A Deeper Appreciation

by d.dulmaine / 2. June 2012 19:33

Working at the Saint Vincent de Paul Village has truly been an eye-opening experience for me. I feel privileged to be able to provide care to the many homeless men, woman, children, and families on a daily basis. Serving this vulnerable population has been a challenge for me in more ways than one and I have come to embrace these challenges whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Ever since I was a child it has always been easy for me to blame God when something didn’t seem fair or when things didn’t necessarily go the way I had initially planned. In a way, looking back, this has proven to me that I can and have always depended on God and that even in those times of despair He is the one I turn to. 

I’ve found myself looking to God for answers and guidance this year more than I ever have before, as my relationship with Him has grown into something more than just someone in the heavens to blame when things go wrong. I now turn to God seeking courage and wisdom to understand why things are the way they are in the world and trust that I am able to make positive changes.  I see injustices every day in the work that I am doing here in San Diego, CA whether I’m in the medical clinic or walking home from work passing by numerous people camped out under the bridges with stolen shopping carts filled with their entire life possessions. 

I have also been challenged to put aside my own preconceived notions and judgments through my service this year. Not long after starting at the medical clinic did I learn to truly live out and put into practice my core values of compassion, respect, and genuine love for others. I have been able to listen to the stories of countless people and their lives, which has provided me with an even greater understanding of my patients and some of life’s injustices. On more occasions than one I have had patients tell me to keep my faith and to never lose sight of God because when everything else is gone – a home, money, family, friends, health etc – He is all that’s left. I’ve been challenged by my patients to take every opportunity to thank God for all that I have been blessed with, and for the opportunities that lie ahead of me. I now have a deeper appreciation for even the smallest gifts of life and know that taking for granted the simple pair of socks I’m wearing at this moment would be ungrateful when there are anywhere from 8-10,000 homeless people in the San Diego area alone who go without basic necessities every day.  

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

 

Danielle Dulmaine 

San Diego, CA 2011-2012

Tags:

Domestics 2011-2012

A Piece of my Heart

by c.mulhern / 20. May 2012 15:30

“You don’t have any kids do you?”

It was more of a statement than a question.  Thirty seconds into our visit, while I was still standing awkwardly by the door waiting for her to direct me somewhere, and she already knew.  Well, this will be an interesting visit, I thought.  While I had talked to Ms. Adams many times on the phone, this was our first face to face visit, and it was taking place at her apartment.  I could feel the color rising in my face as I smiled and shook my head no.

Ms. Adams directed me to a seat in her living room, where I sat down, introduced myself more formally and began discussing the program for moms and babies Ms. Adams had expressed interest in during our telephone conversations.  I felt myself relax as I settled into and knew my face was almost back to its original color.

But not for long.  Ms. Adams stopped me in the middle of our conversation to ask me about my age, why I have no children, followed by, “Aren’t you thirty yet?!”, and if I ever plan on having children.

I met Ms. Adams in February, more than six months after I started working at Catholic Charities, and she was the first person who directly approached me about my situation.  Here I am, a Case Manager working with pregnant women and their babies and I have no children of my own, and no experience or expertise in this area.  Yet I meet with clients daily to educate them on health issues and link them with resources.  In most cases, the women I’m speaking to know more about what I’m saying that I do myself.

I was unprepared for Ms. Adams’ honesty when I walked into her apartment.  She challenged me more directly than I had ever been challenged before, and made me question what grounds I have for coming to her home and talking to her about her baby.  But through my visit with Ms. Adams, we grew to understand each other a bit better.  Once she realized I wasn’t there to tell her how to parent her baby, but that I was there to support her, she eased into conversation with me, and shared bits of her life with me.

The progression of my meetings with clients often follows a similar pattern as my visit with Ms. Adams.  My clients know our primary conversation is centered on pregnancies or babies, but more often than not, our conversations develop into so much more.  As we sit together with no barriers between us, we form a relationship.  We talk about their families, their past, their dreams, their future, their struggles, their lives.  During these conversations, they trust me with a piece of their hearts, hearts that in many cases have been hurt and wounded.  While I can’t mend their broken hearts or heal their wounds, I can listen, and be the advocate, and the encourager, the friend that they need in that moment.  And I offer them my heart, with the promise that I will not create more wounds.

Even Ms. Adams was able to accept that offering of my heart, before making one last joke about me going home to my quiet house, with no children.   

Claire Mulhern
Chicago, IL 2011-2012

Tags:

Domestics 2011-2012

My Fifth Year in Massachusetts

by a.fallesgon / 6. May 2012 09:05

“Have faith and God will be with you.” 

