Giving Thanks

November 25, 2009

As Thanksgiving approaches during my time with JVC and Cristo Rey, I find myself more thankful than ever, so I thought I would tell you about some of things that I am most thankful for this year. Try not to get teary-eyed on me!

  • My family. Mom, Dad, Chris, Nonna, Aunt Betty & Uncle Robert- the love and support that you give me is an enormous part of why I am able to do the things that I do. I love you guys. Thanks.
  • Coffee. ‘Nuff said.
  • My best friends, Nick and Matt. Thanks so much for everything, guys. I miss rooming together, all 3 of us, like you wouldn’t believe.
  • Comfortable shoes. You need ’em if you’re going to be a teacher!
  • My great friends, especially Sheridan, Mark, J-Ro, Pat McK, SportCourt, De, Sarah, the SAM guys, Big, Chris O. (double-shout for you, bud!), Rick, Andy, Turo, Austin, Allison, Meg, Karen O, The Herd, and Peg. I’m sure I forgot a couple in there, but ya’ll are awesome. I wouldn’t be who I am today without you! Thank you!
  • Remote Desktop in the Computer Lab (conversely, I am not thankful for MySpace and YouTube!)
  • My housemates Scottie, Stace, Kel, ‘Manda, and Rach. Thanks for making JVC such an amazing experience so far!
  • The Red Zone Channel on DirecTV during NFL games at Nick, Rick, and Andy’s.
  • All of the Jesuit Volunteers that I’ve crossed paths with; the entire JVC East staff; our FJV support people, Steve and Leah; the Jesuit Priests at Wheeler House, and the Baltimore FJV’s. Muchas gracias!
  • Free food. Seriously, any kind will do.
  • Rachelle, Matt, Anne Buchanan, and the Ryan’s for graciously writing my JVC recommendations and supporting and encouraging me through the application process. Thank you!
  • Baltimore and its welcoming people.
  • My students at Cristo Rey Jesuit who remind me why I am doing JVC every day.
  • My health (*knocks on wood fervently*)
  • The faculty and staff at Cristo Rey. The effort and dedication that you show each day is unparalleled and truly an inspiration.
  • Peanut ButterI wouldn’t make it through the year with out you.
  • My Twitter community, especially Lauren Fernandez, David Spinks, Arik Hanson, Mike Schaeffer, Samantha McCain, Rachel Esterline, Jess Lawlor, Brian Gleason, the whole team at #PRBC, Sheema Siddiqi, Ryan Stephens, #TFFL, Sasha Muradali, #journchat, Valerie Simon, Colby Gergen, Abby Schoffman, Jackie Adkins, David Mullen, KT Wall, Rebecca Dennison, Narciso Tovar, Gail Nelson, and so many more. I learn from you every day and really enjoy engaging with you. Thanks!
  • Villanova basketball
  • This blog. Thank you to all who read along!

And, lastly, I’m thankful for the ability and opportunity to complete a year of service with JVC and Cristo Rey. I am so very fortunate to be able to do what I do and take a year out of my life for service without any negative consequences. I mean, heck, it’ll probably benefit me more than anything. I am so very blessed and lucky to be where I am today. So a big thanks to the Big Guy/Gal up there looking down on me, my family, and my friends.

And with that, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Who I Live With- Part II: Scottie-Scottie-Scottie

November 22, 2009

This is Part II of a five-part series of interviews with my Jesuit Volunteer housemates in Baltimore.

When I found out that the only other guy in my house was a St. Joe’s (PA) Hawk, I admit, I panicked a little. The Hawks are Villanova’s biggest basketball rival and its counterpart in the fabled Holy War in Philadelphia. Would we be able to get along? What would it be like, not only to live with a Hawk, but to room with a Hawk too? Well, it turns out that Scott Donovan is a pretty cool dude. He’s one of those guys who has a great sense of humor, but knows exactly when to take a more serious tone. Oh, and he also currently has a moustache, plays guitar, can pull off a jean-jacket, and has been deemed “the one” by Dee-Dee, one of Stacey’s residents (when she thinks of him, she says, “Scottie-Scottie-Scottie” and looks off dreamily). So, ladies and gents, this is Scott Donovan.

