Monday, March 24, 2014

Every Day is an Opportunity

The following post was written by one of our second year volunteers, Cynthia Velasquez. She currently serves in Redwood City, CA.

“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” A.A. Milne

This quote has meant so much to me throughout my life that now it’s on the computer screen in the classroom at the Siena Youth Center.  It is there to inspire and motivate all of my students. Before I continue, let me tell you about the Siena Youth Center, or SYC as we like to call it. SYC is an afterschool program where kids from the neighborhood, mostly from public schools, come for homework help, extracurricular activities, fitness fun, and much more. SYC not only is an afterschool program, it is a family, and more importantly, it is a safe place for the youth to be.
Many of our families have not had the opportunity to advance their education here in the United States, making it difficult to find well paying jobs. In addition, many of our students come from single parent households working multiple jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Another reality is that many of the parents do not speak English well, making it difficult for them to help their children with schoolwork. These family dynamics are why SYC is such an important place in the neighborhood. 
Every day, I walk into a gym full of very energetic 3rd-8th graders full of dreams for their future. Every day, I am constantly reminded of how difficult life is going to be for many of them. Every day, my heart breaks a little when I see how far behind many of them are. Every day, I am bombarded with hugs and filled with love from my younger students. Every day, I see a glimmer of hope in some of my students who did not think they had potential. Every day, I see the smiles and boost of confidence from my students when they accomplished an extremely difficult task during homework time.  Every day, is a challenge of ups and downs, but it makes every great moment even better.

At SYC, I focus mainly on the educational aspects of the center. Every afternoon, I help more than 20 3rd-5th graders with their homework with the help of another coach and sometimes volunteers. During this time, it is difficult not to bang my head the wall as I try to help multiple students at once while trying to keep the room chaos free.  As I mentioned before, many of our students are very far behind academically, making homework extremely difficult. There are days I wish I had a one volunteer per student to really sit with them to complete their homework. There are days I wish I had more hours in my day with them to sit and read with them one-on-one. Even though that is not the reality for us, it is heartwarming to see volunteers dedicate their time to help. It is rewarding to see volunteers really take interest in the students and their success. During this Lenten season, I invite you to dedicate some extra time you have as volunteer at an afterschool program or another organization. If you do not have the time, think about donating an old computer, books, or unused school supplies. I assure you that dedicating a couple hours a month or donating unused items will make a difference in someone’s life. 
Imagine this gym filled with children working towards academic and fitness goals!
Cynthia challenges you to give some time to an organization this Lent

Can you spot Cynthia among her students?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Community Remedies Loneliness

Susan Van Trieste currently lives in community with House of Connections and ministers with Visitation Catholic School.
Kurt Vonnegut once asked this question; “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
After attending our Mid-Year retreat just a few short weeks ago, I realized that I was not alone in the continual quest of asking myself, “What am I going to be when I grow up?!” I feel that many of the current Dominican Volunteers are still on their quest to find out the answer to this question. I feel like I may never truly find out. Even though I am realizing that my passion lies within teaching, I still have a lot of growing, and admittedly a lot of growing up to do. But I’m coming to terns with that. I live and work with truly fantastic women, and a few men. They all serve as an inspiration because of the passion that they have for the ministries in which they have dedicated their lives to.
I think the biggest inspirations of all are the two sisters that I live in community with, Sr. Bernadine Karge, OP and Sr. Marilyn Derr, OP. Both women have served as guiding lights in trying to find where my passion lies. Sr. Bernadine, for example, is a retired immigration lawyer. However, I’m using the term “retired” very loosely.  She has such a genuine passion for helping others and making sure that their rights and needs are met. Even though she technically is retired, she still continues to volunteer her time and fight for the rights of the men, women, and children who are denied citizenship to the United States. Her adamant fervor for seeing justice met, motivates me to find where my love for something in this world and to see it through.
And let’s not forget Sr. Marilyn. She works at The Learning Center, teaching adults math and reading, preparing for them to get their GED’s. Her knowledge alone about teaching and school systems have helped me to realize that I too want to continue this path towards becoming a teacher. When I think about how I want to someday feel about my future career I think back to a conversation that Marilyn, Katri, and myself recently had. Katri had asked us “If you could live anywhere in the world, without worrying about money, where would you go?” Without hesitation, I said Italy because, come on, Italy. Marilyn however replied, “I would stay in Chicago so that I can continue to work with adults to get their high school diploma equivalencies.” This has really stayed with me because when I responded I didn’t even think about a job. I thought, “Oh man! I can see the Vatican, Rome, Pisa, Trieste, Milan vineyards galore!” But Marilyn’s passion spoke before impulse. It made me realize that when you find something that you love, nothing else matters. I think that’s why I believe that I still have a lot of growing up to do. My need to wander and explore is more palpable than anything else. However, my amazing community is making me realize that I have time to figure these things out. It is okay to be confused and not know. Everything will fall together as God has intended it to.
Living in community is more than just being in the same house, occasionally sharing a meal, and praying together. It’s about sharing our experiences and challenging each other to grow in our ministries, with each other, in our own personal lives, and in so many more different aspects. The people we share community with motivate and encourage us to do our very best. And I think Dorothy Day summed it up the best when she said, 

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

Susan and her community pose for a Christmas Card