Thursday, January 31, 2013

City on a Budget: The Frugal Fifteen

By Caitlin Baummer, CVN AmeriCorps Program Assistant
Sometimes when recruiting, after describing the living stipend that volunteers receive, I was asked the question, "Can I still be a normal young person and, you know, do fun things?" My response was always "Absolutely!" I would even venture to say that I had even more fun because of my budget. It challenged me and my community to be creative and do things that we might not have otherwise tried. Here are tips from volunteers on ways to have maximum fun with minimum cash.

Colorado Vincentian Volunteers upon completion of their
Photo Scavenger Hunt
1. Experiencing Your City- Members of Colorado Vincentian Volunteers did a Photo Scaventer Hunt. Sarah, one of their volunteers, told me, "We were given a list covering a 3 mile radius. We divided into teams and were told to meet up at a local ice cream place at a certain time. There were clues such as getting your feet and the Capitol Building in the same picture... We were all new to Denver at the time so it was a great way to get to know the city."

2. Museums- Cabrini Mission Corps takes advantage of free or discount days for Illinois residents. Such days are usually listed on the museum website. If you're lucky, there might even be some museums that are free everyday.

3. Movies- RedBox might only be $1, but the Library is FREE! My community borrowed each of the Harry Potter movies before splurging to go see the Deathly Hallows Part II in theaters. Libraries are pretty good about carrying popular recent releases and they are a treasure trove for documentaries and foreign films.

4. Theater- Cabrini Mission Corps also recommended checking to see if your local theaters offer rush, lottery or limited-view tickets. If you have time and your program allows it, you might consider volunteering to be an usher. You may only have to do it a few times a year, but when you do, you can see the performance for free.

5. Local Arts Events- Many major cities have some kind of Arts Consortium that puts out a publication of upcoming events. The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance released the Baltimore Fun Guide each monthCatholic Charities Service Corps Volunteers in Buffalo, receive Art Voice weekly!

6. Live Music- Ask some of the locals about lesser known area bands or underground venues that host free concerts. Who knows? You might see the next Mumford & Sons before they're big.

7. Speakers- Check out your local colleges and universities for campus-wide events. (We don't recommend just sitting down in random classes.) Campuses can also be great hubs for student performances and activities that are open to the public.

8. Festivals- Keep your eyes open when scanning through the paper for local arts festivals etc. They often have a little bit of everything going on. You could grab some yummy fried food or local goods from a vendor or have a great time just wandering around. Volunteers with Catholic Charities Service Corps enjoyed Frozen Turkey Bowling at a Winter Fest in Buffalo.

9. Food- Two words: Farmer's Markets. Sure you can look around for the cheapest grocery store, but what quality of food are you buying there and where did it come from? SOME supports their local organic farmers every week. If you need help, type your zip code into Local Harvest and it will tell you the various venues where you can support local produce in your area.
Episcopal Service Corps Volunteers enjoying a view of LA
from the Griffith Park Observatory

10. Nature- this might go without saying, but look for parks, trails and lakes in your area. It might mean going a little out of your way, but it can be very worth it, especially if you live in a busy city with limited green stuff.

11. Exercise- Investigate your community center for free classes. Maybe join an intermural team with your community. If there is a YMCA nearby, ask if they give discounted memberships to full-time volunteers. Good Shepherd Volunteers in New York were able to do this.

12. Clothing- take the time to search for thrift stores in the area. This is just one more example of how living sustainably can also be more cost effective. Of course there are the go-to's such as Goodwill and Salvation Army, but higher-end consignment shops can also have great prices. I recently stumbled upon Buffalo Exchange in my travels and fell in love- they have 44 locations throughout the U.S.

13. Relaxation- Volunteers at Bethlehem Farm go to free community yoga classes in a nearby city. If you can't find free classes, see #15.

14. Dancing- local clubs or restaurants may offer free or inexpensive classes before they open the floor up for the night. Townhalls and churches might also host monthly square and salsa night. Warning: you might be the youngest ones there by 40 years, but they are a blast!

