Voices of the City

by b.larose / 15. May 2015 15:48

Philadelphia VIP is a nonprofit legal service agency. At VIP I have worked with a variety of clients seeking assistance with a multitude of legal problems. I have been honored to hear the stories of so many lives. I’ve witnessed family reunions in our office, and seen the pride that comes when a client has finally signed their name on a deed giving them title to a home they have lived in for twenty years. I have even signed as a witness to these documents- leaving my mark on Philly forever!

I spend a large amount of each day calling clients and gathering information on their lives. I obtain documents from city hall, and pull dockets from online portals, and most importantly I ask extensive questions. Through these questions and documents I am able to catch a glimpse of my client’s life. Although I work with some clients longer than others, a relationship of trust is always built and managed. As a case progresses I start to look for a volunteer attorney to carry out the legal work that needs to be done for the client. Once a volunteer generously accepts my client’s case, I have the privilege of calling the client to let them know.

The joy in my clients’ voices makes all of the work that has taken to build their case worth it. I look forward to each and every one of these calls I make. At a time when it feels like I am giving something to the client, they are actually giving something to me. Each call giving a client good news makes up for any struggle or challenge that I am facing that day. It is a reminder that the work being done at VIP is so important and life changing and that I am a part of that work. That reminder, given by the client to me, gives me the motivation to wake up and go back to work day after day.

As my volunteer year is coming to an end, I carry worth a vast array of new knowledge and life skills. I am forever grateful to the clients who have challenged me and encouraged me. I am humbled to be surrounded by such an amazing group of colleagues and astounding number of eager and open hearted volunteers. I leave with the confidence that Philadelphia VIP is changing the world, one client at a time. 

 

Brittany LaRose

Philadelphia, PA (2014-2015)

Tags:

Domestics 2014-2015

Standing at the Margins, Sitting down for Dinner

by m.bucaria / 4. May 2015 20:00
Each Wednesday the volunteers at Many Meals gather to pray before serving dinner to the 150 or so guests who assemble for dinner. The volunteers rarely change, except from the four or five students from St. Bonaventure High School who signed up to fulfill their service hours by working that week. Although these students differ weekly, their contributions at our post-project group reflection rarely change.

The students are moved by the guests’ cheerfulness and gratitude, are inspired by the volunteers who go week after week, and are thankful that such a program exists. As of last week I have brought students on 25 different Wednesdays, and even after that many Many Meals I am still stirred by this indigestibly profound experience. I have learned a lot while refilling glasses with punch or getting seconds of shepherd’s pie, but the most impactful morsel I have taken away is this: “I smile because I don’t have any reason to frown.”

Sue tells me this as she gives me a hug hello. She stops to greet everyone she sees on the way to her usual table with a hug, and one week I comment on how happy she is. She shrugs and tells me that she hugs because she’s happy, and she’s happy because she has no reason not to be. Sue sometimes struggles to be understood because a developmental disability affects her muscular control, including her speech. Although her speech sometimes challenges the listener, her smile never does.

By Wednesday afternoon, I’m usually pretty tired. I love St. Bonaventure High School and I love facilitating its Christian Service Program, but high schoolers can be – and usually are – exhausting. We participate in various types of service projects ranging from community garden cleanups to Special Olympics tournaments, but few energize and inspire both me and the students like Many Meals does.

Guests like Sue who always smiles, Peter who loves talking with teachers for their “stunning intellect” (how he confused me in this category I’ll never know), and Justice who may be the happiest baby I’ve ever met all shape Many Meals and make it unique. Unlike some assistance programs which merely pile on a tray and send people to quickly eat by themselves, Many Meals offers the community of a dinner table and the hospitality of a home… to 150 people from all corners of the community.

While chaperoning a group of students who went to LA Youth Day in March, I had the privilege of listening to the keynote speaker Fr. Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. He said that if we stand long enough with those at the margins, “we’ll notice the margins disappearing under our feet.” By encountering our neighbors who we may otherwise never meet, the students encounter the truer reality of what their community actually looks like and what their role in that can be.

