An Unexpected Education

by Admin / 7. June 2009 05:09

I have told my parents that my past 9 months as an Augustinian Volunteer in San Diego and Tijuana have taught me more than my combined four years of college.  Maybe that’s a testament to my study habits of short-term memorization or a realization that the real world teaches in a very different and quick-impacting way.  There is so much to be learned from books, studying, and classrooms but there is no comparison to going out into the world and just doing.  My time as a volunteer has been more educational than I ever anticipated.  I have had many teachers over the last few months - the children and employees at the orphanage, the workers, volunteers, and clients at the food resource center, the Augustinian friars, past and present volunteers, and especially my community members.  All have helped open my eyes to a new experience and have shown me that I never stop learning.

When people ask me what exactly is my job as a volunteer I respond, “I work at an orphanage and a food resource center.”  They then typically ask a bunch of questions about the orphanage, the children, and my involvement there.  Looking back on it, I don’t think more than a handful of people have ever asked me to explain more about the food resource center. The word ‘orphanage’ has a way to capture the heart of those who hear it, and evoke the images and thoughts of children.  For me, after this year, the word ‘orphanage’ will always have faces and names attached.  It was my first time at an orphanage, hopefully not my last, and it has changed, strengthened, and especially educated me.  It is one of the most incredible and amazing places I have ever visited, but the word ‘orphanage’ helps do its own marketing.

The Catholic Charities Mid-City Center, also known as the Food Resource Center, is an unbelievable program.  It took a few days to actually comprehend that people can come in and get free food with no strings attached.  In my college years, I spent a small amount of time at a food pantry, rolled out of bed at the ungodly college hour of 7am and with a few friends walked down to the church where the distribution was based.  Little did I know those few Saturdays were a small taste of the post-college year to come.  Every Tuesday and Thursday I slip on my closed toed shoes and head over to the Mid-City Center.  The center itself is located in a strip of stores, right next to African Hair Braiding and Day Springs Christian Fellowship.  I park my car, say good morning to the clients already waiting in line outside, and head inside to start the morning with Robby, the Catholic Charities employee at the Mid-City Center.

From the time when I started working at the Food Resource Center to now, the increase in individuals and families served has increased exponentially.  We serve over a thousand people each month, and the center is only open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays!  With each new client, I have a memorized little explanation that I say to them to quickly try and summarize the way the program works, “The way the program here works, you can receive the donated food eight times for one year, starting today, (insert today’s date) until (insert date one year from today).  However, you have to wait at least two weeks in between each visit that you come here.  We also have available today, this month’s commodity’s which are government-given food.  Commodities are a pre-packaged bag of about 7 to 9 goods/cans that change each month. You can receive the commodities once a month, for however many months you need it.  Any questions?”  This explanation includes many hand gestures, which unfortunately cannot be conveyed through this blog, and can also be given in Spanish.  It also has been printed out through an online translator to be shown in Vietnamese, Russian, Arabic, and any other language need that walks through our doors.

Although there is a comforting familiarity with each day that comes and goes at the Food Resource Center, each day offers its own surprises.  I have been barked at by a client, helped a lady in the middle of breast-feeding her baby, and there have even been a few clients who have brought me food – a slab of raw filet mignon happened to be one item, go figure!  But the people who work and come to the center are what make each day special.  The majority of clients are incredibly grateful for the assistance and it is a blessing to be able to be involved with such an incredible place, its people, and volunteers. Looking back nine months ago when my original placement of Catholic Charities Refugee Services was changed to the Food Resource Center, little did I know a small place in Mid-City would make such a big impact on me.

Nicole M. Dudzinski

San Diego, CA 2008-2009

 

Tags:

Domestics 2008-2009

Blue Like Jazz

by Admin / 28. May 2009 05:10

I have purchased exactly one book during my time as a volunteer and it was a complete impulse buy. Characterized by the author as “Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality,” Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller) is something I would not ordinarily read, much less spend precious stipend on. But for whatever reason, I picked it off the shelves of Barnes and Noble on a lazy Saturday afternoon in February. It was the forward that caught me:

“I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Baghdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.”

Maybe it is my own romantic vision of the devoted saxophone player or perhaps just Miller’s straightforward language, but I am stuck on this little excerpt. The words seem to find their way into emails, phone conversations, discussions with students, and just last week, even a staff meeting. And I am discovering, as these same words find their home in this blog entry, that they are really the only way I can think of to make sense of the multitude of diverse experiences that continue to shape this year.

