A Small Family

by Admin / 8. June 2007 06:58

“Mira, tu hija,” Alba says to me, signaling to 18 month old Blanca, who is standing and smiling as she messes her nicely combed hair. Calling the children “hijo,” son, or “hija,” daughter, has become part of our daily language in the infant room at Hogar Infantil. Instead of the children seeing the women in the room as just workers and the women caring for the children as just part of their job, the infant room is like a small family that I am fortunate to have been a part of the past nine months.

As an Augustinian Volunteer, I was assigned to work at Hogar Infantil Orphanage three days a week mainly assisting in the infant and toddler room. At the beginning I mostly saw my daily job as chores that needed to be accomplished: folding clothes, feeding infants, changing diapers. However, I quickly learned that the women in the infant room, Alba, Noema, Meche and Lupita, do their tasks not only to perform their assigned job but also out of love for all the children in the room. When a child leaves there is a little bit of emptiness in the room for a while, and when a new one comes they are embraced with open arms. Just this past Saturday, I arrived at the orphanage to find three-year-old Alejandra had been adopted. The atmosphere in the room was definitely one of sadness, everyone feeling they had lost a sister or a daughter. Each child is an integral part of the family who is deeply missed when he or she leaves.

Since I am from Philadelphia and currently living across the country, I am unable to really see my family often. But going to the orphanage and being greeted by the toddlers smiling and screaming, “Keeley!!” and hugs from the women who work there, I feel I enter a home away from home. I feel more than welcome each time I visit. One day Alba decided to invite me to her home for lunch and to meet her family. In Spanish she explained to me that she knew it must be hard being away from home and that she would be my surrogate “mama” if I ever needed anything. She has treated me like another member of her family, just like she treats the other children at the orphanage. The children are given so much love by the women and learn to give it in return. It is amazing to see how a group of people who have all different stories come together to form a close family caring for each other.

Recently I was cooking in the kitchen with Noema when Jorge ran in and said, “Las dos mamas! Mama uno! Mama dos!” I turned around surprised to see Jorge pointing to Noema and myself. I had never seen myself as another one of their “mothers” at the orphanage, but I was touched that the children think of me as another member of their family.

Soon I will be done the volunteer program and move back home, but I feel so blessed to have been a part of such a family. Not only have I developed my Spanish language skills and learn more about the Mexican culture, I have also established many meaningful relationships that I will forever cherish. I am a little apprehensive about moving and leaving behind the orphanage, but I know a piece of Hogar Infantil, my second family, will always be with me. I hope the future volunteers are able to have such an unforgettable experience as well.

Keeley Berry

San Diego, CA 2006-2007

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Domestics 2006-2007

On the Streets of the Bronx

by Admin / 19. May 2007 07:00

Back in August when I packed my bags for the Bronx, I had no idea that there was one thing I couldn’t help but bring with me that I would take with me every day. My white skin. True, I’ve been a white girl all of my life, but it’s never been more apparent to me than over the past 9 months. I think I speak for everyone in our Bronx community when I say that from those first few moments in our new neighborhood; being led down Fordham Road by Brother Michael, appearing embarrassingly well coordinated (thanks to our new AV apparel), and feeling like a bunch of pathetically out of place tourists/Fordham students, we all wondered exactly what we were in for this year. One thing was clear though; in our new home we were going to stand out.

I am white, and for most of my life I’ve been around mainly white people. As a member of the majority, racially based stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination were topics for conversation in my classes, and headlines of news stories that I was often troubled by but had difficulty imagining encountering in my daily life. My personal experiences have generally lacked moments when I even thought about color of my skin, let alone felt that I was being evaluated or discriminated against based upon this aspect of my self.

But here I am, a minority; a white girl in the Bronx.

At times, the stares on my daily trips on the 4 train are penetrating, and I’ve gotten everything from a casual “Hey shorty” to a few marriage proposals while walking down the street. My physical presence as someone who doesn’t quite fit in is constantly acknowledged and this in and of itself is exhausting. Even my clothes are definitely not Bronx style, although I’ll admit that during the winter I bought the cheapest version I could find of the black quilted coat with a fur hood that I saw just about everyone in this borough wearing and retired my pink LL Bean jacket for the season. The Bronx just doesn’t wear LL Bean.

