by Admin / 9. June 2008 07:34

“Radical change in World politics leaves America with a heightened responsibility to be, for the world, an example of genuinely free, domestic, just and humane society” -Pope John Paul II

I am not quite sure how world politics will affect my ability to teach English Literature at Notre Dame High School, but I am positive that I can be an example to my students. The students in Lawrence fight the temptations of peer pressure, gangs, and additional influences that pull them away from Christ. My Augustinian year has been blessed with many great occurrences and opportunities. My housemates are truly genuine individuals that see life as an opportunity and exemplify it to the fullest. The two factors that have impacted my life the greatest spiritually this year have been my first year of teaching and getting engaged to my fiance.

I believe education to be my vocation. Before I came to Lawrence, individuals would comment on what I was doing and saying that it was an amazing opportunity and that as long as I influence one student, I succeed. Personally, the mentality of being there for one student is beyond empathetic and comes from someone who does not comprehend being involved in education. I came into this year with the mindset of affecting all 73 of my students in a positive manner. Being on the cusp of complete independence, allows the AV’s to show children what opportunities and chances exist outside of their media and materialistic driven worlds. By showing my students or the individuals that other volunteers come into contact with on a daily basis, there is an opportunity to experience a happy, loving, and enthusiastic life when following Christ.

With regards to my fiance, Nancy has been more than motivating, supportive, and understanding about the requirements to live in a faith based community. She is also a Catholic and educator on the elementary level. I went into teaching with no educational experience, and she has had 4 years while earning her degree. We have been able to come closer in Christ and in each other as we were able to rely on each other for advice and support throughout the good times and difficult times of this year. I love her for many reasons, but it essentially comes down to the factor that I love her because this is what God calls me to do. The long distance has definitely been beneficial in practicing our communication skills. Being able to effectively communicate and be there for her, when I am not present in person, has been crucial in our development as a couple. She is able to hold me accountable with regards to my spiritual, teaching, community, and personal goals. She is the soul reason for making my volunteer year so worth while and rewarding.

With regards to the community, they have made all aspects of living easier and calming. They have adapted my idea and perspective on how prayer should be performed and considered. By educating and sharing with me their thoughts and expectations, I am able to understand more about specific issues and ideals that should be of my deepest concern as a Catholic and Christian.

Unfortunately, there is a pitfall. People out there believe there is an expiration date on service. Individuals may have the mentality of “I have done my direct service; I do not need to do anymore.” The volunteer year should not be the end nor the beginning of an individual’s life of service but the standard. The bar has been set and hopefully set to the highest.

Joseph Nort
Lawrence, MA 



Domestics 2007-2008


by Admin / 5. June 2008 07:36

Yes, that is what I’m going to write about. Cheese.

I just sat down to write this entry, stared at the flashing cursor for a good five minutes, and decided to take a stroll around the house for inspiration. My endeavor ended rather quickly, though, as I headed straight for the refrigerator. Alright, maybe I was hungry and searching for a snack with which to begin my journey, but I fortunately happened upon the inspiration I needed (not to mention a bonus snack as well).

The canister of parmesan cheese.

Now, although my housemates and I tend to find humor in the strangest of places (a paper bag, eyebrows, really anything that normally isn’t funny), the parmesan cheese didn’t make the cut this year. It’s not like I was inspired by the cheese because we have some huge joke that I was reminded of when I saw it.  O contraire.

But as the cheese caught my eye, I thought about how it represents an interesting aspect of this volunteer year. Now, this might be a stretch, but bear with me. I’m going to try it.

My housemates. I love my housemates and feel very blessed to be surrounded by such kindhearted and interesting people every day. They each bring diverse gifts and ideas to the table, and this year has been utterly brilliant because of them. During times of happiness, stress, confusion, hilarity, pressure, ambivalence, they are there, each coloring my days in a special way. I honestly feel like each conversation, each gathering, each day, is a blossoming garden of possibility. Was that cheesy? Maybe. But it’s true. And speaking of cheese…

As I examined the cheese, I thought about how each housemate uses it differently. 

Lindsay puts it on, well, pretty much anything. She’s a seasoned pro at putting thousands of spices/ sauces/ condiments/ you name it on top of basically any food in the book. Re: the marinara-nachos incident, the applesauce-Cheerios escapade. It’s actually really impressive.

Andrew, the resident chef, is a Food Network junkie who whips up masterpieces with a wave of his hand. The parmesan cheese is used creatively yet masterfully, as we all stare in wonder and drool.

Nort enjoys the cheese, but perhaps might not be satisfied with the lack of the brand name on the product. But while he is not enamored with the cheese, he partakes.

I’ve taken a strange approach to the cheese, as it has become my favorite musical instrument in the house (besides my ever-ready air guitar). For those unaware, parmesan cheese canisters make for fantastic rhythmic shakers, and I love to drop some sweet shaker beats whenever it’s out on the table.