As the Service Coordinator in Campus Ministry at Merrimack College in nearby North Andover, I often find myself split between two worlds: that of a private college in an upper-middle class suburb of Boston and that of my home in Lawrence, a small immigrant city battling the most extensive poverty in the state. I may begin the day reading emails in my comfortable office in Andover and end serving my next-door neighbor at a soup kitchen back in Lawrence. In that four mile transition between work and home, everything seems to change.  Because of sheer circumstance, I am in the somewhat unique and unbelievably fortunate position of encountering quite a diversity of people; individuals with vastly different stories, life experiences, relationships with others and relationships with God. There are some with whom I walk daily and others whose paths I’ve crossed only momentarily, but the totaling effect of all of these relationships has been nothing short of life changing.

One of the many people who color my daily life is my boss, a Sister of Notre Dame from Chicago. Short staffed from the beginning, accomplishing the many and varied tasks of campus ministry has required quite a bit of collaboration. However, lunch conversations about service trips, retreats and liturgies frequently give way to discussions of faith, politics, the church, life. She is a model of faith and her example challenges me to grow, to think, to push beyond complacency and to love.

As part of my responsibilities in Campus Ministry, I travelled with a group of students to Selma, Alabama for a week of service last March. This is how I met Dave, the founder of our partner organization Black Belt and Central Alabama Housing.  An African American man born in Selma, he marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Dr. Martin Luther King just 44 years ago. Dave, who, by his own estimation once could have been killed for hosting a group of white students, welcomed our group with open arms. An individual of unbelievable generosity and kindness, he looks daily into the helpless face of rural poverty and racism and responds with love, working tirelessly to ease the burdens of his neighbors. I spent one week with Dave, but his impact was profound.

Of course no one has inhabited my everyday life quite like my community. From the beginning, John Henry, Agustin, Rebekah and I have been warned that we are all “very different.” However, what was once a source of anxiety has become (at least in my estimation) our greatest strength. Although it has taken all of us time to find our footing, it has been wonderful to watch each of them carve their own path, learning how to give their students what they need in a style that is uniquely theirs. And in those rare moments, when I am able to see things through their eyes, I find myself falling in love with world again and in turn, in love with God.

Unlike Donald Miller, I am not sure that I have ever disliked God, but I have certainly lost site of God. And because of this I am forever indebted to those who, in their grand gestures and small kindnesses, continue to show me the way.

Hannah Kunberger

Lawrence, MA 2008-2009

 

Tags:

Domestics 2008-2009

Careful, you’ll trip!

by Admin / 13. May 2009 05:42

“Mr. Hughes, can you tie my shoes?”

This question is asked like clockwork every recess at St. Pat’s Elementary. Isabella, a raspy-voiced wide-eyed Kindergartner has sneakers whose shoelaces are perpetually out of sync. Everyday, as I kneel to the ground to tie her sneakers, I say the same thing to the bright 6 year-old, “Isabella, I am going to bring glue to school and glue your shoelaces together one of these days.” Isabella laughs her mandatory giggle and runs off after the red ball with which she was previously playing. As she runs away, a faint “Thank You” can be heard from across the schoolyard. I watch as she sprints towards the ball with her newly knotted sneakers, tied as tight as they can go, only knowing that at lunchtime she will look down at her shoelaces and see that they are once again untied.

My year as a P.E. and Computer teacher resembles that of Isabella’s remarkable shoelaces. There are students that continually challenge and show disrespect towards me, thinking of me as only a “volunteer” and not a “real teacher”. But like any rogue shoelace, a tightly bound knot can be created; it only requires a little hard work, determination, and optimism.

I walked into St. Pat’s on my first day hearing famed stories of marvelous P.E. instructors before me, “Ms. Penza was the best”, “Mr. R always played fun games”, or “You will never be as good as Mr. C, he was the best P.E. teacher ever.” Expectations were high for a fun-filled, amazing, knock your socks off kind of year. So I laced up my sneakers, tied them tight, and began my yearlong career as a teacher thinking to myself, “Everyone will love Mr. Hughes, he’s a cool guy.”

Probably halfway through my first day, I realized that being the “cool guy” was impossible. I assumed students would respect me as a teacher, and quickly learned that “volunteer” and “teacher” are two separate words that are in no way equivalent. A teacher could be in a room full of energetic talkative seventh graders and any outsider would be able to hear a pin drop or a cricket chirp. If an outsider observed that same seventh grade class with a volunteer in charge, he would find a a very different and more rowdy classroom.

It goes without saying that even though I prepared unique games to play, tried to crack jokes with the older kids, and was enthusiastic about my day, the students would test me and I struggled to be the teacher (or “volunteer”) I dreamed of being. Students continued to say something mean under their breath, show disrespect, and see how poor they could act before I started issuing detentions. Each workday became more and more tiring, and I thought by October I would collapse from mere exhaustion. I tied my shoes tight every morning, but by dismissal they just couldn’t stay tied.