Thankfully, I have a job working with Bronx women who are near my age and who have allowed us to work through the white girl stereotypes with humor and thoughtfulness. It’s only inevitable: I talk like a white girl, but as it turns out I’m not as corny as some of the women once suspected, I’m definitely not rich, I do like spicy food (which apparently is atypical for white people). I even listen to Hot 97 and I love Beyonce.

I do, however, have the anticipated high school diploma, college education, and, in the opinion of women living in a homeless shelter, more foreseeable options than obstacles for the future. I’m not included in the stark and startling statistics that Black and Hispanic women my age face every day. Based on my race or ethnicity, my future child’s chance of dying from SIDS is not twice as high as the national average. I’m not a member of a race that contributed to 81% of new AIDS diagnoses among women last year. Though I was utterly disgusted by the comments made by Don Imus this year, I will never be stung quite as sharply by his words as others might have been. And I will never fully grasp the atrocity of the history and present day use of the “n word”.

Writing this in May, I can definitely say that my strong sense of self-awareness still exists, but has decreased dramatically from when I first unpacked my bags in August. For this transformation I give full credit to the Bronx itself. Not only have I been blessed in getting to know so many amazing women and their children, but through everyday interaction I have truly gotten to know the Bronx. Undoubtedly, this community has toughened me up a bit by showing me hardships and sadness, but more over it has introduced me to a type of human beauty I never knew existed. The Bronx is a place of strength and love, and I see this every day just walking down Fordham Road. It’s a place where I may never look like I fit in, but it’s also the place where I’ve learned that that’s simply not as important as feeling as though I can and want to belong here. As time passes I become more and more comfortable with this idea and have learned to be not just any old white girl in the Bronx, but Lindsey, who lives at 2342 Andrews Ave. Bronx, NY.

Lindsey Kelpin

Bronx, NY 2006-2007

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Domestics 2006-2007

Hot Potato

by Admin / 15. May 2007 07:03

The first day I walked into St. Patrick’s middle school in San Diego seems like years ago. I walked from classroom to classroom with the principal and introduced myself to the students whom I soon hoped to turn into P/E addicts. Of course the first classroom I came to was that of the eighth grade. I remember feeling a wave of fear rush over me and thinking: “Come on Anthony, these kids are ten years younger than you, be a man.” I walked in, chin held high and stated, “My name is Mr. Coletta, and I will be your P/E teacher this year.” Looking back on that moment I could only imagine what was going through the minds of my students. (Probably something along the lines of: “What’s with this kid’s hair?” “Wait did he say he was a teacher or a new student?” or “He has no idea what he got himself into.”) The truth of the matter is I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into or how much a bunch of middle school students could help me become the man I hoped to be on that first day.

P/E at St. Pat’s is like nothing I have ever seen before. The equipment is limited and the designated play area is dangerous. There is no gym at the school or even any grass for that matter so my classroom is an area of blacktop about half the size of a football field. Needless to say, I have seen more skinned knees than most have in a lifetime and I would bet the amount of tears that have fallen on my watch equal the rainfall total for San Diego this year. Nevertheless, I am asked on a daily basis by kids of all ages whether or not today is their day for P/E and the excitement I see on my students faces when I walk into their classroom, to remove them from their studies, is something that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

P/E is just one of the many duties that I have taken on this year at St. Pat’s during what every other teacher at the school has told me is the “craziest year yet.” One of my many other roles is to lead the KICS (Kindness in Community Service) Club started by previous volunteer, Maureen Eichler. During the Easter season the KICS club was asked to provide an Easter basket for a young girl from the orphanage in Tijuana. We raised money through various events and I left it up to the kids to make a list of things that they wished to stuff the basket with. When I walked into Target about a week later I remember looking down at the list and thinking that I was in way over my head. I have a hard enough time buying clothes for myself and here I was shopping for a seven year old girl. The first thing that came to my mind was, “little girls love pink.” So, I made my way through the aisles and grabbed as much pink colored clothes as I could. (Pink shoes, pink socks, pink dress, and pink underwear and so on.) Unfortunately when I got home I found out that the little girl whose style I thought I had just nailed on the head was a “tomboy” and “hated pink”. To this day though what remains with me is not how terribly wrong my perception that all girls love pink was but rather how a small sum of money, raised by a group of young people, can really impact the lives of others. On that Easter Morning, when she received her basket filled to the brim with clothes, toys and candy I can only hope the love that when into the basket outweighed the color of the items in it.