You work at the St. Frances Academy Community Center. What does the Community Center do? What types of events do you run?

Well Tom, I’m glad you asked! The Community Center is located in West Baltimore, and it seeks to service the Johnston Square/Brentwood Village neighborhoods.  It is part of St. Frances Academy, which is a private high school run by the Oblate Sisters of Providence.  Throughout the year, the Center provides many events and services for both children and adults.  Some examples include a safe Halloween party for the kids, a job fair for the adults, and an after-school program.

You’re the Assistant Director of the community center (not Assistant to the Director of course). What does a typical day look like?

After I finish milking the cow and eating breakfast, I ride my bike to work.  I get there around 8:30, check my e-mail, and find out from Mr. Moore (my boss) what’s on tap for the day.  Usually the mornings consist of working on whatever event is coming up on the calendar.  Right now, we’re gearing up for the MLK Day job fair, so I’ve been contacting companies and agencies across the city, seeking their participation in our event.  I also do a lot of street outreach with Mr. Moore, and lately we’ve been walking around the neighborhood, signing people up for the job fair.  When 2:30 rolls around, I work with the 30 most wonderful little kids you could ever meet during our after-school program.  This runs from Monday to Thursday until 5:30, and I am in charge of everything from passing out snacks to helping with homework, from throwing deep spirals during football games to teaching the kids some basics of reading music.  At 5:30 I head home to be with my wonderful housemates!

What types of challenges do you face? What’s your favorite part of the job?

I don’t think there are any challenges having specifically to do with the carrying-out of my tasks.  I have found that the challenges I face are broad, and stem from the overall situation into which I have entered this year.  Sometimes I feel challenged in relating to the adults and children I work with because I come from such a different background.  This might mean having trouble relating to a kid who has a difficult home life, or connecting with a jobless man who has been incarcerated multiple times.  Though these encounters tend to make me uncomfortable, I try to keep in mind the idea that that is why I am here: to be uncomfortable, and to challenge my own status quo.

My favorite part of my job is working with my boss, Mr. Moore, and with the after-school kids.  Mr. Moore is just one-of-a-kind, and I think we have a great workplace relationship.  The kids will test my patience at times, but they all have so much potential, and I can’t wait until 2:30 rolls around every day.

Why did you decide to do JVC? Why were you interested in community organizing?

For me, JVC encompasses everything I want to be at this point in my life.  As I weighed my post-grad options last year, I found myself more and more drawn to doing a year of service. Based on the service I had participated in during college, I figured moving in that direction after school is what would make me the happiest.  I also realized that a year in JVC would be a different type of experience than a college-based service trip, and I wanted to find a way to really incorporate this desire into my daily life- to “walk the walk,” so-to-speak.  I chose JVC specifically for it’s Four Values, and I was most attracted to the community aspect, where we are able to share and grow in our experiences together.  Now, I have to say, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I didn’t know specifically what type of work I wanted to do in JVC, but I knew I wanted to do many different things.  I think working in community organizing and development affords me that opportunity, as I am at a place where no two days look the same, and I am learning about the many different aspects of running a community center.

You work with Baltimore community leader, Ralph Moore. What’s that like?

Mr. Moore is a gem.  He has an encyclopedic amount of knowledge regarding Baltimore and its past, and I already have learned so much from him.  He never ceases to amaze me at the amount of people he knows within the city, and everyone seems to want to pick his brain (he constantly gets phone calls seeking his opinon on an issue, or he will be taken out to lunch by a friend seeking his advice).  He has spent his whole life in Baltimore, and you can see that he loves this city.  He has seen the rise and fall of the neighborhood where the Community Center is located, and his life’s work is a testament to his love of peace and social justice.  He is a man who greatly respects, and who is greatly respected.