What was I to do? I was supposed to love my work, love the students, and love the school. Yet, in the beginning each day led me further from that ideal. So I stopped and evaluated that state of my shoelaces. They were like any other shoelaces and could be tied like any other pair of shoelaces. Yet, it was up to me to keep them tied; to be the best teacher I could be without letting the kids step on them causing me to trip. Instead of letting the negative overwhelm my classes (and as a pessimist this became a bit challenging), I began to focus on the positive - the simple smile from a third grader who had fun during class, the excited look from a sixth grader who learned something new in a Computer lesson, or the Kindergartner who always trusted the same person to tie her shoes each day.

Therefore, everyday I walk into St. Pat’s with a rejuvenated enthusiasm. In the morning, I tie my shoelaces tight, sometimes double or triple knotting them to make sure they don’t come undone and are able to take on the sure-to-be tiring day. As different classes come and go, some kids step on my laces and argue with a kickball call or complain about the boring game we happened to be playing that day. But with each negative action, there is always a positive one to brighten my day. And with this relatively new sense of optimism, my year has become much more fun and fulfilling. I love my job, the students, and the school – it just took a little more work than planned.

So as the lunch bell rings, Isabella approaches me with the same simple request,
“Mr. Hughes, can you tie my shoes?” Little known to her, the appreciation she shows for this effortless task helps me keep my sneakers tied as well, allowing me to face the difficult world of teaching with eagerness, happiness, and passion.

Stephen Hughes
San Diego 2008-2009

 

Tags:

Domestics 2008-2009

A Greater Community

by Admin / 7. April 2009 10:30

This is roughly the conversation I had with a second grader at St. Patrick’s Elementary while tutoring him after what seemed to be a very long day…

 

Garrett:  We should call you Mr. M because we already had a Mr. C and he was with Mr. Z.  Last year we had Ms. P who was very nice….sometimes we played PE with her but, most of the time we were with the boy, he was nice too!  You know, we change PE teachers every year but, they are always nice, I really like them. 

 

The day my blog was due (for a second time, thank you April for the extension!) was the most hectic day at St. Augustine High School, where I spend my time serving as a Campus Minister.  It also happened to be the same day I was tutoring all by my lonesome with Garrett and Caesar in the St. Patrick’s computer lab.  Not really thinking too much about my blog, Garrett decides to enlighten me with his sharp memory of the volunteers that were with him during his first two years as a student at St. Patrick’s.  His innocence of shouting out his teachers names, made me realize what I am exactly part of; a greater community of believers and dedicated individuals.

 

I have a predecessor who so selflessly gave of her time to make a difference in those who she came across at SAINTS and paved the way for this year, where I am challenged with doing the same; to humbly and selflessly walk with my God.  The flip side to this equation is that we all have successors.  Someone will come next year to be with my boys at SAINTS.  This is reassuring.  The work we perform and time we spend with our brothers and sisters will be continued by someone else.

 

With all of that being said, my year has been a mosaic of lessons, emotions, friendship, and especially a great one with God.  I am constantly reminded to better myself and those whom I serve through the actions of my loving roommates.  From the night before a Kairos retreat, to communal prayer, to running (or walking) a 5k, it is those with whom I live that strengthen me and in turn strengthen those we serve.

 

Sharing in a meal with my community has served as my greatest classroom.  It is at this forum where we share in an array of topical conversations from our day at work to politics to jokes.  It is here where we learn from each other.  I remember some trying days at work being all but washed away by the energy that is present at our table.  It is the moment I feel as if I am going to move in reverse and then quickly pushed forward by community and ultimately by God.  Augustine said. “Let us continue to make progress; examine yourself constantly without guile or flattery. Let your present state always leave you dissatisfied if you are to become what you are not yet. For wherever you feel satisfaction, there you will stop. Say ‘it is enough’ and you are lost. You must always look for more, walk onward, and always make progress.”

 

I do my best at living this quote and have examined myself through the lens of community.  This has given me the ability to better serve those I work with on a day-to-day basis.  It has allowed for my presence as an Augustinian Volunteer to be a progression for the community I serve.

 

Will Garrett remember all 9 pairs of Augustinian Volunteers who walk through the halls of St. Patrick’s by the time he reaches his 8th grade year?  Who really knows?  He is 3 for 3 right now.  Let us pray that our community continues to grow and touch all of those whom we work with.

 

Michael J. Cunningham

San Diego, CA 2008-2009

 

Tags:

Domestics 2008-2009

Restless Hearts

by Admin / 25. March 2009 10:31

On our very first day of Orientation we were given a journal and asked to take some time to write about the question “Who am I?” I remember sitting in front of my blank journal page thinking to myself that if I knew how to answer this question, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. I entered into this year of service with high expectations and goals. I unrealistically tried to convince myself that after these 10 months in Chicago, there is no doubt I would become a completely different/much better person. So here I am, seven months later…..Have I learned more about myself over the past few months? Of course. Is there still so much more to learn? Absolutely.