Children have the ability to see the excitement in everything around them and find pleasure in even the simplest of things. In order to illustrate this fact I would like to talk about a kindergarten student of mine by the name of Joseph. Joseph is slowly becoming a legend at the school, mostly because he runs on full throttle, all day, and everyday. Each afternoon when I walk out into the yard for recess, Joseph looks at me, says “Mr.” five times before the letter C can finally follow and orders me to “watch this.” He then pulls his leg back as far as possible and boots his red “bouncy ball” into the crowd of junior high students in the hope of hitting one on the head. If he is successful, Joseph breaks out in an uncontrollable laughter, shouts “YES!” and chases after his ball. One day, during P/E, I informed the kindergarten class that today we would be playing “Hot Potato.” Upon hearing this Joseph raised his hand and politely asked if he could “be the potato.” His spirit is contagious and his willingness to throw himself into every situation and give 100 percent continues to inspire me. Although he can be brutally honest at times, (he once told the 3rd grade teacher that “her face was kind of old but her legs looked real strong”). Joseph and all of my other students have opened my eyes to the importance of finding beauty and excitement in everything around me. I now approach life as if it were a game of hot potato, and rather than stand around and merely be a spectator, I want to throw myself right in there and be “the potato.”

Anthony Coletta

San Diego, CA 2006-2007

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Domestics 2006-2007

Her smile crunches up her nose.

by Admin / 29. April 2007 07:07

Tap-tap-tap- Daniela sways her body with the rhythm of the rope. She watches intently, leaps forward, and begins to jump as I start to sing- “Cinderella dressed in yella”- Daniela always clutches her slightly over-sized-hand-me-down pants as her braids bounce softly on her head. Her smile crunches up her nose and her black eyes sparkle.

The rope catches her foot and stops. No worries, everyone gets two turns. She steps out and allows Ale and me to start turning again. I didn’t notice but she switched sides. Ale notices and reminds me, with a smile and a giggle, that I am turning the rope the wrong way. Ale’s the expert rope turner. She is on top of her game and doesn’t mind giving everyone else a turn before she gets one. She usually has braids, too, but some weekends she goes to the salon with her mom and her hair is straight and “glamorous.”

Ale and Daniela are both four. They arrive at school and 7:30 in the morning and get picked up at 5:30 in the afternoon, a ten hour day, and a fifty hour week.

Ale is a busy body. She is very helpful, sometimes overly. She can tie shoes, open milk cartons and even ketchup packets. She is never nervous to tell adults when they forget to do something or when they don’t do it right. Actually, she seems to prefer interaction with adults.

I didn’t hear Daniela speak for the first few weeks of work. She even wet her pants because she wouldn’t ask to go to the bathroom. She has grown up a lot in the last few months. First, she started jumping rope and talking to Ale and me in Kids Club, the after school program at St. Mary’s. Then, with some coaching, she started playing with Mya at recess. Now she will even ask other kids if she can play, very impressive.

One day, I asked Daniela why she started talking. She told me that it was because of God and started to sing a church hymn.

The rope catches up with her again and her turn is over. She has to make a decision. She either stays and waits for it to be her turn again or she ventures out to find a new game.

I guess that is a question that most of us deal with at some point or another. After finding something that makes your nose crunch, is it okay for you to stand on the sidelines and wait for it to happen again or do you venture out? Change is a risky business.

Daniela and Ale are innocent now. They have lucked out. They have parents who work hard to provide them with a better education than exists in their public school. They have parents who make sure that they are not coming home to an empty house in the care of a slightly older sibling. There is a steady rhythm to their day.

When do children start to get tripped-up? How long until the rope catches their feet and they are faced with the reality of their surrounding environment? When do their skirts get hiked-up and boys become a priority? When do words of sex and drugs start falling from their dainty mouths?

I have the privilege of spending a few hours a day in the girls’ bathroom. Pre-k has to be escorted. Opening the door to the girls’ room, I have caught my fair share of lewd conversations between the middle school girls.

I can only hope that Ale continues to have confidence in her abilities and that Daniela continues to look to God for inspiration. I find that hope in their crunched up noses and soft giggles.

