The Service of Living

by augustinian.volunteers / 5. August 2016 17:57

A few times a year, groups of students from the United States visit Chulucanas for weeklong service trips. Usually, on their first night in Chulucanas my community members and I reflect with them on their initial impressions of the city. We are always eager to hear the students’ observations—after living here for almost 7 months, my community members and I agree that we have become desensitized to the oddities that initially surprised us. For this reason, we love welcoming visitors; through their eyes, it seems like we, too, can see Chulucanas again for the very first time.

When we did this reflection with one of the more recent trips, many of the students’ observations seemed trivial. “I wasn’t expecting all the mototaxis,” one said. Another commented on the stray dogs. One of the boys, in response to seeing humbler homes, said, “It’s really good that we’re here, these people really need us.” 

My immediate response to this student’s observation was to dispute him. “They don’t ‘need’ us!” I wanted to shout. I thought of my Peruvian host mother, Marleny. Marleny is a sassy and generous woman who rarely verbalizes the abundant love she has for her family but who shows it in everything she does. Her love is stewed into the lomo saltado and sudado she slaves over every day in the kitchen. Her love is carved into her face; after years of caring for her own children and now her grandchildren, her eyes are edged with laugh lines, frown lines, and everything in between. And despite her humble home and her lack of access to steady healthcare, it seemed to me that claiming someone like Marleny “needed” any amount of charity was the epitome of western hubris.

In a culture where we need extra-curricular activities to put on college applications and desire proof of being “socially conscious” on our resumes, service has become an entity outside the confines of regular human interaction. It has become something that the privileged must bestow upon the less-privileged. It’s something extra. Something reserved for those who have time or skills to donate, or those who are extra selfless or extra generous. And with this definition comes the tendency to want to see the fruits of our labors. We want to quantify exactly how much we are helping people, or how much change we have affected. Perhaps because we want to feel “needed.” Or perhaps because we just want proof that this extra effort we’re putting in is worth it. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe these views of service lessen the good that is done as a result of it. But I do believe that Chulucanas has changed my definition of what it means to serve. In Peru, I don’t see service as a duty or a necessity. I do not believe that my presence or influence is “needed” by people in Chulucanas. I know that if I were not here, life would continue the way it always has. 

With that in mind, I have found that the most profound service I can offer is the service that I believe every human is indebted to pay to the other. My service in Chulucanas is the flicker of recognition in my students’ eyes when they finally understand a difficult concept. It’s greeting the same handful of people every morning on the walk to work, entering into each other’s spheres for mere moments and reminding each other that if one of us were to disappear, someone would notice. It’s Peruvian friends’ laughter when I mispronounce or misuse words in Spanish, and it’s my own ability to laugh along with them. It’s walking back from class on Friday afternoons with a handful of my students who live close by, talking about everything from our plans for the weekend to our favorite books to politics. 

This kind of service, the sharing pieces of myself with those around me, doesn’t have any tangible or measurable results. And yet, I feel it ripping me open, allowing me to feel in ways that I hadn’t known existed previously. It is the service of laughing. It is the service of learning. It is the service of sharing. It is the service of listening. It is the service of acceptance. It is the service of living. 

Taylor De La Pena

Chulucanas, Peru 2016


Internationals 2016

Forever Pleasantly Surprised

by augustinian.volunteers / 7. July 2016 18:40

Sticking my head out of Consultorio 1, a simple cinderblock room with a small wooden desk, floor lamp and bed where Doctor Tom has been seeing countless patients over the past few days, I see a scene of volunteers in green vests shuffling patients around. I see kids squealing in delight as they play with bubble wands, trails of benches and plastic chairs posted outside of the other visiting rooms filled with waiting patients, young women from the high sierra with men’s baseball caps covering long braids and simple pants sticking out under their shiny, pleated aquamarine dresses. Every once in a while, doctors step outside of their doors to hold X-Rays up into the light to better see the intricacies of the human body. All around me is life and the different phases of it. Newborn babies with eyes pressed firmly closed as they drift away in sleep in their mother’s arms, the elderly whose every step is deliberate and well thought out. I think about the surgery team across the street at the hospital who are busy transforming life with far more simple equipment than what they are likely used to in the United States. All around me is life and healing. And I here I am, partaking in a beautiful show of love where a team of more than forty doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, and nurses give their knowledge and specialties to the communities of the sierra and the various campos and towns around Chulucanas.