And Jane. Well, Jane can’t eat the cheese. Lactose intolerant. Not her fault.

So you see? The cheese stands very differently with everyone in the house. Yes, we all have some sort of relationship with the cheese, but our approaches and abilities with it are extremely varied.

The parmesan cheese itself does not represent anything in particular, but I believe it helps illustrate something that I truly appreciate about this year. My housemates have been a wonderful blessing to me. We have all been traveling through this year together, struggling through hard days at work, working through inequalities in our society and our minds, sharing a singular experience to which only we can fully relate. But to this year, we all brought our unique life lessons, approaches, perspectives, words, thoughts, ideas, selves. And we are being formed differently because of it. It is a priceless gift, even if we aren’t aware of it every day. It is beautiful.

All this from parmesan cheese.


Tessa O’Connor

Lawrence, MA 2007-2008



Domestics 2007-2008

Comfort Zones

by Admin / 28. May 2008 07:37

Direct quote from my journal on September 6, 2007:
“I have no idea what this year has in store. What role I will be playing as the service literacy provider at St. Vincent de Paul Village. What role I will play in my community and what person I will become from the experience I am about to embark upon.”

This was after the 10 day orientation with my fellow AV’s, a few days of sharing the sunny city of San Diego with my community and about 4 days of working at The Village. A common emotion that is tagged onto the beginning of an experience such as this one. I knew who I was as a person, or did I? I knew that I would learn, grow and change, but have I? In a previous blog written by one of my fellow AV’s and a good friend, I share a feeling with her by saying, how can being taken away from the most comfortable situation in the world and being placed in the most uncomfortable situation not change you?

Last night my community and I had a discussion about the service we are doing this year. Answering questions like at what point during this year were we able to step out of our comfort zone? Or, Had we at all? What lessons would we take as we move on with our lives when this year is over? While trying to hold back the emotions of imagining the small family we had created being separated, I tried to grasp onto the reality of this discussion. At what point did I step out of my comfort zone, if I had at all, and what would I take from this year? Here is what I came up with… 

Direct quote from my journal October 5, 2007:
“Today was a hard day to stomach. It was my first staff day which consisted of the usual review of policies and procedures, an ice breaker activity, essentially to keep everyone’s attention, and then a nice lunch out with my co-workers where I was treated for all my hard work. (All my hard work which didn’t seem like much other than cutting out shapes for PACTT night and attempting to put together activities for the preschoolers which they didn’t even pay attention to) After lunch, Jayne (my boss) told me we would be having a meeting with the child psychologist. Interesting… Well, it was. At this meeting I was informed of all the struggles, the children I had been working with for the past month, either are facing or have faced in their lives. How do you stomach that the little girl you just taught to count by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s was once molested by her stepfather. Or the twins who are the cutest little boys in the world were being neglected, undernourished and possibly abused. Today was a hard day, but there is one thing I learned. I learned that I can no longer be scared to help these kids. They are not intimidating. They need all the love they can get. I was given so much love, I know how to spread that. That is what I need to do. Give them everything. Give them what’s in my heart. And that is what I plan to do.”
I think this was the day that I stepped out of my comfort zone. Some may say that it took a long time. Looking back, I ask myself why it took that long. But I think all things happen for a reason. If you ask any of my roommates or family how I handled that day, they will all say the same thing. “It was a hard day”. But it was a day that I will always remember. A day that I wouldn’t have been able to get through without the love and support from my family and community. It was the day I learned my role as not only a teacher, but a friend, a shoulder, an ear, a hug or just a smile. I vowed from that day on to spend the rest of my time at the village in the baby room or with the toddlers, preschool and school-aged kids as much as I could. I can honestly say that I have fulfilled that promise and I will until the day I leave.

After spending the last 9 months in San Diego with Becky, Dan, Elizabeth, Jesse and Joanna, 5 people who started off as complete strangers, but who I now call family. Working in an environment that I, at first, felt weary walking around the premises but now feel comfortable to walk the 2 miles to and from work, and loving the kids that I had vowed I would do, I can certainly say I have grown as a person. While I have grown and changed over the course of the past 9 months, I still carry many of the same values I arrived here with. My roommates were able to provide me with a more diverse perspective on so many issues. Perspectives that I am so grateful to have seen. No other time or place will I be given the opportunity to have the experience that I have had this year, and I sure that I would not have wanted it any other way.

Krista Dicker
San Diego, CA 2007-2008


Domestics 2007-2008

You need to learn to crawl before you can walk

by Admin / 20. May 2008 07:40

When I sat down to write this blog I had trouble deciding where to begin. At this point in my year of volunteering, I can distinctly recognize the beginning, middle, and now ending stages. It has been almost nine months since I met my roommates in the apartment in downtown Philadelphia; the “beginning”. The middle months flew by and I now find myself entering the home stretch of this volunteer year.