The past seven months have been filled with many personal struggles and successes. Working in an all boys high school on the south side of Chicago was pretty rough for me in the beginning. It was a new environment with new rules and new norms. However, my saving grace this year has been the Kairos retreat that I have been able to lead on multiple occasions throughout the year. The retreats help me to reach out to the students on a more personal level and allow me see them in a whole new light. Even if just for a few days while on retreat, the students stop being the macho jerks I see in the hallways everyday and become vulnerable young men just trying to figure out life. Being on retreat with the students and forming the stronger relationships gives me a sense of validation for the work that I do. The retreats not only renew me professionally, they also revitalize me spiritually. Each retreat has been such a powerful experience in it’s own way and each has taught be something new about myself personally, professionally, and spiritually.

“You have made us for yourself oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This St. Augustine phrase has been a theme throughout the year for us as Augustinian Volunteers and it is one we say at school at least twice a day during morning and afternoon prayer, but to be completely honest……I struggle with this concept. I understand the idea that we should always be seeking the Lord and never become complacent in our relationship with God, but being the pessimist I am, I can’t help but hear this phrase and think to myself….I’ll never be good enough. This is a personal struggle that I actively try to work on everyday. Some days are better than others, but I keep on trying.


The boys at school often ask me why I became a volunteer. At first, I found this to be a very frustrating question because every time I answered it I found myself giving different responses and sometimes even getting defensive in my answer. However, after seven months of service, I now find peace in my answer. I can now confidently say in response “I am here this year as a volunteer because God wants me here” and I truly believe this.

Meghan Fitzgerald

Chicago, IL 2008-2009

 

Tags:

Domestics 2008-2009

The Colorful Bronx Life

by Admin / 20. March 2009 10:32

Diversity characterizes New York City and especially the Bronx.  We began the year with a street festival ending in Salsa music and dancing. A day doesn’t go by when you don’t here Bachata music resounding from the subs of a honking car driving down Fordham Rd.  I never thought that I would have such difficulty understanding the Irish Brogue, but hanging out with Irish immigrants at Rambling House I’ve improved my ability to understand English. We’ve also had the opportunity to watch live Mariachis and will be seeing live Albanian dancing in a few weeks.  I was surprised to hear that the public schools were celebrating Jewish as well as Christian holidays.  And every morning when I go to the sixth floor of the rectory, I hear the chanting of the Catholic Vietnamese community praying before their workday even begins.

My daily activities as an Augustinian Volunteer can also be characterized as diverse, because not only do I work with people from all different backgrounds, but throughout my week of service, I get the chance to work with people of all ages, from 6 months to 70 years old! All of which have added to the richness of my experience.  The kiddies ages 6 months to 4 years are the primary group I get to work with.  This is a group with whom I had no prior experience.  So, the most important thing that I have learned is patience and light-heartedness.  Sometimes I can’t help but burst out laughing when one of the kids says something funny, or makes an outrageous face for no particular reason.  My favorite is when they are so proud of their size and state “I’m big, soy grande,” or when they aspire to be big like me!  When it’s a Monday morning and I have no desire to drag myself out of bed, I know that as soon as the first kiddy comes into the door, I will be smiling, happy to be in their presence.  They are also quite surprising sometimes in their abilities, such as computer skills, and each little kiddy is diverse in their personality, likes, dislikes, abilities, and temperament.

Every afternoon, the afterschool program brings me kids of a little older range, but still full of energy and ready to bounce off the walls.  These kids are in grades 1-2, and 5-6.  They once again are from different backgrounds, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese, and Dominican but they all have the same objective in mind: finish homework (or not) so that they can play.  These kids are hilarious and challenging at the same time. I really appreciate when they ask me questions like “what are you going to be when you grow up?” or update me on the latest Pokemon or Bakugan games and tactics.

Then on Thursdays I get to experience the more “mature” group of students- the adults.  It is really a great experience to teach adults learning English as Second Language because most of them are really motivated to learn the language, listen, and practice during class.  Until this year I had never experienced such energy in learning the alphabet, arts and craft projects, the Hokie Pokie, or had to translate a love letter!  I enjoy little linguistic moments for example when trying to figure out the meaning of the word “fierce,” I got the response, “the fierce thing you do in the morning is sign-in.”  And I’m also challenged in my spelling abilities as well as my ability to explain and charade out definitions!