I hear Doctor Tom behind me, “Kiely, bring on in the next one!” Looking towards the long bench that has been placed in front of Consultorio 1, I lock eyes with a little girl, no older than four, sitting nervously with her father waiting to be seen. Trying to preemptively reassure her, I try to make my eyes and smile as warm as possible when I ask if they are ready to be seen by the doctor.

Seating her up on the patent bed, giant saucer-like eyes stare at me from underneath an oversized baseball cap synched tightly in the back. Contrasted against fair skin, this beautiful girl was made even more striking with a set of ruddy cheeks that gave her almost an Asian appearance. I learned later in the evening that as a result of living high in the mountains, frost bite was often a cause of the ruddy cheeks. Her young father also had faint reddish marks on his cheeks but his skin had been darkened by the sun over the years. She too sported the clothing that gave the women from the sierra an air of almost antiquity ringed with mysticism. In a bright red drop-waist dress, little fleece pants poked out at the ankles. Despite the heat of this dusty desert town, she also wore a thickly crotched sweater around her shoulders. Doctor Tom and I, sitting on squeaky wooden chairs, sat facing the little girl with her young father to my right. Leaning forward in his seat, Tom stuck out his hand and in a heavily Iowan accent, introduces himself in Spanish. With a soft smile on his face, his hand gently floats between them as she first looks to her dad for reassurance before extending her own. Tom and I quickly learned that they had traveled more than eight hours to be seen by the medical teams, with a few of those hours on foot.  

Her father launches into the reason why they have traveled so far today. He begins explaining that his young daughter, since she was little, has had a growth on the side of her chest that has steadily been increasing in size. Acting as the conduit, I switch quickly between English and Spanish relaying information and probing for more details. While I didn’t think it possible, his little girl’s eyes have grown even larger watching this conversation. She was especially bewitched by Dr. Tom as he indicates in English what he wants me to ask her father.

The father began helping his daughter remove her many layers. It turns out she was wearing a long-sleeved shirt under her dress as well! How she hadn’t expired from the heat was truly a mystery. Along her left side under her armpit was a bump the height of a water bottle and three quarters of the length of one. Dr. Tom put on his headlamp to better see the growth and as he did so, tears began welling at the bottom of her saucer-like eyes. Likely overwhelmed and frightened by Dr. Tom’s examination, her father leaned forward to rest his calloused hand on her tiny shoulder.

After several more minutes of poking and prodding at the growth, Dr. Tom swiveled in his chair, smiled and tells the father in English that the growth is not cancerous nor dangerous. Relaying this, the breath that the father had been holding inside his chest, whether consciously or not, quickly escaped and his body instantaneously relaxed. Looking across at Dr. Tom with a smile of pure relief, the young father exclaimed “Gracias a Dios.” Turning to his baby girl, with the same wide grin, he cocked his head slightly and repeated the phrase.  There are certain phrases that when expressed in such a way transcend language barriers. And with the love and relief that filled this simple cinderblock room like a tangible cloud, this was truly one of those cases. Here was a young man whom with his little girl, had traveled hours and hours to bring to her relief and healing. Previously being unable to afford or access the care that his baby girl needed, fate and something a bit stronger worked to pair this American doctor with this relieved family.

Dr. Tom quickly grabbed his phone and sent a message to the surgery team along with the description and a photo of her growth. Dr. Tom confided in me that he was hoping to fit this little girl into the surgery schedule to have this growth removed as soon as possible. Several minutes later, Dr. Tom closed his phone with a large smile on his face. He began explaining that his little girl would be freed from this growth in just two days, the surgeons would be able to operate on her. If it hadn’t been a God-send to hear that the growth alone wasn’t cancerous, Doctor Tom, with his dedication to healing was able to coordinate a quick procedure that would forever alter this little girl’s life. Someone very powerful was present here with us. He was working through this doctor to my left and through the surgeon just a few blocks away. And I knew His steadying hands would once again be present two days from now during the operation that would bring her healing. I knew too that I was seeing God in this man’s profound dedication to his baby.

