Ruined for Life, Earning the “F”, and My Last Post

September 29, 2010

So, it’s been a while. Over two months, actually. I meant to write this post in mid-August to wrap this blog up, but as JVC ended, and I began my new life as a “real person”, I got a bit distracted. Hey, it happens. But I’m back now. Well, I’m back for one last hoorah as TheVolunteacher. Here’s a quick (okay, probably not quick) rundown on what’s happened since I last wrote.

I joined about 40 Jesuit Volunteers in hiking about 30 miles of the Appalachian Trail at the beginning of August. It was intense, it was awesome, and I may actually still be sore from sleeping on the ground (or maybe it was the hiking part…). Regardless, it was a lot of fun. I had never even slept in my own backyard before, let alone gone hiking for 3 days in the wilderness of Southern Pennsylvania, but I enjoyed it. I was able to bond with some JV’s who I didn’t normally get to talk with. I got to hear more of their stories, talk sports, learn about their plans for post-JVC, and reflect on the year. It was a great experience, and one that I will never forget. I’ve attached some photos from the trail below. (As a side-note, thank you to all those who helped support me and my goal to raise $500 for JVC for this hike. Your generosity helps to ensure that great people in JVC continue to do great things for those in need, helping to make our communities, cities, and the world a better, stronger place for all).

After the hike, we arrived at Blue Ridge Summit, where it all began last August, for Dis-Orientation, JVC’s closing retreat, joining the other half of JVC-East. Here, I earned my first ever “F”. No, no, we didn’t receive grades as JV’s (we all know I’d get an A+, duh), but we officially finished our year as Jesuit Volunteers and became Former Jesuit Volunteers (FJV’s). It was an odd few days. We all knew we would be saying goodbye at the end of Dis-O, but we all kind of pretended it wasn’t actually ending. So, what did we do? We had a great time together, that’s what! We had ample free time to spend together, heard from FJV’s about post-JVC life, hung by the pool, dined on the finest of foods, and celebrated a successful year.

On Friday morning, we ate, packed, said a prayer, and said tearful, yet joyful, goodbye to one another. It was then that it hit me that JVC was over. It hit me that this amazing group of people meant a ton to me, and that we’d probably never all be together again. It hit me that my new life was starting. And it hit me that I had truly been “ruined for life” as the JV tag-line says. Not to be overly dramatic, but never again will I be able to look at the world in the same way; I know too much now. JVC has opened my eyes to so much, and made me think in ways I never really thought possible. I look back at the me that started JVC, and, really I’m the same Tom O’Keefe. But so much has changed, too.

And now, here I am, almost 2 full months into my new job at Cristo Rey Jesuit, moved into a house with good friends Nick and Rick, and making a life in the great city of Baltimore. Way back in August of 2009, I wrote of starting JVC, “It’s scary, nerve-wracking, a little bit sad and a little bit happy, but mostly it’s a truly exciting time.” I feel a lot of those same things now. But really, it’s different, and I can’t really explain the feeling, but I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. And that’s a great thing.

So, I guess this is the end of TheVolunteacher. I really enjoyed writing in this space. It was a way for me to fully flesh out and reflect on what I experienced. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read it. Your support means so much.

Keep spreading the good word, remember that life is good, and stay well.

Peace,

Tom


The Homestretch

July 6, 2010

As of today, I have just one month left of JVC…

Wait, let me say that again because I’m not sure I quite believe it.

As of today, I have just one month left of JVC.

No way! That’s crazy-talk. How is that possible?

Image via tpower1978

Oh, but it’s true. This year has absolutely flown by. Like wicked fast. And now, today, summer school starts and I start my new job, splitting half-time with my JV duties as a summer school theology independent study supervisor for July (I’ll start the new job full-time after Dis-Orientation at the beginning of August).

Since the school year ended on June 16, I’ve been helping to prepare for the summer programs at school, visited New York City (where I subsequently spent my entire stipend), went home to Massachusetts (where I was subsequently doted upon- “Hey, Tommy, would you like another post-golf Sam Summer? Or would you rather a Blue Moon before we sit down for the steak dinner you picked out?”), and celebrated America’s birthday with a big group of JV’s in Washington D.C.

