Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Dear Extraordinary You: A Letter to a Future Volunteer

By: Ari Alvarez, Current Loretto Volunteer

Realizing that I am halfway through my Loretto experience, I can’t believe how fast time has gone…and how slow it has gone. These past five or so months have come with great highs and great lows. But, the most freeing realization is the acceptance that this is to be expected. I am growing, and sometimes growing is painful. My time away from home has made me grow in a deep love and appreciation for my family and friends. I always knew I won the lottery with those I call family and friends, but now, my gratitude towards them is beyond me.

Coping with these emotions has been a process. Yet, the most healing practice that has helped me feel appreciated and loved, all while challenging me to honestly communicate my appreciation towards others, is letter writing. Everything from picking the right stationary for each person, the decorating of the envelope, the emphasizing of words and sentences through the thickening strokes of your pen.  There is an intimate intention behind it all. There is such a thrill to realizing you’ve received an envelope in the mail with your name on it; a response to all the questions you had asked, all the emotions you had spilled out, all the stories you shared.

Letter writing requires more effort than a quick typing of words and clicking of a send button. It takes thought, time, effort, and patience. Letter writing is a detail of this experience that I will take with me everywhere I go. Therefore, because of how healing this has been for me, I thought it’d be appropriate to write a letter to a future volunteer;
Dear extraordinary you, 
I’ve been there before. Hitting the snooze button a couple of times before you finally roll out of bed and gear up for the day ahead of you. Your surroundings might still feel unfamiliar, but I promise you, a routine will develop. Very soon, the creaky wood at your feet will signal the familiarity of home. String up some holiday lights in your room; hang up pictures, motivational quotes, whatever you need. Just do it. This is your time to take care of yourself. You’re in for a wild ride where sometimes the only company you keep is yourself, the book in your hand, and the cup of coffee that cools as the minutes go by. And, trust me, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Allow yourself to indulge in that cup of Starbucks, even though you know how terrible capitalism is and that you should be supporting local producers. Drive to Target and just walk around, search for the treasures in the dollar section, and never feel bad about buying the overpriced candle for your room (you’ll appreciate it later). Take a break from Instagram, Facebook, and texting. Instead, go outside and simply go for a walk. Grow in comfort of your surroundings. Go the meeting that sounds really awesome, even though you’re going alone and won’t know anyone. Don’t feel pathetic for staying in on a Friday or Saturday night, indulging in Netflix or a good book…or just Netflix…is perfectly fine.
Write people letters, and request that letters be written to you. It’s a good day when you get home from work and see that there’s an envelope with your name written on it. Sleep in often- these may be the last years of being able to sleep in without any major consequences. Sad, I know. Cook with real, fresh food. And…it’s okay if you burn the rice or brownies the first time, you’ll get better with time. Listen to Adele, because, well…Adele just heals the heart. Look through old pictures every once in a while, it’ll make you smile and there’s nothing wrong with that! Also, genuinely challenge yourself to only spend your monthly stipend- it’s hard, but you’ll be surprised at how much you can simplify your life.
You are without a doubt an amazing person. You’ve probably travelled into intimate depths of your community and the world. You’re someone’s best friend, someone’s child, someone’s soul mate, and they’re most likely all missing you as much as you are missing them. Nonetheless, never forget how brave you are. You left all you knew and accepted to start over, for 11 months, committing yourself to simple and intentional living. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Trust that very soon, you’ll pack up the suitcase you put away months ago. That suitcase will travel back into familiarity with you. Your favorite cafĂ©, your favorite restaurant, your family and friends will all be waiting for you. You’ll see how distance strengthens relationships, and most importantly, strengthens you.
This year could be one of the most exhilarating years of your life, or it could be one of the most frustrating years of your life. No matter where your heart and emotions settle, know this is all happening for a reason. You are exactly where you need to be. There’s a lovely little saying that says, “Bloom where you are planted.” Don’t take that as being complacent, but take that as a challenge. Actually aim to grow exactly where you are right now, even when it’s painful to begin a new day. You’ve got this.
Marianne Williamson said, “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” Sit with yourself every day, discover your light. It will frighten you, but that’s okay. Unpack it, embrace it, and grow from it all. Lean on those who love you. Tomorrow is a new day. You are not alone.
But most importantly, you are capable and are fighting a fight for a better tomorrow. Keep your head up.
Love,Me, your fellow social justice warrior.
PS- Ordering a pizza when you don’t feel like cooking is always a good choice. Always.

