Monthly Archives: October 2018

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“And Just Like That…”

It wasn’t until I began reading the specifics of my potential role as the El Otro Lado Border Immersion assistant that I realized how much of “The Other Side” I had never actually encountered: I have never owned a passport, I have never left the mainland United States, no one in my immediate family has owned a passport or left the country… Yet, I would be doing all of this in a short span as I acted as an agent of Lasallian charism, as a facilitator, as a pupil myself. I took my photo, acquired my passport and booklet, underwent background checks, packed up my life as I knew it into two suitcases…

4:15 a.m. And just like that, the alarm is blaring again. I plug in my string lights next to my bed and stare at the ceiling, and then at my altar in the corner of my room. I roll out of bed, light my altar candles, and hype myself up as I prepare for the day. In the shower I ponder the day’s meetings, Google Spreadsheets, work to be done at Casa Guadalupe, emails to be written to Border Patrol, what I’ll be making for dinner in community that night as it is my night to cook and lead prayer. The internal to-do list swirls around in my head as I paint my face and pour my coffee and slide on my wristwatch. Then it hits me: only a few more days! And just like that, my purpose is renewed. The morning fog clears from over my inner-monologue as I remember what the weeks of anticipation have been leading up to: our first El Otro Lado Border Immersion of the 2018-2019 academic year. Up until this point about two weeks ago, my inner-dialogue, my anxieties, my experiences of joy and excitement looked a bit different, as I began to find my footing as a Lasallian Volunteer: What business does a witch (without a broom or cauldron) have living in a Catholic religious community? I heard the word “antiphon” for the first time at the Kitson Institute, I still do not have my Hail Mary memorized perfectly, I sometimes struggle with finding my Canticles in time. And just like that, I remember the laughs at dinner or during chores; the questions I was nervous to ask but that my community members were incredibly patient in answering; the moments of genuine human connection in the midst of an airport pick-up, or a hospital drop-off, or when a source of anxiety back in our hometowns came to the fore—and I remember that community has become a brave space, not only for myself, but for all folx (a gender neutral collective noun used to address a group of people) who dwell there and those who visit. And just like that, I have gotten a taste of what it means to live in community. To be a part of a unit, a little pocket of safety on the Southside of Tucson, while life continues on for each of us inside and outside our shared space…

And just like that, I took my first ever trip out of the U.S. ever a few weeks back when Sr. Jodi, Mrs. Alma Mejia-Garcia (founder of El Otro Lado at San Miguel High School in Tucson), and myself did a site visit to HEPAC (Hogar de Esperanza y Paz), an organization that works to support womxn (an inclusionary, non-binaried gender term) and youth who are fleeing from South and Central America mostly, a few folx have sought aid from Mexico; HEPAC is run by a mother-daughter duo who work in tandem with the surrounding community in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico to provide support and empowerment to their clients, with the nurturing and maintenance of human dignity at the crux of the organization’s mission statement. They provide opportunities for the folx they help serve through work, allowing them to keep half of what they earn to accrue savings as they start fresh, the other half of their income going toward facilities expenses and the education of the youth they were traveling with [all folx receiving aid from HEPAC live on-site in residence halls]; tutors, teachers, rec leaders and volunteers visit multiple times a week and facilitate multiple-subject lessons and recreational activities for the children and help facilitate fun activities the whole community can take part in. It was a profound experience, crossing over for the first time, and seeing first-hand the differences in what goes into crossing over to Mexico versus coming back to the U.S. And just like that, my eyes began to open wider: While I am aware of my intersectional identities as a Pan African woman in the United States, I was able to obtain my passport with relative ease, I was able to pass freely through a port of entry, which is anything but “easy” as a site, as a social/cultural/political symbol. Never have I had to consider my citizenship status, or my first language, or my name, or the reality of being separated from family as the result of economic or socio-political devastation. And just like that, my self-concept—much of which had been formed through the lenses of my experiences of marginalization—shifted drastically: How do I unpack my positionalities of privilege to hopefully become an agent of positive change and to be in solidarity with the folx I am striving to serve, over the course of my service as an LV and beyond?…

I serve as an El Otro Lado Border Immersion assistant at San Miguel High School. I work directly alongside Sister Jodi, a literal Goddess (she would throw a fit if she knew I called her that in this blogpost). She used to work at Saint Mary’s College of California  in the Mission & Ministry Center. And just like that, I am reminded as to how wildly chance/fate/luck has worked in my journey as an aspiring Lasallian. She left campus right as I was entering in 2014. And here we are, a full four years later, two women from the Bay Area who narrowly missed each other in Moraga, leading Border Immersion Trips in the middle of the desert.

