2010? Bring It On!

December 30, 2009

Well then, that went quickly didn’t it? A whole year (and a whole decade, too) in the books! (And it was definitely one for the books, too!)

I feel like I’ve been everywhere and learned a ton in 2009. I remember how excited I was last year around this time for a brand new year. I was headed into my last 4 months at Villanova, getting ready to be an almost-full-time public relations intern, planning a cross-country road trip, and writing my application for JVC. I was sure of myself and where I was going. I had direction and I felt ready for it.

This year is a bit different. I’m nervous. I only have a slight idea of what I’ll be doing and where I’ll be doing it one year from now. I have more questions than answers. I have ideas, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a bit unsettling for me.

But, hey, I was thinking, and you know what? I’m ready for this year, too. I’ve been working for this year for the last 8. It’s here. I’m ready to set out on my own, use what I’ve learned, and find some answers to all the questions I have.

So, 2009? Write it in pen. Count it. Set it in stone.

It’s been good, but it’s over, baby.

It’s time for 2010.

Bring it on!


Happy Holidays!

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas &

Happy Holidays!

Desolation – Consolation

December 16, 2009

Working at a school can be a bit like riding a roller coaster. You have good days and bad days, good periods and bad periods, and amazing interactions mixed with frustrating ones. At Cristo Rey, as part of a weekly faculty meeting, staff members participate in a bit of a “highs and lows” activity called Isolation-Consolation. During this time, we talk about the desolations (low points) and consolations (high points) of the week.

So, in an effort to tell you more about what I’ve been doing these past few weeks, I thought I would talk about both the good and the bad that I’ve experienced.

Consolation: I went home for Thanksgiving where I got to see my family and some extended family, hosted Mrs. O’s 5th Annual Meatball Extravaganza with some close friends, and went to my 5 year (4.5 year, really) high school reunion. Overall, it was a great extended weekend full of good friends, good food, and my wonderful family. I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to go home for holidays to people who care for me and love me.

Desolation: We painted a few rooms in the house last week. While the painting itself wasn’t so bad, it just points to the larger issue: the house. It continues to be a pain in our collective necks with multiple issues (the ugly walls being one of them).

Consolation: I went on retreat with half of the Sophomore class in November and became a little closer with some of my students.

Consolation: When we went to Philly this past weekend for the JVC Christmas Party (Phillies Navidad), Amanda stayed home and surprised us by decorating the house with things people from work had given her. It was a great way to get into the Christmas spirit!

Desolation: Some of the students at Cristo Rey are struggling with their work in the Second Quarter. Teachers know that students have a lot on their plates every day, but they are all sharp kids who have the ability do well and exceed expectations. Hopefully, they’ll pick it up!

Consolation: Food. We continue to eat well at Arrupe House, but in the past month, we’ve also been treated to some other meals as well. Due to saved money on our food stipends, we treated ourselves to a community Christmas dinner at Rocket to Venus; Kelly and I went to the Cristo Rey Holiday Party; Angela, a Villanova graduate I had met at a Villanova Alumni event, made the house a HUGE lasagna dish; and we went to the Baltimore Jesuit residence for a Christmas Dinner, where we celebrated an Advent Mass, exchanged gifts, and decorated their Christmas tree. It’s been a great month of food, but also a great time to share memories and thanks, too!

Desolation: I missed the last few weeks of Ultimate Frisbee with the Former JV’s.

Consolation: I’m playing broomball with the FJV’s starting in January.

Consolation: I joined a few other Villanova grads and made the trip up to Washington to see Villanova beat Maryland in basketball.

Desolation: I stayed home sick from school on Tuesday. I hated missing class and school in the past, and that hasn’t changed!

Consolation: I’m headed home for the holidays on Friday!

The Importance of Serving WITH

December 10, 2009

Christmas is a time for family. A time to feel loved. A time, not only for gifts, but to spend time with those we love the most. It’s also a time when people give the most to others in need. Whether it’s buying gifts for orphaned children, donating old jackets and clothes to homeless shelters, or giving to a charity, many people do their best to help others in need.