The year starts as a massive overload of new things. New people, new relationships, a new city, new experiences, new responsibilities, new mind sets, new goals, and new challenges. I came to Chicago for the first time and was entering an atmosphere entirely filled with unknowns. From having just a basic understanding of what being Augustinian really means to living with five strangers to working in a school where I would be in the minority; each of the unknowns created a different challenge which I alone could not handle overcoming.

Which is why it was a good thing there were six of us to figure it all out.

I am talking, of course, about my roommates. Six different people, all coming from different backgrounds. When we met in Philadelphia and I sat down on the couch next to the four girls from Massachusetts and my fellow Villanova grad whom I had never met, while we knew nothing about each other, we instantly had something in common - we were all starting this unique experience together.

And together we went for our week long orientation; touring around Philadelphia, choosing household responsibilities, telling the story of our faith experiences, getting to know each other little by little. As I said, there were many new things going on. New things which in the beginning weeks we would learn a lot about; we learned about our city, our jobs, our neighbors, our Augustinian community, and about each other. Amanda, Claire, Jeannie, Pat and Susan made those beginning weeks so much easier then I ever expected.

The biggest challenge as a volunteer for me was figuring out my role. I knew my job title; computer teacher at St. Margaret of Scotland School, but what exactly did that entail. When I was given my job assignment there was a list of different job expectations, but those were very general. Figuring out my role at the school took a long time. As I see it now, the computers in my classroom were simply the instrument I had been given to allow me to achieve what it is I sought out to do with my volunteer year. Jeannie was given books and a library, Claire, a classroom of preschoolers, Amanda, pregnant teenagers, Susan a school of pre-K through eighth graders, and Pat an all boys high school. Each of our jobs were our instruments to allow us to perform our duties as Augustinian Volunteers.

While learning about computers is an important skill for these students to learn, you need to learn to crawl before you can walk. At times through out my year at St. Margaret I often wondered why this school in desperate need of so many things (like a sufficient number of qualified teachers for starters) has two computer labs filled with brand new desktop and laptop computers. How was I, with no background in education, expected to step into this computer classroom and teach computers to students who struggle with following directions, being on time, being attentive and respectful in a classroom. 

I realized on the first day of school at St. Margaret of Scotland that all students in the school knew exactly who I was. I was the 20 something white male college graduate from the east who would be gone at the school years end. Just like the computer teacher here last year. Just like the computer teacher here before him. The students can trace my position back probably five years when the Augustinian Volunteers first came to Chicago. To them, everyone who held my position is very much the same. What that means is that I was entering a situation where I had very little understanding of my new surroundings. I was very lost, very confused, nervous, and unsure of what I am doing at this place. I was supposed to be the teacher and knew very little. My students on the other hand, seemed to know everything about me and were very familiar in their surroundings. It seemed a little backwards that I was the one getting the education. 

My job title was computer teacher, but like I said, I started to think of my computer classroom as an instrument rather then a place to develop future computer technicians. To the best of my inexperienced ability as a teacher, I wanted to try to do things with these kids that would allow them to be independent and figure things out for themselves; problem solve, trial and error, cooperation, dealing with frustration, being respectful, and understanding the limits of how you should act in a classroom. In the process, if they picked up some useful computer skills then all the better.

In order for me to be a successful teacher, I think it was important for me to keep my own mind sharp and fresh through out the year. The best way I have been able to do this is through living in community and the prayer life. Prayer was a new concept to me; or rather, it was a misunderstood concept for me. It was an aspect of this year that I can honestly say was a concern for me coming in. I would ask myself, is developing my spirituality with five strangers something I am looking for in my year of service. I am not sure I answered that question before I committed to this program, but I know now my answer is community and prayer life is what has kept me strong and sharp through out this whole year. The reason I say it was a misunderstood concept because I always viewed prayer as kneeling in silence, candles lit, having a conversation that started with Dear God. 

I discovered prayer can come in many forms and it is really nothing that should make you uncomfortable. We all entered prayer life with very open minds which is the only way you can have an effective prayer life. It made developing our own personal prayer life as well as our prayer life as a community a very comfortable and rewarding aspect of our experience together. Each of us brought our own perspective and style to prayer and it has made it an awesome experience. In a year where it seemed like we were always on the go and always had something going on, prayer provided that time for us to step back and take into perspective what it is going on in our lives.

As the finale to the year of service rapidly approaches, the next challenge is to determine how it is I will maintain the influence this year has had on me after the year has “ended”. However, the catch is the year never really ends. It is an experience that will always be a part of my life. It will be important to hold on to every aspect of this year; the goods along with the bads, the highs and the lows. Through this experience, many of those unknowns have become knowns. The questions I once had have been answered. Things that were once concerns to me are now comforting. As I face the departing stages of the year, I know all the things that happened this year will always be a part of my life.

