My Birthday Gift

May 27, 2010

Tomorrow, May 28, 2010, is my birthday.

Most years, when my parents ask me what I would like for my birthday, I don’t have very many good ideas (sorry guys!). I’m not real big on gifts, and we usually just enjoy a special homemade dinner or a meal at O’Connor’s and my mother’s delicious delicious chocolate cake.

This year, however, I know what I would like. I actually need your help, to be honest.

JVC's Four Values: Spirituality, Simple living, Community, and Social Justice

Each year, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps East invites each of its participants to hike part of the Appalachian Trail to travel to Dis-Orientation, our closing retreat in August. It’s a great end of the year tradition, but, more importantly, it’s a crucial fundraiser for the JVC. In order to take part, each hiker must raise $500 in support of JVC.

I’m asking for your help in raising this money.

This fundraising effort will help JVC continue its mission to offer the opportunity for people like me to work for justice and peace around the world during a year of service. It helps to defray the cost for our job placements, provide the support we need through retreats and field visits from staff, and cover health insurance expenses. This fundraising not only allows for my experience, but it also allows for agencies like Cristo Rey Jesuit to save around $20,000 a year, money that can go directly to the people we serve.

I’ve had an amazing experience with JVC. It’s allowed me to work at a place like Cristo Rey Jesuit, it’s opened my eyes to the people and issues around me, and it’s introduced me to countless people who are just as passionate as I am about working for social justice.

This experience has shaped who I am, and I’ve been lucky to have the chance to play a part in shaping the lives of the students I teach. Now, I want to make sure that this work continues far after I’ve left JVC.

I know times may be difficult right now, but this is not just an opportunity for you to help only me. I’m also asking you to help future Jesuit Volunteers and, most importantly, the people they will serve.

For my birthday, please consider supporting me, future Jesuit Volunteers, and, most of all, the people we serve through this opportunity. It would really mean a lot!

To donate, CLICK THIS LINK to be taken to the Hike to Dis-O Fundraising Page. From there, click the link shown, then click “Make a Donation”. Select “Donate toward a Team or Individual’s goal” and search for “Thomas O’Keefe”. Select my name, click next, and then fill out the required fields. (I know it seems like a ton of steps, but it’s really very easy!)

You can also send donations to the JVC office at:
801 St. Paul St.
Baltimore, MD 21202
Checks should be made out to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps with my name in the Memo section.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at
TomOKeefe1 [@] gmail . com.

Thank you for all of your love and support!



P.S. Special thanks to Mike Schaffer for the idea!


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.

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!

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!

We Were Just Sitting There Talking When…

October 1, 2009

As my housemates and I head down for our JVC October Retreat, I’d like to share something with you. It’s how Dorothy Day ended her autobiography, The Long Loneliness and we used an adaptation of it during JVC Orientation. I think it speaks to what we are doing as volunteers and what countless others have done in the past to gain solidarity with others. It’s amazing how something can start so small with simple conversation and the desire for community and then become something much more with love and care.

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness:

We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying “We need bread.” We could not say, “Go, be thou filled.” If there were six small loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread.

We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us. Let those who can take it, take it. Some moved out and that made room for more. And somehow the walls expanded.

It was as casual as all that, I often think. It just came about, it just happened.

I found myself, a barren woman, the joyful mother of children. It is not always easy to be joyful, to keep in mind the duty of delight.

The most significant thing about the Catholic Worker is poverty, some say.

The most significant thing is community, others say. We are not alone anymore.

But the final word is love. At times it has been, in the words of Father Zossima, a harsh and dreadful thing, and our very faith in love has been tried through fire.

We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.

It all happened while we were sitting there talking, and it is still going on.


Soledad O’Brien, Jay Wright, and the Baltimore Volunteers

September 27, 2009

The last week or so has been a blur. There’s been a ton going on and I’ve been pretty busy. Here’s the highlights:

Jay Wright, Sarah, & I in Baltimore

Jay Wright, Sarah, & I in Baltimore

Two Thursdays ago, I attended a Villanova Alumni event held in Baltimore. I didn’t think I would be able to afford the $45 price tag, but, luckily, I reached out to the message board (it’s for Villanova basketball fanatics) and an alum offered to subsidize the cost for me. Harry Perretta, the Villanova women’s basketball coach, and Jay Wright, the ever-dapper men’s coach, both spoke. I met up with a fellow 2009 alum, Sarah, and we were able to meet and talk with Jay Wright. Mr. Wright is an absolute winner. He gets it. He spoke with us for about five minutes about everything from Villanova basketball and recruiting to what we’re doing in Baltimore as recent alums. Later on, I met with my sponsor for the event and made plans to meet up again for some Villanova football and basketball games in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virgina) area.