These things are fantastic ways to help others and I’m not here to tell you to stop doing them. They are absolutely vital to programs and charities that serve the poor.

But I want more.

This year, go beyond charity and beyond even volunteering.


Be with those in need.

In other words, start to see people in need as real, living and breathing people. People like you and I. People with lives. People with problems. People with loves. People who have made mistakes in their life. People with nowhere to turn. People who are lonely and desire relationship. People who need love or just a simple conversation or just a person to show that someone gives a damn about them.

Recently, my students wrote thank you letters to donors who are generous enough to give them scholarships to attend Cristo Rey. Many of them wanted to meet their donors and talk with them so they knew why someone would do such a good thing just for them. They want to see the faces of those who helped them. (Update: Benefactors visit Cristo Rey in the spring to meet their students).

So, this Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Christ, remember that Jesus spent his time amongst the lowest of the low in society and loved them when nobody else would. Remember what a little face-to-face conversation can do for someone. Talk with those in need. Sit with them and ask them what their name is and say, “How are you?” and mean it and listen to what they say. Serve people as people. Show you care.

*Image from knguyenpvn.

Note: Check out 12for12K’s “12 Days of  Christmas Homeless Push” for more information on what you can do this Christmas to help others in need.

Who I Live With Part IV: Rachel, Beans, & Bread

December 7, 2009

This post is part IV of a five-part series of interviews with my Jesuit Volunteer housemates in Baltimore. Parts I, II, & III can be found here.

So, I’ve kind of made a big deal about the lack of meat in my current diet with JVC (it’s been four months and I’m barely alive!). Well, it’s all Rachel Snyder’s fault. She’s a vegetarian and just a terrible, terrible person on top of that. She always forces her views on others and makes them eat vegetarian. Rachel is just awful to have around and nobody likes her…

…I’m just kidding! Just the opposite is true, actually. Rachel’s great! She works at Beans & Bread and, is passionate about helping the homeless. She also knows Worcester pretty darn well as she graduated from Holy Cross, my father’s alma mater (Go ‘Saders!). So, without further adieu, ladies and gents, my housemate, Rachel Snyder.

You’re a caseworker at Beans and Bread. Tell us more about Beans & Bread and about what you do there. What’s a typical day look like?

Beans and Bread, a program of St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, is a homeless outreach center located in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore. The resource center provides many services to the clients who come in, including case management, housing placement, a hot meal, and clothing assistance, among other services. The goal is to meet the clients’ basic needs, but also to provide them with the resources, support, and tools needed to become self-sufficient.

There are also two housing programs affiliated with Beans and Bread. One is a transitional housing program for men (20 spots) and one is a permanent housing program for chronically homeless individuals (60 spots).

I’m a case worker, which means that I see clients on a walk-in basis and try to connect them with resources and other social services in the area. I meet with eight clients per day (the first 8 that sign up each day), three days a week, and spend about 15-40 minutes with each, listening to their story (as much or as little as they choose to tell me) and about what brings them into Beans and Bread. I then try to connect them to the resources they need. If they need clean clothes, I provide them with clothing; if they are looking for housing I discuss some housing options with them and assist them in the application process, etc. People come into Beans and Bread with various needs and I am often the first person they meet with in their process of meeting these needs. If a client comes through case work and needs more assistance than I can provide in the short amount of time I am able to meet with them, I refer them to a case manager who can meet with the client on a more regular basis.

I find case work to be challenging at times, but extremely rewarding. My interactions with clients often bring me great joy, especially during those times when I am able to successfully work with a client to link them with housing or other services because I can see a hopeful change in the situation, and often in the spirit, of a client.

Why did you want to do JVC and work with the homeless?