It also doesn’t hurt that he has an incredible sense of humor.  Thus, we tend to get along just fine.

Fun Fact time!

I can solve a Rubik’s Cube in 5 minutes.

Thanks, Scott!


Who I Live With. Part I: Ms. Determan

November 18, 2009

As I’ve mentioned before, I live with five other Jesuit Volunteers in the Baltimore JV Community. Many of you have asked me about them, so they each agreed to a Q & A to tell more about themselves and what they do. This is part 1 of 5.

I undoubtedly spend the most time with this particular housemate. She works with me at Cristo Rey Jesuit as a fellow Teaching Assistant, we ride to and from school together, help run the after-school Extended Day program, cross paths multiple times per day, and bounce ideas off each other during school. Plus, you know, we live together. She is a passionate and driven teacher who truly cares about her students.  So without further ado, here’s a bit more about Kelly Determan… er… I mean, Ms. Determan.

You’re a fellow Teaching Assistant at Cristo Rey. What does your job entail?

As a teaching assistant, I co-teach physical education for both the freshman and the sophomores, which meet once a week.  I also co-teach in the freshman academic skills lab class, which is a supplementary class for the freshman to continue to work on their math, vocab and reading skills.  Specifically, I work in the library, assisting students on their independent reading by helping them choose books and providing them with written work to go along with their book.  I also work in Extendend Day, which is the after school program that makes sure the students are safe after school and that they find their ride promptly.

How was coaching the women’s soccer team?

Coaching the girl’s soccer team was both a blessing and a curse.  The girls were amazing people and I was able to form wonderful relationships.  While it was great to get to know this specific group of girls, consistent attendance was our biggest struggle.  The school is not designed to specifically facilitate athletics and puts the most emphasis on academics and the Corporate Internship Program, so it was sometimes hard for the girls to get to practices and games.  It is also difficult to coach and teach the game of soccer when you only have 4 to 5 girls at a time at practice.  Overall, it was a really fun experience and taught me a lot about coaching and gave me great knowledge for coaching in the future.

Why JVC? And why education?

I decided to do JVC instead of graduate school because I felt that this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  Grad school is something that I can defer, while working at this specific job in this specific city might not have come around again.  I feel as though I have been given so much in my life that I am grateful for, that now is my time to give back.  JVC has also taught me a lot about myself and my beliefs, while exposing me to different elements of poverty, homelessness and race that I would have never experienced.  Education has always been my passion since I was younger, and adolescents are such an amazing group to work with.  They are just learning about who they are, but still need the guidance and support to get through. I can learn just as much from them, as they can learn from me. I have also always been passionate about English and literature, so I want to project my passion onto others and hopefully inspire them too.

What types of challenges do you experience at work? Where do you find the most joy?

The challenges I experience are not consistent, but more of a day to day thing.  Although I don’t find working with the students particularly challenging, some days there are isolated behavioral or attitudinal problems that can be difficult to work with, while other days the students are great. The joy I find comes from my daily interactions with the students.  As a high school student, I remember being so excited when a teacher would acknowledge me outside of class.  I never knew that I would feel the same joy in the opposing situation as the teacher.  Learning about these students and seeing their motivation keeps me going on a daily basis.

How cool is the Cristo Rey Network model?

I am extremely impressed with the Cristo Rey Network.  Although it is an extremely time consuming model, it brings so much opportunity to students who would otherwise go without.  The dedication from the staff and donors is astounding, and the individualized attention the students receive is difficult to parallel.  I also think it speaks for itself when you see how many different schools are opening throughout the country that follow the Cristo Rey method and are providing more disadvantaged students with a great college prep education.

Fun fact time!

I have read all 7 Harry Potter books at least 6 times each!

Thank you, Ms. Determan! Meet you in the teacher’s lounge for lunch!


