Growing through Vulnerability in Community

by c.papuga / 2. July 2014 07:32

I do not think I could ever actually verbalize how truly thankful I am for my community. The idea of being here in Peru, participating in my year of service, without the support of a community is absolutely laughable. In the beginning, during the search for a year of service program the idea of living in a community was equivalent to cohabitating with fellow volunteers, similar to college dorm life. Living half a year in community, has absolutely shattered this perception and not only has constructed a new definition of community for me, but also directly resulted in the discovery of  new aspects of myself. Community is not cohabitation; it is the creation of a family, sanctuary, safe zone, and support team. In my community members I have found more than just fellow likeminded volunteers; I have found: dance partners, food tasters, best friends, sisters and brothers, people who know they can laugh both at you and with you, people who both offer you a shoulder to cry on and seek yours, people who will stay up with you despite how tired they are, my own personal Google team when I have questions ranging from Spanish translations to deep spiritual meaning of life inquiries, maternal and paternal figures to keep me in line, and basically any other occupation you could think of.  Community is more than just living within the same physical confines; it is learning to respect, love, be patient, communicate, experience, and truly live with other people. 

Community life has propelled my own personal growth. It is impossible to not be altered and grow in some way while living in community. Living in community takes guts, it pushes you right into the deep end of vulnerability. Forget the floaty devices. No one likes to be vulnerable; but, I truly knew this was a weakness of mine. Living in community, there is no hiding. You are exposed to your community members from the trivial quirky morning routines you have, all the way to your deep personal belief systems that support the reasons you get up each day and start those morning routines. It is scary to be vulnerable and to let other people in and know you fully, but when you do it is rewarding. Community life has given me an environment where I can be vulnerable and through this vulnerability I have been able to learn more about myself through my community members, while simultaneously learning about them. In community everyone is equalized on this front, everyone is vulnerable. This exchange of beliefs, quirks, secrets, stories, likes, dislikes, intellect, ideologies, is symbiotic. I have discovered parts of myself I would never have found if I had not opened up to my community and welcomed their perspectives. Community makes you vulnerable, but through this openness with your community comes the creation of a fortifying sense of security and safety through the bonds built in between you and your community members. After all, they are the ones that can truly relate to what is going on in your life, know you truly, have seen your ups and downs, and will always support you whether you are making a major life decision or contemplating what flavor ice cream you want.

 

Casey Papuga

Chulucanas, Peru 2014

Tags:

Internationals 2014

Trust: Let go and Let God...

by b.lemke / 15. May 2014 06:40

Trust: Let go and Let God…..

I began my year as an AV strongly believing that I was following God’s plan for me. The moment when I opened my acceptance e-mail I felt my heart scream out, YES! My life has had some bumps and turns, but I have faith that I am on the right path. Arriving at my work site, HELP of Ojai, a social services agency, I felt closer to God than I ever have before. HELP works to meet the basic needs of the community, so here I am following Christ’s teachings every day: clothing, feeding, and loving the poor. I experience God every day at my work site through my clients and my co-workers. Many clients quote scripture to me and express their gratitude for the Lord’s love even when they are dealing with great hardships. HELP is not a religiously affiliated organization, and I do not tell many of my clients about my own faith, so it is very interesting how often they tell me about their faith. Even when people are not talking about their faith, I witness it as my co-workers sort out how to help our clients without enabling them, so that their lives can truly be improved. It’s like we are constantly trying to sort out the proper way to love our clients so that our resources are used to efficiently help the most people. Yet we cannot fully know what the outcome of our assistance will be. Therefore, as my boss Karen tells me, as social workers, our job is not to judge our clients when they live so differently than we do. Honestly, this can be really hard sometimes when I just want someone to do what I think is best for him or her. I genuinely want the best for my clients and it can be frustrating when they make choices that set them back. This is where my faith is challenged; if I believe that God has a plan for me, then I need to believe that I am doing all that God has intended me to be doing at this time.  So when I am working constantly to help my clients, and that only does so much- I must have faith that God will take care of the rest - some way, somehow - and I may not ever know about it. Trust. I am learning to Trust in God more deeply. I see so many people who I am unable to help as much as I want to due to our limited resources, or circumstances which are just out of my control. When I feel sad or frustrated by this, I remind myself that I am doing all that I can right now and that must be what God wants from me. Trusting in God over these past months has given me the strength to stay positive and not get too down about the sad circumstances I hear about each day. Yes, I still think about my clients when I leave the office but I pray for them instead of worry about them. In the last month I have really been able to let go and let God’s will be done. A weight has been lifted off of my shoulders as I come to fully realize that we are not in this alone - and as I walk more lightly, I am able to move more freely and work more efficiently to serve my clients. 

