Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Life of Joyful Gratitude

Our latest blog post comes from Dominican Volunteer Kateri Golbiw. Kateri serves as Assistant Campus Minister at Immaculate Conception Academy Cristo Rey High School in San Francisco, California. She reflects on her journey to San Francisco and how her two friends and coworkers, “Joyful” and “Gratitude” have shaped her along the way.

     For years, my favorite adjective has been ‘joyful’. Happiness isn’t the same thing as joy, for it is fleeting and caused by an outer force. Joy, however, is deeply rooted, and can be present even in the midst of sorrow. However, it can fade when a person becomes lost to who they are meant to be.

     One year ago I had just been matched with my ministry site, ICA Cristo Rey, as their potential Assistant Campus Minister (and work-study commute chaperone...and lunch lady...and sometimes choir director/piano player...volunteers wear many hats!). My mom, the occasional helicopter, "encouraged" me to not leave for San Francisco once the position was secured. And I, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for adventure, brushed off her warnings of missing home (and of leaving my heart in SF...which happened in my first week. This city has me wrapped around its little peninsula!). For the month leading up to my actual departure, since I am truly a homebody and not Nellie Bly, I was inclined to agree with her. However, I had this pull on my heart, and despite the nerves, I was at peace: I knew God was calling, and I had to heed that call.
Gypsy Aroon, age 7

     After I moved to SF, I began to realize that I had become so negative, that I could hardly find any joy. I had left home, family, friends, and my baby (aka my dog), Gypsy. I was beyond any form of homesickness that I could recognize. I’d been in a school of some sort for 21 of my 25 years, and working in a school wasn’t the same as being a student. I was completely lost.

     My inner joy kept fading, slowly disappearing “like baby teeth, losing parts of me I thought I needed.” [1] I became the person I always swore I wouldn’t. Not only was I negative and dark, but I didn’t appreciate what I had right in front on me. Here I thought that the part of me I was losing was no longer needed, when it was really ALL I needed. Instead of recognizing that I have good friends right here in SF, my dream job, an amazing support system, and I'm living in the most wonderful city, room and board free, all I saw is what I was lacking. I have no family here. No old friends. A huge, strange city. “We all want something beautiful,” [2] but do we actually recognize that beauty, when it is right in front of us?
     Enter two of my co-workers-turned-friends.

     The first is the most joyous person I know. Scarves are her "thing," it's rare to see her without a smile on her face, and whenever I need a hug (which is often, because I'm a hugger!), she's ready. This woman has been through so much, and faces struggles I’ll never be able to imagine. Through it all, she is positive. She is Joyful, and has led me to find and recognize joy in all that I do.

Joyful (with a scarf...), me, and Gratitude!
     The second appeared in a Thanksgiving video my Campus Ministry team put together about what people are thankful for. His simple response was that he is “thankful for everything.” He is Gratitude, and he reminds me to express my gratitude for everything, even (and most especially), for the hard things. Even when he's cutting a wisdom tooth, he's smiling and talking my Irish temper down, reminding me to be thankful for the beautiful day.

     “There’ll be days like this…when your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment. And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say ‘thank you.’ You will put the ‘win’ in winsome…lose some. You will put the ‘star’ in starting over…and over. And no matter how many landmines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.”[3a] 

     I’m trying to live a life of Joyful Gratitude, because otherwise there will always be another force pulling me with it, like the moon pulls the ocean. I, like the ocean, may not have any control over being swept away when others work in my life, but I CAN choose to kiss the shore with joy and in gratitude upon my return.[3b] Of all the things that I can choose...

I can choose to be affirming, joyful, loving, and grateful.

[1]       “When Love Arrives” by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye
[2]       ‘Mr Jones’ by Counting Crows
[3a,b] ‘B’ (If I Should Have a Daughter) by Sarah Kay

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I’d Be Surprised and Comforted By How Much I’ve Grown and Changed

Dominican Volunteer Sydney Boyer serves as a teacher at the Opening Word, a support center for immigrant women in Amityville New York. In this post, she shares a letter to her senior-year self.