Overwhelmed by happiness and joy, the father too brings out his simple phone and begins showing me grainy pictures of his same little girl in an oversized hospital gown waiting for their consultation in Lima. Relaying this quick story to Dr. Tom, he slowly leans towards the baby girl and speaks to her in English saying, “You have a very special father who loves you very much.” Pausing slightly, I swing my head to begin translating to this little doll standing in front of me. But just as I begin, my voice catches and tears prick my eyes. Here was a father who had previously brought his baby all the way to Lima with the hopes of giving her a better life but was unable to afford the surgery that had been recommended to her. And in return, his little girl had entrusted her comfort, love and well-being in his calloused hands-translated simply through her giant eyes that gazed, ever-trusting, back at him.

Love is an overpowering thing. It can push us to travel hundreds of miles, hours by foot, overextending ourselves financially all to provide a better life for those we have enveloped into our hearts. I will forever be taken aback and taken off-guard by God’s overwhelming and often unannounced presence in our lives. And with that, I hope to never grow accustomed to the shocking beauty of this same power and this love.

And for those of you who are curious, her surgery went perfectly and this adoring father and his little girl made their way back to the mountains just days afterwards. :)

Kiely Kreitzberg
Chulucanas, Peru 2016


Internationals 2016

What I Learned During My Volunteer Year...

by augustinian.volunteers / 14. June 2016 22:19

It is nearly impossible to sum up ten-months of your life in one blog post, especially when those ten-months involved moving across the country, starting a new job, and meeting tons of new people. Well here is my attempt:

Doing a volunteer year is unlike any other year of your life, and unlike any other post-grad opportunity one can find. For most who decide to go down the unique path of a volunteer year, the aspects I listed above are huge focal points of our year, but just the surface. You learn about things you never thought you would learn, you experience thing you never pictured yourself experiencing, and you start to value the things you never thought you would value. I can fill the rest of this post with the things I learned (like how to cook meatloaf or what Hogwarts house I belong in (go Hufflepuffs!) and things I experienced (like surfing and the wonders of butterbeer), but I feel that what's most important is realizing what you value.

Before my volunteer year, I would say I was never truly on my own, even though I lived at college two hours away from my home and went to high school a 40-minute subway ride away. I always felt that I had things I knew I could rely on in case of an emergency, like the school cafeteria for food and friends down the hall if I got lonely. During this year there were times I felt completely alone. Yes I had my community and coworkers to help me out, but at the end of the day I was the one running the Christian Service program at St. Bonaventure or I was the one cooking dinner. There were also more times this year than ever where I hung out with myself, and during those times I really learned what I valued. I value my family, I mean I always have, but now I value all they have taught me and continue to teach me. I value my friends for their continuous support, advice and entertainment. I value my home for shelter and a place to be myself. I value conversations that provide me with a laugh, knowledge, or insight. And finally, at the risk of sounding arrogant: I value myself, which has enabled me not only to survive the lonely times but thrive in them. I like the person I have become and I strive to be more of that person every day. This year has afforded me the opportunity to become a genuine version of myself, and I look forward to continuing that beyond my year with the Augustinians. 