Bridget Lemke 

Ventura, CA 2013-2014

 

Tags:

Domestics 2013-2014

Like MasterCard, This Year is Priceless

by l.heurich / 25. April 2014 07:24

If I did my math correctly, then I have been working at Merrimack College for a little longer than 230 days--less than two-thirds of a year. If I did my math correctly for a second time, then I have a little more than 55 days left at Merrimack—less than two months. In the last 230 days, I have traveled more than 640 miles in one three-day weekend with seven students to do service in Philadelphia. In the last 230 days, I helped to organize the Thanksgiving Basket Drive which succeeded in bringing in 90 complete Thanksgiving dinners for families in need. In the last 230 days, I helped to organize the Christmas Gift Card Drive which collected over 25 gift cards for at-risk youths. In the last 230 days, I organized the Alternative Spring Break program which sent out five trips and 59 Merrimack students and staff members to places like the Bronx and West Virginia. In the last 230 days, I have traveled over 636 miles with nine other members of the Merrimack community to serve at the Romero Center in Camden for Alternative Spring Break. In the past 230 days, I have sent out 398 tweets and have Instagrammed 69 photos on behalf of the Campus Ministry social media accounts (shameless plug to follow us: @MC_GODisLOVE). In the past 230 days, I have logged over 125 service hours at five different service sites with 49 students through our weekly service program.

When I reflect on the numbers, I feel accomplished. Yet these are not the highlights of my time as the Augustinian Volunteer in the Grace J. Palmisano Center for Campus Ministry at Merrimack College. My greatest joy this year has stemmed from the relationships that I have built with various members of the Merrimack community and the surrounding communities where we serve.

Ministering to students and serving alongside students has created strong bonds. The students who come to and through our office are passionate, dedicated, caring, funny, genuine, and well-rounded young men and women. When some of our first year students were interested in starting a meditation group through our office, they made it happen. When some of our second year students were interested in adding weekend service days, they made it happen. It has been a pleasure to be alongside these students for part of their journey through the college experience. At times, they are the ones who are ministering to me.

As the organizer and a participant of our weekly service program, I have also been able to form relationships in unexpected places. If in the beginning of this year, you had told me that some of the people I would become closest with this year included a brother and sister pair from the Boys and Girls Club or a middle-aged women with disabilities or a fourth-grader from Lawrence Catholic Academy I probably would have laughed in your face. Yet something special has formed at each of these service sites where I spend most of my afternoons.  

Rarely does my job seem like a job because I am learning, serving, laughing, praying and living alongside my brothers and sisters. These relationships are immeasurable.  I cannot put a number to the laughs and tears I have shared with others. I cannot count the ways in which I have grown and the ways in which I have seen others grow. The next 55 days at Merrimack will continue to tick by, but this experience has been priceless. 

Lizzy Heurich 

Lawrence, MA 2013-2014

Tags:

Domestics 2013-2014

Who knew homework could be so fun?

by a.monaco / 14. April 2014 06:38

Yes, I did mean to write homework. When I think about my favorite moments from this year, the moments during which I’ve experienced the most joy and affirmation of my call to serve as an Augustinian Volunteer, I’m always reminded of my afternoons spent helping the children of Hogar Infantil La Gloria with their homework.