Each Immersion trip consists of a different theme each day, one day we have an orientation/prep day; one day we do a six-mile hike for a water/supply drop along a popular cross-route in the Sonora Desert alongside the Tucson Samaritans, a humanitarian organization; one day we connect with Border Patrol and public defenders who are living and breathing the realities of Operation Streamline; one day we help serve at a Comedor in Nogales; one day we visit part of the Tohono O’odham Reservation and receive a her-storically silenced narrative of indigenous folx from Southern Arizona whose nation is obstructed by a border wall they are supposed to be completely independent from, we are seeking to unpack a narrative which has been largely silenced, so as to absorb El Otro Lado as not only a two-sided or black-white issue, but as the multifaceted, gray reality that it holds…

And just like that, I am about to lead Mullen High School from Casa Guadalupe over to breakfast on campus as we prep for our hike and supply drop in the Sonoran Desert.

Savannah Mattox is a first-year LV serving at San Miguel High School in Tucson, Arizona. She is a 2018 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.

El Otro Lado, which means “the other side”, is a US/Mexico border immersion program hosted by San Miguel High School. This program provides Lasallian students with the opportunity to explore the US/Mexico border and learn about the many complexities of immigration. Through this five-day immersion program students and participating staff members learn about, and experience in part, the hard journey our brothers and sisters that cross from “El Otro Lado” endure. In addition to informing participants of the hundreds of migrant deaths that occur in the Arizona desert, El Otro Lado allows students to interact with humanitarian aid groups, Border Patrol agents and those directly impacted by US immigration policy.

By |October 31st, 2018|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on “And Just Like That…”

October Ministry of the Month: De La Salle Academy

In this month’s “Ministry of the Month,” the District of San Francisco New Orleans is featured. The ministry is De La Salle Academy (DLSA) in Concord, California, and the Lasallian Volunteers are Ashley Weinburger, 17-19, and Julia Mach, 18-19. Ashley attended La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Julia attended Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois. Ashley and Julia focus on how service and community help them continue their love for the Lasallian mission fostered during their college experiences.

WHAT IS DE LA SALLE ACADEMY?

De La Salle Academy is a middle school for boys of academic promise from low-income families in the greater Concord area. The San Miguel-model school is grounded in the belief that a well-ordered and rigorous education is a key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Such an education can prepare students to live meaningful and productive lives and to recognize and fulfill their obligation to contribute to the well-being of the larger community. By focusing on students during their formative years, De La Salle Academy helps boys to lay a foundation upon which to build future success. Like other Lasallian Miguel-model schools, De La Salle Academy culture emphasizes citizenship, service and responsibility in a loving learning environment created by a skilled faculty and staff. At De La Salle Academy, attention is consistent, expectations are high, and each boy’s talents are recognized and nurtured, so that students can grow into young men with a positive vision for the future and with the skills to make their vision a reality. By providing opportunities for creativity and exploration, and for leadership and accountability, the academy orients students toward the pursuit of excellence in everything they undertake.

WHAT IS THE SERVICE THAT ASHLEY AND JULIA PROVIDE AT DLSA?

Ashley is the 5th and 6th grade science teacher, the 6th grade English language arts (ELA) teacher, and the mentor program facilitator. Each student at DLSA has an adult mentor who follows them through their years in the school. Ashley pairs students and mentors. Julia is the ELA support teacher for the 5th, 7th, and 8th grades. She also supervises physical education for the 6th and 8th grade students and is the coordinator for DLSA’s tutoring program. This program invites people from the community to come to DLSA and share their wisdom with the young men after instruction is over for the day. They help with homework, reading and other skills.

