• Jennifer Burlak

Nora


Nora has been serving at the Damiano Center over the past year through AmeriCorps with our Kids' Kitchen and Summer Food Corps programs. She has been an exceptional member of our team and recently had her last day at the Damiano. Before she left, Nora shared with us, reflecting on her time at the Damiano Center:


1. What brought you to working at the Damiano?

After growing up in a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood and going to a private, Christian high school, I knew I wanted to do something different before heading off to college. The murder of George Floyd happened the summer before my senior year, and I truly took it to heart that if I maintained my comfort, I would maintain my privilege. I knew that I had to escape the bubbles I had been raised in before heading to another bubble of sorts, higher education. I had heard about AmeriCorps through my family and thought that would be a wonderful medium to give me structure and resources throughout my gap year while I lived and served in a new place. When interviewing at different host sites, I was immediately struck by the diversity of services which the Damiano Center offers. It was so exciting to me that one building could help community members in fulfilling so many basic human rights (food, hygiene, clothing, etc). I was

especially excited by the food justice type initiatives, specifically the Summer Food Corps program. I was raised with a huge backyard garden and know how powerful it is to have access to affordable, healthy food and the gratification which comes from growing it yourself. When I knew there was an opportunity to work with youth in a garden, there was no stopping me from serving at the Damiano!


2. What has been your favorite part about working at the Damiano Center?

I am so grateful to have served at the Damiano Center because it gave me a look into the intimate needs of a marginalized community. I loved serving at the Damiano because I feel as though I became a member of that community in some sense, by hopefully proving to our clients that I was there to serve them based on their agenda and not my own. On a daily basis, I was humbled by the adversity which so many of our clients face. I will cherish all the relationships and interactions I had with the Damiano’s clientele because they are some of the kindest, strongest, and most admirable folks I have ever met.


3. What is something you’ve learned during your time here?

One of the most important things I have learned while serving at the Damiano is

unlearning the stigma against folks who use social services. I was raised in

environments that cast housing unstable people as lazy, unmotivated leeches to the system. I would encourage folks who hold this view to spend one day working at the Damiano and talking to its clientele. It quickly becomes apparent that these “leeches” are some of it not the hardest workers I have ever met. So many of our clients face mentally taxing obstacles, like past or current trauma, addiction, pre-existing mental health challenges, etc. Not to mention, the stigma they face by greater society and systemic structures is another crippling adversity. By seeing these challenges at an intimate level, I can confidently say that these humans deserve equitable assistance through social services because 1. They are humans with inherent worth and dignity and 2. They are fighting for their lives against challenges that go mostly unseen to those who hold that aforementioned neoliberal perspective.


4. What will you miss the most?

The kiddos, for sure!! I served primarily in the Kids’ Kitchen program and gosh darn, those are some of the funniest, smartest, most joyful kids I have ever met. I was constantly learning from them how to be a better, more respectful communicator. Oh, and Maria and Kim. I will miss those crazy ladies immensely as well!


5. What is something you would like everyone to know about the Damiano Center?

I would like everyone to know that although the Damiano does incredible work, it is truly a bandaid to the systemic injustices which plague not only our Duluth community, but the entire country. So many of our fellow community members are stuck in cycles of housing insecurity, addiction, domestic abuse, etc. I would encourage folks who simply think of the Damiano as a beneficial community organization but never actually engage with or support the Center itself, to first, get involved! Donate to our cause and as importantly, put yourself in an environment where you can connect with community members who are too often marginalized. Then, reflect on your experiences and if they seem powerful enough, I encourage you to get involved at a political level as well.


6. Where are you off to next?

I am headed to UC Berkeley to study something in the realm of social welfare and/or urban studies. I am incredibly grateful to have this opportunity to represent the voices I listened to and learned from at the Damiano Center. Like I said, the Damiano, while amazing, is a band aid to larger systemic issues. I am hoping to learn how to represent and aid these folks at higher levels than direct community engagement. I hope to make all of the Duluth community (especially the Central Hillside) proud and give back after all that the Damiano staff and clientele has given me.



We appreciate all the time we've had with you and wish you the best, Nora!

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