I remember when Pat said this quote to us during our community retreat in February. It has resonated with me because faith was something that I had taken for granted in the past. This quote exemplifies my current experience as an AV serving in Lawrence. A year ago, if you asked me how I felt about spending my volunteer year in Lawrence, I would have told you how devastated and upset I was. At the time, I felt I already spent enough time in Massachusetts and was in dire need of a new change of scenery. I can tell you now that it was honestly the best decision made for me because I have a great community and an incredible service site. 

I am currently working at St. Augustine School in Andover, MA. It is a parochial school starting from nursery all the way to 8th grade. As the school’s Student Advancement Coordinator, my primary responsibilities include assisting the third grade classes during reading and math, working at Extended Day, the after school program, and acting as a substitute when needed. I have subbed every grade and all the specials: art, music, and gym. Every day is usually different, and I love it because I have the opportunity to expose myself to all the grades. However, kindergarten is definitely my favorite grade. I spend the most time down there because the kindergartners are adorable and they always brighten up my day. The teachers and their aides are so wonderful because they have become my closest friends and I have become their “adopted daughter.” At St. Augustine, I have the pleasure of working at a school that embodies this family-oriented community. All the faculty and staff have been so kind and welcoming during the course of my year. It makes me sad to think that my time is almost over. 

The most challenging part of my year was trying to rebuild and strengthen my faith. With the help of my community, as well as my experiences at St. Augustine, I recognize a progression in my spirituality. My community has taught me and challenged me to open myself up more with them and my faith. When we started the program, my relationship with God or faith was insecure. However, each of my community members were established and felt confident about their faith. Their positive influence has inspired me to become vulnerable and willing to mend my spirituality. My experience at my service site has allowed me to see God’s presence through the students and faculty at St. Augustine. My spirituality has grown significantly and I have learned to have faith in God because he is always with me.

Alissa Fallesgon

Lawrence, MA 2011-2012

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Domestics 2011-2012

Are you there God? It’s me, Miss C.

by j.colloton / 27. February 2012 11:25

Life is a matter of choices.

While living in San Diego, the choices that we are given as Augustinian Volunteers are both easy and hard. I have the choice to surf or swim; I have the choice to wear shorts or pants. But most importantly, I have the choice to accept God or deny Him.

If your personal relationship with God needs work, it is easy for you to deny Him. While working at a K-8 school, energy and patience are required for you to fully accept God. A rambunctious first grader isn’t listening, a child who is upset from being called a name, a class that never pays attention or follows directions; these are all possible reasons to have your faith tested.

Rejuvenate. That is the word that I use to think of when I thought of my relationship with God. I always got glimpses of Him in my encounters. Times when I needed Him most I would make sure to watch a beautiful sunset, look at the lights from a Tijuana hill or visit Mount Soledad for a beautiful 360 degree view of San Diego. After the realization that sporadic encounters are simply not enough, I had to reevaluate my relationship with Him.

I had to make a full-hearted effort to wake up and say today is mine, but I am giving it to God. By fully accepting Him each day in my life, I would not get frustrated when the kids were, I would not over-analyze to a child’s pain when he got made fun of, I would not get too mad if they weren’t listening and just take a step back. Because I made this promise to God, I began to see a huge difference in my daily faith life. Instead of seeing the negative, I saw the kid who wasn’t listening -doing a funny dance, I saw the child who usually got upset -having an increase in confidence, I heard the class who was usually loud -get excited at the beginning of each period when I walked into their classroom.

I realized that the PE blacktop was not only a ground for the students to partake in a special part of their day, but for me to see God in different ways. Each and every day I enjoy going to school because I can see the face of God in a smile, a laugh, a cry, or a nagging child. They have helped me grow in spirituality by showing me that faith is not simply what you want it to be, but also what you make it.

God’s love can be felt in every breath you take and every ray of sun (or snowflake) you feel. I have begun to see each day as a prayer itself. To make sure I am living with intent and being aware of God’s presence in the simplest of moments. But most importantly, living the way God would want me to live.

