Life in Community

Called to Community, and to Nursing

A Member’s Story from Fox Hill

March 3, 2021 by

Jennifer Zimmerman

My name is Jennifer (you can call me Jen) and I am currently living at Fox Hill, Bruderhof in Walden, New York. First, some fun facts: I love Peach Snapple, peanut M&Ms, apples, dark chocolate, and cold white wine. (And, ever since a college mission trip to Indonesia, Asian food – but that’s another story!) Some of my favorite activities include hiking in the Catskills, boating and fishing in the Hudson, baking, creating art, and singing. I also love to watch the sunrise over the lake in Fox Hill, where the sunlight dances on the water and paints the trees gold. I love upstate New York especially during autumn. Even my favorite color represents sunshine, happiness, and autumn leaves: you guessed it – yellow!

I was raised at Woodcrest, a Bruderhof in Rifton, New York. When I was thirteen, my beloved, strong, and beautiful mother was diagnosed with a rare intestinal cancer. She passed away eighteen months later despite surgery and chemotherapy. I could never have made it through without the support of our church and my amazing family: my three brothers, my sister, and most of all, my dad. Together we struggled through this tremendous loss, and our family bonds of friendship and love that were strengthened then still hold. When, sometime later, our dad remarried, we were blessed with a loving stepmom and then a baby brother, Jacob, who has brought more sunshine and smiles to each of us.

For almost as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a nurse. The experience of caring for my mother, a nurse herself, taught me the essentials of nursing and prompted me to turn my dream into a goal to plan for. After high school I took a gap year, the better part of which I spent in Australia before returning to New York to start college.

In 2017 I enrolled in SUNY Orange for an associate’s degree in nursing, and moved to Fox Hill to shorten the commute to school. It was a vigorous program, and during my three years there I worked between twenty and forty hours per week in three long-term care facilities. This work was physically demanding, with up to twenty residents to attend per shift, and never enough time or resources to give them the care they deserved. Although this work was difficult, I loved it and appreciated the meaningful friendships that formed. Many of the residents I cared for seemed forgotten or despised by society, yet as I came to know them I discovered a wealth of wisdom and inspiration in their stories.

I had stopped working in my final semester of nursing school (Spring 2020, just as the pandemic started) to be able to finish strong and get the degree I needed. It was getting harder; now classes were virtual with professors who, God bless them, hardly knew how to use a mouse. Then in the beginning of April a local nursing home reached out to our communities for help due to the rapidly spreading COVID cases and a lack of staff. I jumped at the opportunity. I missed my work and had been contemplating what to do for the people suffering from COVID. It was an unforgettable experience, which at times felt like a nightmare. Under layers of PPE I was surrounded by death and despair. Within two months, the number of residents at our facility was cut almost in half. It was a painful privilege to stand in the stead of family and friends, comforting some of these suffering individuals in their last hours. Many died alone.

Throughout my time there, the town put us up in a local hotel to prevent community spread. At one point I contracted COVID and spent two weeks alone in the hotel before returning to work. Admittedly it was a difficult and lonely experience for someone coming from a large family and sharing every aspect of life in community. Yet it was an important time for me, of reflection and growing in my relationship with God, and for that I am grateful. It was also during this time that I graduated. Even without the pinning ceremony that my classmates and I had planned and dreamt about for years, it was a significant moment for me. I was now a real nurse, my dream had come true, and I knew my mom was smiling down on me.

Now an RN, I work in a behavioral health unit in Poughkeepsie. It’s a completely new experience for me. Instead of physically caring for patients, everything is a mind game. My work includes talking someone through an anxiety attack or suicidal ideations, attempting to ground someone in reality when they are experiencing psychosis, breaking up fights, and managing medications. It has been an amazing learning experience, and I know I have more to learn. Mental health truly affects everybody.

Previously my work had been mostly with the geriatric population. Now a large population of my patients are young people struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. Many issues stem from societal problems: the breakdown of a secure family unit, prison systems, racism, social media, and the uneven distribution of wealth and resources. Of course, a big player now is COVID with its wake of death, isolation, financial instability, and fear. To me, it is also evident that the underlying issue in many people’s lives is a lack of purpose or meaning other than being focused on themselves. America has promoted individualism and independence to the point of bringing destruction to society. God’s design was for us to live interdependently for something greater than ourselves, and in that, find the freedom, joy, and love he promises. This is essentially why I felt called by God to join the way of life that I am part of now.

Similarly, I see my work as a nurse to be a vocation, not just a career choice. As a member of the Bruderhof, I am fortunate that this can be a reality. I don’t keep my paycheck, but forward it to the common purse that we share, from which I get a weekly allowance to fuel the car I use from our fleet, and for the necessary caffeine and calories every human needs. I don’t miss my paycheck – God has given me everything I need and more. I am able to live with brothers and sisters in Christ likewise committed to following Jesus’ commands in intentional community. I am fortunate enough to participate in a lifestyle where marriage between one man and one woman until death is taken seriously, and a secure family unit is commonplace. I get to play a part in a culture where the most vulnerable are treasured and cared for and respected, as Jesus showed us through his example. My prayer is that many more people can join us in serving God and likewise experience the incredible blessings he gives when we commit our lives completely to him.

Jennifer Zimmerman lives at Fox Hill, a Bruderhof in Walden, New York.


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