Dear Me,

     Recently I was asked to give advice to the graduating seniors of Xavier University through a 30 second video. It was hard for me to limit myself to a mere 30 seconds when I felt that I could write an entire book on post-graduate transition. I don’t think any amount of advice can totally prepare you for the changes that come once you graduate. However, I think if senior year me could see post-graduate me now, I’d be surprised and comforted by how much I’ve grown and changed. If I were to talk to myself last year, I think these are some of the things she would need to here. These are only some of the lessons I have learned, and I will continue to gain more as the year progresses.
1.    Believe in yourself
     For the last four years, Xavier University built me in up in so much love from the community around me. Through retreats, like Approach, I learned about how much God loves me through the people he’s put into my life. I don’t think that I could have made it through some of the hard moments without this love to fall back on. However, amidst all the retreats and service trips, I forgot how to rely just on myself.
     This year of service has been challenging and at times lonely. Upon arriving in New York, I was blinded by the excitement of change. Once the excitement wore off, I was lost and felt alone because no one from my Xavier community was right next to me. These moments gave me time to develop a relationship with myself rather than just the people around me. They gave me time to learn to trust my own opinions and my own instincts. These moments are still helping me learn to love myself.
2.    Love the little moments

     This year, it has been harder to find God through traditional prayer and scripture readings. Every morning I wake up at 7:00 AM to be at prayer by 7:15 AM. During this time we traditionally read from the Dominican Praise book and the bible. While some may find God through these daily routines, I have found them more monotonous than fruitful. After leaving Xavier, it has been hard to find a faith community and where I see God in my every day. It wasn’t until I started to slow down that I truly found God in the small moments.
     Throughout the year I have learned that God can present himself to us in small ways everyday if we learn to take time to stop and observe the world around us. What may seem like a challenging moment can quite easily turn into a God moment. For me these moments may look beautiful and radiant while others may just be happy coincidences. A few weeks ago I flew to San Francisco with my fellow volunteer for a mid-year retreat. We didn’t realize how long the flight was and that we wouldn’t be offered any food on the flight. Needless to say, we were very hungry. However, my thoughts of hunger were calmed by the sunset. The sun hadn’t looked so beautiful since my time in New York. As we started flying, I had the privilege of watching that sunset for 3 hours. For me, God was so clearly presenting himself in that moment. It’s moments like these that I have learned to love and found prayer and meditation in.

3.    Explore the full story

     For those of you who don’t know, I come from a very small town in Ohio. In this small town diversity is a rare thing to find. Therefore, much of my information came from what I saw on television and from the people around me. This barrier was broken once I went to college, because I was discussing issues based around race, privilege and status.

     This year I have continued to explore what these issues mean and what I can do with my privilege to positively affect change. I have learned the importance of exploring both sides of the story, because truth only comes when you listen to all the facts and opinions. Not only that, but I have learned the privilege I have as an American citizen to seek out truth, to advocate to my representative for change and to vote for what I believe will be the best for everyone in our country. We have a long way to go, but progress starts with exploring the full story.

4.    Embrace your roots

     Throughout high school all I thought about was leaving small town Ohio. I wanted to get away and start new in a big city with big ideas and opportunities. When I moved away to Cincinnati I was relieved to be away from my small town, and I was able to reinvent myself. As I was faced with moving again, I was excited at the chance to live in one of the biggest cities in the world and embrace being a New Yorker.

     From this experience, I have realized that I am not a very good New Yorker, let alone a very good East Coaster. Ohio is in my blood, and there is nothing I can do to change that. Instead of running from where I come from, I learned that it’s important to embrace your roots. Ultimately they are the basis of who you are. Use these roots to define your future, and ultimately you’ll find more pride telling people about the journey you made to get to where you are.

5.    Change is ok
     For a long time, I wanted to be a part of the United Nations. I wanted to sit amongst some of the most powerful people in the world and have the chance to influence their ideas. In college, I realized that I may not want to do this anymore, but I was scared of changed. I was scared to let go of the dream of 12 year old me.
     This year has really taught me though that change is alright. It’s ok to change your dreams, because something bigger may be waiting for you at the end. No matter what, there will always be someone to encourage you in this transition and to tell you that it will all be ok in the end. Thankfully I have found that person in my fellow volunteer, Sean, in my family, and still in my Xavier friends. I am confident in my new decision to become a social worker and the future that lies ahead.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

September in New York

Dominican Volunteer Viviana Garcia Blanco serves with the Dominican Leadership Conference at the United Nations. Viviana offers a reflection on her early days of living and working in New York.