So, although the Bronx is typically characterized as a dark and dangerous borough, and many of my friends and family had reservations about even visiting me here, I haven’t ever had that fearful experience of living in a dangerous place.  The people in my neighborhood are friendly; they are diverse and grateful that we are here to serve in their community.  I have had such colorful opportunities to take part in here that I never imagined before coming to the Bronx.  With my co-workers, parish members, choir members, Augustinian priests, students, and parents living so close I am really appreciative that I live and work in the diverse community in which I serve.  Come July I’m definitely going to miss the title “Miss Katie,” and the question one-year-old Nyomi asks everyday when I leave for lunch “Donde Vas?”

Katie Abajian

Bronx, NY 2008-2009

 

Tags:

Domestics 2008-2009

God's Guidance

by Admin / 18. March 2009 10:33

It was during my first day of work at St. Mary of the Assumption School that Father Tom Casey stopped by the cafeteria to say hello to the children.  I had been introduced to Fr. Tom the week before on St. Augustine’s feast day.  I must have met some 25 friars that day, and if there was something that struck me in meeting Fr. Tom, it was the overwhelming presence of grace that exuded from him.  Fr. Tom seemed a man of few words and his humble demeanor made his story a mystery to me.  Aside from another priest’s brief mention of Fr. Tom’s days in the minor leagues, all I had heard of this quiet guy was that he had a regular routine of distributing rosary rings to everyone he greeted.  If I remember correctly, Fr. Tom’s visit to St. Mary’s that day seemed to coincide perfectly with Shaliah throwing Henry-Jermaine into a headlock and Jazlynn’s and Arturo’s strawberry and chocolate milks plummeting from their lunch trays to the floor, just as I was pleading with Mariah to please come out from under the table and put her shoes back on. 

 

Fr. Tom approached the scene and asked me how I was doing.  I threw on a smile and replied “Great!” but he immediately detected my distress.  Fr. Tom took my hand, shook it firmly with both of his, looked me square in the eyes and told me, “One day at a time, Rebekah.  One day at a time.”  When he pulled his hands away I noticed he had given me a rosary ring.  His small gesture went right to my heart and his words resonated in my head.  Fr. Tom had given me all the encouragement I needed to make it through my first day at work.  For the rest of that week, I gave what helping hand I could to the pre-K students and kept the other shoved in my pocket, all the while turning the small ring between my thumb and index finger. 

 

One day at a time.  With these words ringing in my mind I miraculously made it through September.  October rolled around and before I knew it, I had assumed the positions of art teacher for grades K-7 and assistant coach to the eighth grade girl’s basketball team.  These new, additional responsibilities came a little unexpectedly and at a time when I was still trying to find my footing in the Pre-K and the after school program.  The thought of planning, prepping, and teaching my own art classes to about 200 kids was overwhelming enough–but coaching too.  How was I supposed to assist a team in a sport that I quit during a third grade clinic because I could not, for the life of me, execute a simple layup and the idea of setting a pick confused the hell out of me?  No, coaching seemed just downright ridiculous.  However, I knew in committing to this year that there would be unexpected turns, so I willingly took on the challenges thrown my way.

 

Of course, I wanted everything to be perfect.  Sure, I had a few roles to fill, very different roles, but the students were depending on me and I wanted to come through for them.  I wasn’t sure how to do it, but I knew I could be a dependable source in the pre-K while a familiar face to both the children in the after school program and the family members who picked them up each day.  I could be the laidback art teacher who came up with “cool” projects for the middle school students and “magical” crafts for the younger ones.  In the meantime, I would let the eighth grade girls go on believing that I did know a thing or two about basketball.  And if they just so happened to concoct a story that I had played ball in college, maybe even on a scholarship…so be it. 

 

With the goal of filling each of my roles flawlessly on the forefront of my mind, there left little room for the words Fr. Tom had shared with me on my first day of work.  One day at a time my growing concern in creating a calm classroom, one where students raised their hands and didn’t wrestle each other on the alphabet rug, began to take precedence over celebrating the big personalities each small pre-K child had to share.  One week at a time I was torturing myself over planning the ultimate art classes, hopeful of thrilling the students, forgetting that they were already content just to be in art class.  One basketball practice after another, my insecurity in the knowledge of the game was preventing me from forming relationships with the players.  Besides, this group of seven 13-year-old girls, 2/3 of whom had never played basketball before, wasn’t looking for an assistant coach; they didn’t need me to demonstrate any moves.  They needed me to be an example of a young woman confident in her own skin, regardless of my jump shot.  I knew things had to change, starting with my mind-set.        

