Monthly Archives: September 2014

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October 2014: Katie Christensen

Service Site: Fordham-Bedford Housing Corporation: Serviam, Bronx, NY

Katie Christensen
Katie Christensen

College: University of Colorado Boulder

What do you do?

I am the Program Coordinator. I plan events for the tenants and assist with any social services they may need such as applying for food stamps.

What has been your biggest disappointment in your volunteer service? 

The biggest disappointment I have had in my volunteer service is not being able to communicate with all of the tenants I work with.  A majority of the population here at Serviam speak Spanish or Korean.   Not many residents speak English fluently.  I can speak/understand very little Spanish and absolutely zero Korean.  This means I am not capable of helping everyone that comes to me effectively because we cannot communicate.  Usually I piece together what they are trying to say to me, but getting them to understand what I am trying to tell them is a process.  I usually resort to asking someone who speaks 394Spanish to translate for me, or we have to use creative sign language to understand each other.  There are many positives that come with being surrounded by people who speak different languages then I do.  It has forced me to step out of my comfort zone and start using the little Spanish I do know.  My Spanish skills have improved vastly since I started living in the Bronx and working at Serviam.  I have also learned so much about their cultures, and I love every minute of it.  They teach me something new every day, and for that I am so grateful and extremely blessed.

What is a way you have been challenged by a relationship or an interaction you’ve had in your volunteer experience?

When I first began working at Serviam one of my coworkers told me that the tenants, who challenge and frustrate you the most, are the ones that you will grow the closest to.  There are a few residents with whom most interactions that I have are extremely exasperating.  These are the people who test my patience the most, yet they always come to me for help.  For some reason they trust me and want me to be the one aiding them.  Usually after I have had an interaction with them, I need to take a breather, and it takes me a minute to get my composure back.  I can never stay frustrated with them for long though because they let me know how grateful they are for my helping them.  I know I do not know their entire story and why they are the way they are, but I have come to realize that is how they are always going to be.  They are going to test me and frustrate me to the point where I want to pull my hair out, but they will also let me know how much they care about me and are thankful for what I do for them.  They call me their friend, and it is very much a reward having them in my life.             I have learned that everyone has a story.  You cannot assume or make guesses about the people you work with, and if you ask, they love to tell you about their lives.  The tenants that I work with on a daily basis, even though they do not have much, would give you the shirt off of their back.  They are also very spiritual people.  They see every day as a blessing and constantly thank God for what they have despite the circumstances they have been given.  One women in particular told me once that in her country (Dominican Republic) instead of just one day that every day is your birthday.  She says that every day you wake up is like a gift from God because God is giving you another day to live.  The tenants that I work with have changed me in so many ways and all for the better.  I in no way, shape, or form can relate to the struggles that they have had to face, and in all honesty I hope I never have to.  As much as they tell me they are grateful and thankful for what I do for them, I feel the same gratitude for them.  I gain so much insight, inspiration, and joy by being around them.  This experience has transformed me, and I will be incredibly sad to leave.

Why would you recommend the LV program to a college senior considering

Katie with some of her community members.
Katie with some of her community members.

volunteering?

Being an LV was probably the best decision I have ever made.  It has changed me in so many ways, and I can truly say this is the happiest I have ever been.  I have been exposed to a completely new world, my eyes have been opened, and I have learned a lot of new things.  I absolutely love living with the Brothers.  They are a source of inspiration, a shoulder to lean on, and a listening ear when you need really need someone to talk to.  They are also a blast to be around.  Community would not be the same without them; my community is my second family.  The LVs are some of the best people I know, and I have gained a ton of new friends and have met a lot of amazing people along this journey.  When my two years are done and it is time for me to move on to the next stage of my life, I will be nervous and very excited.  At the same time I will be heartbroken to have to leave my community, my coworkers and the Bronx.  I can never thank my family who supported me along the way, my new LV family for all of the love they have shown me, and those who I work with for helping me grow enough.  I am eternally grateful.

By |September 30th, 2014|Categories: lv of the month, news + events, Uncategorized|1 Comment

Zach Farley: My Shiny Teeth and Me

 

Zach Farley, 13-15, St. Cecilia's School & Academy, St. Louis, MO

Zach Farley, 13-15, St. Cecilia’s School & Academy, St. Louis, MO

Meet me in St. Louis, Louis. Meet me at the fair—Judy Garland

During my first year of service, whenever anyone discovered I was from California, I would be asked the inevitable question: “How did you end up here? In Saint LOUIS?” I would usually mumble in something like “Because I got a job” and let that be all. However, upon starting my second year that answer no longer seemed wholly appropriate. The question had now shifted from “why did you come here” to “why did you come back?”

This is a song for the lonely; can you hear me tonight?—Cher

Coming back I found myself more challenged than I had imagined. I had lived here for a whole year and yet after a few months away I had forgotten about the humidity, cicadas, and how pleasant everyone was all of the time. I had heard from almost unanimous sources the second year was supposedly easier than the first year, then why was everything so much harder now? So, we come back to the initial question, why did I come back?

Its all coming back to me now—Celine Dion

photo 2My answer came on the first day of school. I realized I came back to Saint Louis. I came back for the joy I felt when working with the students. I was Saint Cecilia’s first volunteer to ever do a second year. So I don’t think my students fully believed me when I told them I would be returning. The smiles on their faces when they saw me back on the first day were priceless. On the third day of school a second grader thanked me for “teaching her ‘something’…and for having shiny teeth.” I smiled so big those very “shiny” teeth showed and replied, “you are welcome.”

