable goals. Whether that means offering space in our safe to store cash, assistance with WIC paperwork, or transportation to and from some interviews – we do as much as we can. The saddest truth about the perceived paradise of many people, is that they never take the time to seriously think about how to get there. Ever have those moments? Where you picture living in a quaint apartment in Budapest over a pastry shop and teaching English 2 days a week at a local university? [Or whatever your paradise might be.] I would bet money that in the process of thinking about your daydream, you never go, sit down with a pen and paper, and write a 10 step plan to get there. Am I right? Right from the beginning of a shelter stay, we do our best to help clients identify achievable steps towards reasonable goals. We envision success. We have to, in order to inspire confidence in the people serve. So go ahead, give yourself permission to write a list: Ten Steps to Paradise (

4) Starting a Journey: Perhaps the most difficult part of expanding your understanding of paradise, is giving it the characteristic of fluidity. Clients are in our shelter for 30-60 days. Hopefully when they leave they are entering their little paradise they have been working so hard on. But what about after? Every single client is given the opportunity to be part of our After-Care program – a doorway to our services  for up to 12 months after they stay with us. Many times their goals or perceptions of paradise begin to evolve and mature. Maybe they have an apartment, and now want to pursue obtaining a vehicle. Perhaps they settled in an area they don’t love and have set their sights on a nicer place? Not to be too philosophical, but is paradise more of a journey than a destination? Below are two hypothetical situations to illustrate a little more of what I mean.

… is paradise more of a journey than a destination?

Hypothetical Client A: Arrives at the Shelter from a situation that was life-threatening. She had no access to a car, to money, to family or friends, or to work. Her goals right at the start are this: get a job, to make money, to get a place by herself and become independent. Her paradise is a place where she is independent, where she is strong and in charge. And that’s okay. 

Hypothetical Client B: Arrives at the Shelter with her 3 kids, from a situation that was dirty, unsafe, and where her children were not able to attend school. She is bound and determined to live in clean surroundings, with doors that have many locks, and to get her kids enrolled into school and working on their education. Her paradise is a place where she feels safe, and where she can provide a new life for her children. And that’s okay. 


What’s your paradise? If you take away societal standards (beach scene), what’s your real paradise? I promise – it’s okay.

“And so lying underneath those stormy skies
She’d say, “oh, I know the sun must set to rise”

This could be

(*All lyrics from song Paradise by Coldplay, Copyright 2011)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s