Brett Horton

Chicago, IL 2007-2008



Domestics 2007-2008

“Oh… you’re a PE teacher?”

by Admin / 19. May 2008 07:41

“I’m spending this year volunteering for the Augustinian Volunteers out in San Diego.”
“That’s great! What are you doing exactly?”
“I’m teaching at a K-8 grammar school.”
“Wonderful! What do you teach?”
“I teach physical education, computers, and language enrichment.”
“Oh [silence] you’re a PE teacher?”

This is just an example of one of the many conversations that I have had over this past year revolving around my volunteer work out in San Diego. It also includes the conversation that I have had with myself countless times again and again. Am I really a PE teacher? Did I really trade in four years of hard work to obtain a business degree for a year of dodgeball, tracksuits, and a well used whistle? How am I going to change the world by monitoring kickball games and shadow tag? I have struggled a lot this past year dealing with the credibility of my job position in comparison to my roommates’ work with the homeless and orphaned children. I struggled to understand the importance of my job and the work that I am doing. And I struggled in my daily interactions with my students. Sure, being a PE teacher sounds like it would be totally easy and fun. I mean, the teacher just plays games with the students all day, right? Everyone loved PE when they were children. It is the class that all students claim as their favorite subject and every person looks forward to spending fifty minutes a day playing mindless PE games. Right? I wish it were that simple.

The student population at St. Patrick’s School is an array of students from different socio-economic households. There are kids who travel hours out of Mexico to come to San Diego for school and some who simply have to walk down the street. When I first traveled out here back in August I was worried that my Spanish would not suffice for the after school program I work with in San Ysidro. I never imagined that I would need to use more Spanish to teach at St. Pat’s (well, not necessarily in order to teach, but in order to understand all those comments my students make on the side while I am teaching). The dividing line is clearly drawn between the student population and the intolerance, hatred, and judgment that seeps through the cracks of these children’s facades is unbelievable. Call me naieve, but when I first agreed to teach I worried about the proper way to discipline my students and if I was creative enough to write lesson plans that would evoke joyous emotion from my students (ha). I never worried about having to deal with the fragile emotions of a third grade girl who has been told by all her friends that they no longer like her. Or that I would have to break up a fight between two eighth grade boys who do not like each other simply because they speak two different languages. It never once crossed my mind that along with teaching over two hundred students I would also be dealing with all emotional baggage that is attached to each and every one of those students. Trust me, that is A LOT of baggage. But, I welcome it. Hey, I count myself as a survivor of middle school and I feel it is my duty as one who has survived the trauma of adolescence to instill the wisdom that I had to learn the hard way.

Throughout my months out in here in San Diego my attitude has changed toward my job. I have struggled to find the importance of my work and questioned the meaning of my volunteer year only to realize that it has been staring back at me since my first day at school. I have the opportunity to interact with over two hundred kids who will one day be the changing face of this world. As Whitney Houston once sang, “children are our future.” And I believe it is the teachers who are the ones molding these children and guiding them to live to their positive full potential to help create a better future. Now, do not get me wrong, I do not think that I am going to change the world simply by teaching students for one year. However, some of my students at St. Pat’s have never known their school experience to not have an Augustinian Volunteer in it. It has almost become a game to them to figure out who the new “Augie” will be for each year. They are exposed to something that has become a growing trend in this country: volunteer work. And they are only as old as fourteen (and as young as four). Imagine the first time that you were introduced to volunteer work, especially volunteer work as a living. To these kids it is as normal as night and day. What I can barely allow myself to dream about is that one day I will receive an email from one of my students informing me that they have decided to dedicate a year of their life to volunteer work (even better if they choose to join the Augustinian Volunteer family)! I realized that my simple presence as a person who has made the decision to dedicate my time to volunteer is an immense guiding post for any impressionable child. Teaching them how to be kind to one another, to look at life as if the glass is half full, and to realize that there are more important things to life then worrying about yourself are things I only know how to teach by acting that way myself. These kids absorb everything and if they can have a person in their lives that they trust as a mentor and a friend living a life dedicated to volunteer work then maybe they will absorb the positive idea of giving back to others.

I like to think of myself as not just a PE teacher but as a person who finally made an intelligent decision in my life and became an Augustinian Volunteer. I am not just teaching my students the proper way to do a sit-up but I am teaching them the proper way to respectfully treat other people. One day, maybe I will be lucky enough to know that I have inspired two hundred children to grow into two hundred adults working to make the world a better place. Until then, I will continue to blow my whistle and yell at kids for not paying attention and imagine the wonderful people that my students can grow to be if only they would listen to my advice to “play nice with everyone.”

