Tuesday, October 6, 2015

My New Sight: Michelle

 Michelle Baumann is a world-class golfer and baker who just graduated from Creighton University. Since she is serving in Colorado, she is taking full advantage of the beautiful landscape by going hiking when she can. Read on to see what it's like to begin a year of service with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers!

Michelle (blue hat, kneeling, center) and the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers on a hike

My name is Michelle Baumann and I am currently doing a year of service with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers. CVV was started in 1995 by Bill and Mary Frances Jaster, who wanted to start a service program for young adults influenced by the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul. CVV is a year-long program for up to 20 young adults interested in doing a year of service at a non-profit agency in Denver, CO. Each individual have the opportunity to choose which site he or she will work at based off of the interests of the volunteer. Some of the services sites this year include homeless shelters, urban gardens, elementary schools, refugee services, and day shelters.

I chose to do a year of service because I know I want to go back to graduate school, but I am not sure if I want to get a Masters in Social Work or Counseling Psychology. I decided that I wanted to spend a year learning what it would be like to be a social worker to determine if that is the career path for me. This year, I am working at Urban Peak, a homeless shelter for at-risk and runaway youth. The shelter provides overnight services and case management for youth ages 15-20. At the shelter, I spend my time in two different positions. First, I am a Direct Care Counselor, in which I assist with meal services, laundry, answering phone calls, etc. My second position is a Shelter Case Manager, in which I assist youth with finding resources in Denver to help them accomplish their goals.

Individuals in CVV live in an intentional community with the other members of CVV. We have two houses, so each house has 10 volunteers. As a part of the CVV community, activities are scheduled throughout the week to share and reflect on the experiences of the volunteers. I think the community event that is most significant for me and the most unique to CVV is the community dinner that happens on Monday nights. Every Monday, all of the volunteers leave work early to have “Reflection and Discussion” with the community. Topics for R&D include removing judgments and setting boundaries at work. After R&D, CVV has Mass together in the chapel in the CVV houses followed by dinner. Anyone in the Denver community is invited to attend Mass and dinner, usually totaling 25-30 people.

Living in such a large community has taken some time to adjust to. With so many roommates and no homework, it always feels like something is going on, which is both good and bad. I love being able to go to common areas and usually find someone hanging out or playing a game. However, it can be difficult to take time for myself instead of spending time with my roommates. FOMO (or “Fear of Missing Out”) is something that I am adjusting to. It can be difficult to choose between spending quality time with my friends and spending time by myself to de-stress from the day.
CVVolunteers are dedicated to living a simple life. Simple living includes using public transportation/biking, living off a stipend, living without wireless internet, and taking shorter showers. Prior to coming to CVV, I thought living simply meant giving up things so I could only live with things that are absolutely necessary. Now, I see it as choosing to live without excess in order to live in solidarity with the people we are serving. It is determining what things in my life are wants and what things are needs. Some aspects of simplicity have been a bigger adjustment than others. For example, two of the things that required getting used to were using public transportation/biking and living without wireless.

Although I have only been in Denver for about 2 months, I am loving everything so far! I could not be happier with CVV and I am so thankful that I have chosen to spend a year here. Bill and Mary Frances, as well as the rest of the staff at CVV, are all wonderful people. All of them are so supportive and willing to help in any way they can. My volunteer experience would not be as wonderful as it is without my fellow CVVers. They are some of the most inspiring, dedicated, funny, and loving people I have ever met. I cherish the friendship I have with each one of them and I am so excited to see what the rest of the year has in store for us!

To learn more about serving with CVV, click here!

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Day in the Life....

of a Salesian Volunteer, by Dany Benitez

My name is Dany Benitez.  I am 24 years old and I am from Venezuela. I am currently a Salesian Volunteer at Saint John Bosco High School in Bellflower, CA.  I would like to take this opportunity to share how my life as a Salesian volunteer is on an ordinary day.

A typical day for me is to wake up at 5:30am to join in the morning prayer service.  I enjoy starting my day asking God for strength and to help me face any challenges I might have that day. 

 After that, I start with my apostolic service by accompanying and monitoring students before and after school at Saint John Bosco Boys’ Club.  This is also referred to as Oratory.  I greet the students and help them to start their day off fresh.

 After that I have the opportunity to teach two Spanish classes as well.  I teach a group of ten students by helping them not only learn the Spanish language but understand it as well.  

I also teach a group of fifteen AP Honors Spanish.  At times, I assist the teachers in the World Languages Department with students who need extra tutoring in Spanish and I assist with special events such as, “Dia de los Muertos” or the “Spanish Conference for Parents.

