Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Day in the Life

...with the New York Intern Program at St. Mary’s and Church of the Heavenly Rest, by Erin Richards

 Erin Richards, a volunteer with the New York Intern Program, poses in front of the community residence.
 View from outside the Church of the 
Heavenly Rest on E 90th and 5th Avenue

Being a part of the New York Intern Program means you automatically have two new communities: one at St. Mary’s, our home, and one at your worksite, mine being Church of the Heavenly Rest. One thing that both places definitely have in common? There is always something going on! That means there are always lots of people and lots of opportunities to be involved.

Erin and her four roommates,
 also volunteers with the New York Intern Program

St. Mary’s is a small community. Every week my roommates and I get together for a spirituality gathering which we take turns leading. It can be about anything we want, which gives us time to think outside of the box and discuss new interesting topics, but also to check in about how things are going. After that there is always a group dinner. Each week it is with a different group and there is never a dull moment when 15 people get around a small table- just laughs and good memories!
One of many Wednesday night dinners at St. Mary’s
Heavenly Rest is made up of an amazing team of people. On any given day there are at least 5 activities going on, from youth ministry, to planning the 150th Anniversary, to everyday meetings and programs, to outreach activities! Heavenly Rest is a church that has deep and inquiring spirituality. It encourages you to think about church on more than just Sunday mornings, cares for the needs of all ages and stages, does God’s work outside our doors, practices stewardship as discipleship, and is always joyful and fun.

First ever staff selfie with those at Heavenly Rest
The outreach committee at Heavenly Rest is always planning something, from community meals on the Holidays, to Toy Drives, work with a neighborhood school, and a first ever parish wide day of service. The outreach committee focuses on different ministries, such as a youth, aging, and hunger/nourishment. The entire parish has the opportunity to volunteer for and get involved in these events. Anybody, no matter where you are from, can walk into Heavenly Rest and immediately feel a part of a loving community!

  Setup for a senior meal that took place in September at Heavenly Rest, just one of the events that the outreach committee does

To learn more about volunteering with the New York Intern Program, click here

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Many Layers of "Justice"

By Joe Loney, Maryknoll Lay Missioner serving in Quallacollo, Bolivia

We met in a ten by five foot room, which serves as a computer skills room, library, interview room and combined storage-closet for the new comers and sleeping quarters in the nighttime.  Through the grapevine Miguel learned that the free lawyer from the “Church” was attending to legal questions.  He must have waited fifteen minutes or more as the men were lined up outside the door, patiently waiting their turn as they sought second opinions, confirmation that their lawyers, prosecutors and judges were telling them the “truth.”

This, however, was not a free legal aid clinic activity in an office building.  We were in the jail/prison aptly named “San Pablo” located in Quillacollo, Bolivia.  Three hundred and fifty men are incarcerated in an old colonial home, where at most 150 should be housed. Lumped together are those from 15 to 75 years of age, accused and convicted, violent and non-violent, first time and repeat offenders. Clouds of saw dust filled the air because the men have assembled an open air carpentry shop in the former central patio of the mansion, making simple chairs and desks out of shipping pallets so they can earn enough to feed, clothe and medicate themselves as the government funds are woefully inadequate. As part of the Prison Ministry sponsored by the Catholic Diocese, I was doing my best to help them with their legal concerns.

After working as a Deputy Defender for the Legal Aid and Defender Association of Detroit for ten years and now working in the Bolivian prisons for nearly five years, I thought that I knew something about helping out women and men with their legal concerns.  After all, I had not only graduated from Wayne State University´s Law School, I had also obtained a law degree from the Universidad Mayor de San Simon in Cochabamba, Bolivia.  Brainwashed twice, as my family members and friends sometimes remarked.

With my finely tuned legal antenna and practiced interview skills, I quickly gathered that Miguel had been arrested for selling drugs near a school, was a first time offender and used the proceeds to support his own habit.  So far, I thought to myself, nothing was complicated and I began to explain the requirements for a bond (According to Bolivian law--proof of regular employment or full time student status; verification by the police of his actual residence; proof of community / family ties by the presentation of birth certificates of his parents, spouse, siblings and certification by the local neighborhood association) when I noticed that he did not seem to be overly interested.  I also saw that my “standard” advice on the opportunity for probation for first time offenders, especially if we had him reviewed by a physician who could certify that he was a drug user, was not particularly interesting for Miguel.

Something or someone, as a person of faith I believe it was the Holy Spirit, prompted me to use a new skill that I had learned in a workshop on forgiveness and reconciliation—fundamentals for implementing restorative justice.  I asked Miguel how the drugs helped him.  He began to share that over a year ago his girlfriend had ended their relationship and that the drugs allowed him to sleep and dream about her.  He also shared that he had not dated anyone else during the last year and had her name tattooed on his arm after their relationship ended.