Putting it in Perspective

November 11, 2009

This is an excerpt from a blog post by Jenn Williams of the Catholic Review on the value of Catholic Education. She featured one of the students from Cristo Rey. Check it out. It speaks for itself.

“Some question why so much effort is placed on preserving the Catholic school system in Baltimore City, where many students aren’t even Catholic.

I can think of at least one reason why.

Fifteen-year-old Arthur Williams was one of two Cristo Rey Jesuit High School sophomores chosen recently to meet Bill Cosby during a Feb. 7 Black History Month Celebration at the War Memorial Plaza. He was selected because of the leadership he demonstrates in performing community service. Arthur told me volunteering is extremely important to him and he feels if he helps people, they will in turn help someone else, and the cycle of helping others will continue. He has volunteered some 80 hours at Habitat for Humanity, Beans and Bread and Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO), among other sites.

“I figure why not help people who don’t have the resources,” said Arthur, who is a graduate of St. William of York School. “Even if I help pack a lunch for one person, it could help make a difference, and then maybe they’ll help somebody else.”

At Cristo Rey, Arthur has the opportunity to serve as an intern at Brown Advisory, where he works in information technology.

I asked Arthur if meeting Bill Cosby was one of the highlights of his life. He quickly responded “no.”

“Well then what is?” I asked, surprised by his response.

“Seeing my mother get clean,” he said. “Meeting Bill Cosby was a great opportunity and affected my life, but seeing my mother stop using was much more crucial.”

I was quiet for a minute. I realize Arthur has had certain life experiences that have forced him to grow up faster than most and take on more responsibility at an earlier age. But Arthur’s generous spirit, his ambition and his will to succeed were nurtured in part by his Catholic education. Even if you’re not Catholic, I thought, how can you not see the impact a Catholic education can have on a young life?”


Crayola Halloween, the Cupid Shuffle, a Will, and Harper’s Ferry

November 4, 2009

As usual, things have been a bit crazy here in Baltimore, both in and out of school. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

My roommate, Scott, works at the St. Frances Academy Community Center and, each year, SFACC (does that help the mouthful, Scott?) throws the SFACC Halloween Party. It’s a gigundo party geared towards kids in the city. My housemates and I, instead of heading up 95 to Newark for the JVC Halloween bash, decided to volunteer for the SFACCHP. We dressed as a box of crayons with colors that included Midnight Black, Sunshine Yellow, Purple Grape, Charlie Brown, Green Apple, Flamingo Pink, and, my own creative concoction, Blue.

When we arrived SFA, we found that Scott, Mr. Moore, and other volunteers had transformed the gym into a Halloween fun house full of candy, music, and games and the conference room into a scary haunted house. Scott gave us a quick tour and helped us set up our station, the Eyeball Run, where kids had to balance an eyeball (golf ball) on a spoon and race around a set of cones to compete for candy, pencils, and some super sweet green fake vampire teeth. As we set up, we greeted the Baltimore Bon Seccours Volunteers other JV’s from DC who had made the trip to help out for the night.

Pretty soon, pint sized monsters, superheroes, princesses, and football players began to file (read: sprint) into the gym, dragging parents and older siblings with them. In a whirlwind of a night, we gave out candy, ran the Eyeball Run, chased and danced with 5 year olds, laughed abundantly, sprinted after wayward golf-I mean- eyeballs, ate copious amounts of candy and hot dogs, and had a hip-hoppin’ Halloween good time. I even joined in for the Cupid Shuffle (it’s a brand new dance) with DeeDee, our friend from the Don Miller House. The whole night was a success (over 900 people showed!) and I may or may not have almost nearly tried to take a superman and a fairy home with us.

