Monday, September 24, 2018

Communities, Both Big and Small

Our latest blog post comes from Dominican Volunteer. Jake is a member of the House of Connections community in Chicago and reflects on his communities, both near and far.
Thank your for your service Jake.
DV Jake Moran

"Sometimes if you don’t take the time to sit down and reflect on life and experience, it seems that there’s nothing to say about it, nothing noteworthy about what has been.

That is exactly what I thought about my experience so far as a Dominican Volunteer before I sat down to write this post. Please, don’t get me wrong. I’ve done great work at my ministry site. I’ve loved getting to know those in my community, spending time with them, and praying with them. And it’s been exciting living in a new part of Chicago. But, I didn’t see any deeper meaning or deeper development in myself coming through this service, community, and prayer.

But there IS deeper meaning, deeper development. All that is needed is to scrape the grime of mundane regularity from the surface in order to see the impressive treasure that an experience really has been.

The House of Connections, the community house in which I live, is definitely one of those treasures. The two Dominican Sisters (Bernadine and Marilyn) and one other Dominican Volunteer (Lacey) that I live with are supportive, kind, funny, and caring, making living with them an enjoyable experience. We each bring many different experiences and identities to the community. For example, we are an intergenerational community: I am in my early 20’s, Lacey is in her early 30’s, and Sister Marilyn and Sister Bernadine are a bit older than that. We come from different parts of the country, different religious upbringings, different traditions, different house practices… and, yet, we have merged all of our differences to make this wonderful community. I would even venture to say that the differences between us are refreshing and bring value to our community.

And, I can definitely learn from these differences between us. Lacey very much values relaxation and contemplation. This directly transfers to her group prayer of choice - contemplative prayer. She will often play worship music and ask us to tune in to the music, relaxing in the presence of God. Marilyn can always find joy and excitement in every day life, even in the smallest of things. Bernadine possesses amazing courage and intellect. I often find that I lack these same characteristics and abilities that my community members exude. I find it hard to engage in relaxation or contemplation, I often get caught up in day-to-day life and miss the beauty of life, and I can lack courage at times. I have much to learn from them. Thankfully, the year is only just beginning. 
Jake, and his house of connections community, fellow DV Lacey Green, And Dominican Sisters Marilyn Derr and Bernadine Karge

Even though it has only been a month, and I am fairly new at my job at Sarah’s Inn and fairly new in North Lawndale (the Chicago community in which I live), I feel like I belong, I feel at ease. Since day one, my work and local community have welcomed me with kindness. I feel welcomed even though I am different than the average person in these places. At work, I am one of the only male employees, which is not surprising since I work at a domestic violence agency. In my Chicago community, I am one of the few white people that live in the community. Despite this, the members of Sister Marilyn’s parish, St. Agatha, were incredibly kind and welcoming when I first went to mass there. In fact, some other North Lawndale residents even say hello to me on the street or even strike up a friendly conversation with me (which is unordinary for Chicago).

Having lived in Chicago and the surrounding Chicagoland areas my whole life, I have always been told not to go to neighborhoods like the one I live in now. I was told that these neighborhoods are “bad” and that the people are bad too. But, having lived here and having talked to individuals from the community, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of the people living in North Lawndale, and in most other areas affected by poverty and crime, are kind people just trying to get by. There are a small number of people wreaking havoc in these neighborhoods. These people labeling North Lawndale and communities like it as “bad neighborhoods” have never actually lived in any of these communities, and may have never even been to any of these communities. They do not see the strength, kindness, or the beauty of these people. They only see the crime, the poverty, and the violence in these neighborhoods.  They refuse to realize and see that years of oppression and many current systemic inequalities have resulted in the current situations in these neighborhoods. They refuse to do anything to help these neighborhoods, keeping their consciences clean by dumping complete blame on those who live in these neighborhoods. They say that the people in these neighborhoods are lazy, corrupt, stupid… and that is what has lead them to their current situation and is what keeps them in their current situation. They could not be further from the truth.

I like to write poetry and decided to write a poem on my experiences in and my thoughts on North Lawndale. I figured I would share it with you:

“Bad Neighborhoods”

Trees defy gravity —

Horizontal to the sky

grow their branches, high

with absolute beauty, yet free of vanity

This community defies probability

Its character shrouded by lies

It gets by

On nothing, no resource availability

A tree flourishes here

The soil parched

Sunlight sparse

It grows taller with every drop of sweat, every tear

 I have learned a lot from the communities that I have become a part of because of my decision to do Dominican Volunteers USA this year. I have learned a great deal from both the community of people I live with and from my larger neighborhood community. But, community is even larger than just who we live with and what neighborhood, city, state, or country we live in. We, the whole human race, are all one community. We are all one in God, and, being one in God, we have the responsibility to take care of each other, to take care of every single person here on this Earth.
Jake And Sister Bernadine

Friday, September 14, 2018

Hope, Joy, and Resilience

In our latest blog post, we talk to 2014-15 Dominican Volunteer Sarah Hammel. Sarah served as a Refugee Resettlement Specialist at Catholic Charities Atlanta and was recently appointed to the Dominican Volunteers USA board. Thank you for your service and continued Dominican witness, Sarah! 