When Wednesday at 5:15 (well, 5:20 since I’m usually running late) strikes, I’m definitely the most tired I will be that week, because after leaving Many Meals at 7:30 I am energized, inspired, and motivated to meet any challenges that the rest of the week and weekend may offer. Likewise, because of experiences like Many Meals, as my volunteer year draws to a close I feel energized to take this year worth of lessons with me to whatever comes next.

Mike Bucaria
Ventura, CA 2014-2015

Tags:

Domestics 2014-2015

The Power of Children

by t.keefer / 13. April 2015 18:52

As I was getting ready to head into my volunteer year, I was pretty excited at the chance to work in a parochial elementary school. My own experience as a student in a parochial elementary was awesome, and I wanted to see what it was like from the other side, as a teacher. Little did I know that working in a grade school would be one of the most joyous experiences of my life.

 

This has been a tough year for my family, and being away from them has not been easy. Two of the biggest male influences of my life, my uncle and grandfather passed away within four months of each other. My uncle’s death was early in my volunteer year, September, and just as it seemed I was beginning to get comfortable at St. Augustine’s in Andover, I found myself on a train home wondering if I was going to be able to continue this year knowing the rest of my family would be miles and miles away mourning. On my first day back at school after being home for two weeks, I wasn’t sure what to expect and was nervous that the students would not respond well to my absence. I kept thinking to myself, “Should I be here right now?” My mom had just lost her youngest sibling and I wanted to be able to comfort her as much as I could. As these thoughts pondered in my head on the ride to work that morning, my answer came within a matter of seconds as soon as I walked into the schoolyard for morning prayer. A second grader named Emma ran up to me and immediately threw her arms around me as she shouted “Mr. Keefer I missed you!” She was quickly followed by a high-pitched voiced that came from a kindergartener named Kendall as she said “I’m so glad you’re back!” After her there was Sophia and Ben from first grade, Lauren from third grade, all the eighth grade boys whom I try to influence the best way I possibly can as they look up to me as a role model, and countless other students who made me feel right at home. That 15 minute period in the school yard before morning prayer took place completely erased any doubts I had about not continuing my volunteer year. It also would make my Grandfather’s passing that much more bearable.

 

The power of children is indescribable. They look at the world with such wonder, such beauty, such excitement. I find myself learning more and more from them each day than them learning from me. As soon as I walk into that school yard each morning, my mood is instantly changed positively and any tiredness is quickly turned into high energy. The students at St. Augustine have changed my life and I hope that when my year is over, they remember me well because they will be in my thoughts and heart for the rest of my life. 

 

Tom Keefer

Lawrence, MA 2014-2015

Tags:

Domestics 2014-2015

Kissing Dirt

by k.vanspankeren / 30. March 2015 22:25

Recently I began practicing an equally beautiful and difficult part of my day, the “Heroic Minute.” In these few moments of the morning, Saint Jose Maria Escriva challenges us to conquer our flesh by winning the first battle of the day: getting out of bed. When my alarm sounds, I do my best to sit up, recite my daily prayer to St. Rose of Lima, and get out of bed and onto my hands and knees to kiss the floor. In kissing the floor I am reminded that Jesus walked the very same ground that I am touching with my lips. I am moved to gratefulness; I am moved to service. I am humbled at the very beginnings of my day.

I have kissed a lot of floors in the past few months. From Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago, to crazy places on a family RV trip, and all the way to South America, I have been pursing God in this journey of mortification. I fail more times than none, but Blessed Mother Teresa reminds us that we are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful.

I have even kissed a variety of floors here in Chulucanas. The floor at the obispado where we stayed for a week was clean and cold; the one in my current bedroom in our community home is dusted with crumbs and holes like craters. In between these in the month of February, I had the great privilege and joy to live with a family. Pelao, Socorro, Anabel, y Rafaela welcomed me with hearts wide open and an amazing generosity I had never experienced before. I soon found myself in this foreign, intimidating place with new, caring family. I found myself with love.