Homework time is chaotic. It’s full of lots of shouting, groaning, and pencils and paper flying through the air, as about 5-10 children gather around the table, eager to get back outside to play or make it to fútbol practice ASAP. And so it begins—the math, the science, the history, the reading, and the dreaded English. On a good day, only one or two of the kids with whom I work will cry, as they struggle to comprehend the material they’re learning and stay focused in spite of their burning desires to do absolutely anything else besides homework. Every afternoon brings some sort of disagreement. “Stop running around the room, Eliseo, and sit down and start your homework with me.” “Yukari, are you listening to me? Don’t worry about what your older sister is doing right now.” “I know you have fútbol in 10 minutes, Cruz, but we need to study this vocabulary for your test tomorrow.”

For every five minutes of work we do, we spend at least another five minutes talking about the events of the school day, what’s inside my backpack…pretty much any and every topic that can serve as a brief distraction from our task at hand. It’s a chorus of “I can’t do this”, “I don’t understand”, “I don’t care”. Sounds pretty miserable for all parties involved, right?

Wrong. For it is during these few hours of battling with the kids and their frustrations and impatience and my own lack of knowledge about teaching that I experience the simplest and purest forms of happiness, of love and appreciation. Like the time that Roberto, a second grader who, without fail, bursts into tears every time I work with him, ran up to me hours later to thank me for my help after we’d spent an hour doing English. I don’t know which was better—the thank you I received or the look of total satisfaction on Roberto’s face when he had finally gotten the last answer right on his practice quiz.

Or the time that Yoselin, a sixth grader who has never completely warmed up to me, let me spend just one afternoon helping her whiz through every subject. That smile on Yoselin’s face as I spoke in awe of her intelligence was the best smile I’ve ever seen.

And the time that I sat with the fourth graders doing set after set of multiplication problems with them. During that hour, tedious math homework transformed into the most fun activity ever, as we sat encouraging one another and laughing about how much faster they finished their problems than I could.

These are the moments that make all of the fighting, frustration and defeat worthwhile. That homework room has become my sanctuary, the place where I feel God’s presence most vividly. Because for just a few minutes, we aren’t a 22-year-old American woman and a 7-year-old Mexican boy trying desperately to connect despite a language barrier and two totally different backgrounds. Rather, we are just two kindred spirits, helping one another to develop a real sense of self-confidence as we attend to and express our appreciation for one another, enabling each other to realize just a little more fully how special, how loved and how capable we both truly are.

Angela Monaco

San Diego, CA 2013-2014

Tags:

Domestics 2013-2014

Tomalo con calma.

by t.teofilo / 26. March 2014 10:09

As an international volunteer, I wasn't officially told what my service site would be until days before leaving the country. Two months in, I am still finding new responsibilities and titles almost daily. Officially I work at Central Pastoral, the health center headquarters for Chulucanas and the surrounding parishes/cities. Medicine is something I am passionately interested in, so coming in knowing I was working in some aspect of the medical field has made it very easy to maintain an open mind.

Every day I go into work 97% unsure of what the day will bring. I love it. It keeps excitement and anticipation rolling even after the initial “new volunteer” excitement slowly fades away. The plethora of assignments and responsibilities is what I really love about my service site. Some days I serve a nurse roll, checking blood pressures and sugars, wrapping wounds and offering advice. Other days I am a pharmacist organizing and distributing medicine to patients who come in with prescriptions. Still other days I am a social worker visiting the hospital to see children in need of surgeries whom I will represent and apply to try and get them funding. Finally I am a teacher, working to teach English to seminarians and college students who want so badly to learn the language.

But the bottom line is I get actual contact with real patients. I get to see the ailments and hear them talk about their symptoms. Some days are really hard, and that is another reason I love this job. Through the challenge, I know I am learning and growing with each and every day. Every single person I have worked with has given me a blessing of thanks and praise for taking the time to work with them. I am not even a medical professional and they are thanking me? This keeps me going and makes me want to do more. I don’t feel like I have done enough, and I want to make a difference in the lives of these selfless and gracious people that deserve it.

Sometimes the unknown is scary but this experience is making me truly appreciate it and remember it is a blessing nonetheless. Chulucanas has welcomed me into their city, their home. My working staff welcomes me to work with them every single day, even though they are the professionals. When I am having a hard time understanding they simply say, "Tomalo con calma" - be cool; don't worry about it. They take the time to explain everything to me and make me feel included and a part of the team. I am the lucky one, who is seeing my life and perspective change before my eyes. I can only hope I can give back to them half of the mark they have already left on me.