 

I began to think of Fr. Tom.  I recalled his state of grace, his simple suggestion to take things one day at a time.  My goals began to shift from striving for near-perfection to tackling each day’s obstacles with more patience, calm, and compassion.  Now my personal successes no longer hinge on the day I triumphantly lead pre-K from one end of the hallway to the other in a quiet, straight line.  I stopped waiting for the basketball practice in which I set my sights upon each eighth grade girl finessing the perfect layup, or the Friday when every student leaves my art class proudly showing off their carefully crafted museum-worthy masterpieces.  Instead of seeking perfection, I’m trusting that God will grant me the grace to make it through each day.  My new goal may sound simple, but its achievement is much more fulfilling.  And while this new approach has not made for fewer challenges or frustrations, it has given me greater strength in facing them; it has brought about a joyfulness that was otherwise lacking.  As a result, my relationships with the students and faculty at St. Mary’s have become more meaningful and continue to grow.

 

I recently came across the rosary ring that was planted in my hands that first day at work.  Although Fr. Tom has since left Lawrence for Villanova, his words have stayed with me.  I was searching, aiming for perfection, trying to find my way.  What I’ve found is that God is guiding me each day, giving me the grace to see me through–one day at a time.

 

Rebekah Callaghan

Lawrence, MA 2008-2009

 

Tags:

Domestics 2008-2009

“Six Stories”

by Admin / 2. March 2009 10:34

1.         On September 18, 2008, just about a month after beginning a year of volunteering, I was saddened to hear that a great friend of mine from Gonzaga Collin Keck, whom I had had the pleasure to become great friends, and whom I have always held in the brightest of lights, had passed away. He was hit by a car while he was riding his bike to work. I was terrified, alone, pissed, and frustrated. I could only think about the other people such as his family and close friends and could only hope that they were getting by in this tragic time as best they could. After talking to most of my friends from Gonzaga, some of whom were closer to Collin than others, I decided to put some trust in my community here in Lawrence.

2.         The loss of Collin was the biggest loss I have ever been through. Some people grow up in broken families, some with lost siblings, and some with lost parents. I cannot say that I fall into any of these categories. I think I might be able to compete with some of the most famous children in history, when it comes to how good they had it growing up. I got to play sports, had loving parents who put nothing before my sister and I, and we had food on the table every morning, afternoon, and night. I was brought up to appreciate what I had and not think about those things I did not have. This year I have learned that what each of us has here in Lawrence, if nothing else, is each other.

3.         One expectation or goal that I had/have for this year is to grow in my faith and take a large step in my spiritual journey. I am not sure what direction I am moving in or how quickly, but I do know that I am moving, and that is the important part (thank you Mr. Smith.) I had an opportunity to sit down over a few beers and a Chargers/Jets game one Monday evening with Fr. Joe, formerly know as a Counter Terrorism expert for our government. Getting to talking, I learned about his journey that led him to that Monday night sitting there with me in the one of the darkest, shadiest bars in Lawrence. It was a defining moment in my life and in my spiritual journey. In the weeks leading up to that night, I had spoken with the volunteers about how I saw God in each person that I came into contact with and in every interaction that I had with others. I also spoke about how much beauty I saw in nature and how I also saw God in those moments of seeing nature’s perfection. Fr. Joe was able to tell me his story and it led down this same path of seeing God in others and in nature. He and I were on the same page. It is weird to be on the same page with a priest about the topic of God. Does that mean that I am supposed to be a priest? No. Anyway, it felt good to talk to him and it was great to be able to come back to my community and talk to them about that night. This year, the people that I live with are those who I see God in the most.

4.         Working in Lawrence and Andover has been anything but what I expected. For the most part, Lawrence’s residents include Guatemalans, Dominicans, and other people of Latin American background. Many are first generation Americans and live below the national poverty line. Needless to say, Lawrence is the poorest city in Massachusetts. On the other side, Andover is made up of mostly Caucasian families who send their children to private catholic schools. It is one of the richest cities in Massachusetts. I work at one of these private schools in Andover, and also at a private school in Lawrence with students whose families otherwise would not be able to afford to send their children to a private school. These schools and communities are only three miles apart, but it is the longest three miles I have ever seen. I have the opportunity to talk with my community and compare and contrast our jobs each day. The stories that are told about the students in Lawrence are of a different category than those that come out of Andover. Even though the population contrasts so sharply in each town and the problems that I deal with are so different, the fact that there are problems is what makes me realize what I am doing at each school. Many times I feel that I should always be working with the school in Lawrence because they have more of a need than the school in Andover. What I have learned is that each school has needs and can use my help. It is not the type of need that matters, but the fact that they have a need. I cannot compare the schools and feel like I am helping more at one school, but instead realize that I am helping at both schools, even though I am helping in different areas.

5.         The weather here is rough. Growing up in San Diego and attending school in Spokane, WA, I was not ready for the intense cold and storms that occur here in New England. The up side is that we get free days off. They are called snow days. They are the only reason I put up with the snow. Balance. In the last twenty-four hours, twelve inches of snow have accumulated in our front yard and around the city. Bummer right? Well yes, but because of the snow we do not have work. It is a three day weekend. With each setback in our lives there is usually something that helps us to learn or take a step forward. Snow is not the best thing, but snow days may be the best thing ever. I guess I can put up with it. Everyone in our community is from warmer climates so we are dealing with this together.