Miss Kyleen Roe

Lawrence, MA 2006-2007

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Domestics 2006-2007

No longer

by Admin / 20. April 2007 07:08

With the score tied at two apiece and only seconds remaining in the gym period, Javier gained control of the puck in the corner and passed it to Josephine, and she began an offensive attack the other way. Josephine then whipped a pass the length of the gym floor, hitting Richardson in stride, and he deposited the puck into the top right corner of the net. The goal was the most beautiful sight my eyes had ever seen. It were as if poetry had been set into motion. Richardson’s goal would be the final play of a four-week floor hockey lesson that I conducted with the fifth grade. I wish I could say that the hockey played during that time was as breathtaking as that final play, but that simply wasn’t the case. Most of the game play consisted of a traveling pack of students, clutching their sticks like broom handles, making violent swipes and slashes which connected more often with shins and jaws than with the puck. Despite the overall poor play, I could not help but feel content with the outcome of the month-long lesson. This sudden feeling of satisfaction was unexpected, because satisfaction had been an unfamiliar feeling for much of the year.

During my first few months at St Nicholas of Tolentine I felt incapable and ineffective- far cry from the feeling of success that came after Richardson’s goal. I hoped to feel successful in the classroom, gym, and afterschool program, but my inexperience, coupled with the students’ unruliness, made this impossible. I became overly agitated and discouraged with the attitude-filled students, and I did not hide my frustrations from them. As the year progressed, my anger and impatience only grew. This destructive attitude reached its peak back in January, during a three-day stint as a substitute for the fifth grade. Halfway through the third day I had completely run out of material, the class was uncontrollable, and I was about to lose it. As I was pacing through the rows of desks, a quiet and friendly girl named Kiara slipped me a note. The note, which was scribbled in an artistic combination of yellow, orange and green highlighters said, ”I know my class can be tough, but keep a smile on your face. Rock n’ Roll.” After reading the note I paused to think, then crumbled up the note like the garbage it was and slammed it into the trashcan with authority. At the moment I felt I handled the situation well, but it didn’t take long for me to feel embarrassed and regretful for the attitude that I took towards her kind action. That particular instance helped me to realize my attitude needed reshaping..

I decided I would be better suited if I abandoned my obsession with perfection and success, and instead strove only to maintain a positive and steady demeanor. My revelation and subsequent approach were crafted in large part by the words of Mother Theresa. Around the time of the Kiara incident, I happened to be reading about the life of Mother Theresa. I came across a passage in which Mother Theresa explained that during the entire course of her ministry she never prayed for success; instead, she asked God only for faithfulness. I found something incredibly liberating about her simple request, and I decided to adopt her petition as my own.

My shift in focus from success to faithfulness has had a significant influence on my effectiveness as a teacher. I no longer feel constrained by my frustration or by the fear of failing, and I can be a more positive influence as a result. By placing faithfulness at the center of all things, I have a newfound sense of confidence and strength, which enables me to handle each situation with greater understanding, patience, and kindness. In doing so, I have developed a stronger relationship with the students, and my ability to teach them has improved.

In addition, through my efforts to simply remain faithful, I have come to appreciate the importance of humility. I may not yet possess the skill required to be a great teacher, but I am fortunate to be in an environment in which I can learn a great deal. The faculty and staff of St Nick’s is filled with competent, dedicated, and effective educators. My abilities have improved by simply observing how these teachers interact with students and respond in different situations.

I’m not trying to suggest that I now go through each day without any problems or frustrations. Rather, I feel I am able to handle the difficulties I face while performing my different tasks at St. Nick’s with greater maturity. Mother Theresa said that holiness consists of “doing God’s will joyfully”. While I’m far from holy, I’m beginning to understand what she meant. Those poetic sports moments that unfurl on the floor of the St. Nick’s gym might only come about once a year, but I no longer depend on them to keep me going.

Pete Callaghan

Bronx, NY 2006-2007

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Domestics 2006-2007

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"

by Admin / 29. March 2007 07:10

I recall the night I was given my job placement for this year. My imagination conjured the image of enlightening students to life altering changes in their religious and personal lives. My minds eye shifted, as it always does, to being carried around St. Rita High School by students (with my arm extended and my fist excitedly pumping) as they crown me the undisputed greatest minister of all time. Sadly, there is much truth in that jest.

My journey here at Rita has taught me more than any classroom ever could. Coming from Malvern Prep and Villanova, I have never really experienced diversity in this capacity. One of the development workers said it best when he explained to me, “We have a little mix of everything. [We have] Black, White, Hispanic, rich, poor, middle class, athletes, scholars, etc- all in a top of the line facility in an urban setting.” I immediately thought my mentoring would be to help ease the tension of differences, and I was very wrong. I have never been to a high school, let alone all male, more accepting of all different backgrounds. Sure, there is an occasional elbow thrown around in the hallway, but this is high school and it happens.

