Friday, August 30, 2013

Caring for Others: Getting Things Done with Amate House

By: Lindsay Williams, Amate House

AmeriCorps Service Site: Erie Family Health Center

This year I served as the Oral Health Educator for Erie Family Health Center.  Erie is a community based healthcare clinic that serves low-income residents of Chicago. Most are under-insured or not insured, and the demographics of our patients are 80% Hispanic, 10% Black, and 10% other.  As a health educator my main role was to go out into community centers, schools, and Head Start programs to present on the importance of good oral health.  Because of this outreach, I have driven all over the city of Chicago.  This has given me a very diverse perspective of the city.  I have worked with classes of 15 and classes of 45.  I have seen kids with mouths full of silver teeth and parents that have not been to the dentist in five years.  I think that I have a much more holistic view of the neighborhoods and people of Chicago now than I did last year.  

Throughout my time I have been both inspired and disheartened.  I have only begun to understand some of the deeper root causes of the poor oral health of so many Chicago natives.  Kids tell me over and over again how they love soda pop, eat McDonald’s, and have a bag of hot chips after school every day.  The nutrition messages I am sending sometimes seem completely lost on these kids because their parents are not reinforcing good behaviors.  I am also disheartened as I talk with parents and realize that important oral health messages are sometimes completely foreign.  So, I am helping a few parents learn more, but I am just one small person.  There are so many more parents who do not attend parenting meetings and will continue to buy McDonald’s weekly.  Or, maybe this is all they can seem to have time for or afford, despite what they might want.  Many people also lack dental coverage. There are so many reasons behind the poor oral health of many Chicago families. 

I am inspired, however, by the parents that I work with.  They ask important questions and tell me that they have learned so much.  I am inspired as the kids I teach begin to answer my nutrition questions correctly, and give me huge smiles and hugs as I leave.  Lastly, this year has inspired me to continue my work to improve the health of others.  Next year I am going to begin medical school, and I hope to continue working in the neighborhoods that are most in need of medical care.  Because of my time as an AmeriCorps member with Amate House, I will continue a life of service.  

Lindsay Williams is from St. Paul, MN and is now living in Omaha, NE.  She is currently finishing up her first year at Creighton University School of Medicine.  Last year, she served as an Amate House Volunteer and AmeriCorps member as an Oral Health Educator at Erie Family Health Center in Chicago.  This summer, she led a medical service trip of 7 students to the rural Northeast region of India as well as Calcutta for 5 weeks.   

Amate House, the young adult volunteer program of the Archdiocese of Chicago, fosters the transformation of its volunteers by providing experiences of full time service to people in need, community living, and faith formation. Amate House develops future leaders for the church and world who are committed to building a more just and loving society. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Discernment Story: Making a Lifetime of Difference

By Sr. Meg Kymes, D.C.
Former Vincentian Service Corps volunteer
Daughters of Charity

The Vincentian Service Corps motto was “A year of service makes a lifetime of difference.” I know that motto is true for me. When I came to VSC, I was hoping to find a career path and meet some new people along the way, but I did not count on one year making as big a difference in my life as it has. In a letter to Sister Elisabeth Hellot, one of the first Daughters of Charity, St. Louis de Marillac tells Sister Elisabeth, “If you place yourselves often in the presence of God, His goodness will not fail to advise you on all that He asks of you…” As I look back at my journey from a VSC volunteer to a Daughter of Charity for three years now, this line comes to mind.

My journey began during my first weekend at the VSC house. We invited over the Daughters of Charity who lived in St. Louis along with other volunteer groups in the area. When the Daughters came to the house, there was an instant sense of joy that permeated the house. Everyone was laughing and smiling. I thought to myself, “I wish I could be happy like that.” Immediately, I heard a small quiet voice inside me say, “You could…” I tried to push that voice away, answering it with a strong, “NO!” But, the more and more I pushed, the bigger this feeling got. I realized I could not avoid this, so I met with our volunteer coordinator who was also the vocation director for the Daughters. I told her I felt called to religious life and she guided me on what my next steps could be. She guided me towards my next steps of retreats and meeting more of the Daughters.

During this discernment, I still continued to work at my service site and to enjoy my time with my community members. I prayed that God would help me find a way to continue my life of service because I was finding that happiness that I saw in the Daughters in this life. I enjoyed community life with my fellow volunteers. We were blessed that we simply enjoyed being with each other. I looked forward to coming home and having dinner with my fellow volunteers and offering our reflections on our experiences. Even to this day, we still try to keep in touch with each other. Through my service, I was beginning to understand the differences between a ministry and a job. I found I was building relationships with my clients and getting to know them as people rather than simply consumers of services.

I continued to listen to where God was calling me; I tried to sense where I felt the peace that only God could give. I spent one evening a week with the Daughters who lived near the volunteer house. We prayed together, ate dinner together, and watched the news. It was a great opportunity to get a glimpse of what the day to day life was like for the Daughters. My vocation director invited me to retreats with other women who were looking into religious life. It was a time to set aside and listen deeply for God’s voice and meet people who were also interested in religious life. It also helped me to know I wasn’t alone. The more time I spent in prayer and the more time I spent with the Daughters, the more I felt God was calling me to spend my life serving Him and His people.

