Monday, April 29, 2013

A Day in the Life at Dorothy’s Place Hospitality Center: Talia Firpo

Talia Firpo is a recent graduate from CSU Montery Bay where she majored in Global Studies and minored in Spanish Language. With the intention of being a part of an organization dedicated to loving people and working to overcome social injustices, Talia joined the Companions of the Way, the intentional living community that supports Dorothy’s Place in Salinas, CA.

"During the day

                                    Anyone can come and play dominoes

                                                  Yappy, yelling and loud, conversations abound

                                         Recall that it is a shared space for us all

            Outside? Come on in

   Out of the cold

                 Make yourself at home."

If you’ve ever come by to drop off donations at Dorothy’s and have walked through the Dayroom to get into the donation room, you know what lies inside: too many people, not enough chairs, the scent of coffee and folks inquiring about sugar, the morning news, a passed-around clip-board recording all those who want to do laundry, the polite request of a toothbrush and razor, and bursts of energy.

Dorothy’s Dayroom, named after Catholic Worker Dorothy Day, is a space for people to step off of the streets and into an atmosphere that is quieter, safer and offers various services. We feed people because it brings them in, but really the mission is to listen, love, share and otherwise create relationships with our guests.

The tangible services that Dorothy’s provides are as follows: restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, mail services, use of telephones, and of course, a home cooked meal. The intangible, personal connections are harder to quantify and oftentimes more challenging to bring to life. Other miscellaneous things I find myself doing include giving fashion advice to people trying on clothing in our donation room, calling social workers with questions, playing endless games with guests, braiding people’s hair, organizing birthday celebrations, participating in community forums, and simply sharing stories.

On typical days, the Dayroom opens at 7:00 am and folks are welcomed in with a hot pot of coffee and the morning news. I can sense the mellow energy rising around 8:30 when breakfast is served in the kitchen, adjacent to the Dayroom. After breakfast, we gather with volunteers to do our first cleaning. After a quick sweep, mop and spray down, the real fun begins: from 10am to 1pm (when lunch is served), the Dayroom is used for activities. There is always either a movie or music. 

Tables are set up to allow for games and art projects. The guests are accessing services and hanging out. I am making my rounds, saying hi to folks, checking in with specific people, passing out toothbrushes, or petting the street dogs outside. In the afternoon, people who do not have any other mailing address come to the office to pick up their mail, and people begin to line up outside to get some lunch. Following lunch is our final clean-up and closing, and the Dayroom says goodbye to its guests at 2pm until we open up again at 7am the next morning.

On occasion, the ordinary day-to-day activities are punctuated by memorable events. In February, the folks at Dorothy’s Place bid Rachel, a Companion of the Way and staff member, farewell with ice cream, face-paint, the game “Taboo,” and a homemade card. Having something to celebrate, even if it is a little sad, is a great way of generating more positive energy. The monotony of the day was shattered, and reggae music and the delicate art of face painting were the main entertainment. We thanked Rachel for her attentiveness to individuals, her big laughter, her funky dance moves and, most importantly, the love she has spread though conversation and presence. 

The mission of the Franciscan Workers is to live, to love, and to work in harmony to serve the marginalized, to create partnerships that are mutually liberating, and to pursue social justice with respect and dignity for all in the spirit of St. Francis and Dorothy Day. The Franciscan Workers serve the poor in our community through a series of social justice projects centered in personalism and human rights. The Day Room at Dorothy's Place Hospitality Center is designed to be a gathering place where people who are homeless and marginalized, and others who are our guests can socialize.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I Serve Because....

Watch our video to see why our program's volunteers and AmeriCorps members serve! To see more of our videos about volunteer and mission work in the U.S. and abroad, click here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Learning to Dream: Getting Things Done with Good Shepherd Volunteers

By Haileigh Nelson-Good Shepherd Volunteers

Service Site: Family Foster Care

Haileigh Nelson was born in Corona, California. She graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2011 as a Natural Science major. For the past 2 years, she has been working as a Good Shepherd Volunteer. She spent her first year in New York City working as an intake assistant and recreation counselor for Family Foster Care (Therapeutic Department) in the Bronx. After that, she continued her service as an international volunteer in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where she is am currently serving now in a residential center for teenage girls. 