WHY DID JULIA AND ASHLEY DECIDE TO JOIN LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?

Both Julia and Ashley went to Lasallian universities, where their love for mission was nurtured in the classroom and through service opportunities. It seemed natural to them to continue their discernment as educators by joining the Lasallian Volunteers. Julia says, “I decided to become a Lasallian Volunteer because I wanted to grow as an educator and what better way to grow as an educator than to be surrounded by people who dedicate their lives to educating the poor. I also wanted to be a Lasallian Volunteer because I knew the experience I gained through the program would not compare if I just took a teaching job outside of college.” Ashley found out about the program from recruiting efforts at La Salle. She says, “I was initially attracted to the Lasallian Volunteers because a current volunteer came and talked about it in my class. Since I am an education major, I thought about it but wanted to do an international program. Then I received an email about volunteering in Jamaica and the rest is history.”

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT THESE VOLUNTEERS OFFER TO THE STUDENTS ENTRUSTED TO THEIR CARE?

Both volunteers have education as their majors. As important as it is that they are trained teachers, each young woman recognizes that teaching subject matter – while important – is not their only job. They have to instill confidence in the young men entrusted to their care and show them that they are loved. Ashley says, “Getting to touch the hearts of children and families in a very unique way is what makes being a Lasallian Volunteer so special. The most important thing my students need from me is quality education and my support. With these two things, I can help my students to become the best that they can be.” Julia agrees when she says, “As it is often said at my site ‘everyone has a story.’ The most important thing a student needs from me – besides an education – is to know that I believe in them. No matter what they say or do, against all odds, someone still believes in them, cares for them, and wants what is best for them.”

HOW HAVE JULIA AND ASHLEY’S EXPERIENCE LIVING WITH THE DE LA SALLE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS IMPACTED THEIR EXPERIENCE AS LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?

Both volunteers attended Lasallian universities and had contact with Brothers prior to volunteering. Their understanding of community life and the religious life the Brothers live deepened when they chose to be Lasallian Volunteers. Julia says, “I have learned how to begin to anticipate the needs of others and to understand why they choose to live together in a community. You are not going to see eye-to-eye with everyone in community but the Brothers are there to support you, give you advice and provide some witty commentary when a laugh or pun is needed.” As a 2nd year, Ashley echoes this and says, “My involvement with the Brothers has made me a better person. I have become more responsible and more giving than I have ever been. I strive to make others happy and tend to worry about my needs less.”

WHAT WOULD JULIA AND ASHLEY TELL COLLEGE SENIORS THINKING ABOUT THE LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS PROGRAM?

Ashley and Julia both highly encourage college seniors to think about a year of service with Lasallian Volunteers! Ashley says, “It will be the best yearof your life! You think that when you decide to do a year of service that you will only being giving your whole self for an entire year, but you receive a lot too. You receive experience, knowledge, lifelong relationships and unconditional love, along with giving so much of yourself to others.” Julia agrees with her community member when she says, “It will be the best decision you ever made as a soon-to-be college graduate.”

 

By |October 11th, 2018|Categories: lv of the month, news + events|Comments Off on October Ministry of the Month: De La Salle Academy

Restorative Justice: The Quiet 21st Century Lasallian Undertaking

Many of you reading this are familiar with the Lasallian mission and the history of St. John Baptist de La Salle. If you aren’t, the very short version is this: there was a man who saw that poverty-stricken young men were not being educated, and he thought that they should be in order to become literate citizens – gentlemen in society. Many weren’t happy about this, but he did it anyway. Fast forward 300 years later and you have De La Salle Christian Brothers and other lay people who continue his legacy and the mission he founded on a much larger scale.