Jeannine Colloton

San Diego, CA 2011-2012

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Domestics 2011-2012

Finding Hope Despite Challenges

by b.coleman / 14. February 2012 08:04

Working in a homeless shelter in the Bronx, NY comes with its fair share of challenges. I love working at Siena House, a transitional housing shelter for young women who are pregnant or have a child under the age of three, but some days can be pretty discouraging. It’s difficult to watch these women try to navigate the homeless shelter system. They can easily fall through the cracks and become just another statistic. Sometimes it is their own doing, sometimes the system fails them, but in any case, it is hard to see day after day. Many of the women come from broken homes, abusive relationships, and other miserable circumstances. They have been failed in so many ways in their life already, so it’s difficult to watch them struggle for the seemingly standard things I have always had in mine – food, shelter, stability, and supportive friends and family. And what is most unfortunate is that in many ways, these women are their own worst enemies. Often, the residents cannot maintain jobs or finish a G.E.D. program because of the impermanence of their living situation and their lack of education, work ethic, and sense of responsibility. These poor habits and low expectations of themselves and others are usually the result of a tumultuous upbringing and lack of support from family and friend; and the government systems that are in place to help do not seem to be effective. On top of all this, these women have infants and toddlers to raise in a generally unstable environment. Some days, it can all seem a little hopeless. 

Luckily, most days can actually be really great. Despite the ongoing frustrations, Siena House is a beneficial place for the women and children to live. The house staff and case workers are from the neighborhood and are perfect examples of people working hard day in and day out to make a life for themselves. Employees at Siena House do not have easy or glamorous jobs, but they remain positive, supportive, and helpful to the women, even when they do not get the appreciation they deserve. I feel lucky to be the Activities Coordinator at Siena House because I get to do a little bit of everything. I have been able to help with many aspects of Siena House and experience some of the responsibilities of each staff member; I can see how hard everyone works to keep Siena House nice and to keep the residents moving forward. Knowing what the directors and case managers deal with, I am grateful that I am not in a position of authority with regards to the residents. Because of my unique position, I am able to get to know the women and their children and become more of a friend--it seems easier for the women to listen to a peer. I'm happy to help make resumes, plan educational workshops, or aide the women with job searches. It's fun to meet the residents and over time discover their personalities, talents, and interests, because in many ways, it is easy to see them as just another case number. I also think my position is great because I get to make the house a little more like a home. I throw holiday and birthday parties and am able to plan fun activities like baking or arts and crafts for the women. I understand my task here as being with these women in the most human way possible--simply living with them--which is unfortunately missing in so many other parts of their lives.

Siena House works hard to help and support its residents and it's not always apparent if it actually makes a difference. I think that when everyone does their part, though, it does all add up. More often than not, former residents will call or write to express their gratitude for how Siena House helped them and their children. In a world full of governmental agencies, this gratitude is a wonderful thing to witness. Siena House truly helps these women, even if small, seemingly unapparent ways. While agencies promise big changes, Siena house is here doing its very best to be with these women in a human way, never treating them or their children as numbers or statistics, and in that lies the most hope of all.

Rebekah Coleman

Bronx, NY 2011-2012

Tags:

Domestics 2011-2012

How My Spirituality has Grown

by d.madden / 29. January 2012 17:41

Kairos is supposed to bring you closer to your own self and to God and get you to treat each other the way Jesus would treat us. So when one of the guys steals another kid’s notebook, in which the kid wrote a letter to his dead father because it brought him comfort, and then berates that kid that he’s crying about losing something stupid, you question the retreat’s whole process. And by questioning the whole process, you question God’s presence on the retreat. But then you see what happens after, the whole rest of the group rallying behind that kid and telling him, “we will find your notebook.” And then they go and find it. And one of the cool guys stands up to that other cool guy who called the boy a whiner, and says, “I don’t care if it’s just a notebook, it was important to him.” You see God in that person who stood up for the other. You see God in those boys who stopped being tough and cool and started being someone. And you see it in all those other troubled boys who needed this retreat for guidance. They were the ones who began living up God’s image. That’s how my spirituality has grown. It’s grown from one kid who has had a history of struggles coming up to me at the end of the last retreat, giving me a hug, and saying, “thank you.” Kairos is much deeper than just being away from school and sharing your feelings. It focuses on opening yourself up to God, and when that happens, God really does work miracles. Miracles are people being an example for each other. For all the negative things I hear about the students at my school, when it comes down to it, they really do care about each other. Every day at school something good happens. The guys make me happy. My favorite part of the day is standing in the hallway in between classes. And I especially like seeing at school those guys I had on Kairos, for they show that going away for 4 days is worth it. Through my relationships with them, I’ve been able to be a part of God’s work in the world.

Daniel Madden

Chicago, IL 2011-2012

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Domestics 2011-2012

Hold My Hand

by p.welde / 10. January 2012 12:21

Community. The word initially brought to mind vague images of a town, a church, an organization. It now brings to mind the faces of my five community members, the faces of the greater Augustinian Volunteer network, and the faces of each person we’ve served. I now define community as a support system of love.