I grew up in a home that stressed service work and the attitude of “to whom much is given, much is required.” I grew up occasionally volunteering at soup kitchens and doing other service work. When I went to college (Holy Cross in Worcester, MA) I took many sociology and religious studies courses that explored social inequality and poverty. I went on a couple of mission trips to the Appalachian region and was actively involved in the student volunteering group at Holy Cross. I volunteered at Abby’s House, a homeless shelter and resource center for women, for three years and led this group during my senior year. Through these experiences, I felt God calling me to give my life to working for and with the poor and marginalized in our society.

What’s been most challenging for you working with the homeless?

There is a huge lack of affordable housing in many cities, including Baltimore. The wait list for Public Housing in Baltimore City is several years! There are also lengthy waiting lists at various other housing facilities and programs. It is frustrating when you meet with a client who is in desperate need of stable housing and the resources are just not there. I often wish I could do more for the people I meet.

How do you feel about homelessness? What measures can we take to prevent it? How should we treat the homeless on the street?

The issue of homelessness stirs up many feelings in me. I am saddened by the fact that so many people live in unsafe, unclean, or unstable situations. I am deeply saddened when a client comes in and tells me he’s been sleeping on a bench at the harbor for the past week. I am frustrated by the fact that there is not enough affordable housing. I am angered by the existence of unjust social relationships in our society, which often cause and perpetuate poverty and its consequences.

Last year Sheila Dixon, the Mayor of Baltimore, implemented a 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. Some of the strategies include creating more affordable housing and providing greater emergency and preventative services. Initiatives such as raising the minimum wage and providing after school programs are also intimately tied to ending homelessness. Preventing and ending homelessness is a huge task – but through the work of social service agencies, such as Beans and Bread, and progressive policy initiatives, I am hopeful that we can make a significant impact.

Individuals can make an impact as well. You can write to your state representatives to ask them to support your local social service agencies, you can volunteer your time to serve a meal at a soup kitchen, and you can treat the homeless people you see with respect and dignity. At Beans and Bread, one of the central beliefs by which we operate is that each person is just that – a person. And thus, just by the sheer fact that they are a human being, they have certain rights, one of which is human dignity. So the next time you see a homeless person on the street, look him or her in the eye. Maybe even say hi or offer the person some food.  Acknowledge their humanness.

Aaaaand… Fun Fact!

I fell in love at age 5 – with otters.  They have been my favorite animal since my family went to the Monterrey Aquarium in California when I was in kindergarten. To this day, I still squeal when I see an otter, just like I did when I was 5.

Thank you, Rachel!

On a similar note, Danny Brown (@DannyBrown), a person I greatly admire, and the 12for12K Challenge, a charity supported by social media (Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc.), are focusing on homeless awareness this month. Check out more information HERE and stay tuned for a post from me on the importance of hands-on service.

Who I Live With Part III: Stace of Bass

December 1, 2009

This post is part III of a five-part series of interviews with my Jesuit Volunteer housemates in Baltimore. Parts I & II can be found here.

Today is World AIDS Day and many different sites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are doing their part to raise awareness by joining the (RED) campaign. Raising awareness and money for AIDS/HIV research is very important, but today, I would like to introduce you to Stacey Hirst, someone who makes World AIDS Day into an everyday thing. Stacey is one of those people who is always able to cut through the gook to offer the God’s honest truth about things. Oh, and she’s also smart, passionate, and has great taste in music. Here’s more about Stace of Bass in her own words:

You work at the Don Miller House in Baltimore, a part of AIDS Interfaith Residential Services. Can you tell us more about what the Don Miller House does?

Don Miller House/Homes in Baltimore were the foundation for the AIRS organization which provides housing for low income individuals and families with or at risk of HIV/AIDS. Specifically, Don Miller House (DMH) is an adult foster program that provides a living community for single adults who are HIV+ and suffer from some other disability, such as diabetes, serious mental illness, poor ambulation, heart disease, etc. DMH was historically a hospice care facility, and while it still serves individuals living with end stage AIDS, due to improvements in treatment, the residents of DMH are living longer and healthier lives. Therefore, DMH has been able to implement more programming to educate residents on self-care and independent living skills. The residents vary greatly in the care they require. Some residents are fairly independent while others are very dependent on the care givers; so DMH seeks to provide services that are appropriate for a great range of resident needs.

