There will be no LV Shared Blog post for the week of October 29th. Please stay tuned for next week’s post.
Phew! It’s already October 21st and I just arrived in Minneapolis after a much needed four day visit back in Pennsylvania with my family and friends. The past four months have been a whirlwind of emotions ranging from loving Minneapolis to being so frustrated with my volleyball players to wanting to go home to being content with where I am. With the love and support of my new community members as well as my DeLaSalle HS community, I’ve been able to greet each new day with a new attitude.
This week is Diversity Week at DeLaSalle. During Diversity Week, we celebrate the different cultures in our school. Coming from a small city in Pennsylvania (~13,000 people), I did not have a lot of interaction with people of different cultures. At DeLaSalle, we have over 12 different cultures making up about 40-45% of our community.
Diversity week consists of activities every day. On Monday, we have Native Pride Dancers come to perform. They are known for their high-energy shows featuring a blend of modern and traditional Native American dance. On Tuesday, our students will give presentations during classes that reflect their own cultures or cultures of their friends. On Wednesday, we will have the “Wheel of Deserts,” where students will donate $1 to take a chance to win various deserts. All of the money will then be donated to Caring and Sharing Hands. On Thursday, we are having a priest, a rabbi, and an imam who traveled together to Israel/Palestine and are featured in the documentary, “Footsteps: A Journey in Faith,” present about how they found commonalities among their differences in the Holy Land. Friday is our finale where our students, as well as outside groups, will share different dances, songs, poems, or any part of their culture they would like with the rest of our community.
Like I said before, I come from a small city in Pennsylvania and I pursued my undergraduate degree at a small Catholic university, also in Pennsylvania. The little experience I have had with different cultures includes people of different races primarily sticking together and not intermixing with others. As you can tell from the video, diversity is celebrated at DeLaSalle. It unites the community and makes us unique. It’s new to me and I absolutely love it. It doesn’t matter what race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, sexual orientation or gender you are at DeLaSalle. All are welcomed. It has opened my eyes at how wonderfully made each and every one of us is. We all have our differences, but instead of letting those differences separate us, we should celebrate them.
The world would be a very boring place if every one of us were the same. We would walk around like robots, all doing the same thing, at the same time, wearing the same clothes. The world needs a little spice, and that’s what I think diversity is all about, putting some spice in the world. The spice is what makes each of us interesting.
After this year, I’m planning on taking what I have experienced with diversity, love it, live it, celebrate it, and encourage others to do the same. So next time you are around someone of a different culture, remember their experiences can spice up your life. Also, always remember no matter what, God loves you and your neighbors with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love (Jesus Storybook Bible).
Kayla Bryson-Tucker, 2012, DeLaSalle HS, Minneapolis, MN
I must confess, I have a strange and impractical new love- kayaking. No, the love of the sport isn’t odd, but my love without an ability to swim is. Around this time last year, two wilderness-savvy volunteers took me out on the Hudson up in the Adirondacks for my fist kayaking adventure. With my heart in my throat and my eyebrows tangled in my hairline I paddled about a mile upstream, through some mild rapids and back down to the A-frame cabin. With every wave from a passing boat, every rock I scraped, and every time I lost grip of the oar a ring of panic squeezed my chest, but the guys were right there to guide me through the shallow patches and remind me that I wasn’t alone. With their support and encouragement I was able to achieve something I had previously considered impossible. After a few days I was hooked, and now I’m the first person in a boat whenever I get the chance.
Two months into my second year, I realize that God used that weekend to guide me through my volunteer experience. For many of us, our volunteer experience marks the first time that we will live completely out of our comfort zones. We’ve moved away from what is most familiar- family, friends, cultures, customs, climates, regions and religions– all of the things that together created the very unique individuals that we are. We’ve each climbed into our kayaks and set out up river, away from the familiarity and predictability of home’s shore. But we are not travelling alone. 42 kayakers set out with us, each bringing over 20 years of knowledge and life experience with them. 20 years sounds like nothing alone, but 20 times 42, now that’s some serious wisdom.
At my service site I see people every day who have also made this dive, not simply for a year or two, but for their entire lives. At Serviam Gardens I serve a predominantly elderly immigrant population. Some of my clients have been in the US for a lifetime, while others have been here only five or ten years, and others for even less. At a young age or at an old age, with spouses, with siblings, with young children or alone, these rest-seeking “weary and heavily burdened” have travelled from lands around this earth, leaving all that they have ever known in search of a better life. It is immensely humbling for me to hear their stories and realize that I am in the presence of someone who has weathered storms that make my waves look like ripples in a bath tub.
