I Heart City Life

March 31, 2010

On Friday evening, while it was still light out, a man walked up to our porch, took two of our floral-patterned lawn chairs, walked to his green Yukon, and drove away. Four of us were home, but we were too slow in realizing what was happening to do anything to stop it.

It was an oddly gentle reminder that we live in a city. It’s a city full of many great people, places, and things, but it’s also a city where crime, theft, and violence are realities. We may live in Charles Village, a relatively decent area, but Greenmount, a street and area known for crime, is a mere two blocks away. In Baltimore, “relatively decent” turns to “pretty dangerous” in a blink.

This is all a bit new to me. I’ve never lived in a city before.

When you live in the city, you can’t afford to forget to lock your door. You have to walk with someone else at night. You can’t leave the windows open all day. The GPS can’t stay on the dash. If you’re kids want to play outside, you sure as heck need to be out there with them. And when you get too comfortable, there’s usually a siren close by or a search helicopter to bring you back to reality.

On the other hand city living gives you have a unique community. You don’t need a car. You can walk most places: grocery store, watering hole, gym, the farmer’s market. They’re all close by. You have a certain protective bond with your neighbors. You see familiar faces around the local spots. You can sit on your porch on a particularly warm Saturday in March and watch the cars go by. You find a certain comfort in the sounds of the city: the barking dogs, the too-loud music or car engine, the side-walking passersby.

Living in a city is both scary and gloriously liberating for a country (suburban) boy like me.

Now, as I return home tomorrow for Spring Break and Easter, I’m reminded of the stark difference in living that I’ve experienced this year, and how much I’ve come to love living in the city of Baltimore… even if we do only have one more floral-patterned lawn chair left.

Decal from LiveBaltimore.com

I Had It Easy

March 23, 2010

I had it easy.

My road was clear. I knew what I had to do to get where I was going. I could see it in the distance. Sure, there were a few curves, a couple bumps, and a little traffic, but there were no detours, no accidents, no breakdowns.

I knew I had it easy. I did. It’s just so much more apparent sometimes.

Advocacy and a Voice

March 15, 2010

Image via "hiddedevries"

Last week, a student came to me and asked, “What’s A-D-V-O-C-A-C-Y?” I told him that advocacy is basically when a group or a person helps support another person or group in order to help them. Literally not 20 minutes later, I read Kristina’s post over on her blog. I like her explanation of advocacy a lot better:

“It is hard to know when to be an advocate for someone, and when to let that someone speak for himself. People have voices, and we walk a fine & creative line when we become advocates for them. I don’t think that advocacy means speaking for someone without a voice, but simply working with that person to help him express himself in a more effective way… I realized that advocacy is a powerful thing, but it is so powerful because as advocates, we are asserting that we are invested and that we believe in that other human being, in his voice and his abilities. Advocacy is not about saying, “Oh hey, that guy can’t speak, so let me do the talking for him,” but rather it is saying, “You weren’t hearing him before. I am not speaking for him, I am speaking with him. Two voices are better than one. Listen to us now.'”

Kristina is spot on. Sometimes, it’s easy to lose sight of this idea as a full-time volunteer. We want so badly for everything to go well and get better now that we can forget that we’re working for long-term, too. It’s important that the people we advocate learn to develop their own voice, so, someday, they have a voice for themselves and help others attain a voice as well. We shouldn’t be doing for. Rather, we should be doing with.

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…


Rice Reflection

March 3, 2010

Our rice fast ended on Sunday at dinner. I almost added “mercifully” at the end of that sentence, but, not to sound all tough or anything, it really wasn’t that bad for me. On Sunday, before feasting on taco soup, guacamole, and corn chips, we had some time together to reflect on our 9-day rice fast thanks to Amanda and Rachel‘s Community Night.

We talked about how it affected us physically, mentally, and in our daily actions and interactions. For me, I didn’t feel it so much physically. Sure, I was a hungrier earlier before meals, and I always wished that I had more to eat, but I still had sufficient energy, never got sick, and even made it to the gym a couple times.

I did find, however, that it greatly affected other parts of my day-to-day. Normally, I eat lunch at 11:35am with a group of other teachers, but, because dinner wasn’t until 7:30pm or later, I tried to stretch my dollar (rice bowl) and eat closer to 1pm. It worked, but it took away from a part of the day that I really enjoyed: sharing a meal with a large group of co-workers. On a more positive note, I could sleep later in the morning because I didn’t have to make breakfast or lunch. I only had to scoop rice into a container and pick a seasoning (adobo and BBQ sauce is actually pretty darn good, by the way).


What I didn't eat during the rice fast

I also had to deal with cravings, offerings, and many, many questions. Every time I smelled any food or saw a food commercial, I immediately wanted it. At points, I thought I would just “go grab a snack” or I would yearn for a saltine cracker as I passed the box in the kitchen, only to remember that we were on a fast. I’ve never wanted a peanut butter and jelly more in my life! My own head was torturing me!

On a more serious note, though, it’s amazing how easy it is for us to “go grab a snack” or head to Chipotle for a quick bite. We don’t even have think about it. But what if we lived where rice was basically the only food available? We wouldn’t have the same options that we take for granted every day. It’s easy to forget that. This week, I was wholly aware.

During school, fellow teachers and staff often graciously offer Kelly and I extra food. It seemed like they had more food than any other week combined last week as we continually turned down free food (a volunteer almost never passes up free food). With each refusal came an explanation (and later in the week a “Oh, right, you’re fasting. Sorry!”) and with each explanation came a funny look like, “Really? You guys are crazy!”

Like I said, it was a tough week and I was incredibly glad when the fast was over, but I was also incredibly glad that I actually did the fast and finished it. I have my community to thank for that. If not for them, their support, and mutual participation, I would never have done it in the first place, let alone stuck with it for 27 meals. The most fasting I had ever done before this was abstaining from meat on Fridays during lent. Not anymore! And, now, I’ll never take my PBJ for granted again!