One experience that has been burned into my memory occurred on the sophomore retreat. I was lecturing about the importance of treating others with respect and boring everyone, even myself. I decided to get the kids involved in a little discussion about the differences here at school and the answers were not very insightful. I looked across the room and noticed that the way they happen to seat them selves was by race. I pointed it out hoping to “stir the pot” and get into a heated discussion. Marcus raised his hand, and in so many words told me that I was out of line. Many other kids reiterated his words. One said, ”We know we come from different places, but here, we look at one another as brothers and we get along. Maybe you see the differences, but we try not too.” I can honestly say I was a little embarrassed and very humbled. This may not depict the overall alarmingly segregated city of Chicago very well, but within the walls of St. Rita, I see a great deal of hope.

I have had many little stories of minor revelations during the course of this year. I go on Kairos and try and make the guys cry once a month. I have the honor of giving a speech that talks a lot about “taking off your masks” and “finding God in struggle”, the same speech that had a great affect on me during my own senior retreat. There is no words that express how it feels to see someone completely breakdown and have God build them back up

I have many nicknames around school: the coach, coacher, D, and the Guy. I have a pretty special relationship with these kids, Brother Jerome, and Mary Rita. I will be sad to see it end. I really have no complaints. I wake up in the morning with a real purpose, and I am happy. I have made mistakes, but I keep living and learning because, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Ed and I ran in a five-mile race this past weekend. Pretty solid finish times if I may say so. Heather and Carrie are swimming daily. The house lives by a motto, “What would Chuck do”. When Charles Stickney runs, he goes 20 miles. When Charles Stickney speaks, its nothing but truth. When Charles Stickney plays, he wins.

Andrew DiDomenico

Chicago, IL 2006-2007

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Domestics 2006-2007

“If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace.” -Thich Nhat Hahn

by Admin / 28. March 2007 07:12

 

September 5th, 2006: “My first day at St. Vincent de Paul Village, a homeless shelter in downtown San Diego- my first impression- my first experience was uncomfortable. As I walked into the main lobby with Eileen I noticed a man in his late 20s. I couldn’t help but think that he looked exactly like a friend of mine. However, when I noticed his tattered clothes, broken sunglasses, and dirty fingernails I returned to the present moment and realized I was finally here, at St. Vincent’s. I sat down next to the man on a freshly cleaned bench inside the lobby. He was sitting so peacefully with a new set of clothes placed in his lap. I heard him ask the receptionist if he could shower. He was told that it may be a few hours before he could shower, but instead of complaining he simply looked at me shrugged his shoulders and smiled. A few minutes later, he asked me if I had just moved in. I said “well yeah kinda” and then began to explain that it was my first day working as a full time volunteer in the Village’s family literacy program. I told him more about my job and how excited I was to tutor k-8th and teach pre-school but in my mind I was much more nervous than excited. Just as I was realizing how nervous I actually was, our conversation was interrupted by the receptionist. She told the man to get off the bench because it had just been cleaned. As I went to pick up my bag and remove myself from the clean bench also the receptionist kindly looked at me and said “Oh no dear you’re fine.” The man’s expression dropped and he turned to me and said “wow, being homeless sucks.” That morning I got off the clean bench and I stood to wait for Jayne, my new boss to show me around the Village. While I stood waiting I realized I was no longer nervous or anxious because I knew that this was exactly where I was meant to be.”

That was the first thing I wrote in my journal when I got home from my first day at St. Vincent de Paul Village. Looking back on that first day, I still remember so vividly the moment that man was asked to get off the bench and I was given the ok to keep sitting. He was smiling in the beginning of our conversation but the second he was asked to get off the bench his peaceful smile was gone.

I have been working at the Village for almost seven months and one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Homelessness is dehumanizing and degrading. There is a lack of peace on the streets surrounding the Village and there is a lack of peace in the Village as people are oppressed and suffering. Chronic homelessness is what plagues most of the impoverished population in San Diego and throughout the U.S. Working specifically with the wonderful children at the Village; I have come to understand more clearly the cycle of poverty operating in the U.S. The cycle harms a child’s dignity. The children I teach, tutor, and play with everyday suffer at such a young age from abuse, violence, and instability. I know there is a liberating path for them. Each day when I see the kindness, selflessness, and love that comes from the staff and volunteers at the Village as well as from my housemates, Anthony, Keeley, Beth, Zack, and Cheryl, I am so hopeful and energized to continue working for that path towards peace, that path that exists when all people can smile because they have been treated with dignity and respect.