Tina Teofilo

Chulucanas, Peru 2014

Tags:

Internationals 2014

Planting the seeds: a practice in embracing the uncomfortable

by e.thompson / 9. March 2014 20:27

As I dial in to the school’s PA system, I hear my voice echo in the loud speaker: “Attention Villanova, Campus Ministry will now be praying the rosary at the Grotto. If you would like to join, please meet at the Grotto now.”

I hang up the phone, grab my rosary, and walk with purpose toward the heart of campus, where the Grotto stands, shining in the fading light of the afternoon sun. As I approach, I see that the space around the Grotto is unoccupied. I wait several minutes, and when nobody comes along, I begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

My demeanor is a far cry from the first time that I prayed the rosary at Villanova Prep. In the beginning, I approached this weekly Thursday ritual with an equal mixture of hesitancy and reluctance. It bothered me, to be seen praying so publicly, right in the middle of campus. I remember the uneasy, self-conscious feeling perfectly. I felt so vulnerable, so exposed. As people walked by, both students and faculty alike, I wondered, what do they think? 

Learning to be more open and honest about my faith has been one of the most significant, yet rewarding, challenges I’ve faced in my AV year. While the importance of my faith is no secret to those who know me, my position as Campus Minister at Villanova Prep has pushed me to express, explain, and at times, defend, my faith in ways that I never have before. While I don’t want to force it on them, I also can’t shy away. Part of my job is to (gently) challenge their way of thinking, to coax them out of their comfort zones so that they can be stretched and molded.  In order to reach kids, sometimes it requires a certain amount of awkward moments and uncomfortable conversations. Sometimes they go well, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it feels like they aren’t listening or “getting it,” and that’s okay. As Mother Teresa once said, “God does not call us to be successful; he calls us to be faithful.” We are workers in the field, and we may never know the fruits of the seeds we plant, be we still must plant them. 

Sometimes I wonder, what am I doing here? Who am I to these kids? What kind of impact can I make, only being here for one school year? What reason do they have to listen to me? But I realize that I have to plant those seeds, and just trust that someone, somewhere, will cultivate them. That is part of having faith. I cannot hold back because of the fear of being judged, rejected, or dismissed. Why should I be embarrassed by my faith? It is important to me. It is real, and true, and it is who I am. I have nothing to be ashamed of, and neither do the kids that I serve. What better way to encourage them in their faith then to be confident and unabashed in practicing my own?  

As I move to the last decade of the rosary, a freshmen boy approaches me. “Miss Thompson, can I pray with you?” he asks. “Yes,” I reply, handing him a rosary.  My window of opportunity may be small, but that’s all the more reason to make the most of it. 

Emily Thompson

Ventura, CA 2013-2014

Tags:

Domestics 2013-2014

The Power of Presence

by a.dimarco / 8. March 2014 11:38

On a cold snowy day in Chicago, it allows for a perfect time to relax and reflect on my service year so far.  There have been many joys to this year with my community, friends, and my service site.  Working at an all male high school in the heart of the Southside brings me back to my high school days and it has been great to interact with the students and share my volunteer year with them.  Like anything, there are many ups and downs, good times and bad times, challenges and successes with my service site.  With my job, I have a few different responsibilities ranging from Campus Ministry work to Student Activities; but I see my most important responsibility being my greatest joy and that is my ministry of presence.

There is a lot that goes on in any given school day for the faculty and staff as well as for the students.  The students are challenged daily in the classroom, school activities, and athletics; leaving them at times stressed and overwhelmed.  Many times the students just need someone to talk too, someone that will listen and if need be to give advice.  That is where I find the greatest joy in my job.  I am able to be there for the students when they need a listening ear and to talk too and it is great when the students come up to me and just asks to talk.  I spend time in every lunch period where I am able to interact with them in a different setting and create a more personal relationship with countless students.

Along with the students, I have been able to connect with many of the schools faculty and staff.  At times I have been able to be a listening ear for them and for someone just to simply talk too.  The combination of this has been a blessing for me, as I love getting to know people and talking to them about anything and everything.  I greatly enjoy getting to know the students at a deeper level and certainly look forward to the last few months of my time as an Augustinian Volunteer and my presence of ministry.

