Last October, John Moreau celebrated his 20th year at Esperanza as a well-known and beloved employee and counselor. An impressive stretch for anyone but especially for someone who wasn’t all that interest in working at Esperanza when he first interviewed there. At the time he instead agreed to give it a month as a volunteer. He had been working as a counselor for children with neurological disorders and their families and as a substance abuse counselor. Moreau had all but decided to move back to Montana, where he was born and raised, because the company he’d been working for had been sold and that deal was “all about money and nothing about helping people.” Helping people is what interested Moreau about Esperanza initially and what has kept him there all this time.
“I’d counseled gang members at other places,” recalls Moreau, decked out in black pants and a black leather motorcycle vest. “So I was used to dealing with some of the issues I see here. But I’m really committed to ending violence in families, and I got really connected to the staff and the program, and helping these people deal with violence in the home, between family members – that really caught my heart.”
Moreau is about as heartfelt a person you could come across, as well as empathetic, compassionate, open-minded, honest, and always wanting to learn. Much of that stems not just from his background but from being a Coptic Christian. “It’s an eastern form of Christianity,” explains Moreau. “It’s very contemplative. It’s all about nonviolence. It gives me a lot of emotional protection, because I try to see the whole picture.”
Always interested in science, comparative religion and philosophy, Moreau went to college at the University of Dayton, in Ohio. During his junior year, he decided he wanted “to help people in pain,” as he says, so he chose psychology as his major. After graduating, he stayed in Dayton another five years before giving away everything he had, getting on his motorcycle and heading out to California.
Part Native American (through his mom), he ended up in the Bay Area and became very involved with the various Native American causes going on at the time – he connected with Native elders and he got involved with the American Indian Movement (AIM).
For a few years, he set down in Flagstaff, Arizona, working for a detox facility that served mostly Navajos. He also got involved with the Hopi elders of the nearby Third Mesa. “I had horses then, and I’d live on the mesa for days at a time, so the people had come to accept me,” says Moreau. “I also studied under David Monongye, a prominent Hopi elder who participated in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment just a few years before. “
Eventually Moreau moved to Santa Fe, but after a few years, he was thinking of leaving when he agreed to help out Esperanza Shelter for just a few months.
It soon turned into a full-time job that he loves. He is quick to credit his colleagues at Esperanza for their commitment to the mission and their compassion for their clients. “It’s never about me,” says Moreau. “What we do at Esperanza is a team effort – and it’s all about our clients.”
He now does non-residential work, three groups a week, two with offender groups, one with a female survivor group; and sees people individually. “I’m trying to give people tools how to manage and navigate, how not to be violent in a very violent society,” says Moreau. “Every human being has the right to get their needs met. However, anytime someone uses pressure, aggression, violence, power or control to meet their needs– that always results in harm. And that is often traumatic.”
So Moreau works on trying to help his clients find other ways to deal with problems and anxiety. And the stumbling blocks are often things like lack of self-knowledge, and self-management. Moreau lays some of the blame for these stumbling blocks on the media, which bombards people with entertainment that’s largely about sex and violence. Our legal and judicial systems also present some obstacles. “Right now,” he points out, “people serve more time in jail for stealing a car than battering a woman.”
Much of what Moreau focuses on with his clients is twofold: consciousness and giving clients methods for change. “A lot of the work we do here is experiential,” he says. “we give our clients exercises, not just to learn intellectually but to learn experientially. Patterns can be broken a lot more easily than we thought. It’s about helping people change their minds.”
“Safety in a relationship allows you to deal with issues,” he continues “you don’t hide anything if you feel safe. We’ve got to meet people in a very nonjudgmental way, we have to meet them where they’re at. Their safety is the priority. It’s a journey of self-realization they’re on. So they need to trust us.”
It’s work he applies in his groups, but also takes out into the community, along with other staff members – to schools, to other agencies, churches and service providers, to anyone who asks. And many ask, calling up Esperanza for advice and education.
It’s also work that has affected him and changed him.
“Doing this work has really made me examine my own behaviors and thoughts. “I hold myself accountable, too. I don’t see myself as perfect or self-righteous. I have to be aware of my own issues and work on them. So it has made me mature and more loving and caring. I learn a lot from clients. I feel privileged and humbled to learn from them.”
Moreau also knows that it’s working. “I have a lot of faith in and loyalty to our program,” he says. “But our community needs more education and awareness about domestic violence.” He notes that Esperanza’s new outreach department will be an important link to the community.
“Domestic violence is a social and societal issue, explains Moreau. “It’s a complex and multilayered problem that will always need a coordinated community response.”