Elizabeth Penza

San Diego, CA 2007-2008



Domestics 2007-2008

In Your Midst

by Admin / 30. March 2008 06:13



In your midst has come a

New Life

This Child of the Universe

These words are engraved on a statue in front of Siena House, a shelter in the Bronx for women who are pregnant or have children under three years old. The statue is a moving image of a Native American mother presenting her newborn child to the Earth, asking the community for their blessing. The truth is, the 27 children that live here at a time, born and unborn, are homeless and brought forth into a society that places incredible odds against them. In my daily universe, I see mothers who have been let down by families, baby’s fathers, deteriorating school systems, the promise of a chance. The wealthiest city in the world produces a cycle of people trapped in a system of poverty and inferiority. Most of the mothers at Siena, the average age being 22, did not complete high school, have limited job skills, and feel very isolated and hopeless. Having a baby is one thing that these women can take control over and therefore gives purpose and direction to their lives. The presence of new life brings positivity to a seemingly negative situation.

It’s easy to become homeless in New York City if you live in an impoverished borough like the Bronx. Right now in New York City there are over 9,000 homeless families living in city shelters - that includes 16,000 homeless children. That does not include the thousands of people, including children that sleep in the streets or live invisibly underground. In order to reside in a city shelter you have to be found eligible by the Department of Homeless Services. DHS workers have told some of my women that they can sleep on a relative’s couch and their baby can sleep in a drawer. They have been told that they should have had an abortion if they could not afford their child. These women have left negative situations to seek a better life, to escape mental and physical violence, and they are being told to go back because it will lower the city’s staggering numbers.

As the “Activities and Educational Coordinator” I do a little bit of everything to meet the shelter’s needs. Yet, I do have a unique relationship with the residents - more of a mentor than an authority figure. There is one woman here that I have built a lasting relationship with - her name is Marina. She stood in line at the main DHS Center called PATH (Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing) every night from the time her son Isaiah was two to nine months old, seeking temporary overnight placements. She was finally placed at Siena House and found eligible after seven months of hellish conditions and subhuman treatment.

In my short time here I have realized that American poverty is just as much about a mentality as it is about the lack of resources and absence of civil rights like affordable housing and living wages. Thus, I do what I can to restore a mentality of worth rather than tackling the solution to equally distributing wealth. Marina had expressed an interest in going to college but was terrified. One day I slipped a quote taped to a cardboard square under her door. It read, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” She hung it on her wall. Marina is now a Culinary Arts major at a nearby community college and is scheduled to move into semi-permanent housing this week. Yet, even when someone in this situation can find motivation from within, the system is often against them and they are likely to end up back in a shelter.

My personal hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This reflects the idea of what it means to be a community, to serve one another and act as one human family. We all live in the same universe, but are divided by worlds of race, class, gender, culture and many more. It is so simple to live in Manhattan and be completely unaware of the crisis of homelessness in New York City. This paradox rings true everywhere. Injustices in the Bronx threaten the true freedom of all of us, not just the women and children I have met. Siena House serves as a safe place to lift the babies above injustice, like the statue, and try to create a better future for them through allowing mothers to empower themselves with education, skills, and finding a place to call home.

I am blessed to be a witness to this plight and to have the opportunity to be a life-giving presence to women experiencing single motherhood and homelessness. The strength and unconditional love that comes with being a mother leaves me in awe at the end of each day. I am so lucky to live in the Bronx, where beauty is moving us forward. My AV community keeps me sane in this insanity, and for them I am forever grateful. Seven months ago I was scared of babies, new to the Bronx, and worried that the women at Siena would not confide in me. This proves that change is possible. Every day becomes a renewed spiritual journey: along Fordham road, on the 4 train, on Ogden Ave, at Siena House, and here on Andrews Ave.

Behold, in your midst, new life is happening but the universe continues to oppress the poor of our society and countries around the world. When you think of my homeless moms and babies don’t feel sad; feel threatened by the injustice that we perpetuate. Let’s create a better universe based on the freedom of our children.

Katie Porter

Bronx, NY 2007-2008



Domestics 2007-2008

Dropping our nets

by Admin / 6. March 2008 06:15

...and they dropped their nets and followed Him. This is how the call of the first disciples of Jesus is recounted in the Gospels. The account of the disciples is sometimes how I feel during this volunteer year. I had no idea what was going to happen or what was not going to happen. Just like the disciples, I was scared of the unknown but also knew that it was something I had to do.

I cannot tell you the reasons why I decided to volunteer definitely while on a train from Rome to Assisi. I can tell you what I thought were the reasons, like giving back for what I had been blessed with, finding out who I am, and living out my Catholic faith. However, over halfway through this year, I know that it will not be until the end of this year and perhaps many years after that that I will truly know why I did this year. Fr. Tom McCarthy, the president of St. Rita of Cascia High School where I work, said on a Lenten mission, “You want to know how to make God laugh, tell him your plans”. I chuckle at this because it is so true.