It is in working with my clients that I draw on the memory of my kayaking adventure. Clients come by my office from the moment I arrive to the time I leave with questions about any and everything. Sometimes they need help contacting a doctor’s office or the social security office. Sometimes they want help filling out a voter registration form or a reduced fare subway pass request. Sometimes they need help understanding official documents. Sometimes they just want someone to talk to. At first all of this was so overwhelming for me; all of these people trusted me to find them answers to questions even I don’t know. Every phone call to a government office or every shaky translated explanation of a document was an epic voyage into uncharted waters. But just before leaving for a final get together of east coast LVs at the A-frame, I realized that these questions and concerns were their waves, scrapes and slips. God placed me at Serviam to provide them with support and encouragement to get them through their journeys. Even just by lending an ear I was helping them be more comfortable, more confident, and more capable. Remembering how much the peace of mind the volunteers provided to me helped me reinforced my drive to make sure that every client who enters my office leaves with that same sense of peace.
This past Labor Day weekend the new east coast LVs and I made our first trip of the year up to the Adirondacks. Before long I was out on the water, this time as a “seasoned veteran,” if you will. As we paddled back up the river I heard myself sharing the same advice that the former volunteers had given me. By the end of the trip, hardly anyone stayed on land. Everyone was kayaking, both into new waters and into new life.
Jen Sneed, 11-13, Serviam Gardens, Bronx, NY
College: Latin American Studies in Geography at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY.
What do you do? I teach 6th and 7th grade Math, 7th and 8th grade Social Studies, and 8th grade Science.
Why did you choose to become a Lasallian Volunteer? Have your hopes about the Program been realized?
I chose to become a Lasallian Volunteer for several reasons. First was the very practical reason of wanting to gain teaching experience to help me decide what I want to do in the future. Second was the desire to serve in some way after graduating college. It was important to get a change of pace from the intensely academic world of college but to do so in a way that focused on peace and justice in our world. And third was to do both of these in an environment that was somewhat familiar to me and provided the type of guidance that would support me along the way, all while exposing me to new experiences. Serving as a Lasallian Volunteer is a way to unite all of these desires. Having grown apart from institutionalized religion after leaving high school, I was initially hesitant to apply to apply to a Catholic service program. But my positive experiences with the Brothers—and their and the program’s openness to people from various backgrounds, including people in different places with respect to faith—won out and convinced me that serving in the program was a way to gain teaching experience, engage in some kind of service, and find the support and guidance that I will need to decide where I should begin heading in my life’s journey.
What have you discovered about poverty from your work?
Less of a discovery and more of a deeper understanding about poverty is that I am no diagnostician and that the characteristics of poverty are persistently diverse. I have spent my life living in environments of deep and intense power and privilege—elite, private schools, for the most part fairly racially homogeneous, and among people of a relatively privileged socio-economic class. To enter an environment different in these respects can be disorienting, as has been the case with me in moving to the Blackfeet Reservation. While it might at times be tempting to deal in generalities and reduce poverty to certain “rules” or universal features, it is important to maintain a complex and nuanced view with the understanding that poverty affects different people in different places in many different ways. In particular is the important reminder that poverty is not some abstract social structure, but a lived reality for the students (and families) at De La Salle. Keeping these understandings in mind has been one way I can begin to try to make sense of poverty where I serve and my position relative to the students who I work with.
How has your involvement with the Brothers affected you?
I attended a Brothers’ school (Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, PA) and it was there that I first met the Brothers and learned about the larger Lasallian world. They introduced me to the Lasallian charism and continue to be some of the most important inspirations to me in trying to become an effective teacher. The Brothers—and the larger Lasallian community—are a special group of individuals whose dedication to the rights and education of children is made manifest by the work they do in their many sites around the world. They have shown me, by example, what it means to make a lasting impact in a child’s life, and to do so in a way that attends to the mental, spiritual, and emotional needs of those they serve. I think that anybody interested in schooling—and more specifically the education of mind and spirit of children—should look to the history of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools as well as the current work of the Brothers. They continue this important work to this day and have inspired my fellow LVs and me to associate ourselves with them and work together towards peace and justice in our contemporary world.
Why would you recommend the LV program to a college senior considering volunteering?
I would recommend the LV program to a college senior for various reasons. First is the opportunity to be directly engaged in important and meaningful work on a daily basis. The sites at which volunteers are placed are carefully selected in order to provide challenging yet supportive environments that teach both volunteers and those they serve. The LV staff continually impress me with their dedication to us and to those we serve, and, given my lack of experience working in education, their support is essential in making this year of service a successful one. One would be hard-pressed to find a similar program so attuned to the individual skills, situations, and sensibilities of the volunteers that also provides the support that the LV program does. It would also be difficult to meet such an eclectic and passionate group committed to similar goals of social justice in just any volunteer program. Particularly if one is interested in entering the education field, there are no better teachers than the Brothers and larger Lasallian community, who have been engaged in the education of mind and spirit for centuries. The demands of our world are countless and unyielding, and the LV program in the end provides a way for us to begin to think about and address some of them in a loving, supportive, and challenging way.