Our community of six eats together four to five nights per week. In addition, we formally pray together two nights each week. Meals and prayer provide ample opportunity for each of us to share stories and triumphs. Each gathering also enables us to seek advice on daily challenges.

I work at Hogar Infantil La Gloria—a full-time home for neglected, abused, and orphaned children on the outskirts of Tijuana, Mexico. My job is twofold: 1) Assisting in fundraising, accounting, and administrative efforts & 2) Working directly with the children at Hogar. Working with the children has been a blessing, for I have truly come to love the kids as if they’re part of my own family. I have to admit, though, that I struggled upon arriving at my worksite. It was clear that mornings would be spent in the baby room, while afternoons would be spent aiding the older children with homework. I am a very goal-oriented person, however, and I had trouble grasping the importance of my role and what I’d actually achieve by showing up each day. My community didn’t allow me to fall prey to my frustration.

In fact, each member of my San Diego AV community contributed to the clarity I gained regarding my role this year. A member of my community shared with me the words of Teresa de Avila,

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.

It’s difficult for anyone to fully grasp the idea of a children’s home. The grounds often appear as any schoolyard does at recess. Children run happily and freely about with few cares. My community reminded me, though, that these children aren’t able to go home at day’s end to receive personal attention from family. My role was starting to make sense.  I needed to find triumph in the small victories each day. Each time a child reaches for my hand, laughs with me, or hugs me—We’re winning together. We’re controlling those things that are within our control and overcoming a situation that could be looked at as unfortunate. It’s my role to love the kids as I love my family—as I love my community. Each child wants a hand to hold, a smile to brighten the day, a friendly hug that shows I care. Sometimes you need a community to point out the obvious, and I thank God for mine.

Paddy Welde
San Diego 2011-2012

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Domestics 2011-2012

Tuesdays with Frenchie & Lionel

by m.costantini / 14. December 2011 05:21

The blessings and challenges of this year have each taught me a new lesson about the human condition. Many of these are products of my responsibilities in Merrimack’s Campus Ministry, but the most notable are found in simple, every day behaviors. Specifically, I find that engaging in conversation is the most human activity in which we can partake. It is an art form in its own right. In many ways, conversations have generated some of the greatest joys at my service sites. In others, they are the source of my greatest challenges. I have conversations with my colleagues, Merrimack students, people I work with at our weekly service sites, my community members, and complete strangers, but their value is always the same. It is immeasurable.

At 58 Newbury Street in Lawrence, Massachusetts, visitors are greeted at the door by a sense of home. Bread & Roses is a restaurant style soup kitchen that serves those who are most in need in our community. In this intimate setting, the dining room prays before every meal to show thanks for the day God has given us. Plates are then brought from the assembly line in the kitchen to hungry hands and hearts. Through my service there, I have come to know Bread & Roses as a place where bodies are nourished, friends are made, and human dignity is restored.

At dinnertime, I see both old and new faces. There are two faces in particular, however, that I anticipate every Tuesday around 6:30pm. Two brothers, Frenchie and Lionel, have been my companions at Bread & Roses since my first week. As soon as I see them walk in, I am overjoyed. My first instinct is to drop what I am doing, but my responsibility to the kitchen paralyzes me. Instead, I raise my voice to them from where I stand and I am always greeted with a smile. Their presence draws me to sit with them because I find consolation in sharing a conversation. Whether it is about their father who recently passed away or about our favorite kinds of movies, I feel most like myself when I’m hanging out with them.

In many ways, these conversations have reminded me of the value of telling one’s story because the truth is a very powerful tool. Not only does the story-teller feel a burden taken from them in sharing, but the one listening is changed by the human emotion of the story. It is impossible not to feel the freeness that is inherent to the truth.

Of the biblical sisters Mary and Martha, I think Mary really had it right. In taking on her attitude, I find myself drawn closer to God. My conversations with others have a direct impact on my spirituality. The sensitivity and self-awareness that this requires is not an easy practice, but it is worth the effort. As I continue to embrace the blessings and challenges of my volunteer year, I look forward to the rest of my Tuesdays with Frenchie and Lionel.

 

Meg Costantini

Lawrence, MA 2011-2012

Tags:

Domestics 2011-2012

Augustinian Hospitality

by m.coughlin / 27. November 2011 08:44

More than a year ago my busy college self had to start really thinking about what life after graduation would hold. I knew I wanted to do a year of service but after reading through the numerous brochures I struggled deciding what was right for me. I had heard about the Augustinian Volunteers through friends and was immediately drawn to the program after learning about its intimate community life and spiritual involvement. At this point I had to be selfish and really think about what the Augustinian Volunteers had to offer me while at the same time recognizing what I could offer in return. 