Ryan Masserano
Ventura, CA 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

A New Standard for Success

by augustinian.volunteers / 31. May 2016 19:30

I have always thought of myself as being decently successful, but when you get thrown into a foreign context (literally), that standard for success kind of goes out the window.  Part of my job as the AV for the Diocese of Chulucanas Health Office is to accompany patients to the hospital, sometimes here in Chulucanas and sometimes in Piura (the nearest large city about an hour's distance away).  At first, I thought it was simply for moral support, but I quickly realized it is because so many people here have never had experiences with hospital or doctor visits.  To me, it seemed like something pretty ordinary, but to some people, it is a totally different world.  In the past few weeks, I have been accompanying a woman and her 1.5 year old daughter who needed an operation to correct her clubbed feet.  I struggled with these visits because during our trips, I always ended up looking at the mother with a confused face because I didn't understand what someone said or because I didn't know what to do next.  I am supposed to be the one guiding this mother and her child and I feel like I am letting them down by not knowing what important questions to ask the doctor or how to carry out the payment process correctly.  The other day, we were boarding the bus to go to one of the baby's post-operation appointments and we ran into the Hermana Marielena, an American nun who I occasionally work with.  Later she told me that she was very touched to see me accompanying this mother and her child.  My response was a laugh because I immediately thought about how lost and ridiculous I felt each time I accompanied these two to Piura for the pre-op and post-op visits and for the operation itself.  This particular mother comes from a rural area about an hour from Chulucanas and she is not familiar with the hospital scene, but I too would say I am not very familiar with the hospital scene!  Throw in the fact that Spanish is my second language and you've almost got the blind leading the blind.  After telling Hermana that I doubted how helpful I actually was for the mother, she said "You know what? You probably put her at ease when she saw that someone else was just as confused as she was."  It is funny how hearing someone else's perspective can totally change your own, if you allow it to.  I never thought my own confusion and lack of certainty could be viewed in such a positive light but she is right.  The mother can rest easy that she is not the only one who struggles to navigate the hospital and that despite any confusion we both feel, we must continue until we get what we are seeking: the treatment that will change her precious child's future.   

This experience brings me back to conversations about success we had during community prayer one night about a month ago.  We reflected on the following quote:

 "Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it.  For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued, it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the byproduct of one's surrender to a person other than oneself..." (Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning).       

Our society places so much emphasis on being successful and we are obsessed with results.  We want to see the fruits of our labor, and then be able to write about it in our resumes.  I have learned that I can't really have that mentality here.  One, because the culture here in Chulucanas seems to place more emphasis on interactions and relationships than on quantifying productivity. And two, because I have no previous background in health so I have no previous experience to work off of.  In reality, what good does it do me to try to reach a certain level of "success" to feel productive, useful and accomplished?  I can say that my trips to Piura for this particular mother and child were a "success" because I surrendered myself and my energies (and even my pride, just a little bit since I surely looked foolish in the process) to this mother, her daughter and her daughter's treatment the best I could.  I have found so much joy in this realization that in my work here, no one is expecting me to be a professional and know everything already.  All I can do is offer with a sincere sense of generosity my time and effort.  At some point, in some way, success will ensue.  Let me not make success my end goal, but rather solidarity, compassion, sincere interactions and a genuine willingness to offer my time to those in need.      

Bridget Hennessy
Chulucanas, Peru 2016


Internationals 2016

Little Kids, Little Things

by augustinian.volunteers / 9. May 2016 12:17

“Mr. O! Mr. O! I was ra ra running to tag Sarah, and Billy pushed me!” -Johnny

“Why did Billy push you, Johnny?” –Me

“I don’t knowwwww” -Billy

“Billy, did you push Johnny on purpose?” -Me

“Noooo!” -Billy

“Are you sure?” -Me

“Johnny is always laughing at me in class!” –Billy

“Yeah 'cause you laughed at me when I dropped the ball!” -Johnny

Teaching P.E. at an elementary school sounds pretty chill but it definitely comes with its challenges. It can drive your patience and overall emotional control to the brink. The littlest things become your everyday issues. In a time of my life when I feel like I am supposed to be figuring out the big picture, dealing with why a 4th grader is upset about a light push in a game of ultimate frisbee feels trivial at times—especially when you need to address it dozens of times per day. However, as cheesy as it might be, it’s the little things that I have come to realize as my big picture.

I think we all know this, but one little thing can domino effect into more and more until it is one big mess of poor experiences and bad feelings. Although being more seasoned than kids at getting out of them, adults find themselves caught up in this mess too. I’ve seen it in my own community whether the first domino is washing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom. It happens to us all.

However, I have also seen a single, good little thing overpower a line of bad ones. I’ve seen kids put everything behind them with the help of a simple, “sorry.” I’ve seen changing the radio to 97.3 KSON country radio or a small, handwritten note flip a friend’s day right side up. I’ve seen the gift of a chocolately snack create a lot of joy during a long week. I’ve seen a kind gesture and felt a casual, “thank you,” make a world of difference.

