Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Advent is a time for preparation. All over the world people are preparing for Christmas. Maybe that means they are making travel plans or Christmas shopping for all the people on their list. It can often be easy to forget that Advent asks us to prepare for the most important part of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ.
As a teacher, preparing for Christmas also means putting on a Christmas program here at St. Dorothy School. Talk about hustle and bustle! Coordinating 200 students and teachers can be quite a task. There are performances by each grade, nativity plays, costume changes, and liturgical dance numbers to consider. We rehearse as a school only a couple of times, which means many teachers are singing Christmas carols during math class. Details are fretted over as our school works to put on a show which parents and friends will never forget! All of these preparations are important. The church looks beautiful and students are proud to show their families what they practiced.
The Christmas program for St. Dorothy School was a big success this year. It seems to me that Christmas programs are just like Advent. There is a lot of preparation involved and it can be easy to get lost in the details, even if they are important. But we have to stay focused on the reason for the celebrations. Our Christmas program exists so that our students can show everyone how talented they are and how hard they work. It exists so that when a student messes up a line during the Christmas play, we can laugh with him because he tried so hard. It exists to show our students how much we believe in them and to marvel with them at the talents and gifts they have been given by God. And there were many reasons to marvel: our 59 liturgical dancers who performed four times, our 4th grade soloist who sang “Mary, Did You Know” and literally brought the entire audience to their feet, our students singing Gospel songs about the birth of Jesus and a Christmas play by our elementary students.
As a preschool teacher, I marveled at my students singing with every ounce of energy they had in their little 3 and 4-year old bodies. One of my students, while he was singing his heart out, gave us the thumbs up in the middle of the performance. It brought a huge smile to my face to see how happy he was with his classmates. Remembering that my students are the most important part of any Christmas program helped me to remember what is really important during this Advent season: another child who was born to bring joy to our hearts and smiles to our faces despite all of life’s busy-ness.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
The following is a reflection written by Emily Jackson, Director of the Chicago Uptown Ministry. Emily currently serves as a Site Supervisor for Kayla Mravec, one of our North House Volunteers.
Chicago Uptown Ministry has created a special niche for itself, in a community well known for its large homeless population, as a faith based safe haven that strives to support some of the most marginalized individuals in Uptown. The Ministry has become a critical support system that provides counseling, referrals, and advocacy to help clients navigate the greater social service network and other systems like the public schools, legal, immigration, and public health.
Sometimes work in the non-profit world can feel cumbersome, but then there are weeks…this being one…when my job and the people I’m lucky enough to work with, put an extra step in my stride.
Story #1…Kayla has been the 2010-2011 Amate volunteer at Chicago Uptown Ministry since August. On Friday, we enjoyed coffee/tea together and chatted about her past month at ChUM. I couldn’t help but notice…when I mention certain people and programs…she smiles. The kind of ear to ear smile that you can’t contain or stop even if you tried.
Story #2…Each year, ChUM provides turkeys for the Uptown residents who visit our food pantry the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This year, we gave away more than 30 turkeys and each person that received one flashed that same smile…for some it was fleeting, but there none the less.
Because of Kayla, the rest of the Chicago Uptown Ministry staff and those 30 guests, I am humbly smiling. The joy and gratitude is infectious. I am grateful for the people I get to spend my days with and for the way they care about those around them.
Visit Chicago Uptown Ministry online at www.lcfs.org/chicagouptown.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Application Season is upon us here at Amate House! Starting in November and December each year, we begin receiving applications from prospective Volunteers eager to figure out their plans for next year! It’s always exciting for us to see where applicants are coming from: Texas, Boston, Minnesota and California; graduates from schools we always get applications from and from schools we’ve never before heard of!
As we start up the interviews in December, it will be a joy for us to meet applicants and get to know them, to brag about our program and give tours of the Volunteer houses. As our list of Amate House Alumni grows each year, it’s amazing to see what a great group of people have come and gone from this program. Once you are in, you are family; and it’s a little funny to think that we’ll soon start interviewing candidates who want to be a part of this family!