Love in these days with the Mendoza’s also meant something very new to me: kissing dirt. The floor in my bedroom was the same floor that extended outside the walls of my home. My floor was dirt. When I first went to get on my hands and knees and put my face to the ground, I stopped in awe. I was shocked. I was confused. I was scared. This moment is only an example of the various times I have felt this way in Peru. From buying raw chicken from a woman on the street, to understanding the Peruvian school system as a teacher, to building a new life with two strangers-turned-community-members, I am uncomfortable to say the least. No matter how many times I do it, transition is hard for me. It’s like kissing dirt.

I think God asks us to kiss the dirt. He asks us to intimately embrace the exigent, the daunting, the painful, because He is inviting us to greatness. He offers to teach us real joy that comes through suffering, through getting uncomfortable, awkward, and vulnerable. In this way, He encourages us to know and trust His Son. I am recently trying to greet God with a smiling heart in all these circumstances, for I feel His strong and gentle hands holding me through these mysterious challenges. I also know that the day arrives when you become grateful for the dirt. The day arrives when the dirt becomes beautiful. The dirt becomes love. It may even become your home.

Kristin Van Spankeren

Chulucanas, Peru, 2015

Tags:

Internationals 2015

Comfort zone? Where?

by a.macdonald / 22. March 2015 22:30

My heart was beating fast. My hands were clammy. I was caught up in my own thoughts. 

These are all symptoms, I have discovered, of being outside of my comfort zone. Some people hate these feelings, some thrive off of them. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I love putting myself in new situations as it is an opportunity to learn, but I am always concerned how I am doing. These symptoms first showed up during my phone interview a year ago with the Augustinian Volunteers. The interview must have gone well because in August, I was off to a new city with new roommates and a new job. My comfort zone was nowhere to be seen. My heart was racing on the way to the airport, until I heard the comfort of my favorite song, Let it Be. It immediately reminded me to welcome the new change and embrace my decision to stray from the norm. 

The symptoms quickly disappeared when my roommates went from strangers to friends.  Don't get me wrong, we still took a while to get to know each other, but these girls have undoubtedly seen me at my most vulnerable, something that I normally try to avoid around new people.  While we were getting used to our jobs and being away from home we relied heavily on each other for support. It was comforting knowing there were people near that were going through the same process as me. 

I wasn't surprised to feel my heart race and my mind wander the morning of my first day at work. Starting a new job is intimidating for most people. ADROP has been an incredible experience for me. From day one I have felt welcome and appreciated for the work that I do. Not everyone is so lucky. 

Last Sunday I found these symptoms resurface. It was an average Sunday, the girls and I found ourselves at 7pm mass but something was different. Something was causing my hear to race, my hands to get clammy. I was a going to be a lector for the first time. I could have finished my year in the comfort of the pew we sit in each week. I could continue with my normal routine at work without pushing myself to make an impact. I could have kept a happy-go-lucky facade around my roommates to avoid being vulnerable. Yet I do none of these things. I find myself somewhere in the middle of loving and hating being outside of my comfort zone. It is out here that I learn and grow most. It is out here that I find the strength in my faith and presence of God.

Abby MacDonald

Philadelphia, PA 2014-2015

Tags:

Domestics 2014-2015

Help! My Rabbits Are Still Peeing Blood.

by m.mccormick / 8. March 2015 18:54

It’s a Friday, and the phones are ringing like mad. It seems everyone in Ojai Valley has a crisis, and my boss Karen has been shooting all over town in the Ferrari (nickname of her rickety Ford pickup), doing her best to put out the fires.

 

We’re holding down the fort at the Community Assistance Program (the only social services site in the valley), but there's a full moon tonight and things are reaching critical mass. There are no slow days in social work, but this one is extra hectic – our clients face evictions, medical emergencies, and other calamities.

 

Karen is the captain of this ship, and she’s trained her crew well. That being said, we’re rudderless without her, and it shows as we scramble to get our passengers into the right lifeboats.

 

Todd’s balancing two food boxes on his shoulders, tiptoeing over the toddlers who play on the floor by Alicia, who’s filling out a rental assistance form in Spanish for the mom, who’s handing birth certificate copies to Whitney, who’s sprinting past Paula, who’s pacifying a full waiting-room… who all want to know, is Karen in yet???