Personally, I feel like I’m usually not good at the little things. I tend to look past them in favor of a larger project or in search of a bigger picture. I have tried but I’m not sure if I’ve gotten better at them over the course of this year either. Nonetheless, through my community at home, the teachers, and the kids at St. Pat’s, I’ve realized that these little things are what it’s all about.

I set upon this year in an attempt to “figure it out.” I had graduated from climbing a ladder placed in front of me called school, to a vast landscape with limitless possibilities called “the real world” where I must somehow form something worthwhile. Where do I begin? How do I make sure I get it all as right as possible?

It all feels a little bit like first world problems now. But I begin right now, and it's ok if I don’t get it all right. Just try to do the little things, and hopefully, the rest will fall into place.

“Johnny, did you know Billy didn’t like it when you laughed at him?” -Me

“Noooo.” -Johnny

“What do you think you should do” -Me

“Sorry, Billy.” -Johnny

“It’s okay, Johnny. I’m sorry too.” -Billy

“Alright, now go back out there and have some fun” -Me


Thanks, Francis, for making everyone feel special with a handwritten (and addressed) note.

Thanks, Martha, for sending so many birthday cards and thank you letters.

Thanks, Patty, for saying the little prayers.

Thanks, Nicole, for the 7:30am (or more like 7:45am) saying of “have a great dayyyyyyyy.”

Brian Omastiak
San Diego, CA 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

Freeways, Flights, Faith & Thirty Second Dance Parties

by augustinian.volunteers / 18. April 2016 02:59

I look like a fool here, sitting in the middle of this tucked-away coffee shop, counting upon my fingers numbers that are probably better reserved for calculators. But the final count is two-hundred and twenty eight. That is the number of days that it has been since I and my community have moved out here to San Diego. And with this program’s one year commitment coming to a close, I need to focus on the number of days we have had instead of the number of days we have left, because I swear I have palpitations each time I hear the impossibly small number of days remaining in this program. 

And what really guts me about the whole prospect of transitioning from this program into a world that is not entirely predicated on the pillars of community and service, is that without even realizing it I have grown not only comfortable but quite possibly dependent on the community that has become my family-away-from-home for the last two-hundred and twenty eight days. And that’s petrifying—for two reasons. First, because it’s always a startling realization when you first become aware that you have you let someone step so far into your life that who and what they are have become not only influential but in fact intertwined with your own self-identity. And the second reason is that there is a visceral fear that comes with the understanding that at some point the proximity of relationships changes, and then so too does the immediate nature of those relationships.

But what’s important to keep in mind, I think, is that while you are able to decide who gets step into your life, the value that a relationship can hold is completely correlated to how far you choose to let someone in, and how far you are willing to enter someone else’s life in turn. And if I have learned anything from my community in the past two-hundred and twenty eight days, it is that there is a undeniable sense of fulfillment and self-actualization that comes from deep, intentional relationships—the kind of fullness that ends up outweighing any fear of how those relationships may change tomorrow or someday. 

My community makes me feel full and actualized, and each of them do it in their own way. But from each I have learned more about identity and growth than I could have ever expected. 

Brian, the default patriarch of the house (don’t tell him I said that), has played a deeper and more influential role in my growth over this past year than I think he is even aware of. Brian has taught me as much about how to squeeze every last drop of sunlight from a day as he has about the importance of personal responsibility and the unfailing utility of common sense. Sometimes he lets my failures be lessons in and of themselves, but at the end of the day he has shown me what it truly takes to help another person grow. He is an individual deeply rooted in his character, and whether he realizes it or not, he sets an incredible example that has given me much to emulate. From learning how to properly merge on a freeway to learning how to build a backyard campfire, I have come to grow both as a driver and as a friend because of Brian. 

Nicole, the great mediator of the house, has counseled us out of more potential conflicts than we have gotten ourselves in. She is a confidante, an advisor, and a supporter, and she has taught me so much of what it means to help others both recognize and actualize their own potential. Nicole has helped me grow in the same way that she helps everyone around her grow—by helping people see situations from every angle and empowering them to figure out which decision is best for them. Through her example, she has helped me grow in my leadership, my attentiveness toward others, and my ability to compromise. In her ability to create and maintain harmony in the community, Nicole has given both a space to grow and an example to follow throughout that growth. From learning how to actually book a flight to learning how to find middle ground, I have come to grow both as a traveler and as a listener because of Nicole.