6.         The people that we have met through the schools we work at, the local Augustinian Communities, and just random run ins we have with locals have made me feel very comfortable here. If you would follow our community around and see how many people say hi to us at basketball games, walking around the city or just going to the grocery store, you would probably say that we have all grown up here in Lawrence. From the Fergusons inviting us into their homes after knowing us for only a few weeks, to the O’Deas treating us to lunch after basketball games, to the O’Donnells taking us out to dinner, we have truly been welcomed into the community here. Those who we know have made our stay here so much more comfortable. At one point, we didn’t go the grocery store for a whole week because we were given so much food and invited over to so many homes for meals. It is truly a blessing to be surrounded by such giving, caring individuals.

Many of you may have read or heard of JD Salinger’s Nine Stories. I am in the middle of reading it (thank you Rebekah and Dan) and am hoping that all of the seemingly random stories are going to be tied together at the end; however my hopes are not high. I won’t leave you hanging like that.

These parts of my life that I have described to you without any organization or seemingly fluid thought (sorry) are actually related and are held together with a common thread. That thread, which may be better described by a chain (like the ones used in strongman competitions when those guys and girls are pulling trollys and busses and whatnot) which gets me through each day is Hannah, Rebekah, and Agustin (not order specific). These are my housemates for the year. They are the greatest common factors (GCF-7th grade math) in each aspect of my life this year. I have been able to share with them the hard time that I went through with Collin. It was a blessing to be thrown into a house with strangers, and in such a short period of time, being able to see God so obviously in each of them. I will never forget that night when I spoke to them about Collin and how I felt so comfortable around them. I feel like that really set the tone for the rest of the year no matter what we were going through. Just as I have been helped by each of them, I feel like we have all had those low points where we really use each other as a source of compassion and community. Each of our jobs that we have is a source of struggle and accomplishment. Together, we have been able to get through the tough times when we feel overwhelmed and celebrate the good times when we succeed at work. We have all spent the hours shoveling the snow and weathering the storms and negative degree weather. It has been something that we all can bond over, complaining through the cold. All in all, community does not end with the four of us that share a roof (and a TV…) Our community in Lawrence has extended to our friends that we have met through each other and through our work sites.

The four of us have been criticized for spending way too much time together, and sometimes the result of that includes disagreements, getting annoyed, and fighting (or biting). But the results are also amazing. We have shared so much this year and have been able to create memories that we will never forget (indoor snowball fights, mouse killing strategies, Tower Hill coffee breaks.) Many times it seems like we are fated to spend so much time together. Just today, I was writing this on the house computer and decided that it would be better to go up and write it on my computer upstairs. My computer would not turn on after fifteen minutes of struggling, and so I was forced to go back down stairs and put up with the TV, conversation, and other distractions. All I could do was smile and chuckle as I realized that because I am writing so much about community, I should be with those that I am writing about. There is no escape, but there is also no place I would rather be.

John Henry Winter-Nolte

Lawrence, MA 2008-2009

 

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Domestics 2008-2009

Welcome to the South Side

by Admin / 20. February 2009 10:36

If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

It’s a question I recently asked my students for an assignment. Using Google Maps, they viewed satellite images of places across the globe and picked one as their destination. Many picked California or Florida to get away from the cold, some picked Africa to make friends and help people. Some wanted to go to Tennessee to hang out with Miley Cyrus. A few ventured as far away as Australia and Japan. And others chose to stay right here in Chicago.

I don’t think I ever would have come up with the South Side of Chicago as my response to that question. But here I am, living and working on the South Side.  I teach computers to grades K-8 at St. Margaret of Scotland School. I enjoy teaching all the grades, getting a nice variety of age groups and skills, and getting to know all of the 250 students in the school. Whether they can pronounce my last name or just call me “Ms. E,” all the students express their gratitude for my presence through their excitement for computer class and their desire to spend more time in my classroom. It’s been their enthusiasm that has made it easy for me to get out of bed in below freezing temperatures and come to work this winter.

It’s been a very exciting time to live on the South Side. Up until Inauguration Day last month, Barack Obama was the South Side’s most famous resident. Even though he’s left for D.C., his face is still seen everywhere on the South Side. Throughout the campaign, Election Day, the inauguration, President’s Day, and now Black History Month, it has been a year long celebration of our new president. We see him on tee shirts being sold in drug stores and on street corners, and on the students’ shirts and hats on dress down days. I had my fourth and fifth graders make posters of their favorite things and people to decorate my room. So President Obama is in my classroom too, next to Lil’ Wayne and Derrick Rose.