So, it’s been a relaxingly exciting few weeks for Mr. O’Keefe.

Now, we’re nearing the end, the singing lady is clearing her throat in anticipation, and we’re about to tee off on the 18th for the 4th quarter of the 3rd period.

In one month’s time, I will be a genuine, card-carrying adult person complete with a (paid) job I care about, a commute, taxes and insurance (FEEL THE EXCITEMENT!), an income (wait, was that covered when I mentioned the job is paid?), my own place (well, shared with roommates), and the ability to do my own grocery shopping (actually, I’m really excited about that part for some reason).

I know I have a bit of a history of describing things as both “scary and exciting,” but I think this situation calls for it… again. The JVC chapter is ending, which is a bit sad, but I really can’t wait to start the next chapter. Hey, Life, bring it on!


“Why Would Anyone Wanna Leave Baltimore?”

June 16, 2010

I have some great, great news!

The Cristo Rey Jesuit Corporate Internship Program has hired me as a Corporate Sponsor Representative!

I could not be more excited for this opportunity. My time at Cristo Rey has been truly amazing, and I can’t wait to continue working at such an amazing place, and live in such a great city.

I’ll explain more about the position in a minute, but first, I think some big thank you’s are in order:

Mom and Dad- Pretty cool, huh? You’re oldest son has a job! Thank you for ALL of your love, support, and high expectations throughout the years. If there’s anyone who had unrelenting faith in me, it was you!

Friends and family- Your love and loyalty has meant so much to me through the years. Thank you!

Cristo Rey Jesuit and the people there- I wouldn’t want to stay if this year hadn’t been such a fantastic experience. Your devotion, love, and hard work inspire me every day! Thank you all!

JVC and Community- If not for JVC, I would never have had this opportunity. Also, thank you to my community, JVC Arrupe House. I’ve learned so much from you all this year. You’ve pushed me in ways I never thought possible, and your support for me has been so important to my year.

The People of Baltimore- I had no idea that I would come to love Baltimore as much as I do. Its people, places, and unique personality make it a place where I want to stay.

Okay, so, the job itself. Like I said, I’ll be working in the Corporate Internship Program as a Corporate Sponsor Representative.

The thing that makes Cristo Rey unique from other schools is the internship program. Each student, in addition to completing their college preparatory education, must work 5 days a month at local organizations like Legg Mason, Under Armour, and Mercy Hospital. In turn, these corporate sponsors, pay a portion of the student’s tuition. Recently, the Baltimore Sun covered the program wonderfully in much more detail.

My job will be as a liaison between the students, the school, and the corporate sponsors. It’s an amazing program and I’m honored and excited to be a part of it in such a great city!

Plus, as Bodie Broadus said in The Wire, “”Why would anyone ever wanna leave Baltimore? That’s what I’m asking.”


The Sounds of Silence

May 11, 2010

I’m a pretty extroverted person. I like talking. I like listening to others. I enjoy sharing conversation and laughter. So, when I learned back in August that JVC would hold a mandatory Ignation (read: Silent) Retreat, I was pretty nervous.

Ignatian Retreats, the longest being 30 days, have been a Jesuit tradition since the order’s early days, and have been a way for people to become closer to God through silent reflection, meditation, discernment, and prayer.

Ours was 40 hours long at the Loyola House of Retreats in Morristown, New Jersey. JVC provided us with various activities including prayer services, an all-night Peace Vigil, meditation, and yoga and resources like spiritual direction, books on personal growth, and prayers, but, otherwise, we were on our own in silence.

Like I said, at first, I was really nervous about spending so much time in silence, but the retreat actually came at the perfect time for me. I haven’t exactly been overwhelmed lately, but I’ve definitely been “whelmed” with community obligations, friends, work, and some big decisions coming regarding my future.

The retreat gave me time to bring God back into my life and my decision-making.