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On Monday night, my housemates and I bussed over to a crowded Enoch Pratt Free Library for a talk on the affect of race in the classroom with Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, David Hornbeck, former Philadelphia superintendent of schools, and moderator Joe Jones. It was an interesting talk. They spoke about how the No Child Left Behind Act hid how poorly some students were doing, the inequity of school funding and resources for students, the differentiation of expectations at urban schools from suburban schools, and crossing the racial barrier in an effort to have better schools.

What I liked about the talk, however, was that they didn’t just discuss what’s wrong with the education system, but also discussed what can be done to fix it. Dr. Tatum mentioned that there are excellent urban schools in the U.S. We need to model others after them. They talked about anti-racist professional training for school workers and how it had worked so well in many places. They spoke about challenging students to be excellent, no matter what their background and that schools can be excellent no matter what. They also mentioned the effectiveness of early childhood programs and how that is usually something that poor or developmentally challenged children rarely receive.

Ultimately, the message was that we need a will, collectively, to do what we know will work and that discourse and talking about it will help us to get there.

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Finally, on Tuesday, I helped chaperone a field trip for the sophomore class to Harpers Ferry, WV, site of John Brown’s failed slave rebellion. We spent the day walking around the museums and buildings, taking in the scenic beauty of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and the Appalachian Trail, and feasting on delicious fried chicken (I consider any meal with meat a feast nowadays). It was a perfect day for it and the kids really enjoyed getting out of the city for the day. It’s nice to see the kids outside of the classroom sometimes.

So, like I said, things have been busy around these here parts, but I’m still enjoying myself. How’s everything with you?

By the way, if you haven’t yet, you should really check out my roommate Scott’s blog, my housemate Stacey’s blog, and DC JV Kristina’s blog to see some different perspectives on a year with JVC.


When the Toilet Floods

November 1, 2009

I always have trouble picking the “next” book to read. It’s especially difficult after reading something like A Hope In the Unseen, where I feel as though I’ve fully invested in the people in the book. It usually takes me a couple days to figure out what to read next.

Luckily, at our house, we have a giant bookcase with books that range from prayer to politics and from cooking to the classics. As I was searching, I noticed that we had two copies of Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Intrigued, I picked one of them up, sat down, and read the back cover. Stacey, reading herself, looked up and noticed, asking if I was planning on reading it. She said that she had read it and that some people loved it and others hated it and she was somewhere in between. I decided to give it a shot.

I’m about halfway through the book now, and it’s definitely made me think. A lot.

Mr. Claiborne challenges us “to live out an authentic Christian faith,” and invites us to rethink our way of living. He’s done just that for me.

Below is an excerpt that, in particular, forced me think about how and why poverty exists. Check it out (you can read the rest of the chapter here: Chapter 5: Another Way of Doing Life [PDF])

As we practice hospitality, there comes a point where the suffering around us drives us to ask what it would take to reimagine the world. We’ve all heard the saying, “Give someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day, but teach them to fish and they’ll eat for the rest of their life.” But our friend John Perkins challenges us to go farther. He says, “The problem is that nobody is asking who owns the pond.” As we consider economics, some of us will give  people fish. Others will teach people to fish. But still others must be looking at who owns the pond and who polluted it, for these are also essential questions for our survival. We must storm the fence that has been built around the pond and make sure everyone can get to it, for there are enough fish for all of us.

A homeless mother once told us that there is a big difference between managing poverty and ending poverty. “Managing poverty is big business. Ending poverty is revolutionary.” Too often, the church has chaplained the corporate global economy, caring for the victims of the systems. As long as we uncritically manage the collateral damage of the market economy, the world can continue to produce victims. But as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said during his age of injustice, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, but we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” It’s like in community when the toilet floods, which happens when you have a dozen  people sharing one toilet. When it starts to pour out water, you don’t just start cleaning up the mess. You also have to shut off the water that is causing the flood…

…Dr. Martin Luther King put it like this: “We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside . . . but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved. We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many  people out of the ditch you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved.”

What do you think? Should we be repaving roads and stopping the floods? And, more importantly, how do we do it?