"Many people in his life have given up on him. I refused to. He taught me to dream again, no matter how crazy or far-fetched my dreams may seem."

My AmeriCorps year has been filled with countless memories and people who have impacted my life in ways that I could have never imagined. Serving at Family Foster Care, I was challenged on a daily basis by youth who came to us with various backgrounds, and have each experienced their share of trauma. I was able to work with many of them on a one on one basis, and get to know them as people rather than as information presented in a file. Each youth was unique in their own way, and underneath the trauma was a determined, eager, resilient young person who wanted something more.

When I first met Leo, he was upset. I wasn't sure what he was upset about, but I went over to him and introduced myself. Even with his anger, he was able to introduce himself to me, and just that simple conversation helped to calm him down. After that day, every time he came to the agency, he would come over to my desk and say hi before talking to me about his life. I partnered with Leo’s sociotherapist at the time to come up with a recreation plan for him that coincided with his behavior plan. Leo struggled a great deal with emotional management, and often times got in trouble due to this. Because I had started to build a relationship with him, I was able to use our recreational activities as an incentive for him to try to manage his emotions in a less violent manner. We were also able to use basketball, his favorite sport, as a metaphor to help him understand that consequences for aggressive behavior due to anger were similar to the consequences in basketball for committing a foul. 

As the year went on, I watched Leo grow tremendously. About halfway through the year, his sociotherapist, whom he was very connected to, left the agency. This threw him for a loop, and he was very sad when she left. He would come and sit with me and talk with me about her, expressing how much he missed her. I was glad that I could be a person that he trusted to talk to about how he was feeling concerning this particular loss. 

Leo often times would express his gratitude for me in ways that only he could. This story is my way of showing my gratitude for him. Leo taught me great patience in this year. He also taught me to never give up on someone. Many people in his life have given up on him. I refused to. He taught me to dream again, no matter how crazy or far-fetched my dreams may seem. Now, I dream big and work to make it come true. 

Thank you, Leo.

During her AmeriCorps year, Haileigh provided case management and recreational therapy to 58 youth living in Family Foster Care in Bronx, New York.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Catholic Charities Service Corps Volunteer: Krista Fultz

Krista Fultz went to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she majored in Theology and received a double minor in Social Work (Diversity Studies and Child Welfare). After graduation, she moved to East Texas and worked at the Pines Catholic Camp. She then moved to Buffalo, NY, to be a part of the Catholic Charities Service Corps and now works at Victims Services with victims of domestic violence. She would like to continue working in social justice, possibly getting her Masters in Peace and Justice Studies at the University of San Diego.

Hello, from the west side! My roommate Colleen, our two cats, Bonnie and Clyde, and I live on the west side of Buffalo, NY about a mile east of the Peace Bridge and 30 minutes south of Niagara Falls.

I wake up in the morning to a beautiful cacophony of my alarm clock, birds, and the hungry kittens. After preparing for the day, I’m off to work! I work in the village of Kenmore, which is about 15-20 minute drive. I really enjoy my drive into work; the city is waking up and going about their days. I do not think that many people know how beautiful Buffalo is. The old Victorian houses are absolutely gorgeous, the Niagara River and the marina just down the way and the village of Kenmore is charming as well! I also love listening to NPR on the way into work. I LOVE listening to NPR and come into the office sharing something that I heard on the radio.

Upon coming into the office, I usually stop in and say hello to June our receptionist. She is amazing! The office would surely fall apart without her. After visiting with her for a minute, I go upstairs to my office, where I water my plants, and brew some coffee.

Then it’s time to tackle my day! Like I said earlier, I work at Victims Services. Right now, much of the work I do is with a housing grant. We just received funding to help families (with emphasis on individuals who were effected by domestic violence) get back on their feet by helping cover moving costs, security deposits, and first months rent. I talk on the phone A LOT.  I also take calls from individuals seeking domestic violence counseling, financial assistance (food, help with gas or electric, prescriptions, etc.) or other emergency needs.

I also help facilitate support groups through Victim Services. Earlier this year, I helped run a resiliency group for mothers and their children. (Studies have found that promoting the bond between the non-offending parent and their children helps with the healing process). We also coordinate a support group for women. Most recently, we started a yoga class for some of our clients who have experienced trauma in their lives. These women are amazing and inspiring. I learn so much from them sharing their stories.

