Raven Smith - VOA | ReST Facilitator


Raven Smith, a VOA | ReST facilitator and trainer of new facilitators, has been with the program since May 2019. Recently, she participated in a Q&A during which she shared her experiences with ReST.

Can you please share a little bit of your background and any role models you had growing up?

Well, as far as role models, I was raised by my grandmother. She was a strong force to be reckoned with. She passed after I joined the Army, during my Advanced Individual Training. What I took away from her death was her strength. When I think about the adversity I’ve faced, I remembered it helped me recall watching her while I was growing up, as she was an amputee and wore a prosthetic leg who raised three kids and five grandkids, worked as a teacher’s aide for 33 years, and was devoted to us and her kids in school. I needed her strength to carry me through adversity later in my life, and I leaned on her lessons and strength.

I was in the Army for 11 years, doing two tours of 30 months total in Iraq and was a drill sergeant for two of those years. My time in Iraq required a huge amount of strength. I remember going through physical training and when I was feeling weak and short on my runs, I remembered my grandmother and prayed “Grandma, I need your strength to finish this run, I need you,” and somehow after that prayer, I always made it to finish.

Once I was out military service, I moved to California and was in a toxic relationship, facing homelessness with my child, which I felt was another test. I wondered how I was going to make it without the military as they took such good care of me when you consider medical, housing, and salary. I did not think things through when I made the decision to leave. I just wanted to pursue my dream, and I had to think how to survive as a civilian. I turned to avoidance, namely drugs and alcohol. You don’t know you will come to the other side when you’re going through things, but I did overcome. My grandmother’s example would keep helping me a great deal during the military, and later through my challenges and then when I left to pursue my dream of becoming a licensed cosmetologist. I’m a firm believer that God will place people in your life to help guide you on your journey and there’s always a blessing. As I shared, I overcame and became a licensed cosmetologist and I’m thankful for this journey which includes ReST.

How did you hear of ReST and come to participate in the program?

I came across ReST through Julianne Boyd, a therapist and administrator at VOA housing. The program was then focused on helping veterans. I took to the program when it was very new and very fresh. I was a part of the test pilot that was launched in Los Angeles that was specific to veterans and before the pandemic, which made in person meetings possible. I was in the process of healing, and I saw my participation as another way to heal.

What motivates you as a ReST Trainer?

Aside from my realization about what moral injury was and how the training for the veterans helped me, it motivated me to ask how I can use this platform to help other people. I came out of my training trying the tools and resources on friends and family, and seeing the positives kept me motived to seek new ways for how I can better serve my brothers and sisters in arms. I like to help people and I have a love for what I do. If you use the tools and resources that ReST provides, it’s helpful and its important. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing I’m a part of something that can help anyone heal and or cope with any kind of moral injury or trauma.

If there was something you could say to someone hesitant to join a ReST session, what would it be?

Just show up. Showing up is half the battle. You might think you’re strong and in control and have a handle on stuff, but if you just show up to a session, it’s a big piece to show yourself courage, and a willingness to be healed and not feel bad feelings that stop you from being you. Those feelings might not disappear overnight, but knowing there’s a resource like ReST really helps manage your day-to-day. Sometimes all you need is someone hearing you to feel alive.

Any lesson you learned through your work as a ReST Trainer?

I realized is that we’re all connected. You never know what a person is going to share, and how that may resonate with your own story and history. There’s different types of healing, but it helps everyone who participates in a session who are coming together feel each other’s pain, as that sharing is actually helping heal each other. I hope this helps people realize we’re all navigating challenges and if we’re managing them together through a program like ReST, we can all be in this together and help and heal each other.

How would you sum up how it feels to help others as a ReST Trainer?

Remember there’s six degrees of separation and you never know the impact someone else can have in your life. I hope my impact, though small, is part of a bigger force and is always positive. I will always let participants in ReST know they are not alone, we are there for them.