Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"You’ll fall in love"

Ellen Jewett serves as a Dominican Volunteer at Immaculate Conception Academy Cristo Rey High School in San Francisco California.In this letter to herself that she wrote Dominican Volunteers USA's Midyear retreat, Ellen reflects on her Dominican Volunteer year thus far. Thank you for your service, Ellen!

Dear Ellen,
            You’ll fall in love. And no, I’m not talking about that cute boy in choir, though the four months you’ve spent with him so far haven’t been half bad. You’ll fall in love with life, with your community, with your ministry, and with yourself.
            One day not too far into your year of service, you’ll realize you aren’t taking about the kids but your kids, much to your boyfriend’s amusement. You’ll laugh that your conversations must sound absurd to outsiders, jumping around between kids but always using the possessive.
When there’s an issue with BART, your first concern will be if all your kids made it home, saying a prayer that none are stranded.
You’ll nearly cry in the back of the auditorium as one of your seniors gives a speech about how her mother died a few years ago and her dad is here illegally and might be deported under the new president, leaving her without parents. You’ll feel the water slosh around in your eyes, but you’ll pull yourself together so that you can be there for the freshmen you’re about to bring to work, freshmen who have their own struggles and really need you to be present to them.
You’ll find yourself having a hard conversation with one of your favorite campus ministers long after school ended because she’s concerned about her mom and brother’s relationship and what will happen when she leaves for college at the end of the year. You won’t have answers – you definitely won’t have answers ­– but all that matters to her is that you’re listening and you care.
When your kids find out your grandma passed away, they’ll give you hugs as they leave for the day. The next morning one of the same girls will wrap an arm around your shoulder as a way of greeting you, wise beyond her years, knowing that the pain and sadness wouldn’t have disappeared overnight.
With every single one of your students, you’ll see the strain that minimum wage jobs, long hours, and absurdly high rents put on a family. And it will hurt. A lot.
Your ministry will push you, sometimes it will push hard. You’ll be handed a retreat with 60 freshmen with just four days’ notice. You’ll help run a choir even though sometimes you barely feel qualified to be in a choir. You’ll play piano and flute in front of the whole school. You’ll somehow learn the entire rapid transit system in a month. But you’ll never feel overwhelmed. Even in the scariest of situations, you will feel a pervading sense of calm, as if this is what you are meant to do.
You’ll fall in love with your community, despite all their foibles. You’ll love their intentional and caring actions, like the prioress offering to tell all the Sisters that your grandmother just passed away so that you don’t have to go through the pain of saying it all over again or your prayer partner leaving a treat outside your door just to brighten your day. But you’ll also love their unintentional truths and little quirks. There’s one who, though she drives you insane most days, leaves a packet in your mail box called “Writing Tips for the Doctoral Student” the day after you get your first acceptance to a PhD program. You’ll realize that’s her own special way of showing love and it will mean the world to you. Another will try to convince to you stop being vegetarian because she thinks that is why you’ve been tired for the last few weeks. It will drive you mad, you’ll want to scream, but you’ll understand that it’s because she cares about you, despite how misguided her suggestions may be.
            When you’re with your family at Christmas, you’ll refer to the convent as “home” without thinking twice about it. And you’ll mean it.
            You won’t exactly fall in love with your study, either academic or spiritual. But that’s where you’ll start to grow. Though graduate school applications aren’t fun, they will force to you think about what exactly you like in the different fields you study. They will help you find that passion once again, passion that slowly drifted away over the hustle and bustle of senior spring. You won’t love Theological Reflection either, but you kind of knew that when you signed up for the program. But it will allow you to push yourself, to share in larger group settings. It will teach you about aspects of Dominican spirituality, but more importantly, it will teach you to be vulnerable.
Prayer will be different, but the presence of God will be the same. You’ll tell yourself that you’ll wake up for morning prayer at 6 am, but it won’t actually happen. You’ll look forward to evening prayer at the end of a long day, a way to unwind and recenter after nine hours of work. Personal prayer will be difficult at times, mostly because sitting still for so long will make you want to fall asleep, but even this perceived dryness will help you grow and mature. You’ll enjoy going to Mass again, brought to tears by incredible and thoughtful Jesuit preaching that somehow always manages to connect perfectly to your life and the struggles of any given week.
You won’t fall in love with the city, especially not its absurd issues with gentrification, unreasonable rents, and income disparities, but you’ll fall in love with certain parts of it. You’ll find a family in choir at St Agnes, looking forward to every single rehearsal as a chance to laugh and to be whole. Every Sunday, your breath will be taken away as the J train comes up over the hill to the edge of Dolores Park and you get a view of downtown. When you’re stressed or just need air, you’ll walk up 24th Street and find a little village of bookstores, restaurants, and coffee shops and you’ll finally be able to breathe again.
In these six months, you’ll grow.
You’ll be happy.
You’ll be whole.

With love and blessings,

Monday, February 6, 2017

"But we can’t all be Paris Geller"

Our latest blog post comes from Jannel Mariano. Jannel serves at Catholic Charities Atlanta. Thank you for your service, Jannel.