Another thing that I love about Buffalo is all of the wonderful things to do here! Some nights, I go to spiritual direction at a local college. There is also a young adult’s Catholic group that meets once a month for fellowship, Adoration and teaching.  Most nights, Colleen and I cook dinner together at our little blue house and talk about our days. I am very blessed that Colleen and I get along so well; we spend a lot of time together as a community of two! We have befriended a lot of volunteers in Buffalo, and they are always up for having adventures! Elmwood Village always has something going on. We play trivia at a local pub, Buffalo loves its festivals (Irish, German, Polish) there is also dancing (there is a great dancing scene in Buffalo: Salsa, Swing, even Argentine Tango!) or we just stay and watch a movie with friends.

When the day is finally done, I am so thankful to have answered God’s call to become part of the Catholic Charities Service Corps. I love my work, my community, my dear friends and the city of Buffalo. I go to sleep extremely content and in love with where God has led me…and looking forward to the days to come!

Using Catholic Social Teachings, Catholic Charities Service Corps invites members to "discover their light, and ignite it in others," instilling and awakening a true responsibility to advocate for social justice by entering into people’s stories. Intentional communities offer potential to increase self-awareness, refine communication skills, offer support and companionship through what can be an intense and joyful experience. Members discover or define skills, interests, talents and, ultimately, those gifts they can use to serve into their futures. Learn more here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Getting Things Done with Cap Corps Midwest: The Good in Goose Scat

By Erin Shawgo, Cap Corps Midwest

Service Site: Urban Ecology Center

Erin Shawgo is a Cap Corps Midwest alumni from 2011-2012, living in Milwaukee and filling her days with transformative justice, music, food, and yoga, among other things. She loves working with youth, spending as much time outside as possible, and continues to work at the Urban Ecology Center as a volunteer coordinator. 

Goose scat has been a big part of my life these last six months, thanks to a group of students from Community High School— a small public charter school in Milwaukee that I worked with at my placement, the Urban Ecology Center. Community High joined my co-teacher, Tory, and I last November to fulfill a service learning component of their curriculum. We introduced them to the work that the Urban Ecology Center does in Washington Park and explored options for a long term service project.  After trash pick-up, invasive plant removal, seed collection and more, the group chose to delve into the issue of geese overpopulating our park. 

At first glance, having geese in the park may seem like a great thing. They offer a close-up view of wildlife and can be fun to watch, especially with their young in the spring. However, each time we walked in the park with Community High, the students noticed the surplus of goose scat covering sidewalks and green spaces. They decided that the park would be more pleasant if we could find a way to reduce the number of geese calling the park home, and the amount of scat they brought with them.

The students began to research why so many geese were visiting the park, what problems they were causing, and what other people around the country were doing to handle similar situations. We went on a trip to Madison to visit some experts from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)  and talked to some film makers who produced a short film about effective solutions. We learned that geese liked Washington Park so much because of its open, green space, easy water access, vegetation, and lovely bread buffet often provided for the geese at the north end of the lagoon. Through mapping and photography, we gained evidence of the erosion the geese were causing along the lagoon's shoreline as they entered and exited the water. Research done by the students also showed us that bread is  hard for geese to digest since their diet should mainly consist of green vegetation. We learned how to oil eggs to prevent them from hatching, watched videos and spoke to experts about doing a goose round-up.

Ultimately, the group decided to put their focus into shoreline restoration and increased signage in the park. With the help of staff at Washington Park, the group has been a part of planting taller and larger wetland plants along the lagoon to deter geese from entering in and out of the water on foot and increasing erosion. The staff has also helped cut, trim, and bundle buckthorn to build the eroded shoreline back up. The students increased signage because they realized there were not enough signs in the park explaining the consequences of feeding bread to the geese. The students identified the area where people fed geese the most, and helped to design signs to inform the community.     

It has been an amazing experience to see a group of high school students work to make their community a better place. It’s funny what stepping in a little too much goose scat can do.

As an AmeriCorps Environmental Educator at the Urban Ecology Center, Erin helped develop a new project at her site that encouraged community service and engagement among local High School Students.