Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Community and Relationships

By Monica Thom Konschnik, Catholic Apostolate Center

After living in community during your year or more of service, you probably have learned a thing or two about relationships and community.  Whether you just finished your term of service or you have been out for twenty years, there are many lessons to draw back on from that time and apply to your everyday life.

I feel very fortunate to have had a wonderful community experience of mutual respect and mostly strong communication when I did the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.  I do know that is not the case for every community, but even in communities where there wasn’t the best communication or healthy relationships, there is still a lot to take away.

Communication in Community

When you don’t choose who you are living with, you need to work a little harder to be able to express your needs as well as be there for those with whom you are living.  You need to step out of your comfort zone to be able to let the others see your quirks and shortcomings.  This helps everyone adjust to provide a healthy and safe living space.

During my year of service with the JVC, I learned how to really communicate with others.   As a very passive-aggressive person to start, I learned how to more appropriately communicate, and address conflicts head on.  Occasionally, I still resort back to some passive aggressive behaviors, but because of living in my community, I am able to recognize when I am not being as direct as I should and can adjust my behavior.

Because of the vulnerability and awkwardness I experience in my first few months of JVC, I feel I became a better community member to roommates after JVC and now to my current roommate, my husband.   I became more aware of the needs of others, sometimes setting aside my own wants and needs that got in the way of a successful community.

Sharing Your Faith

A unique characteristic of doing a faith-based volunteer program is the opportunity to be able to grow in your faith.  There is something special about being able to share your spiritual experiences with those with whom you are living.  In community, everyone is coming from such different places, but everyone is also in the experience together and can support and challenge one another to grow.
Living in community provided the opportunity for me to be able to find different ways to share my faith.  With the weekly spirituality nights, I was able to find the words to articulate my faith journey.  I was also able to go beyond words alone to express my faith.  Simple acts of kindness or a smile became an essential way for me to live out my faith.

Right Relationships

Living in community provides the opportunity not only for growing as a person and growing in your faith, but also the opportunity to have fun and enjoy those with whom you are living.  It is not very often that you get the chance to live with a group of like-minded people, sharing money and resources, going through similar work experiences, living in a new city or country.

There is a special connection between your community members and yourself.  Even if you never want to talk to a particular community member ever again, you still have a connection to that person because of the experience you shared.  It is important, though, to be able to grow from those relationships even if they were not successful.  Figure out within yourself where you could have been a better person.  And maybe it is true that time does heal old wounds, and try to reconnect with that person once there is some space and more experience between you both.

The community I was a part of in New Orleans continues to communicate and support each other a few years after our year together.  We have seen each other through three weddings, two children, one successful battle with cancer, job changes, moves, breakups, and new relationships.  I’m grateful to have those six people in my life still and am thankful we had such an intense and wonderful experience together; an experience that has taught me to be a better communicator and a better person in relationships with those around me.

Monica Thom Konschnik serves as the Administrator for the Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington, D.C.  She is originally from Royal Oak, Michigan and is a graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy.  She did a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in New Orleans, LA in 2006-07.  While she was there, she served as a Teaching Assistant for 2nd grade at The Good Shepherd School.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Getting Things Done with Cristo Rey New York High School

Christian Arana graduated from Georgetown University after studying  International Politics and International Development. He spent two years working with Cristo Rey New York High School, a CVN-AmeriCorps program whose mission is to provide an affordable alternative to urban families for a small, quality, value-laden high school. Here, Arana reflects on what it means to be of service to others.

As the son of Guatemalan immigrants growing up in Los Angeles, I learned early on from my parents the value of being a person for others. From car rides to school to LA Dodger games, I was given the same speech over and over again: be of service to others. It wasn’t until my graduation from Georgetown University that I truly realized the significance of this message and how my parents had made sacrifices in order to help carry me to graduation day.
This notion of being a person for others has guided my service as a college counselor at Cristo Rey New York High School. For the past two years, I have attempted to create educational opportunities for my students, who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and provide sound advice and assurance to their families as well. Through a combination of long hours, creativity, and sometimes just pure luck, I believe I have made significant contributions to Cristo Rey and its students. The results are clear.

I leave behind the work and experiences of two successful college road trips that inspired students to attend schools like Franklin & Marshall College and Saint Joseph’s University. I also helped build new roads for Cristo Rey and its students by leading the planning of their annual college fair. It was here where I reached out to the University of Southern California to visit our school and talk to our students. It was here where one of my students found her dream school that she will now be attending. In two short years, I helped 100% of my caseload achieve college access to places like Georgetown, Colgate, Tufts, Holy Cross, and NYU. 

I often remember my first visit to Cristo Rey New York High School as a Georgetown senior and what I learned that day. Unsure of where my life was taking me and uncertain about the paths I wanted to pursue, I first visited Cristo Rey not really knowing what to expect. I went to two classrooms, an English and History class, where the focus that day was on vocabulary and writing a thesis statement for an essay. What struck me about these classroom visits was how the teachers spoke about college as a certainty, rarely using the word if. They repeatedly used phrases such as when you go to college and that demonstrated to me the confidence this school has in its students and in itself. The guarantee and expectation that Cristo Rey's students were going to college profoundly affected me and inspired me to serve at this school. 

That, above anything else, is the lesson that I will be taking with me as I move along in my life and in my career. For all of my students, it is never a question of if, but a matter of when. When our students go to college, when our students graduate from college, and when our students become leaders for others—those are the discussions that I was proud to be a part of for these past two years.
I hope that in these past two years, I have made Cristo Rey a place that is more welcoming, impressive, and awe-inspiring than when I first entered it. As I go on in life, I am comforted by the fact that I will carry with me the examples of courage that my students and their families have shown me to serve as models for many years to come. 

The Cristo Rey New York Volunteers aspire to demonstrate the Christian values of social justice, community and simplicity by serving Cristo Rey students in all aspects of their spiritual and intellectual growth.