My experience at St. Rita as a campus minister has been challenging as well as rewarding. I thought I was ready to leave my family and friends but again, how wrong I was. I thought I knew exactly what I was going to do after this year, but I still haven’t heard back from any graduate schools or companies. Perhaps it is the world that I grew up in, the world that says its all about me, that has blinded me into thinking I knew everything or had the confidence to handle every situation.

There is a real challenge in trying to tell someone who just lost their brother that everything is going to be OK or knowing that one of the students is going to go home with only his mother and his step brother around. These are just a few of the “problems” that go unnoticed at a school where everyone wears the same uniform, is clean shaved, and has books to carry around to classes. The stories and lives that these students have would surprise many people and many times are ones that I cannot relate to. When I first started this year, I wanted to give the best advice to every student I met, but I have slowly learned that I will not be able to do that. Instead I have learned to be with the student through this year and let my presence give them answers. A presence which builds with every volunteer that passes through Rita. It is a challenge to be of ministry for these people, with often unnoticeable rewards.

However, in my short stay at St. Rita, I have been lucky enough to see a glimpse of promise in the minds of these young men. Although, I have direct interaction with all four classes through retreats, coaching, the dining hall,or liturgies, it is the senior class that fascinates me the most. Perhaps it is because I get to know them on a much deeper level through the Kairos retreat. The seniors are at a special moment in their lives where their values and foundations will be tested as they move on after graduation. Seeing these young men challenge their faith and sometimes even restore their beliefs in God gives me much support and reassurance with the work that I do. I know that I will never really see how they have changed, but sometimes knowing that there is hope is enough for me.

What has been very unique in my volunteer year has been the joy that my job brings to me but also the community that has shaped me. Together, Amanda, Brett, Claire, Jeannie, Susan, and myself have formed such a strong bond over this past year that it sometimes feels to good to be true. In my commitment statement at the beginning of the year, I stated that I wanted to better understand myself through my community. My community has challenged me to think about what I believe in and who I think I am.

As of today, I am starting to understand why I decided to do this volunteer year, but I wont ever fully understand until a couple years from now when I see myself in the “real” world where different challenges arrive everyday. Challenges that will test how this year has shaped me. I look forward to what the future has for me, even though it feels like I drop my net just to follow a gut instinct.

Patrick J. O’Brien
Chicago, IL 2007-2008


Domestics 2007-2008

All you need is love

by Admin / 5. March 2008 06:17

When one thinks of San Diego, it is easy to associate it with sunshine, beaches, surfing, and the southern California state of mind. But here’s one for you: did you know that San Diego is notorious for having one of the largest homeless populations in the US due to the nice weather, high cost of living, and high number of war veterans who have been stationed here? This is often kept out of the news and the tourist commercials, so when I arrived in San Diego to partake in a year of volunteer service, I was shocked.

After graduating this past May from Villanova with a degree in Nursing and beginning this adventure with the Augustinian Volunteers, I have been so blessed to experience working as the “village health nurse” at St. Vincent DePaul Village in San Diego. The Village incorporates a gamut of empowering programs, and as the village health nurse, I work in the Family Medical clinic attached to the shelter. We serve residents of the village, as well as homeless and those in the community without health insurance. It has been an eye-opening experience getting to serve the less fortunate.

I went into this experience with a “save the world” attitude and to be perfectly honest, I found myself, in early September, somewhat uneasy during my first encounters with the homeless. They were afflicted with so many issues: substance abuse, mental illness, poor hygiene, physical illness, criminal conviction, and even child predator charges. There were also the shocking moments, when my middle-class naiveness was almost embarrassing. I’ll never forget the feeling I got the first day I had a man fill out his medical form and write that his address was “the canyon near 30th street.” Additionally, there were certain men who informed me what dumpsters guarantee the best meals, and where you can find a high volume of cans to go recycle, as this serves as the income for most homeless people.

I have to say, however, that it only took about a week or two for me to get past any lurking social stigmas I had for the homeless in SD. I found myself developing a love for my patients and for my work. I go to work looking forward to seeing familiar faces, and on a given day, I work in the clinic doing assessments and having many therapeutic encounters. I’ve really gotten to know so many residents on a personal level, and on an average day, when I’m leaving work for the day at 5pm, I’ll often get stopped by residents/patients who want to share with me how they are feeling, how their last appointment went, or just how their day went. I’ve experienced the sorrows of a recent cancer diagnosis, and I’ve experienced the amazing feeling of letting children use my stethoscope to hear their very own heart beating. I have truly learned that they are real people with real feelings, and taking the time to listen to a story or share a smile can make one’s day. An interaction that I had with one man was a life changing experience, as he told me that I made him smile for the first time in months–he just wanted to be around people who cared about one another.