15. Everything Under the Sun- Groupon, Living Social, Freecycle... there are so many ways to take advantage of specials through these sites. You just have to keep your eyes open.

Julie, from Catholic Charities Service Corps, leaves us with this thought, "One thing I have learned, that I didn't really see before, is that you don't need money to be entertained, I can still go out, have a blast, and spend a minimal amount of money, which is cool and convenient."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Story Contest Winner: Heart Wide Open

By Sarah Ceponis, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry

Nine months ago during my graduation weekend, I sat in an audience of students committed to post-graduate service, and listened as a speaker shared with us her thoughts on our coming year. Though not all her words stuck that day, I do remember those she borrowed from renowned Irish poet Seamus Heaney. From his poem Postscript, she read: “You are neither here nor there/ A hurry through which known and strange things pass/As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways/And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”  

I find myself living Heaney’s poetry this year.  I am “neither here nor there” in the sense that I occupy two worlds at once. Half of my heart—my upbringing, my family, many friends—resides hundreds of miles and infinite degrees of difference away. The other half of my heart has become deeply rooted in a whole other world, that of Southwest Baltimore. The first time I walked through this new world, my wide eyes took in decaying row houses, boarded-up storefronts, uneven sidewalks strewn with litter, junkies sitting on stoops with their brown paper bags held tight.  I was tempted, so tempted, to simply hurry through this place, stunningly different from anything I had ever known.

In my workplace at a family support center for young mothers and children, the differences could not have been any more palpable. The mothers, though many my age or younger, had one or two or three children.  Snippets of conversation wafted over me, about boyfriends in jail, friends who’d been shot, relatives who were addicts.  The toddlers I coaxed to sleep at naptime would jerk awake the minute I stopped patting their back, but incredibly, did not even wake up to the roar of police sirens.  My hope—stemming from my desire to fight for justice in this neighborhood—was to find a way to fit in here; my fear was that nobody even wanted me to try. 

It was a toddler, hardly able to walk or talk, who was somehow able to assuage my fear.  After being at work for about a month, I came in a few hours late one morning. When I slipped through the playground gate, usually timid 18-month-old Javon spotted me.  He swooped down the slide, exuberantly shouting baby-speak, and scrambled right into my arms. A radiant grin stretched across his face, and my coworker shouted, “You’re his girl, Ms. Sarah. He was waiting for you.” I spun Javon around, tossed him in the air, made him squeal with delight, all the while dancing inside with the knowledge that one baby, at least, thinks I fit in just fine. 

From this moment of acceptance tumbled “big soft buffetings,” as Seamus Heaney might say, day in and day out. I started, slowly but surely, to discover that building relationships—and consequently working for justice—starts the same way regardless of what world you are in: with an outstretched hand and a genuine smile.  When I was unsure of this early on, it was the babies and toddlers who set an example.  “Ms. Sarah,” Kamora said to me one afternoon, “What are these? I like them.” She trailed her fingers over the freckles on my arms: “Can I have one?”  Before I could come up with a suitable answer, she took my hand and said, “Oh never mind. Let’s play.”  The children disarmed me completely, showing unbounded trust and love, and holding tight to my hand, rooting me to the ground when I would’ve been tempted to turn away.  The neighborhood seemed so full of problems: drugs, guns, poverty, crime. And yet, through the eyes of these tiny, innocent kids, I started to see solutions.   

Mainly, I saw love.  Recently, I looked on as three-year-old Emonie comforted her crying infant sister: “Ji’Yah, don’t cry. You’re ok, Mommy’s in class.. I’m here now. I love you—really. Don’t cry.”  In an equally breathtaking moment, I stood and watched an older brother sitting next to his little brother in the classroom.  Amari was very carefully untying Tarhijae’s shoes, and I looked on as he gently tugged one sneaker off, then the other.  Tarhijae hadn’t been himself all day—cried at breakfast, ripped a book, threw a tantrum—and now he sat, sock-clad toes wriggling, and giggled. Amari motioned for me to take Tarhijae’s sneakers. “Here. He told me they were too small.”  Even though Tarhijae doesn’t speak yet, somehow, I knew Amari was telling the truth. 