Caitlin Sheehy

San Diego, CA 2006-2007

 

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Domestics 2006-2007

Planting Seeds...

by Admin / 20. March 2007 07:13

In selecting a theme for my year as an Augustinian Volunteer, a stanza from Archbishop Oscar Romero’s poem “Prophets of a Future Not our Own,” says it best: “This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.”

After reviewing the job description and signing on to be a Program Assistant at Mothers’ Home, a homeless shelter for pregnant women, I still had no idea what to expect. Vivid memories from my first day on the job included babies crying, the smell of fresh powder, phones ringing in my ear, and people bustling in and out. As a “program assistant”, I soon realized that my many tasks would include not only planning fundraisers, counseling women, and teaching computer classes, but also holding hands, drying tears, and singing sweet lullabies.

One of my very first memories at Mothers’ Home is of a girl named Jennifer. I met her my second day when I was passing her in the hallway. Attempting to spark some friendly conversation, I smiled, introduced myself, and inquired about her name. I stood there for a few seconds waiting for her to respond as I unconsciously looked Jennifer up and down. I remember staring at the tattoos that were stretched across her neck, which I later learned were the names of her children. Just as I was about to pass judgment, she quickly snapped me out of my staring trance as she looked up, stared me in the eye, and walked away. This was the only interaction that Jennifer and I would have in the month of September.

As the weeks and months past, my original feelings of intimidation began to transform to feelings of understanding and eagerness to help Jennifer. She, in turn began to trust me as I started to help her work towards her G.E.D. Three months of daily study included not only memorizing fractions and times tables, but a glimpse into her world as she talked to me about her troubled past and her worries for the future. Sadly, Jennifer got herself into some legal trouble and was discharged from Mothers’ Home. I have not seen her since the middle of December. I know that I had begun to plant a seed within Jennifer through my constant encouragement and support, but I always wonder how that flower will bloom or if it will blossom at all.

As I process everything that has happened thus far in my year of service, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the people I have met, the stories I have heard, the injustices I have experienced, and the lives and hearts in which I have been blessed to become a part. The past six months have been a mixture of daily joys and struggles. My frustrations focus on the afflictions, sorrows, and hardships that arise from a cycle of poverty, which seems endless and almost impossible to break. All of this compels me to somehow, in my own way, make a difference.

Archbishop Oscar Romero’s words of conclusion charge me to action, “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it’s a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.” Wholly understanding these words is a constant struggle, especially when realizing that I may never know the end result of my service. Through all of this I recognize that what is truly important is my whole hearted attempt to plant and water seeds, continually hoping that one day they will grow.

Amy Miskovsky

Philadelphia, PA 2006-2007

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Domestics 2006-2007

The Rich Man

by Admin / 27. February 2007 07:16

This past weekend I spent in Boston on retreat with 14 wonderful students from Merrimack. We stayed downtown at the Jesuit Urban Center and spent the weekend discussing and reflecting on issues of social justice, doing service, and trying to figure out how God fits into it all (these seem to be the themes of my entire year). Our retreat was guided by the passage of the rich man in Mark’s Gospel:

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

~Mark 10:17-22

This weekend some tough questions were asked. What is enough? Where is the balance between living simply, giving to those in need and still maintaining a comfortable life for myself, being able to support a family, etc.? How much are we called to sacrifice? As a campus minister I wished I could offer the students the right answers, but I realized once again that all I can do is sit with them in the questions and maybe even add a few more of my own.

As I continue in my year of service with the Augustinians, I can’t help but see the similarities between myself and this rich young man. I have been blessed with much in my life. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving, but more often I take for granted the fact that I have and will always have that which is necessary for my survival (and much, much more). I enjoy the comfort of my possessions and to seldom do I reflect on whether my possessions in fact possess me.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that possessions are evil in and of themselves. I don’t think God wants me to live in poverty any more than he wants those currently in poverty to remain there. But one of the lessons this year has been teaching me is that I encounter my God in a deeper way when I allow myself to be free from this culture of possession. I’ve seen the faith and the dependence on God that results in people when there is nothing else to rely on and I long for that kind of faith. How would my life be different if I truly believed with my whole being that I could not survive another day, another moment, without my God?