I was able to meet with my spiritual director for the weekend, Toni Moore-Duggan (from Baltimore, incidentally), twice during retreat for help in the best ways to reach out to God and listen. She advised that I think of God as a friend, rather than a judge, within me, who is continually reaching for me, guiding me, and talking to me. After that, praying and talking with God, rather than at or to God, became infinitely easier for me. I began praying out loud and started and ended my conversations with God with a specific prayer. It kept me focused and more able to listen.

Did I come away with all the answers? No. Am I now spiritually enlightened? No. Those things will take some more time to figure out.

I did, however, learn how to bring the G-man into my decisions and my every day- simply by looking, listening, and feeling.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.”

How and where do you hear God? How do you reach out? Have you ever been on a silent retreat before? How was your experience?


April Travels

May 3, 2010

Okay, I’m back. I know I haven’t posted since the very beginning of April, but this year ain’t over and neither is this blog (gosh darnit!).

It’s been a busy month. The winter has quickly turned to spring (or summer if you take into account that it’s currently 80 degrees at 11am as I write this!), and, boy, has it been nice to walk out the door in the morning without a coat!

Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to while away from the blogosphere:

  • After returning to Baltimore from a relaxing Spring/Easter Break at home in Massachusetts, the housemates and I made the trek southward to meet up with the Washington D.C. Jesuit Volunteer communities for a cookout. It was a perfect way to kickoff spring, plus the folks down in D.C. are top notch and a welcoming bunch. (By the way, you should check out their blogs, and other JV blogs, here)
  • On the 12th, we had our monthly dinner with the Wheeler House Jesuit community. As usual, the food was deee-lish, and the company was great. The Jesuits even donated some new kitchen supplies to us. It’s amazing how supportive they’ve been all year!
  • On the weekend beginning on the 16th, Scott, Kelly, and I made an epic, weekend-long journey, hitting southern New Jersey and the Connecticut JV communities in Bridgeport and Hartford. On Friday evening, we stayed at Scott’s family’s house in Pittsgrove, South New Jersey (I had been told that South New Jersey is a totally different state than North New Jersey, and now, I believe it! What beautiful country!). The Donovan’s welcomed us like long, lost sons and daughters and treated us with food (meat!), drink (good beer and soda!), and cable television (in HD!). On Saturday, we drove up to the Bridgeport Community intending only to drop off Kelly and pick up our friends Jeff and Alex to head to Hartford, but, instead, we spent the entire afternoon with the Bridgeport Brigade, and ate some dinner with them. They’re a pretty cool bunch, too! Finally, around 9pm, we arrived in Hartford to celebrate any early Cinco de Mayo with the 7 ladies of Agape House. It seems to be a weird pattern with JV communities, but the women of Agape House were fantastic hosts, and it was great to see them and my favorite Villanova “frienemy”, Karen. Finally, on Sunday, we made the long drive back to Baltimore (but not without a quick pit stop in Pittsgrove for lunch of course!) to begin a new week.

    My greatest of frienemies, Karen.

So, that was my April in a semi-long nutshell.

May should prove to be another busy, but great month. On the docket, I have a Baltimore Tweetup (when you actually meet Twitter friends in real life- weird, I know), a visit to the Philadelphia JV community, our Silent Retreat (yes, complete silence for a weekend), a potential http://tweetvite.com/event/BmoreTequilaTweetup party for our house, Stand Up for Comedy night with CRJ, and, my birthday on the 28th.

Have a great week, everyone, and I’ll see you when I return from Silent Retreat!


Built-in Support

March 11, 2010

Each year, hundreds of Jesuit Volunteers (and all people involved in programs like JVC) are thrust (willingly, I might add) into something unlike anything they’ve likely ever done before. How are you supposed to go to a new city, live with 5 or 6 people you’ve never met, start a challenging new job, and live on $85 of spending money per month all at once?

Image via "plentiful"

Well, JVC, for one, does something pretty amazing: they provide JV’s with support. Support from former JV’s (FJV’s), neighbors, Jesuit priests, bosses, and co-workers. JVC will even connect JV’s with volunteers from other programs, even if they’re rivals, heathens or *gasp* both (just kidding).