From babies and toddlers—from the people we look to least for answers—I have learned the most lessons this year. I have discovered, under their spell, what seeking social justice is all about. It is not, as I first thought, about the big picture, about eradicating poverty and solving world hunger, about rebuilding Baltimore’s vacant homes and getting drugs off its street.  It is the much smaller picture that matters; it is all in the freckles and shoelaces. Most importantly, it is not being afraid to stumble into a new world, take a deep breath, and surrender your heart.  The fight for justice can only begin when, to borrow the words of Seamus Heaney, you let your heart be caught off guard, and blown wide open.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Change a Heart Franciscan Program Volunteer

Jarrod Kinkley is originally from St. Marys, Ohio and recently graduated from the University of Dayton last May with a degree in Music Education. He is currently serving in the Change A Heart FranciscanVolunteer Program, where his placement is at Focus On Renewal, specifically at the Father Ryan Arts Center.

Rise and shine! Good morning, Pittsburgh! My day starts at 7:25am by waking up to my alarm and then saying a quick, “Thanks-for-waking-me-up Prayer”.  Then I mosey on downstairs to meet two of my community members for breakfast. From there Britney (community member) and I get dropped off in downtown by our other community member, Pam.

To get to my service placement from downtown, we have to hop onto one of these beauties (above) and take it for about 15 minutes to get to the Borough of McKees Rocks. The bus is always an interesting experience, never on time but our usual driver, “Gruff”, is always happy to see us and we often make small talk on our way on or off the bus.

Then we arrive in McKees Rocks, home to the best Pierogies in Pittsburgh! Britany continues on the bus to the Sto-Rox Family Health Center and I get off to walk the block and a half to the Father Ryan Arts Center. 

The FRAC (Father Ryan Arts Center) is a beautiful building that’s centered on arts classes and cultural experiences for the community. I roll in the door at about 8:55 am consistently and get to work. My job is to help out with educational and programming directives in the center as well as whatever else might need done. 

Around 11:15am, I go to the community center for about two hours. The center is an old bank that’s been setup to fit the needs of a community center. The doors are open from 9-5 for anyone one in the community to come in and enjoy free coffee, lunch, conversation and a myriad of other services.

While I’m at the community center, I get a chance to serve lunch to a variety of people from the community. The people there range from homeless, to established, to bored, to animated individuals who crave interaction. Before and after I serve lunch, I spend some time with the people and engage in conversation. These are probably the two most life giving hours of my day, talking with people that give life the flavor and kick we could all use to make us a little uncomfortable.  About three weeks after I started going to the community center, people on the street of the neighborhood starting calling out, “Hey Mr. K, how you doin!?” or “Yo, J-rod! I’ll see you tomorrow!”

Around 1pm, I make my way back to the FRAC to help facilitate a program called “Reader’s Theater.” It’s a program to improve literacy for the third and second graders of the area schools. The students get a nursery rhyme or children’s story with a twist and learn about diction, pronunciation, coloring their words with emotion. They get to design scenery for their final performance and they also get to create their costumes, under the supervision of teaching artists. 

After Reader’s Theater, around 3pm, I return to my desk for the remaining two hours of the work day and take care of various paperwork, photo/video editing for Reader’s Theater, filing, organizing, all while enjoying a hot cup of coffee or tea. 

Then it’s back home for a quick supper and then my community occasionally goes adventuring to a local park, taking every opportunity we can to make a scene. These are my favorite moments. We get to go out and be active while having fun, getting to know each other and taking advantage of all that surrounds us!

 Sometimes we’ll watch a movie together, have prayer night, bake delicious goodies, I might play guitar or recycle a wood pallet into a coffee table! (You know…everyday stuff)

I end each day with a “Thanks-for-the-day prayer” in some form, whether it’s community prayer, prayer with a friend, my Lay Marianist Community or by myself before bed.