Martha, a gifted nurse with an extraordinary mind, has a love for life and a heart for people that was crafted to heal. As a nurse she sets the precedent for compassion, diligence, and advocacy. She is a model of perseverance and a testament to the rewards of hard and devoted work. Her inspiration comes from the way she can spin a smile onto a patient’s face or how she has proven herself time and time again to be exactly who someone needs (and this is as much speaking on behalf of our patients as it is speaking from personal experience). It’s a special thing to be able to share both your personal growth and your professional growth with someone, and from learning how to properly draw up injectable medications to learning how to hold thirty-second dance parties, I have come to grow both as a nurse and as a dancer because of Martha.

Patty, the one who will set this world on fire, has made every bit of difference in how I have grown both spiritually and internally this year, and there is so much that I owe to her. I don’t know if she always notices this within herself, but she is a vessel of strength and centeredness, and this comes not only from the deep-seeded faith that surrounds her core, but also from the vulnerability it takes for her to show us what lies within that core. She allows others to grow by breaking down the pieces of herself and showing how possible it is to put yourself back together again. Patty has shown me how to spot miracles in the mundane, how to move past the mistakes, and how to put troubles in a bubble and blow them away. Patty would be the first to tell you that she isn’t perfect, but she has been one of the greatest examples and sources of faith for me over the past year, and from learning the words to different prayers to learning how to give things a chance, I have come to grow both in my relationship with God and in my relationship with myself because of Patty.

My community has helped me to not only grow, but to discover and to learn and to become as well. Each in their own way, each in their own time, they have walked into my life, and no matter what happens in the coming months, I know that for at least two-hundred and twenty eight days we all walked together, in and out of each other’s lives, leaving our own marks to remind each other that at one point in our lives we were a community—a family—that made each other feel full and actualized and loved.

Francis Cunningham
San Diego, CA 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016


by augustinian.volunteers / 29. March 2016 13:48

Blessed Oscar Romero said “Aspire not to have more, but to be more.” 

In volunteering at Merrimack College there are many opportunities to step outside of yourself and really be present to the students you are serving. This past week I was able to serve alongside twelve students and another advisor for an Alternative Spring Break trip to Camden, NJ. 

Seeing Camden, NJ for the first time and driving to the Romero Center was an experience of awe, fear and familiarity. First noticing rod iron fencing around porches made me fearful of the area and what to expect, but getting to the Center and meeting Richard started cracking stereotypes from day one. Richard is one of the Urban Challenge Associates. He is always wearing a black beanie hat with a colorful, untucked buttoned down shirt and kakis. Stepping out of the van he greeted each of us with a handshake and a very calm and chill demeanor. His confidence and personable personality gave me ease for the road ahead. 

There are so many experiences from this past week that I wish I could share and delve deeper into, but as it goes this is not an essay. Each day the Romero Center had a theme from a Catholic Social Teaching. They varied from life and dignity of the human person to solidarity. In the mornings we had a time of prayer and in the evenings we came together for reflections with videos, small group discussions and prayer once again. For the small group discussions, they provided guided questions which mentioned what was the most meaningful experience, challenging, how did you see God’s presence and ended with what are your hopes for tomorrow?

These questions helped me to pull apart my days, look at each moment, truly acknowledge and remember what had impacted me in various ways. It reminded me almost of an examination of conscience. It gave me the tools to understand where I was during each day and how I could better myself and continue growing for the next day. Not only writing your thoughts down in a journal, but then sharing them makes experiences such as these come alive in new ways. You gain perspectives from others, become more vulnerable and truly allow your true self to be received. 

Our group came from varying backgrounds geographically, financially and with different family dynamics. Despite all of this, we became the CamFam and truly sought to build relationships with one another, those we served with and created plans to carry out what we have learned on the Merrimack Campus. These students not only spoke from their hearts, but allowed an environment of trust, vulnerability and acceptance which gave this experience the means to become something greater than I could have imagined. Each day I lived in the moment and was present to what the day would bring. 

