Monthly Archives: October 2017

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Meg Birgen: The First Step is the Hardest

Meg Birgen, 16-18, La Salle Middle School, St. Louis, MO

Meg Birgen, 16-18, La Salle Middle School, St. Louis, MO

I have now started my second year as a Lasallian Volunteer at La Salle Middle School in St. Louis, MO. What really strikes me the most, funnily enough, is how much easier it feels than my first year. I don’t know quite what I was expecting – or if I had many expectations at all. There were a lot of changes in community and in my service site this year – new house, new community, new supervisor, new students… however, something about this year feels so much less like there’s an ongoing panicked scream continuously running across my brain.

After some reflection, I think I figured out why –  and this conclusion came while I was helping one of my students with an “impossible” math program.

“I just can’t do it,” he told me. “It’s too hard.”

“You can do it,” I replied. “Do you think LeBron James became an all-star the first time he picked up a basketball?”

Meg Birgen and Bianca Desamour

Meg Birgen and Bianca Desamour

This conversation, I think, is pretty indicative of how much I’ve learned since starting my first year. To start with, I still only have the slightest idea of who LeBron James is, but at least I can name-drop him with the right sport!

For serious, though, as my kiddos would say, I am a totally different teacher (and person) than I was a year ago. It reminds me of my first LV orientation. One of my presenters told me something along the lines of, “As a first year teacher, you’re going to suck. That’s okay; it gets better.”

Every part of that statement was true. As a first year teacher, I sucked. But, it was okay; it got better.

I think that, as a teacher, helpings kids realize that the first step to being good at something is to suck at it is the most important lesson to impart. Teachers are not some all-knowing all-wise force – we are facilitators for knowledge.

The actual learning? That’s on the learners. All I’m doing is holding out a helping hand.

Meg and Students 2I’m not going to deny that it’s hard work, especially when my students are living in a society that holds everything against them and offers them little, if anything, back. Sometimes when they tell me about their life or experiences, I feel like we are stuck on a sinking lifeboat in the middle of a raging ocean, and all I’m doing is handing them a teacup to try and get the water out. What continues to amaze me is how they strive to excel anyway.

I have seen students start the year off barely able to read and finish it on grade level. I have seen students start off being “that problem child” who constantly has to be removed from class to winning “star of the month” by the end of the year.

Every time I have seen those changes happen is because those students came to a decision within themselves and then worked make that change.

Sure, sometimes it’s an adult who inspires them to make that change, but it’s the student who decides and acts on that change. The change is on them and so are the results.

There’s something to be learned there, I think, for all of us: change only happens so far as you work to make it happen.

And if my middle schoolers can do it, there’s no excuses for the rest of us.

Meg Birgen is a second year LV serving at La Salle Middle School in St. Louis, MO and is a 2016 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.

By |October 18th, 2017|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Meg Birgen: The First Step is the Hardest

October Ministry of the Month: De La Salle at Blessed Sacrament

In this month’s Lasallian Volunteers “Ministry of the Month,” the Midwest District is featured. The ministry is De La Salle at Blessed Sacrament in Memphis, Tennessee. The Lasallian Volunteers are second years, Ivette Morales and Rachel Waletzko, and first year, Jessica Kaluzny. Ivette is a 2016 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California, Rachel is a 2016 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, and Jess is a graduate of Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.

 WHAT IS DE LA SALLE AT BLESSED SACRAMENT?

De La Salle at Blessed Sacrament is one of the schools in the Jubilee Network of Schools in the Diocese of Memphis. The Jubilee Catholic Schools Network serves approximately 1,600 students a year across nine schools—eight elementary schools and a middle/high school. Sliding-scale tuition and need-based scholarships make a high-quality Catholic education broadly available. All students are welcome: 87 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, 94 percent are racial minorities, 30 percent are Catholic, and 70 percent come from other faith traditions. In the 2014-2015 school year, Jubilee students scored above the national average in reading, language and math on the Iowa Assessment Core Composite as determined by Riverside Publishing Company’s Estimated Growth Report, and their kindergarten students are reading at the 92nd national percentile. In January 2015, the Jubilee Catholic Schools Network announced that all Network schools would be transitioning into a 200-day, year-round school calendar in order to better serve its studentsRachel-Waletzko_1086. This calendar will provide students more time for learning and less time for forgetting. In addition, Jubilee scholarships follow students to all Catholic middle schools and high schools in Memphis.