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger—Kelly Clarkson

Beginning last year, I felt as though I had been torn from my home; I was rootless and floundering. It took me at least six months to feel like I knew what I was doing on a daily basis. Starting my second year I realized, without even knowing it, I had in fact rooted myself in the culture of Saint Cecilia’s School and found a support network within the staff. Beginning this year, I had a semblance of “know-how” which a year ago would seem crazy to me. The students were as excited to work with me another year as I was excited to work with them. I was able to hit the ground running. I knew their names, I knew their interests, and I knew classroom dynamics. I knew which students to talk about One Direction with, which ones to talk about Lego dinosaurs, and which students to strategize how to survive the impending zombie apocalypse. I realized that in many ways the second year actually has been easier. Sure, there are increased responsibilities and I am expected to do more. However, now that I have discovered what I am good at, I am able to be a more effective educator. No more long division for Mr. Farley and much more writing help.

But just because it burns, doesn’t mean you’re gonna die. You’ve gotta get up and try try tryP!nk

 I learned after a year of teaching that perspective is everything. You can have a terrible day where no one learned anything, or you can have a learning day for yourself where you learn what techniques not to use. Each day can, potentially, be the worst day of your life if you let it. However, when I learned what battles to fight and what arguments to let settle I became a much happier and effective educator.

And in the end:

Just dance, it’ll be okLady Gaga

Zach Farley is a 2nd year LV serving at St. Cecilia’s School and Academy in St. Louis, Missouri. Zach is a 2013 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.

By |September 24th, 2014|Categories: blog, news + events|1 Comment

Catherine Buck: Found in Translation

Catherine Buck, Cathedral High School, El Paso, Texas

Catherine Buck, Cathedral High School, El Paso, Texas

When people talk about traveling far from home for an extended period of time, it’s often described as ‘finding themselves.’ I consider myself extremely lucky for being able to take such a journey, and in the month I’ve been in El Paso so far, it’s been quite the whirlwind game of lost and found.

I’ve gotten lost, physically. The Brothers don’t own a car GPS, and I realized, while wandering solo along a cliff-side at high noon, that the lack of a shoulder might not work out in my favor. But I’ve also learned to orient myself with the landmark of an electric star on the face of a mountain and to spot the Cathedral spire next to my home from anywhere this side of town.

I’ve worried about losing touch with people I love at home and frantically posted my address on Facebook in a plea for letters and gifts. I write my own blog frequently as well, in the hopes that keeping people updated will mean I won’t be forgotten. And I’ve found reassurance on this front as well! My birthday was this past weekend, and an outpouring of cards and well-wishes made me remember just how much I am loved.

I have lost my formerly unshakeable sense of self, the confident college girl who knew exactly her place in the bustling university life, and turned into some foreign individual addressed as “ma’am” who high schoolers seem weirdly intimidated by. I’m a small fish in a big pond once again, but I’m learning to love and embrace ‘Ms. Buck.’ I’ve caught on to the ‘teacher knowledge’ about how all the work is worth it for ‘the kids,’ teenagers who I never thought could be so vulnerable, important, confused, ridiculous and immensely admirable at the same time.

In my role as a campus minister and through living in an intentional religious community, I have found a better grasp on my own spirituality. This hasn’t always been the easiest part of myself to express, but it’s making more sense and coming more naturally with each progressing week.

It’s the little things, too. I have lost control of a blender in a kitchen but developed a newfound love for TV cooking competitions. I’ve let go of my naïve notion that ‘grown-ups have all the answers’ but found a higher respect for educators, especially those who have shaped my own academic career.

One of the ways that I like to view my own transition into adulthood through this volunteer year is in the idea of being translated. I’m still the same me, in meaning and essence, but portrayed in a new and different way to reach a new audience. Words and translation have always been really fun concepts for me to play around with, but living on the border they are elevated to another level of importance.

The reality of El Paso is that it is, in every way, a dual city. It’s paired with Ciudad Juarez, just a few minutes over the nearby border bridge that a large percentage of Cathedral’s students cross every day. I’ve been across once so far, which was fun and exciting, but I’m mostly struck by the absolute blending of cultures found on this side of the border community.

Conversations overheard in the hallway are in English and Spanish but mostly a mix of the two. I’ve been able to hold my own when talking to those who only speak Spanish, and I’m forever grateful for the time I spent this summer brushing up on my rusty skills. I’ve had to learn to handle spicy foods better, and I’ve completely fallen for aguas frescas, fresh fruit juices straight from heaven. There are the fun aspects of living on the border, like the gigantic church carnivals and popular mariachi music, but there are difficult ones too.

When I ask students to come in early or stay late to meet about a service project, it’s not uncommon for them to decline because they have no idea how long it will take them to cross the border bridge. Violence in Juarez has abated in recent years, but it hasn’t disappeared, and students are scarred with memories of kidnappings, economic instability, and more than I ever had to deal with at 16. Stories of brilliantly qualified kids missing out on scholarship opportunities because of their nationality are common, and I’ve run into roadblocks trying to communicate with parents because of the language barrier.

In the past month, I’ve just scratched the surface of border life, and I’ve only begun to ‘find myself’ as it were. This translation is a work in progress, but with each new page and experience I am certainly finding out more about me, our world and how to make sense of everything in it. Even at this beginning stage, I know that this is absolutely the right place for me this year, and I thank the Lasallian Volunteers so much for making it possible.

Catherine is a first year LV serving at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas and is a 2014 graduate of La Salle University.

By |September 10th, 2014|Categories: blog, news + events|2 Comments

2014 FSC Awards: RSVP today!

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Program ads for LV FSC awards

By |September 10th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|Comments Off on 2014 FSC Awards: RSVP today!