Ari Alvarez is from Clayton, CA and graduated from St. Mary's College in 2015 with a degree in Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies. Ari is currently serving with Loretto Volunteers, living in the St. Louis community and working as a campus minister at loretto-founded high school, Nerinx Hall.​ This reflection originally appeared on Loretto Volunteer's "Reflections."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

$3,000 for your passion

By Nya Brooks, serving with Vincentian Mission Corps in St. Louis, MO

Prior to my year of service, I was aware that education inequities existed across the United States, mainly affecting low income communities of color. When I moved to inner city St. Louis, I quickly learned that this city has a polarized education system. Either you invest thousands of dollars into private, Catholic school, or your child can attend the free, yet low performing public schools. Public school is the reality that many low income families in St. Louis face because they cannot afford to send their children to private school. Fortunately, Marian Middle School is dedicated to ending the cycle of poverty by providing adolescent girls with holistic, faith based education.

I currently volunteer at Marian Middle School, an all-girls Catholic middle school on the south side of St. Louis, MO. Marian is significant to the St. Louis community because it offers quality and affordable education to girls from low income families. Not only does the curriculum prepare the students to be a grade level ahead, Marian incorporates educational activities, such as building robots and dissecting sharks, offers graduate support to help Alumnae throughout high school and college, and connects the students with professional women to serve as career mentors. Based on a conversation I had with a Marian Alumna a few months ago, “There are some things that you will only experience at Marian.”

One of the traditions at Marian is to share Wisdom Words each day during morning assembly. Wisdom Words are daily passages that are intended to motivate the students. With a background in Women’s & Gender Studies and a hidden feminist agenda, I volunteered to write the Wisdom Words for the month of March in honor of Women’s History Month. Often when learning about history in America, it is very male dominated. This is present throughout textbooks, media, and national holidays. I saw writing the Wisdom Words during March as an opportunity to educate the students about women in history.

One day, I wrote Wisdom Words about the importance of attending college. The historical figure I focused on was Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree and become a doctor. One of the sweetest and most adorable 5th graders asked if she could read the Wisdom Words during morning assembly. I graciously said yes. This 5th grader has a tendency to be shy when talking to people. I knew reading the Wisdom Words would be a great opportunity for her to practice her public speaking skills and a great confidence booster.

The 5th grade student did not have much time to practice. However, you could not tell! In front of an audience of 80 people, this 5th grade student read the Wisdom Words clearly and with confidence. Afterwards, everyone clapped and cheered for her. I was extremely proud, for many reasons. One, public speaking is a very common phobia and like any skill, requires practice. (I still get nervous and I have been public speaking for 8 years.) Two, she correctly pronounced, “La Flesche Picotte”. Three, having a reading level below her grade, I was amazed by how this 5th grade student did not display an ounce of nervousness or stumble over her words.

Later that day, the president of the school stopped me in the faculty work center to thank me. I was unaware of it at the time, but one of the many professional women who voluntarily mentors for the 8th grade students was present during morning assembly. According to the president, her grandfather was Native American. She was so touched by the Wisdom Words that she offered to donate $3,000 to sponsor a student for an entire year.

The theme of this story is to live out your passions because they can inspire others. When we live out our passions, not only do we nourish our souls, but we can transform the lives of others. My passions are feminism and public speaking. When writing the Wisdom Words, my only intentions were to educate the girls about women in history and to provide a student with a chance to practice her public speaking skills. I had no idea my writing would create an opportunity for another girl to attend Marian. My Wisdom Words empowered the Marian community beyond what I could imagine.
I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to write the Wisdom Words. Similar to the students, Marian has fostered a place for me to discover and practice my talents. After writing the Wisdom Words, I learned that I am talented when it comes to writing and that youth enjoy learning about history if you present it in an interesting way.

It is not by coincidence that groups of historically oppressed people are rarely included in our history books. Our history lessons, whether in school or mainstream society, reflect who is deemed worthy in America’s eyes. In this case, it is white, heterosexual, able bodied, cisgender, men. In the future, I want to continue to educate youth about untold histories, specifically the histories of African Americans and women. This will give opportunities for underrepresented groups to have their stories heard and youth will be aware that history has multiple facets. When we unveil new knowledge to our youth, we unveil a new world.

To learn more about the Vincentian Mission Corps, click here

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What you need to know about international service

Do I have what it takes to do international service? Will I be safe? How do I choose the right program? Can I afford to serve overseas? How will I handle homesickness? If these questions sound familiar - please tune in to this webinar session focused on questions pertaining to international service.

What you need to know about international service from Catholic Volunteer Network on Vimeo.

Do you have questions that we did not address in this session? Just ask them in the comments section below and we will be sure to answer them!