1. Give us some background. How have you been shaped by the Dominican mission and Dominican life? Why do you feel called to serve on the DVUSA board?
Sarah Hammel, 2014-15 Dominican Volunteer

"What comes to mind immediately is that I wouldn’t be where I am today without being introduced to Dominican life and DVUSA. I currently work as the Membership Coordinator of Catholic Volunteer Network and am a huge believer that faith-based service can change the world.
My introduction to Dominican life came in the mail one day in the form of a postcard from Dominican University. As a girl living in a small rural farming town in Michigan, my daydreams always involved traveling and exploring what the world had to offer. So, I was immediately struck and drawn in to the mission statement of Dominican University: “Dominican University prepares students to pursue truth, give compassionate service and to participate in the creation of a more just and humane world.”
My first year at DU, I was introduced to DVUSA through my involvement with University Ministry. Someone handed me a RESPONSE directory and opened my eyes to all the various service programs that existed. My mom served in the Peace Corps in the 70’s so I knew about secular service organizations but wow there a lot of amazing faith-based programs!
I dove deeper when I went on my first service learning trip with MaDonna Thelen to Cuernavaca, Mexico. That immersion experience changed everything for me and put me on the path to studying social justice and civic engagement. My entire college career was spent working alongside MaDonna in the Community-based Learning Office helping provide volunteer and service opportunities for my peers. As the years went on more inspiring mentors (Shannon Green, Ann Hillman, Professor Calabrese, Michael Chapuran, Sr. Melissa Waters) entered my life and helped guide me towards a year of service with Dominican Volunteers USA after college.
So you see it has all come full circle for me. My time as a student at a Dominican sponsored institution surrounded by the Dominican Sisters their charisms shaped me into the person I am today. I now coordinate and oversee the creation of the RESPONSE directory that I first picked up all those years ago at DU’s University Ministry Center. Now, looking forward, I wish to give back to the Dominican community by serving on the Board of Trustees for DVUSA."

2. The mission statement of Dominican Volunteers USA to “respond to the injustices of our day by ministering with our sisters and brothers, especially those who are poor and marginalized.” What does serving with our brothers and sisters who are marginalized mean to you? Why is serving with others who are marginalized so important and life-giving?
“Our lives preach God’s great compassion for all, especially those who are the most vulnerable among us. Our preaching is always on the side of Justice, peace and reconciliation.” This core value of DVUSA inspired me during my year as a volunteer. I lived in the Penn Community in Atlanta, GA and worked as a Case Worker for Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Department. I spent my days listening and accompanying refugees who fled their homes in search of a better life in America. It broke my heart to hear their struggles and know that many America’s did/do not want them here in our country. 
The 2014-15 Penn Community of Atlanta

My year as a DV offered me the privilege to enter into the lives of many beautiful souls. I found myself feeling very grateful and honored to learn about my client’s cultures and recognize God in each of them. How powerful it is to witness the transformation of someone’s life. True I helped take my clients to doctor’s appointments, taught them to navigate public transit and encouraged them to be self-sufficient but the greatest gift was how much I learned from each of them. That no matter what life throws at you there can still be profound hope and joy and resilience. "
The 2014-15 Dominican Volunteers with DVUSA  founders Sisters Marcela Conley and Mary Kremer

3. Tell us about your life outside of DVUSA. What do you like to do for fun?

I live in Maryland in-between Washington D.C. and Baltimore! I’m married to my high school sweetheart and we celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary this past June. The two of us started indoor rock climbing this year. It’s a really fun way for us to spend time together while also challenging our bodies and minds!
I also love to knit! Many years back, my grandma taught me and to this day it’s one of my favorite things to do. When I travel, I try to find a local yarn shop to support their business and stock up on new yarn!"

4. Please share a quote that hasbeen particularly impactful in your ministry, life of service, and faith journey?
"I think this quote was in the University Ministry Office at DU and it’s one of my favorites.  "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."― St. Catherine of Siena 

5. As you begin your tenure on the DVUSA board, what are your hopes for the future of DVUSA? How would you like to see our ministry grow and develop?
             "My hopes for DVUSA are for it to be sustainable and also diversify. Look at where the volunteers are not coming from and consider going there. How can DVUSA be accessible for more young adults and individuals wishing to serve others and grow in their faith?"

6. Any final thoughts you wish to share?

            Fun fact: My great aunt, Evelyn Rogers, was an Adrian Dominican Sister! She taught music at Siena Heights and Barry University. I found her in a photo on the history wall at Siena Heights when we were there for our DVUSA Closing Retreat!
Sarah's great aunt Sister Evelyn Rogers, second row from top, third in from right