Andrew DiMarco

Chicago, IL 2013-2014

Tags:

Domestics 2013-2014

28th Street

by d.mckiernan / 19. February 2014 09:01

As we turn off the last light, lock the school doors, and walk out gazing at the San Diego evening sky, another school day at Holy Family School has ended for Molly and I. My mind begins to race as I try to process everything that the school day had in store for me. I am overwhelmed with the emotions of excitement, exhaustion and thankfulness. We are both quiet as we enter the car and head home to the rest of our community on 28th Street. Not really knowing where to begin or how to express myself, Molly says “so tell me about your day.” I begin to tell her about the ups and downs, the triumphs and failures, the moments of excitement and times of frustration. This overwhelming feeling begins to fade as we continue to communicate these emotions and listen to one another’s struggles and successes of our day. Having this simple support system has created an atmosphere of trust that is comforting.

This support system expands throughout my entire community. I have five community members to laugh and cry with, to pray and eat with, to share moments of joy and sorrows with, to be inspired by and be motivated with, but most importantly to care for and to love with. I am so fortunate for my community while they have challenged and allowed me to grow in many ways.

My community has challenged me to learn how to become intentional in my thoughts, actions, and prayers. When moments arise in my volunteer experience, whether at my service site, in my community, or elsewhere, I have been able to overcome these obstacles through the support of my community. Living with this intention has allowed me to put my best foot forward in whatever task might be at hand. Allowing me to focus on the present while not worrying about what may be in my horizon. In both my service work and community life, I have learned to mature from my mistakes while not rescinding from them. Instead of ignoring my mistakes, I have grown to intentionally evaluate them while learning to keep moving forward no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

My spirituality has also grown since living in community. Having a strong and steady prayer life with my community has helped me continue to develop my faith journey. Regularly leading prayer challenges me to experience new ways of praying while also maintaining a consistency that is crucial for my continual growth. My faith has also become my motivator, which enables me to appreciate my achievements while also valuing my struggles. I am learning that it is those moments of struggle, that I have seen the most growth in myself.

As I hear the annoying rattling and ringing sound next to my ear, I start to wake up. Its 6:00 am and the sun is just about to peak through my blinds. Today is a new day, a new experience to learn and grow from the mistakes I made yesterday and persevere through the challenges that today may bring. It is through the everyday intention, inspiration, and support of my community that has challenged me to develop my character and guide my faith.

Dan McKiernan

San Diego, CA 2013-2014

Tags:

Domestics 2013-2014

Seven-Day Forecast

by k.crawford / 15. January 2014 19:41

January, in my mind, has always been a month of bitter cold, mittens, frost-covered windshields, and snowballs.  Perhaps that is why San Diego "winter" weather still puzzles and excites me.  Nearly everyday, the sun shines brightly over the blacktop courtyard of St. Patrick's Elementary School.  Its rays stretch across each part of the asphalt-whether the ground is covered with cones, hockey sticks, kickballs, or baseball bats.  The pavement has become my office, classroom, play space, and teaching area.  As the Physical Education Instructor and Computer Technology Teacher at St. Pat's, the blacktop is where I am most comfortable, where I see children laugh, play, and (let us not forget!) skin their knees. 

Despite their occasional, minor lacerations, the students bring a palpable energy level to each day.  From the moment I arrive on my bike, kindergartners and eighth-graders alike ask, "Ms. C, what are we going to play for PE today?"  To them, each day is new.  Each day is different.  Each day has promise.  Working with children, I'm privileged to witness and encourage that promise, to watch it spread across a smiling face, a thoughtful response, a creative, double-spaced, Times-New-Roman assignment.