HOW DID JESS, RACHEL AND IVETTE BECOME LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?

All three young women attended a Lasallian college or university. For all three, the LV program was a next logical step for their journeys Jessica-Kaluzny_1087after college. Ivette said, “I wanted to give back to the communities that I come from, and I knew I would learn an incredible amount from the people that I would serve. I wanted to grow as a person, to challenge myself, and empower others just as others have helped to empower me. I enjoy working with youth, and I knew this would be a great opportunity for me.” Jess said of her decision to serve after college, “The reason I felt the need to serve in this capacity after graduating is because during college I fell in love with the Lasallian mission! The professors and staff members at Lewis were not just my teachers, but also mentors, cheerleaders and a support system to me as well as so many students. These relationships impacted me so much and have helped shaped who I am as a person.” Rachel shared these sentiments when she said, “I also joined the program because I loved the idea of doing a year or two of service and giving students in underprivileged areas, through education, a greater opportunity to access their fullest potential and, therefore, the love of God!

WHAT IS THE SERVICE THAT JESS, IVETTE AND RACHIvette-Morales_1136EL PROVIDE?

Rachel is the second and third grade reading co-teacher, and the kindergarten and third grade religion teacher. Jess teaches religion to first, second and fourth grade, as well as art to first, third and fourth grade. Additionally, she is an aide in the classroom during reading for kindergarten and second grade. Ivette is the fifth and sixth grade religion teacher, the sixth through eighth grade performing arts teacher, the breakfast coordinator and lunch coordinator. All three volunteers serve as after-care
coordinators.

HOW DO THESE VOLUNTEERS TOUCH MINDS AND HEARTS AT THEIR SERVICE SITE? 

The entire culture of Blessed Sacrament allows these volunteers to touch the hearts and minds of the students. The mission of IMG_9340the school is geared toward the success of the students for today and into their future. This is meaningful to our students and they approach their service differently but for the same goal. Ivette said, “They need me to be someone who understands them from a cultural and socio-economic perspective. My students are extremely diverse and their cultural and socio-economic backgrounds shapes how they navigate the world, and I need to be aware of that to be a better educator for them.” Jess said of her participation in the educational salvation of her students, “I think that the students need many cheerleaders in their lives, as we all do, and I feel I am very equipped to be that person for them. I am a new face, a positive person, and have lots of love to give. I am excited to watch the students grow this year in so many ways and to be there through the whole process. I want them to know that I care a lot for them, and that I am here for them.” Rachel echoed her community members when she said, “I do my best to allow students to be heard, ask students what they need from me, and take care to frequently remind them WHY the expectations and procedures exist.”

HOW HAS LIVING WITH THE DE LA SALLE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS IMPACTED JESS, RACHEL AND IVETTE AS LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?

Each one of our volunteers had a unique Lasallian college experience. However, the constant presence in their lives has been the Brothers of the Christian Schools who have helped to nurture their love for the Lasallian mission in unique ways. Ivette said, “The Brothers have taught me so much, from conversations about Church history, politics, theology, philosophy, and just life lessons. It is so wonderful to be a part of their lives, and I have grown to love them very much; they’ve become a part of my family. I know that I can go to them and seek their advice with many aspects of my life. My heart has grown larger and I’ve become so much more appreciative of the Christian Brothers and the LasalliaIMG_9341n Mission.” Jess said of being in community with the Brothers in Memphis, “I have loved working alongside them, and I knew the transition to a new community of Brothers would be rewarding. They have welcomed me with open arms, and have been such a light to me. I look forward to getting to know them better!” Rachel summed up her community members’ thoughts when she said, “By being involved with the Christian Brothers, I have learned a great deal about the blessings of education – ‘blessings’ being truth, being ‘free of superficiality’ as our chaplain said, and not always joy. In realizing and discussing those blessings with the Brothers, I have gained a greater appreciation and humility for the days of joy and cooperation and the great responsibility of the ministry we’re doing through education.”