Here’s a few ways we get support here in Baltimore:

  • 2 FJV Support People – Earlier in the year, our two FJV Support people, Steve & Leah, came to our Spirituality and Community nights to participate and give us feedback for any problems or questions that we may have. We also each met with one of them for a one-on-one in which we could talk about challenges we’re facing.
  • An FJV Network – There’s a pretty darn good network of active FJV’s living in the Baltimore area and we’ve been lucky enough to get together with some of them on different occasions. In the fall, a group of FJV’s meets in Patterson Park for frisbee; this winter, Scott, Stacey, and I have been playing on an FJV-infused broomball team; we’ve hosted a couple of Pot Luck Dinners at our house with FJV’s; and the FJV’s always make an effort to invite us to different events and activities where they’ll be too. Being able to participate in these things has given us a sense of belonging in the city and the fact they they did JVC too is huge. That, and the FJV’s are some pretty cool folks!
  • Jesuit Priests – A group of Jesuits live down Guilford a few blocks from us, and, each month, they invite us over for mass and dinner. They’re an amazing group of caring, giving, and loving men who would stop at nothing to help us in any way.
  • At Work – Our bosses at our work sites know that we’re JV’s, and they know that we’ve committed to more than working at their sites this year. They regularly check in with us and are responsible for making sure that our housing, food, and travel are all up to snuff. Our co-workers also know that we’re JV’s, and, at least at Cristo Rey, teachers and staff are always good to use, whether it’s giving us tips on things to do in Baltimore or feeding us (read: meat!).
  • Other Volunteers – Earlier this year, we got together with another other groups of volunteers like the LaSallian Volunteers, Mennonite Volunteers, AmeriCorps Volunteers, Lutheran Volunteers, Mercy Corps Volunteers, and Bos Seccour Volunteers. We keep in contact with them and get together now and then.
  • Villanova Alumni – I know this is a bit more personal, but I’ve been lucky enough to happen into a group of Villanova alums who have been very good to me this year, always inviting me to Villanova basketball game-watches, making us food, or simply buying me a drink. Plus, I often visit a few friends of my own from Villanova living in Baltimore.

The support this year has been amazing, both from JVC and outside JVC. I honestly don’t know where I would be if not for the many people that provide us with this love and support.It lets me know that we’re a part of something greater, that it doesn’t end this year, and that people are appreciative of what we do. After this year, I’ll be sure to pay it forward.

So, if any of you are reading this…

THANK YOU!


8 Things I’ve Learned This Year

February 1, 2010

I know I’m a teacher this year, but I am constantly trying to be a student of life. So, inspired by Emily Jasper‘s post, “Lessons I’m Learning From Being an Adviser and Teacher”, I’ve decided to share some things that I’ve learned (or learned to do better) this year working at a school and being a Jesuit Volunteer.

1). PATIENCE. To work with kids, you must be patient. Not everything goes to plan and it’s so important to realize that high school students… are high school students.

2). Trust. Great relationships don’t just happen over night. They must be built and nurtured to create a sense of trust between both parties.

3). Community isn’t easy. People have different views, expectations, passions, and habits. It’s so important to be accepting of each other and to be aware of these things. Concessions, sacrifice, and awareness are integral parts to any community and it’s something I’m constantly working on!

4). Eating vegetarian (most of the time) isn’t so bad after all. Seriously, I eat healthier in better quantities and have been able to expand my food repertoire considerably this year.

5). Teaching is hard. Holding the attention of a high schooler for 50 straight minutes is no easy task and you must be ready for anything. The teacher’s I work with are so dedicated and caring. They set the tone and are great leaders and people. I’ve learned that teaching is not for me, but that it is a job that people don’t appreciate nearly enough. This being said…

6). I love the one on one and small group interactions I have with students. It’s the highlight of my day when I tutor or get to work with students individually. I’ve also been able to create a level of trust with many of my students and hope that they get as much out of our conversations as I get from them!

7). The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever. – A Bronx Tale. So true. And especially true for my students.

8). Blogging is incredibly fun.


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