I think this is what the rich man was called to. I think this is my calling as well.

Every Tuesday when I go with students to the soup kitchens I realize the value I give people based on their appearance and material wealth and based on their usefulness to me. I find that I am uncomfortable (though I try to appear otherwise). I want to see each person as Christ - I do. But I find it is much easier to talk about the dignity of the human person than to preach it with my life because poverty, when you actually have to face it, is ugly. It’s uncomfortable.

I think that this is why the rich man went away sad. He wasn’t ready to be stretched out of his comfort zone. He wasn’t ready to be called to something deeper than the image of God he’d always known. This is why I turn away sad at times. I don’t like to be stretched. I don’t like to be uncomfortable. I don’t like my (very small) image of God to be challenged. But I pray that it would continue anyway because it is in the discomfort that we become better people. It is in the discomfort that we find the true God - the God that doesn’t judge based on appearance or material wealth or usefulness, but on how we love.

Jake Schneider

Lawrence, MA 2006-2007

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Domestics 2006-2007

Hope, Trust, and Starfish: What it means to change the world

by Admin / 16. February 2007 07:18

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

This quote from the 20th c. anthropologist Margaret Mead has become a sort of slogan for my year. After all, I’m working for a small not-for-profit called Water for Waslala, which was started (surprise!) by a small group of thoughtful, committed people.

Crazy as it sounds, there are over 1.1 billion people in this world who live without access to clean water. That’s one out of every six people on the planet! So image the audacity of a group of Villanova students a few years back to step forward and say, “That doesn’t cut it- let’s change the world!” What a bunch of lunatics, right?

Might seem that way - but as of today Water for Waslala has raised over $175,000. Clean water systems have been constructed in eight communities in the rural region of Waslala, Nicaragua, providing over 2,000 people with safe water. What great work! That puts us just 1.1 billion people (approximately) away from solving this whole problem!

When you think about it that way, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to feel like you can never do enough. In a lot of ways, that’s felt like a theme of the year. Living in the Bronx, I can’t help but feel helpless. Maybe I’m raising money for some people thousands of miles away, but what about the homeless that live on my street? Maybe there are illiterate Nicaraguans, but what about the safety and quality of the schools in my neighborhood? This feeling of helplessness has repeatedly crept into my mind these past months.

For good reason, too: this year isnit easy. Living simply, witnessing to poverty, serving those in need, feeling relegated to the role of an inexperienced volunteer: none of it’s easy. Especially when it’s hard to see the impact you’re having. At the end of each long day (or at least at the end of one long year) it takes something special for me to keep going. Two things, in fact: hope andtrust.

I hope that the money I raise will make a difference in the lives of people. I hope the presentations I give to students will inspire them to future service. But even simpler than that, I hope that one person lives a longer life because of access to clean water. And I hope that one student comes to realize that their actions can make a difference in this world. This year is teaching me more and more that I can’t just sit back and “wait for the world to change.” It’s within my ability- in fact it’s my responsibility to work for change. And if every person takes this approach, even the smallest of efforts by a large number of individuals will make a difference. (For now, the world’s left to rely on large efforts by small numbers of people, who hold onto the hope for something greater.)

As I see it, the indispensable partner of hope is trust. This is where my faith comes in and where I can see the importance of integrating faith and service: for I put my trust in God. I hope that my efforts matter; I trust that God will see that they do. This is the part of the equation that sustains me: knowing that I can place my trust, place my sense of helplessness, and anchor my hope in God. And even in my failed efforts, my trust in God supports me as I, at the very least, continue to grow and change for the better.

I tend to be long-winded, so I’ll close now with a story. It may be familiar, but I like it because it speaks toward hope: the hope that the efforts of one are never too small.

A young man walking down the beach observed an old man picking up starfish that had washed up on the shore. As he got closer, he saw the old man throwing them back into the ocean. He approached the man and asked, “What are you doing?” The old man replied, “If I don’t throw the starfish back in the water, they’re going to die.” “But there must be thousands of starfish on the beach. You can’t save them all. Don’t you know you’ll never make a difference?” The old man reached down and picked up a starfish and simply replied, “I’ll make a difference to this one.”

Brian Strassburger

Bronx, NY 2006-2007

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Domestics 2006-2007

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