Being able to share this irreplaceable experience with the students at Merrimack gave me such a deeper appreciation for the college and those it serves. I know going to work on Tuesday morning that I will have more friendly faces around campus and will continue to strengthen these relationships especially in the last few months I have with them. They epitomize “Aspire not to have more, but to be more.” 

Elise Zajicek
Lawrence, MA 2015-2016 


Domestics 2015-2016

An Avocado

by augustinian.volunteers / 18. March 2016 09:56

One of my favorite YouTube videos is a dad giving his son an avocado as a gift. If you have never seen this video, it is a quick watch and the link is at the end of this post. I am sure the dad thought his son was going to be extremely disappointed with the gift, but when his son unwrapped the present, he said, “It’s an avocado! Thanks!” You could decipher the child’s reaction in one of two ways: he was just being polite or he was genuinely excited to receive an avocado. Either way, the younger people in our lives are teaching us lessons we have forgotten. The first lesson would be enjoying the simple things in life and the second would be appreciation. The little boy in this video is happy to just receive a gift. He did not throw a tantrum because it was not the latest iPad or a hover board. He accepted and appreciated the gift. I think that we often overlook the simple things in life, the little gifts, in search of a bigger one. In this search, we also tend to take many things in life for granted. 

When I first arrived at St. Margaret of Scotland School, I was unsure if teaching was a career I wanted to pursue. I had an undergraduate degree in business, so I was taking this year to figure things out. Little did I know how quickly I would become attached to the kids. I looked forward to the screams of “Ms. White!” every morning and the rib crushing embraces as kids raced to hug me. In the beginning, I would ask myself why the kids are excited to see me when they saw me less than twenty hours before, but I would grow to appreciate these little moments. I have come to love the sometimes less than cheery “good mornings” from the middle school students and the “see you tomorrow” high fives. The students are choosing to reach out to me, in small ways, to let me know that they notice me and appreciate me. In return, I reciprocate these acts of love and make sure that each child feels special. I take care to notice the little things that my kids do to improve my day as well as the little things that improve their day. It has been one of my greatest joys to get to know the different students’ likes, dislikes, fears, passions, and dreams. I care when something important happens in their lives, whether it is losing a tooth or passing a test or winning a basketball game. They are the gifts that God has given to me to appreciate each day. My students call me to enjoy the simple things in life and to smile and laugh more often. My kids have reminded me that small, simple acts of kindness are the ones that make the biggest difference. My students have become my avocados, gifts I am grateful for and reminders to give a little more of myself each day.

Tori White
Chicago, IL 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

A Bittersweet Symphony

by augustinian.volunteers / 21. February 2016 15:19

How do you find God in greed, hurt and pain?  When people go without and have nothing?  When people mistreat the system that is built to help them?  In mental illness?  In a community that is either ill-informed or ignoring a housing crisis?

This is the bittersweet struggle I go through at HELP of Ojai.  HELP is a non-profit in the Ojai Valley that works to meet the basic needs of the homeless, low-income and seniors.  It's easy for me to talk about and pray for my family and friends, my community and the AVs, and what's going on in the world.  How do I begin to pray for all the struggles that people have right in front of me?  After the initial response of, "HELP is good", I find myself struggling to elaborate.  Many people don't want to hear about the struggles of the mentally ill, the homeless and housing problem in Ojai, and how irritating is to sit on hold for 45 minutes with medi-CAL to be told they can't help you in under two minutes.  It's also probably not appropriate to describe your service site as a “hot mess express” and yourself as the conductor of the train. Or the reality that you are running after the train because the same client has come in at 11:55 when we close for lunch at 12:00.  I find myself frustrated, tired, and my head swimming with what if, what about, and what the hell.

I wonder if there is hope for my clients.  I try to understand that keeping an appointment can be a miracle, remembering paperwork is sometimes an act of God, and goals are a foreign concept.  I need to remember to explain why we set goals and to keep the goals achievable.  I can't get on my high horse and try to remember the refocusing techniques we went over during our morning staff meeting. The first goal I suggest is finding one AA meeting, a second is updating a resume, and a third of following up on paperwork to get an ID so you might be able to find a job if your sobriety is going well.  By the way, when was the last time you had a drink?