This whole enlightening experience parallels a passage from 1st Samuel when the Lord tells Samuel “Do not consider his appearance, or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  My love for the residents at the village hasn’t arisen because they’ve suddenly become more “desirable” sorts of people - instead, I’ve allowed myself to follow God’s lead and look past their facades and peer deeper into their hearts. I’ve dissociated myself with the “wants” and “wishes” about the way I think my patients are supposed to be, and have just decided to love them. I love them by giving them something they need. And in return, they have given me all that I need. It seems that God, once again, is choosing the most unlikely of candidates to be instruments of his love. I have truly seen the many faces of God in the poor.

I’m still enjoying that sunshine, the beaches, the surfing, and southern California state of mind, but I have truly learned the definition of caring for one another. From my experiences at St. Vincent DePaul Village to the amazing experiences I have each and everyday with my 5 roommates, I am learning that love heals all aches and pains. I pray that all of us become able to let go of our personal expectations and any selfish desires, and cherish the things that are most important: our relationships with others. First John says that if “God so loved us, we ought to love one another.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Becky Coyle

San Diego, CA 2007-2008 


Domestics 2007-2008

"Soap bubbles!"

by Admin / 8. February 2008 06:19


“Danielle, don’t forget to sign Tufts’ acceptance form and send in the deposit.”
“Um, yeah, I am not going Mom.”
“I am going to take the year to do volunteer work. I am going to be an Augustinian Volunteer.”

If you asked me on this date one year ago what I would be doing after graduation, my response would have been, “Hopefully going to graduate school for school psychology.” Oh, how things changed over the next month. Clearly I did not attend graduate school, despite my acceptance. I felt that I was being called to something else. I was doing a lot of volunteer work in college and it was what filled my life with joy and passion. On a retreat at the end of February, an Augustinian friar, who is a friend and mentor of mine, said to our group, “Volunteering is not just something you do, it is a part of who you are.” Those were the final words I needed to realize what I should really be doing after graduation. I wasn’t called to graduate school this year, God wanted me to take this time and utilize my gifts to help others in need.

So, here I am in The Bronx, New York. I wake up every morning, walk down the stairs into my classroom here at St. Rita’s Immigration Center, and am greeted by 10-20 smiling infants and toddlers. Well, most of the time they are smiling. Although I sometimes get frustrated with the monotony of my days, the kids never cease to amaze and amuse me. I have children ranging in age from 4 months to 3½ years old, which allows me to watch life developing in front of my eyes. I see kids learn to talk, walk, feed themselves, and (my favorite) potty train! For the last hour of each of my two 2½ hour classes, I take 3-6 of the oldest children to a separate room to attempt to teach them basic learning skills such as the alphabet, numbers, shapes, and colors. Some days this is the easiest hour of my day, and sometimes it is the hardest. It all depends on the energy and attention level of my kids that day and how ambitious of a project I attempt with them.

I feel like a proud mother when I say this, but I truly love all of “my babies” (yes, that is really how I refer to the kids in my classes). My heart melts every time one of them runs up to me and hugs my legs or holds out their arms to signal that they want to be held. I love when I can get 1-year-old Galilea to smile, because she can usually be found waddling around rather expressionless. I love that 3-year-old Cesar says “black” now instead of “plops”. I get overly excited whenever one of my older students really learns a new letter. I love that 3-year-old Stefanie hunches when she comes in and says good morning. I love that 2-year-old Luis, one of twelve new students I got this week due to a new cycle of ESL classes, comes in waiting for me to pick him up so that he can bury his face in my shoulder while he cries for 15 minutes, and is then ready to play. I can’t help but laugh at the fact that the very random hand-washing song I made up in September is now a daily ritual with many of the kids. It goes something like this, “Rub, rub, rub. Rub, rub, rub. Rub, rub, rub. Soap bubbles!” Ask me about it sometime and I will sing it for you.

I wish I had as many happy things to say about my after-school class, but it is much more frustrating for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love these kids too, but third and fourth graders test my patience in a much different way than toddlers do. I have less than ten students, and they still drive me crazy, but I show up every day and I do my best to get them to do their homework and help them if they need it. Despite only having several students, there are a lot of different personalities in a small room and it takes a lot of energy for me to cater to each of them. Sometimes I feel as though I am not doing much for these kids because they don’t finish their homework and I spend half of the time telling them to quiet down, but then I remember something from a psychology class I took in college. The most dangerous time for kids who are at risk for criminal behavior is 3-6 on weekdays because it is when they are on the streets walking home and many have no one waiting for them once they get there. At least I know I provide these students with a safe place to be for a portion of this “at risk” time period.