 

The phone rings – it’s Karen! 

 

“Hi, Mick-Mack!” she shouts. 

 

Something’s happening with a Vietnam vet, a refrigerator, and a bag of tomatoes… but there’s a siren in the background and I don’t quite get it all.

 

“Back in a while,” she says.

 

In the meantime, we offer everyone the chance to leave a note with name, number and message on Karen’s desk, with the promise that we will consult and help as soon as possible. Some understand, others are disappointed.

 

One of the harsher truths at a walk-in center is that not every emergency has a same-day fix, but I try to remember what Karen says – “We didn’t cause the problem, Mick-Mack, we just do our best to help fix it.”

 

So I press on, knowing that we’ll do just that. It’s late in the day when our fearless leader finally walks through the door and hugs us all.

 

“Wow,” she says of the messages on her desk. She won’t get to them all in the half-hour remaining, but she flips through anyway. The notes are serious – people need help with food stamps, tuition, funeral services, etc. Then, a single note at the bottom sends Karen into a fall-down riot. 

 

No name. No number. Just this: “Karen, Help! My rabbits are still peeing blood.”

 

The stress of the day combined with the absurdity of the message puts us all into hysterics. What rabbits? Why are they still peeing blood??? 

 

As it turns out, the message was from someone who heard about our ARF grant (animal rescue fund), and would make total sense within the proper context.

 

But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that these people I work with are special souls –they can weather the storm of every desperate circumstance, use every God-given talent to solve our clients’ crises, and still, at the end of the day, have the lightness of heart to find humor in the absurd.

 

I wouldn’t want to be serving anywhere else.

 

Mikey McCormick

Ventura, CA 2014-2015

Tags:

Domestics 2014-2015

Inspiration (ft. Ariana Grande)

by d.callahan / 7. March 2015 16:55

As a teacher, my goal in life is to never stop learning. I certainly have not stopped learning since I’ve arrived in San Diego, and quite frankly I have gotten more than my moneys worth in life lessons since arriving in California six months ago.  

 

Working at a Catholic school and living in community provides more than its fair share of funny stories, triumphs, and challenges, along with some ah-ha moments sprinkled in.  When presented with the assignment of blogging it was extremely difficult to pin down what I wanted to write about.  After some internal deliberation I decided to write about a seemingly small moment that has inspired me to be a better teacher and a better person.

 

It happened in the teachers’ lunchroom one day. All 7 of us teachers sat in our usual spots around the oval table and chatted as we usually do at lunchtime.  Somehow the conversation turned to Ariana Grande (I know this may sound strange, but just stick with me here). For those of you not familiar with Ariana Grande, she is a pop singer (I think!).  It was then that one of my co-workers, Molly, mentioned how she didn’t really like Ariana Grande. She did not go on a rant, but simply said made a small comment about her. One of my fellow teachers, Debbie, looked puzzled and asked , “hey, wait...who is Ariana Grande?” After we explained that she was a singer, Debbie replied with relief, saying “Oooh, okay. At first I thought Ariana might have been one of our students, but I knew she couldn’t be because I’ve never heard Molly speak badly about a student.”

 

Wow.

 

Again, I know that still may not seem like a profound or life-changing moment, but in that moment I was taken aback. As a teacher it is just about inevitable that you will become frustrated with a student, or have to vent and spill your frustrations with other teachers. But, in all of Debbie’s years working with Molly, not one time has she heard her say a negative thing about a student. Debbie’s comment made me really take a look at myself and what kind of person and teacher I want to be.  When people ask about me, what would they say? Would they be this shocked if they heard me speak badly about someone? 

 

I have come to see God in co-workers such as Molly and take time to notice their overwhelming love and concern for their students. I see her hug each student as they walk in each day, and hug each one as they leave. In her eyes, no student is a nuisance, or a burden but a child who needs love and encouragement, regardless of their behavior or temperament.  

 

In a world where is it easy to give in, to gossip, to get frustrated, it is refreshing to see and feel God’s love in such an apparent way through Molly and others. It is little moments like these that have shaped this year into a year of seeing God’s love in the most unexpected places.   