I am serving in a particularly unique ministry, Catalyst Maria School, which is a K-12 charter school on the South Side of Chicago. Up until this point, I had only seen the Lasallian charism presented through Catholic ministries but Catalyst Maria functions in a secular manner with Lasallian roots. As a non-Catholic Lasallian this is something incredibly unique and something I am excited to be a part of. After many late-night conversations with my community members about De La Salle, his legacy and the many forms that it has taken over time, I still marvel at De La Salle himself. He was a radical man, who had unconventional and widely unpopular ideas. He drew attention to the need to educate marginalized young people when so many others had discarded their well-being as unimportant. There are many ways to accomplish that goal and one way that I have observed that being done – rather quietly – is through the work that Catalyst is doing via restorative justice. At Catalyst a key component to serving scholars in marginalized communities who have often experienced trauma and other forms of oppression (when conflicts arise) is through restorative practices. Just as De La Salle made it a goal to educate marginalized poor young men to be literate and gentlemen, Catalyst has made it a goal to educate our marginalized scholars to be literate, and socially and emotionally healthy. We aim to educate the whole person.

Restorative practices can look like peace circles used to resolve conflict before it turns into violence, or as a healing practice after violence has occurred. It can also look like restorative consequences that involve healing and growth for the person who has caused harm and others who have been harmed. For example: If one student has bullied another, a restorative consequence can be that they must create and present a PowerPoint on the effects of bullying and present it to their class. My job as a circle keeper is to create and hold a space where people can feel safe to express what they need to express and talk to one another openly and honestly.

The students I serve fall under many categorizations of marginalization, and while educating a young person is hard enough, the adversity they face as marginalized youth adds extra layers of complication. This also means that your approach to education must be radically different as well. How you would teach a student who has experienced trauma is marginally different than how you would teach a student who has not. When you work with marginalized students and with a restorative justice approach, you learn how to ask questions differently. If you’re trying to solve a conflict, the root of the answers are rarely ever in plain sight. Restorative justice mindsets cause your approach to change because that’s most likely what the student needs to process whatever is going on with them. If a student acts out, instead of asking, “What is wrong with you? Why won’t you quit doing this?” we ask, “What is going on with you? How can I help you work through what’s causing you to do this?” A student does not raise their voice and get angry for no reason, nine out of 10 times that reason they’re angry isn’t actually you or what you did, it’s something else going on behind the scenes. That reason – the way that possible trauma and whatever else is happening out of your eyesight – is just as important. Restorative justice practices are key to providing a space for someone to learn how to talk about what is on their mind and communicate with someone they may be having conflict with.

These practices are absolutely essential in the approach that must be taken while I work with students who are a part of marginalized communities and who have experienced repeated trauma, poverty, violence, various levels of oppression, and students who living with disabilities or going through the immigration process. Schools help students get closer to the school-to-prison pipeline by suspending and expelling students when they act out and disobey school policy. Restorative justice helps students take steps back from the school-to-prison pipeline because it helps teach skills of processing information, ownership of impact, and the importance of maintaining and building healthy relationships. The growth of communities that experience trauma and poverty is often stunted by continuous changes and lack of relationships being built. We work with many students who have experienced trauma and their immediate response (due to the neurological effects of reoccurring trauma) is fight or flight. Often this response is translated by those who don’t understand it as unnecessary and intentional aggression when it is often uncontrollable. This is yet another way in which Lasallian educators are doing their part in educating the whole person. It is wonderful if our students are literate but how can we not address the troubles they are facing at home and within their communities and expect them to succeed?

I call restorative justice “the quiet 21st century Lasallian undertaking.” We work with incredibly vulnerable and marginalized populations and providing restorative justice practices for those we serve is something that I find to be essential to a quality education and some of the adversities they face. Many Lasallian ministries are already on board. Perhaps in the coming years, we will see and hear that all of our Lasallian ministries have implemented restorative justice practices into their culture. Young people from marginalized communities are still not being fully educated to be functioning members of society because conflict resolution and healing is not seen as a necessity – just look at the school-to-prison pipeline. Young people from marginalized communities are not being given other options on how to solve conflict or heal in ways that don’t involve violence, and thus they not given options to build and maintain relationships with those they are having conflict with. Catalyst Maria seeks to change that through their work and for the rest of my year and career as a Lasallian educator, so do I.

Carly Cohen is a second-year LV serving at Catalyst Maria in Chicago, Illinois. She is a 2016 graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

 

By |October 3rd, 2018|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Restorative Justice: The Quiet 21st Century Lasallian Undertaking