WHAT DO THE VOLUNTEERS IN THE 2017-2018 COHORT SAY TO COLLEGE SENIORS ABOUT THE LASALLIAN VOLUNTEER PROGRAM?

Our volunteers are very passionate about inviting other young people to discern Lasallian Volunteers. Rachel said, “Whether or not you plan to be a teacher in the future, Lasallian Volunteers is a way to bring people together to serve those in greatest need. If that idea lights a flame inside of you, you’re in the right place.” Jess agreed and said, “I knew that by volunteering I could receive experience in a field I was passionate about and also figure out what I wanted to pursue professionally long term. Going into a service year is allowing me to carry out further discernment while productively serving others.” Ivette summed up their answers perfectly with her own thoughts when she said, “It is the most rewarding experience I have ever had. Your students/clients will move you in ways you would never expect, and they will touch the deepest part of your heart and soul. If you pour into them, they will undoubtedly pour into you, and it is such a wonderful and beautiful relationship. Yes, it is challenging, but the challenges you face will help you grow into a better person, a more understanding and loving person.”

 

 

 

 

By |October 10th, 2017|Categories: lv of the month, news + events|Comments Off on October Ministry of the Month: De La Salle at Blessed Sacrament

Carly Cohen: Companions and Volunteers

Carly Cohen, 17-18, Br. David Darst Center, Chicago, IL

Carly Cohen, 17-18, Br. David Darst Center, Chicago, IL

It has been over a month since I started my journey as a Lasallian Volunteer, and I have already learned an invaluable amount of knowledge about myself and what being part of a social justice initiative means, looks like and feels like. I by no means know the definitive definition or picture of what that may look like; no one does. I’m pretty sure I will be learning what that means until the day that I die. But figuring that out – and my role in that as a volunteer – is a never-ending process. However, I believe that I was given quite a few tips before I even fathomed becoming a Lasallian Volunteer.

From where you ask?

Companions and volunteers experience many of the same things. They travel to new places, with new people/beings and cultures with the intention of learning and serving those who may need a helping hand. We say goodbye to people that we wish they had more time with. We rejoice at the small victories, and weep for the setbacks and losses we experience. The main difference is that I have never ridden in a TARDIS (time machine), unfortunately.

  • Be open minded and ready for anything. I am going to be in a new place, with new situations and new challenges that may be unfamiliar to my Whether it is a cultural norm of the community I am serving, or the customs of the Ood, I need to be able to adapt.
  • Take my time to think about my intentions and their impact, sometimes when I try to help, the impact I make may not match my intentions. These things take a lot of research and communication. If I don’t invest time into those things, then I may wind up like Vincent Van Gogh, who stabbed a blind and misunderstood Krafayis, who was just trying to make his way in a world where the odds were against him.
  • Carly, Amy and Diana getting bubble teaRemember that everyone is important, throughout all time (at least 900 years) and space, the Doctor has never met someone who wasn’t important and neither will I.
  • Remember that I am here to help, and that I can’t help everyone. The work to fix problems cannot be done by one person. I can’t walk into a situation with the same assumption as the Queen of Years, who thought she had to sing alone to maintain peace. A chorus, of those who want the same peace are behind you.
  • Never give up hope or lose my faith in humanity. Things work out the way they should in the end. As the Doctor says, “The universe is big. It’s vast and complicated and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles.”
  • Try not to become jaded after setbacks or if I don’t accomplish all that I hope to with those I serve. As the Doctor told Amy, “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”
  • Serve with the determination
  • Love often, because people come and go, but what I do and the moments and memories I share with those that I meet always remain…unless I am Donna Nobel. No, I am not crying… you’re crying.
  • Don’t forget to explore, and remember that there is always something to learn because where I am is “one corner… of one country, in one continent, on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond. And there is so much, so much to see.”
  • Remember that the pain I see, experience and feel from working with those who I serve is worth more than just the pain that I feel. Transform it to keep going and do better. It is easy to let it swallow you. The Doctor has his fair share of pain from the injustice he witnesses, much like us… his advice to us is that “you hold it tight… Til it burns your hand. And you say this – no one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will ever have to feel this pain. Not on my watch.”
  • Remember that I am not alone. Myself and others (whether they are volunteers, people I work with, strangers or my community) want the best for everyone around me, especially those that we serve.
  • Always keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities, the stories of those who I serve, and for the TARDIS.