Jannel Mariano  ( far left) and her community in Atlanta
If you’re anything like me, you’re no Paris Geller (a character from Gilmore Girls with a go big or go home attitude). No operation finish line in the making filled with charts and schedules of what connections need to be made and what tests need to be done before graduating college. I’ll be the first to admit that throughout my Gilmore Girls binge watching extravaganza, Paris Geller was my ultimate girl crush. Watching someone with fierce determination and the willingness and drive to do anything to get what she wanted as long as it was moving in the right direction of following her dreams to combine medicine with law was enough for me to dub her my girl crush. We later find out Paris Geller runs the country’s most successful surrogate clinic where she manages to find a way to combine both medicine and law. But we can’t all be Paris Geller. Some we find ourselves feeling more Rory Gilmore, she’s done everything right up to this point. Straight A’s, valedictorian, editor of the Yale newspaper and a dream of being a writer. However, she finds herself with no job offer or the will and drive to try to find a job and feels more or less stuck. Now I don’t want to be a writer (trust me, writing this blog has been far from easy) and I’m no valedictorian but I do relate to Rory in that she had a dream but still felt stuck. I found myself amongst many Paris Gellers during my senior year of college, watching people step into their next check mark on their to-do list whether that meant grad school or their first big girl job and amongst all of that I felt stuck. I knew there were opportunities and I knew the world was filled with them. I was filled with wonder and awe of what the world had to offer now that I had a bachelor’s degree in my hand. But it didn’t feel like enough. I wanted more (much like Ariel because let’s be honest flipping your fins really never did get you far). So I packed up my bags and I joined DVUSA. Because of this experience, I’ve learned more and experienced more than I could ever bargain for. And since I’m a huge Gilmore Girls fan (if you haven’t noticed already), here’s a list of 7 (one for every Gilmore Girl season) reasons being part of DVUSA has been incredible.

1)    I work with refugees as my 9-5 job. How cool is that! Not only do I work with refugees as in my job description says I am to help refugees find jobs and help them integrate to the American society. I also work WITH refugees as in my coworkers and other volunteers were former refugees. Which in turn means that I am surrounded by so much culture and rich history from places I didn’t even know were on the map. And although the paperwork and all the rules that comes with being a nonprofit can sometimes weigh me down, I am grateful and humbled to be of support to these refugees especially at the state our country is at. To be the person to let them know that someone cares and to be the person to remind them that at the core they are human is something I’m grateful for every day when I step into my office.
2)    I have the greatest community known to man (no bias of course). I live with three amazing sisters, a family with a 2 year old son, and a former Peace Corps/Episcopal Volunteer. So if that sentence alone doesn’t scream diversity, I don’t know what would. We are all in such different places in our lives and so our discussions during meals and prayer really do open up my eyes. I learn from their stories, their experiences, their jobs, their passions and their wisdom. And having a 2 year old in the house (who has finally learned how to say your name) greet you in the mornings to start off your day and greet you after work when you’ve had a bad day is definitely a plus as well!
3)    Atlanta is amazing! It’s a big city with a small town feel. There are festivals every weekend, lots of beautiful nature, history at its root (MLK was born here for goodness sakes!), and the biggest aquarium in the United States (which in case you were wondering does in fact have beluga whales). There’s lots of quirky communities and LOTS of shows and movies are filmed here in Atlanta which means the chances of you running into a character from The Walking Dead or Stranger Things is actually pretty high.
4)    I became pen pals with a detainee. I had an incredible opportunity to go visit the largest detention center here in Atlanta. My housemates are heavily involved with El Refugio which provides housing and food for families who are visiting their loved ones at the detention center. I spent a weekend as a volunteer at El Refugio and was able to visit a detainee through their visitation program. I had a one hour conversation with my now pen pal and by the end of the conversation came out with a friend. To put a face to the problems that surround detention centers was an experience I can’t put into words but to remind someone of their dignity and let them know that I see the injustice and they aren’t a criminal is more than I could ask for. 
5)    If you’ve always wanted a GNO but couldn’t find the perfect girls to go out with then have no fear! Because the sisters will be willing and able to. Your GNO will consist of and is not limited to: a night out to the theater filled with Christmas songs and drinks, Friday night happy hours at the house, movie nights with homemade popcorn, going out to eat pho for your birthday, and desserts every night!
6)    I know I already mentioned my job already but I feel like working with refugees deserves another number. Because when a client of yours gets her dream job and starts crying because she’s so lucky that God brought you to them, you realize that all the hard work you put into finding her that job is worth it. When she thanks you for finding her a job that gives her purpose and helps her provide for her kids, you realize that all the paperwork needed to get her there was worth it. Even though you’re here for service and the refugees are the ones receiving the benefits and help from the program you are involved in, it’s nice to have that reminder of why you’re here in the first place.
7)    I am now part of a larger community of past volunteers, future volunteers, associates, sisters, etc and for that I am grateful. To have people who truly understand the experience I am going through and the ideals I’ve held close to my heart is something I wouldn’t trade for in the world. I’ve made lifelong friendships and have a bond unlike any other with the current volunteers and I have DVUSA to thank for that.

And if you were at all curious about what my next move in my big girl world is, here’s a Rory Gilmore quote to answer just that, “I’ve got about the next two and half hours planned and then there’s just darkness and possibly some dragons.”