 

Danielle Callahan

San Diego, CA 2014-2015

Tags:

Domestics 2014-2015

Belonging to Each Other

by a.rowland / 16. February 2015 12:13

Before I became an Augustinian Volunteer, I held the belief that I would be a champion at community. After all, I lived with my 5 best friends. That is 5 girls who have 5 different personalities and we all still liked each other by the end of it. Doesn’t that make me an expert on community?

Even though I was warned and asked so many questions pertaining to community life in my interviews and conversations with others, I still thought I had a handle on the whole concept. I know, now you’re expecting me to go into a full-blown rant about how hard it’s been and how much I love and hate my community members at the same time (Don’t worry Brittany and Tom…that’s not where I’m going).

Don’t get me wrong, community life hasn’t been easy. Brittany and Tom were strangers to me, and frankly, they could have remained that way. But something really cool happened that I can’t exactly explain when we all walked into this unknown life together. We gave up the selfish parts of ourselves. We decided that we were going to try to do this as a team, try to make ourselves a “community,” whatever that came to mean to us. We were forced to go from “me” to “we” as Fr. Joe told us at orientation. And though we had fair warning of the scope of it all, community inevitably seeped into every aspect of our lives. 

So, community to us has come to mean nightly dinners (most of the time…), 5th grade boys basketball games, Christmas pageants, 7th and 8th grade dances, Thanksgiving morning at a soup kitchen, Thanksgiving dinner at a distant relative’s house, 90 inches of snow (and counting), 2 prayers a week (again, most of the time…), and all of the little and big stuff in between. Mostly, though, we’ve learned how to help and support each other through the hard stuff, and laugh together through the good stuff. 

From all that good stuff and bad stuff, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned how to give myself to others, whether I’ve known them for years or for days. I’ve realized the importance of maintaining the relationships that matter the most to me and that caring, truly caring about someone else’s well-being can mean the world to both parties involved. And these lessons can be applied to much more than just myself and my two community members. 

I stumbled across a quote the other day that I think speaks to our need for community in the world. Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” On both the grandest and smallest scales, we simply live for and with each other. I truly believe that acting as though we are a global, or national, or state-wide, or even neighborhood-sized community can change everything. 

I think back to the moments this year that I’ve struggled. I think to my stresses about my job search and my difficulty adjusting to life here, and I immediately think of the ways my community supported me through those times. I had two people willing to be invested in my struggles too. I have a support system, a place to bounce my crazy ideas off of, two friends to talk with about the issues that really matter. And I would be incredibly disappointed if this setting was the only place I could ever find that. 

Don’t get me wrong, I might be able to do it on my own. It would take longer, maybe hurt more, and certainly be more draining. I think much of our society today believes they can do it on their own. But isn’t it more beautiful when we don’t have to? 

I know that I can’t change the way society works. I know most people I encounter have no idea what an “intentional community” is. But for the sake of my own well-being, I believe I’ll carry the lessons I’ve learned and the support I’ve both given and received on with me in the future because it would certainly be a shame if this was the only setting I was able to find a feeling like this one. 

Amy Rowland
Lawrence, MA 2014-2015 

Tags:

Domestics 2014-2015

Where Are My Clients?

by r.mccarty / 8. February 2015 21:13

I am a member of the Chicago community and am serving at Catholic Charities as an intake and outreach worker for the Family Case Management Program. The program works to help low-income pregnant women and infants remain healthy while connecting them with resources related to housing, employment, education, food, and clothing. 

Although I had no formal training in social work, before coming to Chicago I naively assumed my previous volunteer experience with at-risk populations would adequately prepare me for the work I was to do at my service site. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

In previous volunteer experiences, I had taken for granted the very basic fact that those I was serving were physically present and actively involved. On service break trips throughout college, each week was meticulously organized with maximum possible educational opportunities and interactions between volunteers and the served populations. We were constantly meeting new people and were always graciously received by each unique community. Similarly, during weekly school service experiences throughout high school and college, the children I was helping or tutoring were always conveniently ready and willing to be served. 