The South Side of where I live and the South Side of where I work are two very different places. It’s only a 5-10 minute drive from our house on 104th Street to St. Margaret on 99th Street.  The houses don’t change too much, but once we cross the Metra tracks on our way to work, there is clear sense that we have left one neighborhood and entered another. While our neighborhood of West Beverly is almost 100% white, St. Margaret is 100% African American. West Beverly is blue collar, middle class. Some St. Margaret students fit that category, but most are closer to the poverty line. The pastor of St. Margaret of Scotland parish, Father Mallette, is a very generous man who often lets parents pay just what they can for tuition. The parish is kept alive by the donations and support of older alumni. Most of those alumni moved out of the parish long ago, for neighborhoods similar to West Beverly.

The South Side gets a bad rap because of its reputation for being segregated and its problems with urban blight and violence. In the fall, all the St. Margaret students could talk about was the tragedy that struck Jennifer Hudson’s family. The actress’ mother, brother and nephew had been brutally murdered, about five miles away from the school. However, I’ve been lucky enough to experience all the good that the South Side has to offer, and only a little of the bad. Today, the whole school attended a play about African American history in a beautiful theater only a few blocks away from the school. It was educational, but the kids still loved it. Helping to tutor after school, I’ve learned more about black history than I ever did when I was in school. And back in Beverly, I’ve met families proud of their South Side roots, from the traditional Catholic pockets to the Hyde Park area where President Obama once lived.

The segregation and violence do exist here on the South Side. But so do a host of wonderful people that make the area so much more than its reputation.  For the rest of this year, I’m proud and happy to be right here on the South Side.

 

Beth Ann Eichler

Chicago, IL 2008-2009

 

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Domestics 2008-2009

I get by with a little help from my friends…

by Admin / 3. February 2009 10:38

“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams.  Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.  Concern yourself not with what you have tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” ~ Pope John XXIII

I never anticipated calling my mom and crying to her about another difficult day.  I never thought I would break down in front of my roommates and be so completely vulnerable to them in such a short time.  I never foresaw coming to a decision to leave my placement, contemplate going home, and learning so much about myself before Christmas.

Before my year as an Augustinian Volunteer, I had done service work before.  Granted, it had never been a situation anything like my time here in the Bronx, but I had done enough to know that when you put yourself in a situation of service, you should have no expectations.  As much as I had thought I was coming into this experience without expectations, deep down inside of me, even though I was praying for a life altering journey, I did not ever consider it would play out as my first few months did.

I am thankful for every single moment of it.

I think during the period of September to December, I shed more tears than I ever have.  I called home and opened myself up completely to my frustrations, sufferings, and fears in life.  I was forced into pure honesty with myself and my roommates.  For maybe the first time in my life, I looked deep into myself and stepped away from a situation that I knew for my best interest was not right for me.

I lived.  I learned.  I wept.  I grew.

What, then, did this period teach me?

More than anything, I learned about love.  I consider myself a pretty blessed person to have so many wonderful individuals in my life, but I know that I too often take them for granted.  I find it difficult at times to be 100% vulnerable with myself, let alone with others, especially those I have not known for very long.  Yet this experience broke down any boundaries I or my roommates may have had.

Initially, I wanted to do a year of service for the purpose of doing service.  I really liked the fact that the Augustinian Volunteers focused so much on community, but I was viewing this as an added bonus to the spiritual and service oriented aspects of the program.  I did not realize that living in community would come to be what I have cherished the most about my experience so far.

Katie, Kendra, and Meg have helped me tremendously over the last few months.  When I was struggling, they would be there to listen to my problems or give me advice, even if I was not necessarily always the most receptive.  They were patient with me as I worked through my difficulties.  They were strong and believed in me when I had stopped believing in myself.  They have inspired me, challenged me, and taught me about how to live.

I could probably go on for much too long about how each has individually shaped my life for the better this year and not even begin to cover all of their gifts, strengths, and beauty.  When I think about community, I look to them and the community we have built on honesty, support, and love with one another.  When I think about service, I look to them and see how each has embraced her position and far exceeded what was ever expected of them because they believe in what they’re doing with their heart.  When I think about spirituality, I look to them and see how their differences and openness has made me look at my own spirituality and prayer in a different way.

While I feel as though there have been numerous individuals that I have met or been influenced by the last few months, I feel as though the three ladies I have the privilege of sharing this experience with have truly made the most lasting impact.   In no small way, they have encouraged me to consult my dreams and hopes, telling me not to sell myself short; they have seen my potential and supported me in seeking it; they have believed that I can do anything I set my mind to and have helped me fall in love with the BX and all the amazing stories it has to share.

Andrea Mendoza

Bronx, NY 2008-2009

 

Tags:

Domestics 2008-2009

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