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.




The Intersection of Passion Street and Skills Boulevard

July 14, 2010

In the past, I’ve talked about why I went into education for my year with JVC. I found myself passionate about education and how it should be the great equalizer in our country. (Side-note: I can’t exactly remember when I realized that, while our country is based on “equal opportunity”, it doesn’t always give the same opportunities to our children, but it’s completely rocked my world since).

Anyway, this year, working as a teaching assistant at Cristo Rey, I realized that, while I was passionate about education and equal opportunity, I wasn’t suited to be a teacher. It simply isn’t my thing. (Another side-note: I am forever a bajillion times more appreciative of all teachers. It’s really hard sometimes).

I gave a lot of thought in March, April, and May about what I wanted to do when JVC ended. Should I do what I was “trained” to do and work in public relations? But what about all I had learned about and become more passionate about this year? How could I translate that into full-time (paid) work, but not teach? That, and where do my strengths lie?

Image via MyNameMattersNot

I thought about it. A lot.

But then I went back to what we talked about at Re-Orientation and finding the intersection of what we’ve experienced this year and what we’re “going to do about it”.

So, through all that, I realized that I needed to find my own intersection for my career. I had to find the intersection of Passion Street and Skills Boulevard. And, luckily, the Corporate Sponsor Representative position at Cristo Rey was right on the corner.

So, my advice to the folks out there looking for jobs or wondering what you want to do: find what you’re passionate about, figure out what you’re good at, and find where those two things intersect. It will leave you happy and your work meaningful!

“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 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.

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!

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?”