I often leave work wondering where my day went and go over the list of things we are doing as a community that night.  My head typically spins, and I consider canceling all our friendships.  Just kidding, that would be awful!  What would be better is if we use our grocery money to order takeout every night so we don't have to worry about cooking.  Speaking of dinner, was I supposed to go to the grocery store tonight? Can time stop for ten minutes for me to process my day?

Compassion; that's where I find God.  Compassion in my heart for a life I can only begin to understand and for choices I never had to make.  Understanding; that's where I find God.  Not a complete understanding, but a small glimpse of how living with a mental illness can be life controlling and disconnecting.  An understanding of the importance of listening and the equal importance of feeling like you are being heard.  Community; that's where I find God.  When I see anonymous donors make a difference in the life of someone, as angel wings hide underneath their jacket.  In the homeless community as they protect their most vulnerable from harm by looking after them in the shelter and on the streets.  Joy; that's where I find God.  When someone is able to find housing, a utility grant drops, or health insurance is obtained.  In remembrance; that's where I find God.  When people talk about the recently housed homeless man that died and how much they miss him and his spirit.  How we should all try a little harder to embody him.

Questioning hope and having to find ways to seek God in hard situations has made it easier for me to see the blessings around me.  I am able to enjoy God more in bike rides, on hikes, the view at yoga, in conversations with others, in my AV community, Sundays at mass, and in the quiet of my heart when I find peace with my mistakes.  So how do I begin?  I start as Mother Teresa said to, one by one.

Megan Telfer
Ventura, CA 2015-2016


Home Is Where My Heart Is

by augustinian.volunteers / 27. January 2016 14:26

2,687.3 miles… That is how far I am from the place that I have called home for the past 25 years. Before last year I never thought about leaving Pennsylvania to live anywhere else and doubted that I would even leave the Philadelphia area after I graduated from college. That is, until I began to pray about it. No, I did not begin to ask God where I should be living, I thought I already knew the answer to that. Instead I began to ask God what I should be doing with my life because I had begun to doubt my path. Suddenly I started to notice different service organizations popping up around me and it clicked: maybe God wants me to give a year of my life to service for him. After being convinced by a friend I applied to the Augustinian Volunteers.

When I found out that I would be living in San Diego for my volunteer year I was super excited, mostly because I knew I would not have to deal with any cold weather and I would be living by the beach for the year (there is no better place to LIVE SIMPLY). As the summer went on and orientation was approaching, the nerves began to sink in: I was about to move all the way ACROSS THE COUNTRY with a bunch of people I had never even met. What was I thinking? I am going to be way too far away from my family and life as I know it is will be about to change. I was not sure how I would adjust but I knew in my heart that I needed to do a year of service so I had to suck it up and pray that everything would turn out ok. 

On August 24, just one week before boarding the plane to embark on our journey as Augustinian Volunteers, our community was finally able to meet for the first time. From the very beginning of orientation it was clear that I was surrounded by a group of loving and supportive people who would be serving all over the country and the nerves turned to excitement again and I was ready to take on San Diego with my community. Living in California in community has helped me grow in ways that I never expected. My roommates have taught me a tremendous amount about life, love, support and the importance of constantly growing in my relationship with God. All five of us have our own ups and downs with being away from our families, being stressed about our jobs or trying to figure out what to do after our year, but no matter what life throws at us we always come home to find comfort and happiness in our community. We have had prayer time together, community meetings, many birthday celebrations, and countless hours spent exploring San Diego and enjoying our time together as a community. 

Suddenly as I look back on my first 5 months in California, the strangers that I moved here with in August have become family to me, people that I know I can turn to during times of happiness, nervousness, sadness and excitement for the rest of my life. I am looking forward to growing my relationships with my family here in California and for all of the new adventures we will have. After all of the anticipation and nervousness leading up to moving across the country, I now realize that when I move back to Pennsylvania a piece of my heart will remain 2,687.3 miles away at my home in San Diego.

Patty Boland
San Diego, Ca 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

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