What’s your schedule like? What does a typical day/night at work look like?

My schedule can change drastically from week to week. My specific position, residential aid, has three possible shifts: 7am-3pm, 3pm-11pm, or 11pm-7am, seven days a week. While I get two days off a week, they are not always the same two days, and we work holidays (meaning we will get a day for that holiday off at some other time, but not necessarily on that day). Each shift has different responsibilities, but the main idea for each is the same. We are there to insure that each resident is comfortable and that their medical and personal needs are being addressed. My primary duties at work are to administer medication for each resident (most take meds 2 x daily, some 3 or 4), prepare and serve meals, clean bedrooms and common areas, assist with hygiene, etc. One additional project that the Jesuit Volunteer typically takes on is a med recycling program. I organize discontinued medications or recently expired medications that we would otherwise dispose of and donate them to an organization that will then distribute the medications to people who cannot afford the extremely costly antiviral medications needed to treat HIV. I am currently organizing the medications and will hopefully be making the first shipment in early January. In addition to these required duties, I also spend time with individual residents doing things such as reading, art projects, painting the ladies’ nails, playing games (mostly Bingo or Uno), etc.

What are some of the challenges that you face everyday at work?

The challenges I face at work are constantly changing. Some days are easy, and some days are very difficult. The range of residents can be difficult to manage at times. While one resident may be really sick and not able to eat or get out of bed, other residents are needing to be entertained and fed. Often times it’s difficult to match my attitude to the needs of the individual residents. In addition, because some of my residents do suffer from severe mental illness, I have to be aware of what I say and how I say things…my sense of humor maybe doesn’t always work at work. I think I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for nurses and other health care workers. Being in their shoes, especially when I’m cleaning up bodily fluids, has given me a greater respect and appreciation for their profession. Most of the challenges are good challenges that I am learning a lot from… I definitely think I am becoming more patient and more grateful for the things I have.

What types of issues and challenges do your residents face?

My residents obviously have many challenges they face on any given day. Obviously they deal with the effects of their illnesses on a daily basis, but I think more than that they struggle with the fact that they don’t have much of a support system outside of DMH. Many of the residents either don’t have family, or don’t see them, except on an occasional holiday. Some residents are parents, spouses, were previously professional employees, etc.. Thus, I think that for them being debilitated to the point that they can’t take care of themselves is a huge personal struggle that they face on a day to day basis. Lastly, although most residents are healthy enough to do things outside of the house, either the transportation or funding for them to attend a day program is unavailable, and so they spend the majority of the time inside the house. Although DMH provides them with their primary health and living needs, they can’t possibly provide all the social needs necessary to live a happy and fulfilling life. While we try to promote community and keep the residents busy, there’s only so much that can be done inside a home, especially when our residents are healthy enough to leave.

Why JVC? Why AIDS/HIV Services?

Since the beginning of college I had entertained the idea of JVC. As I became more involved in groups on my campus (Seattle University) and became more educated about the social injustices within the United States, I knew that JVC and it’s four values would be a way that I could not only learn more about these structural institutions, but also take part in transforming them. I specifically chose HIV/AIDS ministry because I am passionate, on a scientific level, about finding better treatments and hopefully a cure/vaccine for the future. During college I took several classes in which we discussed both the scientific and societal impacts of this disease, and actually researched two specific HIV medications for my senior synthesis. I thought that HIV/AIDS ministry would give me a very personal and human understanding of this disease and how it affects individuals on the most basic levels. Although I had studied the virus itself on a scientific level, I felt that I was missing the personal component that I believe is necessary to really make changes occur that will improve the lives of those infected.

Fun Fact!

I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu last summer!

Thank you, Stacey, and thank you for all that you do!