It seems silly to write about having the population you’re serving easily accessible and physically available. However, I’ve learned during my time at Catholic Charities that this luxury is not one to be taken for granted. My biggest challenge thus far at my service site has not been the routine day to day assessments, paper work, or research done for clients, but rather the difficulty of physically locating those mothers and infants who could greatly benefit from our program. 

Our office is located in the basement of a WIC nutrition center (Women, Infants, and Children federally funded food supplement program), and we receive many of our referrals of pregnant women and infants directly from upstairs. Best case scenario: the referral would have an active phone number and a current stable address. Realistic scenario: the referral would have a disconnected phone number and an outdated address. As the outreach worker, I am responsible for finding these clients not only because they are eligible, but because being in our program could make a significant difference in their or their baby’s life. 

I attempt to promote our program and enroll clients through phone calls, letters, and cold visits (arriving unannounced to the listed address after previously failed contact attempts). Some weeks the clients are very receptive and answer the phone on the first try. Other weeks I may spend solely in my car driving to different houses, desperately hoping for someone to answer the door. Those kinds of weeks have been particularly difficult for me because I feel such a strong desire to help these women, but I can’t due to the simple fact that I can’t locate them. 

Not having clients physically present has proven to be one unforeseen challenge for which I don’t think other service experiences could have prepared me. However, this challenge has helped me become a more patient and determined volunteer. It has also has taught me the importance of being compassionate, generous, and emotionally present for those clients who genuinely do want to participate in the program. It has made me realize that serving others takes more drive and tenacity; more optimism and creativity; and more kindness and patience than I ever knew I had. 

Rosie McCarty

Chicago, IL 2014-2015

Tags:

Domestics 2014-2015

Who's Teaching Who?

by m.madden / 27. January 2015 21:19

For the past five months, I have been volunteering at Our Mother of Sorrows/St. Ignatius school in West Philadelphia, working as a teachers aide in the first grade classroom. The school is made up of two campuses only a mile apart, grades 5-8 are at Our Mother of Sorrows, while Pre-K through 4 are at St. Ignatius. The school provides underprivileged families with a quality, faith-based education for their children. One of the main goals of the school is to encourage its students to achieve their greatest potential in a world that has offered them less than most, which I’ve observed to be absolutely remarkable. 

Growing up, my parents always reminded me of how grateful I should be for what God has given to me in my life and appreciating all that I have. Yet, it was not until this year that I fully understood this concept and how fortunate I am. The students I work with every day are like any other kids. They are full of energy, personality, hope, and love. They look forward to recess and dread spelling tests. They tattle, they have tantrums, and they whine. But most importantly, they have dreams. My job is to encourage them to achieve those dreams. It seems like a small task, but for these kids encouragement and praise is a rarity. 

One moment I had with one of my students is one that will stick with me forever. She was having a hard time focusing and I was admittedly getting frustrated with her stubborn attitude. Once my voice expressed this frustration, she broke down in tears. Without looking up from her hands that sat in her lap, she asked if she could talk to me in the hallway. Closing the classroom door behind us, I knelt down to her level and asked her what was wrong, to which she responded “I didn’t sleep much last night. My little brother had a nightmare and my mom wasn’t home because sometimes she gets sad and has us stay with my grandma.” In response, I just took her hands and told her what a great sister she is to her brother and apologized for any agitation I may have shown her. That’s when she reactively hugged me and told me she loved me. I wasn’t sure what was more heart-wrenching; the fact that this 6 year old girl holds so much responsibility at home or how grateful she was for me to listen to what she had to say.  

I cannot begin to explain the impact this experience has had on my self-growth and view of the world. I knew coming into this year of service, I would be venturing outside my comfort zone, however I had no idea how incredible it would be. Seeing the hope and enthusiasm in my students’ faces every day serves as a constant reminder of why I’m here and further assures me I’m making a difference. 

I go to work to teach my students, when in reality my students teach me.

 

Mary Beth Madden

Philadelphia, PA 2014-2015

Tags:

Domestics 2014-2015

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