I feel blessed to have such amazing roommates. Whether I need to vent about a hard day or I have a bunch of happy and random stories about my babies, I know I can turn to them. Sometimes I am amazed that I have only known Katie, Lauren, Lauren, and Sean for five months. You never know what you are going to get when you start a new job, in a new city, and move in with four strangers. All things considered, I feel very lucky. I have had some of the best conversations with my community, mostly during prayer. We have discussed homelessness, poverty, politics, and our struggles with our spiritualities. Some of these are conversations I may never get the chance to have again after this year is over.

I cannot imagine being anywhere else this year. I love my job, my community, and this city. Despite being the clear minority in this city, I feel so at home here. I know this seems weird, but I love the hustle and bustle of this city. There is a lot of conversing and yelling (often in Spanish so I don’t know what is being said), many car horns, and there are people out walking somewhere ALL of the time. For some people, the noises can be a distraction. I, however, find it to be a great reminder of where I am and it keeps me in a constant state of reflection about this year. I have had a lot of inner turmoil about many different aspects of life over the past five months, but then I hear the noises, I remember why I am here, and that gives me a sense of inner peace.

I hope the rest of my fellow AVs have been able to find a sense of inner peace during this first half of the year. If you have not, I encourage you to take some time to yourself and really reflect on the past five months. Remember why you started this journey, discover what you have learned, and make some goals for the next five months. Take advantage of the short time we have left- I know I will be.

Danielle Demoree

Bronx, NY 2007-2008



Domestics 2007-2008

Being Here

by Admin / 11. January 2008 06:20

One of my favorite stories to tell of my time at the orphanage in Tijuana occurred early on, when I was still finding my place there. One of the older boys, whom I was only just getting to know, picked up a soccer ball and directed me to follow him to the field. As I obediently followed (after all, he had been there longer than I had), I suggested inviting some of the other boys to join us. There were, after all, enough other children to have a full game. He shook his head and kept walking and when we arrived at the field he simply faced me, kicked the ball to me, and made me understand that I was supposed to kick it back. There were no words to be said or points to be won; I was there, at that moment, to simply kick the soccer ball back to him.

Juxtapose this story with another one, in which the same ten-year-old boy, amidst an actual game, stormed off in tears. When I finally cajoled him to tell me what had happened, he pointed to the field and one of the players and, through clenched teeth, said simply, “He tricked me.” I knew another boy had simply managed to steal possession of the ball, and I tried to explain that this was a normal part of the game, but for this boy it was deceptive and sufficient to warrant tears. How could I convince him otherwise? I couldn’t, so I just sat with him until the tears dried up.

My family and friends all know that I work at an orphanage in Tijuana as well as at Catholic Charities and Villa Nueva, but they are most puzzled by my work in Mexico. After sharing with them dozens of pictures of the children at Christmas, they all had the same question: “But what do you do there?” It’s a question I have struggled with since I arrived in August and have only slowly been able to answer.

I’m not a child therapist and I’m certainly not much of a soccer player. I have no formal training in education and even less training in social work [my other two volunteer sites involve tutoring children from bilingual or Spanish-speaking homes and providing services to newly arrived refugees]. Yet, here I am in San Diego for a year, hoping that in my short time here I can do something of value to others. There’s my answer: I’m here. My job is to be fully here, fully present to those whom my sites are supposed to serve.

A few weeks before Christmas break, one of my roommates was stressing about her position at her worksite. Her concern was that she was failing to live up to the expectations set by the work of her AV predecessor. As I tried to assuage her anxiety, I began to put to words what I had been experiencing. Anyone doing service work could easily attempt to quantify their successes (numbers of meals served, students taught, patients seen, cases completed, homes built) without accomplishing very much at all. The success comes, I think, by sharing that meal with the person or learning with that student. I assured her that we all constantly see the love she has for those she is serving and that nothing will exceed that.

My own experience with this was made especially clear one afternoon while tutoring. I felt especially drained and the student I was working with was being especially difficult. As he refused to sit and concentrate on the work we were doing, my frustration grew. Here I was, giving up my time to help him, and he refused to put the effort into his work. I was ready to snap, to ask him to leave and come back when he was serious about working. Instead, thanks to some needed grace, I sat down with him and calmly kept working. At that moment it did not matter if I helped him understand long division, it mattered if I could try to understand him. For whatever reason, he did not need me to be there as a teacher, he just needed me to be there.

If you are still wondering what I do at the orphanage: I play soccer, and jump rope, and push swings. I play video games and watch movies. I color and read stories. I hand out juice and the occasional band-aid. And, I give hugs. Lots of them. But, mostly, I just am.

Jesse Imbriano

San Diego, CA 2007-2008


Domestics 2007-2008

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