These lessons have helped me become a better volunteer, before I even knew that I was going to be a Lasallian Volunteer. These are the tips and lessons that I keep in my back pocket, with my sonic screwdriver.

I leave you with this question and ask you to reflect:

Who has inspired you and given you tips during your service or to live out the Lasallian mission?

Lasallian Volunteers, Maria Kaupus and La Salle ManorI hope you are all well and ready to hop into tomorrow yelling “Geronimo!” and continue to encourage those around you, and “Allons-y” especially if their name is Alonso.

Carly Cohen is first-year LV serving at the Br. David Darst Center in Chicago, Illinois and a 2016 graduate of La Salle University.

By |October 5th, 2017|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Carly Cohen: Companions and Volunteers

FSC Awards Honor DENA Lasallians

Award recipients, from left, Dan Brenner, Kerry Conroy, and Br. Joseph Mahon, FSC

Award recipients, from left, Dan Brenner, Kerry Conroy, and Br. Joseph Mahon, FSC

Lasallian Volunteers (LV) celebrated and honored three Lasallians from the District of Eastern North America (DENA) at the eighth annual FSC Awards on Saturday, September 29 at La Salle University in Philadelphia, which sponsored the event. The FSC Awards honor Lasallians who have made notable contributions to the program.

The awards are named in the spirit of three Brothers who embodied the LV values of faith, service and community during their lifetimes. This year’s recipients are: Brother Joseph Mahon, FSC, the Farrell Community Award; Kerry Conroy, LV 99-01, the Bassen Service Award; and Daniel Brenner, the Johnston Faith Award.

The Farrell Community Award, named in honor of Brother Michael Farrell, FSC (1940-2009), recognizes supporters who have lived in community with Lasallian Volunteers. Brother Joseph was honored with this award to celebrate the many years and gentle presence he has had in accompanying Lasallian Volunteers during their formation experience. Brother Joseph has lived with Lasallian Volunteers at the former San Miguel Community in Camden, New Jersey, and the Martyrs of Turon Community in Washington, DC. Brother Joseph is the school counselor at the San Miguel School in Washington, DC, where he has lived and worked for the past seven years.

“Over the years, his ability to walk with so many young people during their service years and support them in bringing to life their experience, certainly has been significant in their lives, and I believe has been life-giving for Brother Joseph as well,” said Chris Swain, LV 04-06, who presented Brother Joseph with the Farrell Community Award.

The Bassen Service Award, named in honor of Brother Christopher Bassen, FSC (1942-2006), recognizes LV alumni who have continued a life of service. Kerry Conroy received this award to highlight her continuous service to the mission. Conroy, who served as an LV at La Salle Academy in New York, New York, has spent the past 14 years in ministry there.

Jolleen Wagner, LV 04-06, presented the award to Conroy and praised her longtime dedication to the mission. Wagner shared how not only the students at La Salle Academy have been blessed by the presence of Conroy in their lives, but also the LVs who were accompanied by Kerry during their years of service at La Salle Academy.

The Johnston Faith Award, named in honor of Brother John Johnston, FSC (1933-2007), recognizes supporters who have demonstrated great faith in the work of LVs by sharing time, talent or treasure. Brenner received his award as a way to recognize the many ways he has given of his time to the LV program, especially to the volunteers at the annual orientation program, where he has served as a retreat day facilitator and presenter on a variety of topics.

Julie Turner, LV 15-17, who presented the award to Brenner, said, “Dan truly understands that Lasallian Volunteers is an entrance point for so many of young people to become ‘Forever Lasallians.’ Dan is a beacon of that zeal for mission, and we thank him for his continued support of current LVs, our staff and our alumni. His witness is truly wonderful.”

Recipients are selected on a rotating basis between the Districts in the Lasallian Region of North America (RELAN). The 2018 recipients will be selected from the Midwest District.

See more pictures >

More on the awards and previous honorees >

 

 

 

By |October 4th, 2017|Categories: news + events|Comments Off on FSC Awards Honor DENA Lasallians