The next night, Friday, I joined my housemates to volunteer at the St. Frances Academy 180th Anniversary Banquet. The Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first Roman Catholic African-American sisterhood, began the school in 1828 and it’s now the oldest Catholic high school in America. My roommate, Scott, works at SFA as the Assistant Director of their Community Center. CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien spoke to the SFA community full of nuns, Baltimore community members, students, staff members, and visitors from around the world. The Oblate Sisters actually took Ms. O’Brien’s mother in when she was a child and helped raise her. Scott wrote a great post about the banquet and her heartfelt speech.

After Ms. O’Brien spoke, I skedaddled for a mini-reunion of some of my best friends from Villanova. I hadn’t seen many of them since starting JVC and it was terrific to be able to catch up with them. My friends truly represent the state of the Gen-Y recent college graduate nowadays. Some have jobs related to their desired career path and some are in law school as planned. Others, however, are attending graduate school because of the job market, some have taken part-time jobs to help pay the bills as they search for a job, and still others are living at home, fervently searching for anything that will get them out of the house. We talked about old times, how much we miss each other and Villanova, what we’re doing now, and what we plan to do in the future. It was a great night and I’m hoping to be able to visit some of them in Philadelphia and New York soon.

Next, on Saturday night, Nick and Rick, good friends from Villanova living in Baltimore for graduate school at Johns Hopkins, joined me in attending the Red Sox game against the Orioles. There were Red Sox fans everywhere for the game. Now I know what they’re talking about when they call Camden Yards “Fenway Park South” when the Sox are in town. The Red Sox, of course, crushed the lowly O’s and I returned home happy. That happiness was short-lived, however, as the Patriots lost to the Jets on Sunday.

(By the way, Nick, Rick, and Andy have DirecTV with the NFL package and it comes with the “Red Zone Channel”. It switches between NFL games to whichever one has a drive in the red zone (inside the 20 yard line). I just want to go on record as thanking the person who invented that. It’s amazing. Well done. Now if you could only create a program that switches channels automatically when there’s a commercial…)

Anyway, I had a very good week at school, too. The first assignment for Writing Lab was due so I began to grade those. I also had students write an opinion paragraph on whether or not they thought the Johns Hopkins student who killed a burglar with a samurai sword was right in investigating rather than calling the police. Later on, I went over using school and professional e-mail addresses professionally and appropriately, specifically noting that school e-mail is monitored by IT and that it is NOT like using MySpace or Facebook. Rather it should be used for school purposes only. I also advised them to be careful about what they post online and to treat everything online as permanent because, someday, incriminating pictures, updates, or descriptions could be used against them. I hope I opened their eyes a bit!

In between Writing Lab and grading papers, I started helping with SAT Prep courses for juniors and trying to impart the importance of the SAT’s for their future college search and application process. The vast majority of them use the resources available to really try to improve their scores. I really wish that I had class time in high school to practice for the SAT’s!

Along with SAT Prep, I’ve also been tutoring algebra (yes, me, Tom O’Keefe the Communication major, tutoring something involving numbers). Actually, it’s not that bad and I actually enjoyed algebra in high school. (It was the calculus that got me!) Though a tad rusty at first, I’m really enjoying it. I work with the freshmen who need help in math and they’re an absolute pleasure to work with. They truly want to learn and improve their grades. It’s been a very fun and rewarding experience to work with these kids.

Finally, this past Friday, the Bons Seccour Volunteer Ministry house in Baltimore invited us to a cookout at their house in Hollins Park. They also invited Mercy Corps Volunteers, Americorps Volunteers, and Lutheran Volunteers. We had met some LaSallian Volunteers, but had not met any of these folks. I hadn’t realized that there were so many volunteer organizations in Baltimore! There are other people like us here AND they’re really cool people! It actually turns out that one of the Lutheran Volunteer houses is just around the corner from us in Charles Village. Pretty cool stuff. We’re hoping that we can all get together from time to time for some fun service-solidarity.

So, hopefully, that gives you a good idea of what I’ve been up to lately. School is good, teaching is good, my roommates are good, I’m good, and life is good.