One particular afternoon, the blacktop was being occupied by the massive 6th and 7th grade football game of the century.  Some of the sixth-grade girls were staring blankly at the game, their eyes glazed over like they were ready to slip into a deep hypnosis.  I suggested that we spend the rest of class in the Parish Hall while the boys and Middle School teachers played football.  The girls shrieked with excitement and sprinted to the door of the hall.  For the next 30 minutes, we created and practiced a choreographed dance number to One Direction's "Best Song Ever."  (The number was employed later that night at the Junior High Halloween dance :)

There are a few things that struck me about that day.  First, that middle schoolers are in complete awe and utter shock that someone over the age of eleven could possibly recognize the members/songs of One Direction.  Second, that scheduling and lesson-planning are vital to class structure, but sometimes, spontaneity is just as necessary.  Third, that each girl was able to dance, sing, and have fun just as she was.  That may seem pretty straightforward, I know, but their example in the hall made me laugh, sing, and dance like I was a kid again, too.  They were full of life that day- Straightforward?...I call that pretty incredible.  

In the morning, I hear carefree giggles- in the afternoon, deliberate stretch-counting.  I encounter six-year-olds wise beyond their years.  I teach ten-year-olds who want to be architects and teachers.  I see the faces of the future.  Lucky for me, they're the faces of my present.  These children, passionately expressing their hopes and dreams whether in football or dancing, have been remarkable to encounter.  They are more remarkable than any seven-day forecast of San Diego sun could ever be.

Kathryn Crawford 
San Diego, CA 2013-2014

Tags:

Domestics 2013-2014

Advent: Week 4

by Alumni / 21. December 2013 22:20

(Readings here)

I spend more time than your average person in fast food restaurants and coffee shops. Not to disparage any of you who enjoy some McDonald’s fries or a Starbucks cappucino, but I don’t eat there. I spend most of my time there taking notes.

You see, for my job, usually once or twice a week, I go to meet a respondent from the research study that I work on. Our respondents have recently been released from state prison. When we ask them for a good place to meet, the location is usually a coffee shop or a golden arches – some place where the manager won’t be upset at us monopolizing a table for an hour.

In the hour of our meeting, I ask our respondents all sorts of very personal questions – who they were with for every waking hour of the past week, how much money they made last month, what they spent it on, who they confide in, whether they experienced abuse or witnessed violence growing up. Their responses are audio recorded, and myself and another interviewer take copious notes. I am often amazed by how open our respondents are willing to be (though not all of them are). It is a real privilege to have their trust, and to hear their stories.

The stories these men and women share are deeply human – stories of loving parents, and of absent ones; stories of accomplishment, and of failure; stories of support, and of abuse; stories of opportunity, and of prejudice; stories of violence, and of healing. Many look as though they could be students at my school – fashionable, self-possessed, confident. Others fit a more stereotypical image of ex-prisoners. All have experienced far more than our questionnaire can elicit.

At the end of every interview, we always ask the same question: “Could you tell us why you decided to continue to participate in the study?”

The answer, often, is some variation of the following:

“It’s nice that you guys are willing to listen. I hope it helps somebody.”

 

In this week’s Gospel reading, Joseph was presented with a situation: a pregnant fiancée, a potential scandal. He didn’t want to cause her shame, but assumed she’d been unfaithful, so he planned to divorce her quietly. He was being charitable. But he hadn’t listened, or maybe he hadn’t asked. It took an angel for him to hear the other side of the story - Mary’s story. And it is compelling and glorious that he did listen, eventually.  

Taking the time to listen, with the men and women in the study, is just my job. I try to do it with compassion; to understand, without judgment. I don’t, often, take this same care with others in my life. I don’t think I’m alone in that. But listening to someone’s story, asking rather than assuming, is one of the most dignifying things I think we can do for another person. It is deeply humbling. During my time with the AVs, my housemates helped me to cultivate the patience to listen, to soak in the stories of the people we were fortunate enough to meet in the Bronx. They, and our neighbors, helped me re-imagine what the Bronx was, what that community was. The men and women in the study have helped me re-imagine “ex-cons”. I hope we all can try to listen better, and to see more opportunities to listen, to re-imagine the communities we live in, and those you will return to.

 

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, and a joyous New Year.

 

Kendra Bradner

AV Alum, Bronx, NY 2008-2009

 

Questions for further reflection:

How much time do you take to listen to other's stories? How often do you share your own story?

Have there been times when you judged someone based on their past?

How can we become more compassionate and understanding this Advent?

Tags:

Alumni

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