After re-introducing myself to the Augustinian order I quickly became sold on the idea of living together in a way to become closer to God. The way of life those in the order live is admirable and I knew I wanted to volunteer and live in their likeliness. The Augustinian website read, and still does, “live together in harmony being of one mind and one heart on the way to God”. The Augustinian volunteers fully encompass this and I knew I found what God had in store for me after graduation. 

Now three months into my service I could not be happier with my decision. Not only do I wake up every morning excited to serve at my work site, I wake up with a rewarding feeling of belonging. I am now part of the Augustinian family and have already been impacted greatly from my community and the great new people I continue to meet. The Augustinian community here in San Diego is overwhelmingly hospitable and friendly. It is hard to put into words the gratitude I have for all the priests and deacons we have had the pleasure of meeting. Their willingness to quickly accept us into their lives is something beautiful. Every Tuesday night my community members and I are invited to the monastery at St. Augustine’s High School to have dinner with the priests. This Tuesday night ritual has quickly become one of my favorite experiences. The food is amazing but it’s the conversation and company that really makes these nights special. They have really made me feel home here in San Diego and are always helping us get involved in different activities along with providing us great insight into their Augustinian way of life. 

The Augustinians have really impacted my spiritual life as well. We were lucky enough to spend one of our community prayer nights at the monastery receiving reconciliation. Their eagerness to help us in any way they can while leading through example is really wonderful. Spending time at the monastery is a weekly reminder for me to slow down and remember the greater community that I am now part of. I have quickly come to enjoy the recognition of being an Augustinian volunteer, I am proud to tell people about my service, the Augustinian community and how they are positively impacting my life. 

 

Megan Coughlin

San Diego, CA 2011-2012

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Domestics 2011-2012

God is Here?

by s.seibert / 12. November 2011 08:32

God is in the people with whom I share 30 minutes every day, whose stories I don’t know: He is present in every person riding the subway who stares at the wall or the floor, anywhere but at his or her fellow passengers. He is present in the man walking through subway car after car, repeating his request for food or money in a monotone, perhaps in an attempt to retain what dignity he can. God is with the woman prompted by the Spirit and a courage I do not possess to tell her captive audience that God loves them, and we don’t have to wait till Christmas to tell Christ we love him too. God is in the midst of the people gathered in Grand Central terminal to pray a rosary before their commute home. God is present every day in people I ignore because it’s just easier that way.

God is present in the United Nations, no matter how much everyone ignores Him or denies His relevance. God is present in everyone who wants to prove that we don’t rely on old-fashioned beliefs in some mystical being, but instead base our opinions and actions solely on provable fact and logic. He is in the meetings, the debates, the consultations, briefings, and conferences: in short, in every gathering of His people. God is present in every person arguing who should make a good-will gesture first, who should admit they are wrong and lay down their weapons before their adversary. God is there for every empty promise, every minute spent on words instead of actions, every twisted political maneuver.

But God is present, too, in every consultation about the best way to end extreme poverty and hunger. He is there in every conversation about treating and preventing diseases that have become the scourge of populations ill-equipped to handle them. God is in the midst of discussions of promoting human rights and protecting the people who defend them. God is present in every person on this international soil who came to make the world a better place. He is present in every effort to remember the vulnerable, every voice that speaks for the voiceless.
The question now, I suppose, is whether I actually see God in these people and places. Interesting question. Sometimes I surprise myself when I explain to someone that Augustinians International is “the NGO of the Order of St. Augustine, a Catholic religious community.” Oh! That’s right! I’m Catholic, and I work with other Catholics! That means…we do good things for people, right? Yeah, we’re concerned about the dignity of the human person…and…there’s something else…oh! We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who became man to save us from sin and death. Now I remember!
That sounds pretty sarcastic, but periodically I do have to go through this thought process as I remember why I’m here. I’m not here to prove the might of a particular government, or to represent a particular State’s interests. I am here to witness to the love God has for each of us, the love He calls us to have for each other.

It really is awe-inspiring that this international organization functions as well as it does, and continues to set such lofty goals. Every delegate, minister, advocate, and intern at the UN knows what the problems are, but the prevailing atmosphere is still one of hope and determination: there is a way to make life better for each and every person, and together, we will find it.

I see God in this hope and determination. I see God in the people reminded by a stranger that they are loved. The question now is: what will I do about it?

Susanna Seibert

Bronx NY, 2011-2012

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Domestics 2011-2012

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