In September, the United Nations General Assembly is officially in session. This means that streets close, traffic is in a hectic frenzy, and heavy security is enforced-everywhere. I felt so important as I made my way through the crowd; my shiny blue badge glistening in the sun, my hair impeccable, my heels striding through the crack pavement.  World leaders stop to take pictures, talk to news anchors and journalists. Police block a pack of protestors nearby. I notice a woman holding a sign, it reads: You might have won the rat race, but you’re still a rat. I laugh, not understanding. Some days later the statement clicks. It’s September in New York, I am 22 years old.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Transparency is key

Diana Hernandez explaining the Mexican tradition  of Dia de los Muertos to her first grade religion class.

Diana Hernandez serves as a 1st grade Religion Teacher teacher at  the St. Francis Center Redwood City California.

Growing up in the western suburbs of Chicago, I lived in predominantly white neighborhoods my whole life. Over the years, I observed how small towns began to expand in size, population, and diversity as many immigrants began to move into these suburbs looking for jobs and better schools for their children.

I remember my elementary and middle schools always lacked the resources needed for bilingual students. School programs such as student conferences, PTA meetings, sports, and other school events were always in English. At a very young age I had to learn to be the translator for my parents.

School was always predominantly white students and white faculty and staff. The only people of color I would see at school were the janitorial staff and the workers who cooked and served our food. It was not until high school sophomore year that I finally had a Latina teacher. It was until high school that I finally felt represented and supported by a teacher who spoke my language.

Ms. T taught social studies class with great confidence and boldness that my Latin@ peers and myself had never experienced before. For the first time, at the age of 15, I was learning about the success and accomplishments of Latin@ people. The first day of classes, Ms. T openly and liberally expressed her story of where she came from, who she was and what she believed in. She openly shared the story of how her parents left Puerto Rico and immigrated to the U.S in search for new opportunities.

Every day I woke up eager to go to Ms. T’s social studies class. She taught us history that she believed was not in the “sugar-coated American textbooks.” I remember being shocked to find out what Christopher Columbus really did to the Native American people and at the same time being frustrated that I had not been taught this truth earlier in my education.

Outside my class, Ms. T was also my track and field coach. Her mentorship helped me to feel empowered as a Latin@ woman to find confidence in my voice to speak up for what I believed in. She highly encouraged the track team to think about what colleges we wanted to get into. She always affirmed our potential by saying, “you are all intelligent and strong women you will be become successful independent women when you grow up.”

Being the first in my family to go to college, her words remained close to my heart, even when I faced financial obstacles in college and almost dropped out because I was sure I was not going to be able to afford it. I remembered her words and I convinced myself, “que si se puede,” and I became the first in my family to graduate from college.

Why am I sharing so much about my adolescent life?

When I started working at the St. Francis Center and the Siena Youth Center, I began to compare my own experiences to those of my students. From day one, I saw myself in the experiences of my 1st graders whom are all Latin@. My students and myself are blessed to have been born to immigrant parents who work hard day and night to provide for us.

Being bilingual has helped me connect with my students in ways that I had never imagined. Like Miss T, the first week of classes I shared my story with my students, I shared with them where I came from, where my parents came from, and what it meant for me to grow up as Mexican-American in this country. I quickly bonded with my students over similar cultural interests in food, music, art, and traditions. Speaking Spanish helped me communicate with their parents directly and has given me the opportunity to actively listen to their stories.

When I am not teaching 1st grade religion, I am an ESL tutor, teaching the parents to read and write in English. The first few weeks were emotionally draining as the parents openly shared their daily struggles in providing for their children. The first week I actively listened to the parents share their stories with me that both empowered me and broke me. Seeing the bruises of hard work in their arms and the dark circles under their eyes was like seeing my own parents sitting before me. It is so frustrating to know that immigrants come into the U.S. seeking better opportunities for their families and instead of supporting them our government oppresses them, places labels on them, and creates a caste systems to block their chance at success. 

Working with a Latin@ population has made me deeply reflect on the career path I want to take after my DVUSA volunteer service. Having experienced racism and oppression my ministry work has made me self-reflect that I carry with me pain and pride growing up as Mexican-American. Slowly this pain is being mended as the community I serve in Redwood City affirms my leadership skills and potential to succeed as a Latin@ woman.

My ministry work has also helped me realize that compassion and active listening can not be limited to a 40 hours a week job. I have purposely planned events and lead field trips outside my weekly work hours to make myself more available to the families and youth. Miss T taught me that true relationships do not form inside four closed walls. I hope that my students look up to me and feel represented and supported the way I did when I met Ms. T.