In the evening I join the community prayer service, followed by dinner.  On Wednesday evenings, I finish the day off with a bit of exercise.  I am a Zumba Instructor at St. Dominic Savio Church.  I teach Zumba exercise routines to a group of ladies and men of all ages.  As a group we work off any stress that we might have had that day to keep our bodies and minds healthy.

Since I’ve met the Salesians of Don Bosco, I believe that we can offer a creative approach that makes a difference in people's lives.  I hope that God will continue to call on me and guide my steps each day.  I want to be a useful tool of his and hope that he keeps me "in service".

To learn more about serving with the Salesians, click here

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My New Sight: Ryan

Ryan Majsak is a recent University of Notre Dame graduate, who is serving with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in San Francisco as a law clerk with the Eviction Defense Collaboration. Read on to find out why sheep and goats inspire him to serve, and what cooking on a tiny budget can teach you!

What is it like living in community with other volunteers?

Living in community with other volunteers is both a blessing and a challenge. It can be difficult to share such an emotional and stressful experience with people I have just met, but it’s also a great chance to create lifelong relationships. We are a family. We eat together, we spend time together, we laugh together, we argue with one another, we make community budget decisions, we talk about our faith together, we talk about world issues together, and we share in each other’s highs and lows. During my service, I wanted to live in community, because I didn’t want my experience to have start/pause button that I pressed when I arrived and left work. I wanted to be immersed in a lifestyle that was reinforced by my community members. Reflection and discussion with others living similar experiences can help give perspective on things that I am experiencing, and likewise I can learn from what my community members share from their placements. We are diverse in our backgrounds and beliefs and we learn how to respect and be open to others’ opinions and values. It’s not an easy situation, but it’s one that has forced us to learn and grow with each other.

What inspired you to serve?

Often times I reflect on a passage from Matthew 25 about the Sheep and the Goats:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
This passage has become a constant presence in my mind when I encounter someone in need. For if I claim to love Jesus, how can I ignore those in whom He dwells? I decided to do service because I wanted to work directly on behalf of and in solidarity with others. Through my placement at the Eviction Defense Collaborative in San Francisco helping low income tenants fight their evictions, I have the opportunity to play a part in making a significant positive impact on others’ lives every day.

What continues to inspire you, now that you've started?

Every JV house has a patron who is well known for their work in the social justice sphere. Our house’s patron is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We have many pictures and artwork that decorate our apartment that have his likeness and quotes. The central piece in our living area is a painting done by a former JV who used to live in our house that has the Golden Gate Bridge and underneath has a quote prominently displayed from MLK Jr., “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” It is inevitable that at some point each day that I glance at that painting to the point that the quote seems to endlessly echo in my head. Now that the initial “high” of joining a fast-paced nonprofit organization has worn off, patience, focus, and compassion is more difficult to maintain during the long intake of clients or the more mundane tasks of the job. MLK’s words reinforce and remind me of the reason why I joined the JVC and help me find the extra motivation necessary to give my entire self to those whom I am serving.

Has "simple living" been a struggle so far?

Simple living is certainly a challenge, but it is a rewarding one. Cooking with a very modest budget has reminded me that eating for taste and complete fulfillment is a privilege that not everyone experiences. I have been surprised just how resourceful we have been and how far we can stretch our limited food budget. It makes things easier that we are living simply as a community, and we are able to support each other on days that it is especially difficult.

It also is hard to suffer when we have so many generous people and organizations trying to feed and entertain us. I have joked with my community members that we are the most well-connected poor people in the city. Former Jesuit Volunteers, friends, family, and our organizations invite us to picnics, barbecues, meals, and then send us home with all of the leftovers. In fact, their generosity is so abundant that as a community, we have talked about how guilty we feel about receiving so much from others. We dedicated ourselves to a simple lifestyle not so that we could continue living comfortably, just on the dollar of someone else, but to understand and fully embrace in solidarity the decisions and realities that those we work alongside deal with on a daily basis.

For me, an unforeseen challenge has been the slightly uncomfortable adjustment to accept so many handouts without repayment or reciprocation. I have had to allow myself to become humble enough to just accept others’ persistent generosity with mere gratitude. I now understand the feeling of pride and almost a sense of dignity that is lost when receives handouts out of pity or because of the existence of an unequal relationship. Now that I have been on both sides of that interaction, I am now more aware of the feelings of those receiving aid and how to make them feel as comfortable as possible to help them maintain their dignity.

Another challenge is limiting our use of technology. We decided to get WiFi with the use of our personal stipends for the main purposes of communication with friends and family and for working on applications. However, the temptation exists to rely on devices rather than people to entertain ourselves. Living simply emphasizes relationships over things, and technology can be a large barrier to that.

To learn more about serving with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, click here