If you make room in your life for silence and prayer, God will show you where He wants you to be - whether that be religious life or not. He will send you little hints along the way, in your daily life or in your time of prayer. If you pay attention, God will give you the chance to make a lifetime of difference.

Sr. Meg Kymes, D.C. served as a Vincentian Service Corps volunteer in St. Louis before answering the call to join the Daughters of Charity.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Call to Holiness

The call to holiness and the mission presented to the Church from Jesus Christ is certainly a challenging one. The fact that God created us with the ability to freely choose not only between right and wrong but between varied truths allows the members of Christ’s body, the Church, to live out the freedom given by God by our birth and baptism. The Catechism defines freedom as “the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility ... Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude” (1731). The ‘mission,’ so to speak, of Catholics in this day and age is to live the Gospel message and to promote a New Evangelization.

This does not mean that everyone is called to any particular vocation. However, everyone is called to a vocation. It is up to the individual, because of their freedom, to choose and discern where they are being called by God and for what purpose. Thomas Merton, in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, eloquently puts it:

Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity.

Concrete personal reflection has never come easy for me, and there is a reason that people tend to hide their emotions. Reflecting on the meaning of vocation and what God is calling me to do conjures up memories of high school retreats of discovering where God is found in daily life. While structured experiences of faith exploration and formation are important in shaping the broad spectrum of faith, I have learned that is not all of what my faith encompasses. 

At the very first meeting with my spiritual director, he asked, “Who is Alex?” I began to spew answers such as student, friend, brother, and the like. What I wanted to avoid was the internal reflection on the self because I didn’t want to have to address the underlying feelings regarding vocation and personal identity. If we are indeed called to shape our own identity, then we very often have a choice. This could be a choice between choosing the truth over a falsehood or even between particular vocations. In discernment, it is my task to look forward, to look to the future. If I dwell on the things of the past, I will never adequately be able to say that I have done what God is calling me to do, whatever it may be. It is the Christian’s responsibility, my responsibility, to discern this vocation, whatever it may be, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If we must seek the Creator “spontaneously,” as the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes puts it, on their own accord and out of impulse, then it becomes clear that the mission of the baptized Christian is to seek God always and in all things. The Italian priest Saint Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, wrote, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things, and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.” I have often found consolation in this prayer of Saint Vincent. It serves as a reminder to attune my heart and mind to God, in all things and at all times. Out of this freedom of choice and seeking comes a responsibility to act out of instinct and to lead others closer to Jesus Christ by first seeking the very God who created us.

Alex R. Boucher is the Program & Operations Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.

*This article was originally posted by Catholic Apostolate Center on January 15, 2012, and was re-posted with permission. Click here to view the original article. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Getting Things Done with Border Servant Corps

Bree Gallicchio served with Border Servant Corps, a CVN-AmeriCorps program that provides support staff for established social service agencies that serve the marginalized population of Las Cruces, N.M., Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, in particular. Originally from Branchburg, NJ, Gallicchio studied Spanish and Education at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD. In her reflection, Gallicchio talks about her time working specifically as a coordinator of Peace Camp. 

As an AmeriCorps Member, I had the opportunity to plan a three-week summer program called Peace Camp.  Peace Camp is a day camp for students in grades K-12 where the topics of social justice, non-violent conflict resolution, cultural awareness, and working cooperatively are covered in a fun and engaging way. 

When I first heard that I would be planning three weeks of summer programming for kids spanning the ages of 5 to 18, I’ll admit that the task seemed a little daunting.  I had written lesson plans and delivered those lesson plans before.  I had even written and graded tests, graded group projects, and improvised a few lesson plans while student teaching.  But creating fun and yet meaningful programming for all of these age groups? – I was a bit anxious.  Fortunately, with the support of the community members who had been a part of Peace Camp in the past and new international community members, the task proved to be well worth the effort, even being fun at points. 

Bree at Peace Camp (campers cropped for privacy)
Every day at the beginning of camp, I was so nervous that things would not go as planned—that a volunteer would not show up, that a camper would not enjoy an activity, that a material we needed would be forgotten. Yes, those things did happen.  However, with the help of the numerous passionate volunteers and the positive attitudes of the kids, everything worked out.  The kids left every day with big smiles on their faces after singing “The Moose Song,” learning a new handshake from Ghana, or working together to cross an imaginary lava pit.  Not only did the kids laugh and have fun, but they learned as well. They learned about cultures from all over the world, that diversity is all around them, that people around the world maybe are not all that different from them, and that there are effective ways to deal with conflict that do not involve violence. 

While to some the objective and message of Peace Camp may seem a little unreachable or unrealistic, the truth is that I saw a completely different group of kids at the end of the week than at the beginning.  I saw kids who were speaking new languages and learning new ways to interact with their peers. I saw kids who maybe one day will become peacemakers in their own communities. 

The goal of the Border Servant Corps is to provide support staff for established social service agencies that serve the marginalized population of Las Cruces, N.M., Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, in particular. We seek to serve those living in poverty, the homeless or near homeless, immigrants and youth. Volunteers are encouraged and supported in exploration of a simpler lifestyle, life in community and spiritual growth.