Upon reflection, I am amazed how the restorative justice focuses on the underlying, unmet basic need that results in the actions we label in the criminal justice system the crime, is so critical to changing the individual´s future and preventing recidivism.  Basic needs in the restorative justice sense are those such as love, acceptance, respect, being part of a group or family, power, freedom, personal security and pleasure.  If I had never asked how the drugs affected him, I would have never gathered an insight into his basic need for love and acceptance.  Miguel shared that his parents simply told him to “get over it” whenever he wanted to talk about his feelings about his ex-girlfriend and his basic needs.

Today I wonder about the hundreds of interviews I have conducted as a criminal defense lawyer.  How many really addressed the unmet, underlying human needs of the women and men I interviewed?  How much of my training and my professional pride has been too narrowly focused on just one aspect of the totality of circumstances of the detained person?

My prayer is that it is not too late for me to become more concerned with the integral needs of the women and men I serve.  I sleep better at night knowing that Miguel is now receiving counseling to allow him to verbalize his basic needs and to identify alternatives to drugs to satisfying those needs. I am grateful to Catholic Volunteer Network for leading me to this place.

To learn more about Maryknoll Lay Missioners, click here

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Day in the Life

...of a Salesian Volunteer, by Melissa Camarena

Hello! My name is Melissa Camarena and I am 23 years old. I am from Downey, California and am currently doing volunteer work in Ciudad Juarez. I live in a community with 4 Salesian priests and 8 other volunteers from the US, Spain, other parts of Mexico, and Argentina.

My morning usually starts at 8 a.m. with morning prayer called "laudes". In the morning prayer format, each volunteer takes a turn leading prayer or reading the Liturgy of the Word.

After that, each volunteer is sent off to his or her designated oratory to do any work that is needed. This ranges from trying to expand current projects, to organizing urban camps where we play and work through many activities with children.

The evening is my favorite time! This is the time where we go to the "brigada de alegria". We go out into the neighborhoods, waving flags and calling kids out to play.

I've just started my journey here in Juarez, but I feel the next 10 months will be filled with new experiences and opportunities to grow.

To learn more about volunteering with the Salesians of Don Bosco, click here

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Standing Against Environmental Racism

By Naim Edwards, Serving with Cap Corps in Detroit

Naim Edwards, Capuchin Corps Volunteer 
Just this morning, as I was preparing to write this blog, I learned a new term – environmental racism. It is defined by the Energy Justice Network as “the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color.” I presume most of us consider hazards to include living near a landfill, incinerator, coal-fired power plant, or any entity that may contain or emit chemicals harmful to us. I agree with that, but I also believe being separated from a healthy environment to be a form environmental racism.

For example, forcing Native Americans to live on reservations, which are often areas difficult for humans to subsist in due to poor soils (for agriculture) and a lack of human resources. Similarly, concentrating “brown” people in urban slums (poor in soil and resources) and using policies and systems to keep them there are forms of environmental racism. Additionally, I’d argue that destroying people’s environments through war, deforestation, or contamination so that it is no longer desirable to live there is also a form of environmental racism. Both the contaminated and the deficient aspects of this injustice are prevalent in Detroit, a city marked by fossil fuel refineries, power plants, and incinerators, as well as communities that have been neglected and deprived of resources.

The BioBlitz, organized to expose and encourage youth and local residents to be scientists,
involve academics in community initiatives, foster intergenerational interaction,
and reconnect people with nature.
My life in Detroit focuses on restoring natural beauty to the city. I do this through native plant and vegetable gardening with the understanding that healthier environments foster healthier minds and spirits. Aside from increased access to healthy foods, it is well documented that urban gardens and green spaces contribute to more positive, resilient individuals and communities . Thus, I am part of a larger movement to empower people simply by making their worlds look better. Of course, organizing others in the gardening and restoration process further strengthens and multiplies its benefits.

Children learn to identify insects, plants, and other organisms. 
Everyone has the right to interact with living things other than humans and our pets. We should not have to leave our communities to experience nature’s beauty. We share our planet with countless other organisms; their presence in our lives is a source of stability, hope, and inspiration. The value of watching a plant grow, birds singing and playing at a feeder, or butterflies fluttering about should not be underestimated or taken lightly. I have witnessed first hand the power and wonder of reconnecting people to nature.
Some Food Warriors learning about biodiversity at D-Town Farm in Detroit. 

With the implementation of a community garden, I invited a small group of people to engage in the supposedly mundane task of starting seeds for the project. I had the fortune of at least having their curiosity to start with, and once the seeds begin to sprout, there was an air of excitement and praise of new life and opportunity! People who chose not to engage in planting seeds were jealous that they didn’t participate in giving life to our little plants, while those who did were joyful and anxious to take care of their new found responsibilities. I’ve also witnessed anxious people dismantle their fear of spiders or snakes after having the opportunity to handle and observe these creatures in a safe way.

A young Food Warrior has made a new friend during a BioBlitz.
Imagine cities full of people giddy and yearning for spring to start, not simply to get away from our cold, seemingly lifeless winter, but ready to witness and support new life. These attitudes can be extended into our homes, schools, and work places. New life inspires new ideas – new beginnings. Detroit’s marginalized communities need to feel and experience revitalization, and adding jobs (which isn’t really happening) is not enough; we must add substance, biodiversity, and relearn vitality from nature with all of its power and life giving energy.

To learn more about Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps, click here

Friday, October 9, 2015

An Early Sunset

By Matthew Guiffre, Mercy Volunteer Corps, serving in Guyana South America

There is nothing easy about living in Guyana. Navigating the city streets of Georgetown is difficult, household chores need to be done more mindfully than in the United States, and even simple tasks like taking a shower or prepping to go to bed require more effort than I’m used to. Everything is just a little bit more difficult. Thankfully, as I’ve been adjusting to this new culture, country, and way of life over the past month and a half, I have had two saving graces that have kept everything in perspective. The first is my community of MVC volunteers who are experiencing the ups and downs of living in South America with me on a daily basis. The second is my job. No matter how difficult a single day may be, I’m always grateful to head to work. It serves as a constant reminder of why I’m in Guyana in the first place.

Mercy Volunteer Matthew Guiffre enjoys a beautiful day in Guyana,
South America, with his  students.
I’ve been working for just over six weeks now at an orphanage for boys about fifteen minutes outside of the city of Georgetown in a small village called Plaisance. There are over fifty boys that live at the orphanage and about half of them attend the K-6 school on the grounds of the orphanage. Once the boys reach grade 7, they go to school at a secondary school in the next town over. I’ve been teaching the fifth grade class since my arrival and it has been…quite an experience. There are just a handful of boys in each grade. So, I spend my mornings and afternoons with three nine year olds and a thirteen year old who is repeating 5th grade for the second (or third?) time. They’re great kids, always keeping me on my toes. As the days have worn on, I’ve realized just how important the role I play in their lives is. Not to sound like a conceited fool, but the information that a fifth grade teacher dishes out to his/her students is essential stuff for life. For example, in the first few days of school, I’ve already taught the boys how to use quotations marks in Grammar class and how to do long division in Math class. When it comes to teaching vital lessons like these, I take the job very seriously. It’s fun to be able to teach something fundamental to little human beings, and it’s exhilarating to see them begin to understand it. On the flip side though, it’s slightly terrifying when you correct their homework and realize that they are still missing some of the basics. Alas, all part of the ups and downs of teaching. I’m learning really fast, I love being able to learn on the job.

My classroom is a simple room with no walls between my room and the other classrooms in the school. All that separates each “classroom” from the next one over is a blackboard. I would have thought that it would take quite some time to get used to this way of teaching and learning, but I quickly grew used to staying focused on my classroom and the kids have been learning like this their whole lives, so they don’t even notice that there are five other lessons going on simultaneously with their lesson. The only time I have any issue with my four boys losing their focus is when the first graders are singing along with a cassette tape to an “Itsy Bitsy Spider” song that they all learned when they were in first grade. No matter how many times I try to coral them back into our lesson, they always feel the need to sing along with their six-year-old friends in the next classroom over.

I have no materials to speak of to teach my students with, other than a few pieces of chalk and some outdated, tattered textbooks. Somehow though, it’s enough. Yes, it would be greatly beneficial to have a copier, pencils, crayons, notebooks or loose-leaf paper, but we make do with what we have. It takes a lot more creativity to teach a group of boys with nothing but chalk and my imagination than it would if I had a “Smart Board” and access to the Internet. I do find it humorous; however, that at the end of each day all four boys and I are always covered in chalk –our clothes, our faces, there’s no escaping it!

The Mercy Volunteer Corps Guyana community celebrates a Guyanese festival in Georgetown.
At the end of each day I’m tired and I welcome the fact that Guyana’s close proximity to the equator means that the sun sets right around six o'clock each night. I think of it as the earth giving me permission to wind down and head to bed early. No matter the day, whether it’s Monday or Friday, I’m always exhausted by the time I’m arriving home. Thankfully, the tired feelings I experience are all just remnants of a good day’s work, in which I did a little teaching and, ironically, ended up learning so much more about life, love, and how the world works in the process.

To learn more about Mercy Volunteer Corps, click here

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Ten Tips for Making the Most of Your Service Year

By Elyse Wegner, serving in Los Angeles with the Episcopal Urban Intern Program

Changing the world starts with you
I have had the honor of being an Episcopal Urban Intern in Los Angeles for the past ten months.  I know that when the program ends, I will leave a completely different person. I will leave with a newfound passion, energy and vision for social justice. I will leave my cohorts, fifteen unique and inspiring individuals, but we will always stay connected through this experience. Ultimately, I will leave the program and this year will come to a close, but the program and the valuable lessons I’ve learned will never leave me.

Lesson one: No expectations allowed  
Leave your expectations at home. Don’t expect to get everything right away. Don’t expect to be everyone’s best friend. Don’t expect to always get a seat on the bus. And definitely don’t expect for everything to go your way. Intentional community is about compromise and realizing that what you do affects those around you.

Lesson two: Try new things
The Episcopal Urban Interns together on a retreat
Most of my job entails traveling to our 17 partner churches and helping the program coordinator facilitate free cooking and nutrition classes. In these classes, we teach the participants about health and try a new recipe every class. Some participants are hesitant to try dishes with ingredients that they are not accustomed to such as whole grain noodles or vegetables. However, they are pleasantly surprised one hundred percent of the time. This kind of exposure opens up a world of opportunities and truly changes lives.

Lesson three: Ask questions 
It’s okay to ask questions. It shows interest and stimulates conversation. You will do yourself and those around you a disservice if you pretend like you know everything. This service year is about broadening your perspective and recognizing that people are resources.

Lesson four: Just do something 
There are those who crave significance, and those who work hard for causes they believe in and thus, create significance-a lesson I learned from our Executive Director at Seeds of Hope who is always sharing his wisdom. It has been so inspiring to watch people I work with just making stuff happen and I’m hoping that their company has decreased my tendency to procrastinate. Just do something, start somewhere and use failure as a platform to humble yourself and learn.

Lesson five: Invest in relationships 
Give people the time they deserve. Greet them, get to know them, and most importantly, listen. Productivity and collaboration go out the window when someone feels like they aren’t being heard, especially in underserved populations. You will encounter people from all backgrounds who will think very differently than you. Having thoughtful and difficult discussions will instill confidence to share your opinion while respectively hearing someone else’s perspective.

Lesson six: Share your ideas 
I remember it was my first or second week of work and I was still unsure of my place within the organization. We were at a meeting and ideas were being thrown out about how to solve a problem. I kept my ideas to myself because I did not want to intrude. Later on in the car I mentioned my idea to my boss and he asked why I didn’t bring it up in the meeting. I did not share my ideas because I lacked the confidence and was new to the professional world. Sharing enlightens the discussion and might spark creativity within someone else.
Teamwork makes the dream work

Lesson seven: Honor your commitments 
You will be glad that you did. I came into this year knowing that every week I would share a meal with my housemates and gather as a group of fifteen every second Sunday. The community aspect was what drew me to the program and I welcomed the structure and expectations. However, what sounds really good on paper, can end up becoming a challenge in real life. There are days when I don’t feel like going to church or having a long discussion about house duties with my roommates. But I do my best to be there because it brings me out of my shell and allows me to see the world through other perspectives.

Lesson eight: Go with the flow
Not one single day at work has been the same. I love the spontaneity of my job and most days, it doesn’t even feel like work because I am enjoying the service and company of those around me. However, there are days where I find myself digging into really tough ground to plant a tree or shoveling a truckload of mulch into wheelbarrows and feeling like the pile never shrinks. But you get through it and stick to the task because if you put it off until later, it will never get done. Remember, you are not above any job and having an open mind will make you a better team player.

Lesson nine: Stay Positive
It’s simple. Complain less. Give thanks more. Doing so will enrich the experience and create a positive environment that others around you will appreciate.

Lesson ten: Doodle and always tell the truth 
Our executive director always shares a stroke of genius with us at our staff meetings. We actually have a quote book of “Tim-isms” that have just left the rest of us in awe. This quote speaks to me mostly of embracing creativity and maintaining your integrity.

There are so many more lessons that I will cherish and keep close to my heart, but these ten are a good place to start. Invest in people, moments, places, and causes you believe in. True wealth is measured by our memories.

To learn more about serving with the Episcopal Urban Intern program, click here

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Day in the Life...

of a Marist Volunteer, by Luis Ramos

Once you arrive on property at the Marist Brothers’ Center in Esopus, New York (MBCE), you are surrounded by trees and countryside, and immediately welcomed home. That might sound odd for a moment, but it is always our hope that people who visit us feel welcome and at home.

Our mission statement reads: 
"The Marist Brothers’ Center at Esopus is a place where a Marist approach to ministry, formation, and service work together to evangelize young people and adults." 
It is truly exciting to live this out during this year with my fellow volunteers! Our volunteer community lives in The Cottage, one of a few different houses that is on the property.


Doing the dishes--a daily task

A day in the life of a Marist volunteer can change quickly! Our volunteer community has a few hallmarks. One pretty common one is taking care of dishes and serving meals in our dining hall. This, along with being present and available to groups, is part of our work of hospitality.

Our very organized kitchen

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.

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