For those of you out there working on the application (which can be found on our website), I encourage you to be creative with your essays! Our early deadline this year is February 1st and our final deadline is April 1st, or until the program is full! We always encourage early applications as the program has a tendency to fill early.
Since we accept Volunteers on a rolling basis, it’s important for interested applicants to be in touch with either Ryan Lents or me if they are planning to apply. Ryan and I do most of the interviewing and coordinate visits for those who are able to come out to Chicago!
We really are very excited to start up with interviews and getting to know candidates! If you or someone you know is interested in applying, please don’t hesitate to call or email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions!
Download our Volunteer Application here.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
How can I keep from singing?
Last weekend was Fall Retreat and if there is one thing that keeps going through my head its: "How can I keep from singing?" The mass on Sunday with all the Amate Community has been my favorite mass since moving to Chicago. The Priest, the readings, the music and the community made the mass so meaningful to me. Towards the end of mass the priest started singing "no storm can shake my inmost calm, while to this rock I’m clinging, when Lord is love over heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing." Since the retreat I have found myself humming "how can I keep from singing" while riding the L, walking around the house, driving down Lake Shore Drive, and even working. I feel so blessed to be living this life of an Amate Volunteer.
Friday afternoon myself and five other housemates squeezed into our six passenger car followed by the big blue suburban with my seven other housemates. One thing to note: I love road trips but even more I loved being squeezed into the car with my wonderful community members! Before the trip really even started we were singing and laughing- I knew then the weekend was going to be amazing. As we started our road trip to Michigan down the beautiful Lake Shore Drive I couldn’t stop proclaiming how much I love North House, Amate & Chicago. I was so excited to spend a weekend away with all the volunteers and the staff!
The weekend was structured around discovering our individual strengths, seeing how they help us to be leaders, and how they play a role in our daily lives as individuals and as community members. We also had time to relax (which meant different things for everyone). Some people journaled, took naps, went on a run or walk, listened to music; where as some people played sports, went paddle boating, knitted or did some reading. The weekend was absolutely wonderful for so many reasons! The retreat center was a perfect place to reflect and relax from the daily happenings of the big city! Being surrounded by the beauty of nature, the fall leaves the serene pond and also being surrounded by the beauty of the Amate Community. Really taking time to recognize each others strengths and how that impacts the community made me realize how lucky I am!
I truly feel I am exactly where I am meant to be! The retreat helped me to see that I wasn’t taking enough time to reflect and to fully recognize God's presence in my life. Sunday morning's mass was exactly what I needed. The priest talked about how we need to be filled with God's love so that we can pour His love unto others. He talked about how when we recognize Gods love in our life then "how can we keep from singing"! I have personally challenged myself since the retreat to take the time to recognize the gifts that God has given me as well as to see the gifts in my community members and make sure to point them out to that person. I hope that when the bumps in the road do come and things get difficult that I can remember to sing " "no storm can shake my inmost calm, while to this rock I’m clinging, when Lord is love over heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing."
Interested in seeing some pictures from Fall Retreat? Follow this link.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Today I find myself starting anew, but starting anew with discipline. It is eight o'clock in the morning and I am sitting in a church pew with over four hundred students, all under the age of fifteen. A crowd of blue shirts and dresses, dark hair, wheat brown skin, backpacks and lunch boxes fills every pew. When they sing it is done with sleepy affection. They know the words to every song much better than I. They are Catholic in a way I never will be - the cradle kind. And in this place, a tiny church in a tiny village in one of the largest cities in the world, I have found something.
Thousands of miles away from my own childhood church and school, I have found home. I close my eyes and remember to take a breath. Remember to calm myself. Almost pinch myself to see if its real. Two months ago I was not a teacher. Two months ago attending any eight a.m. mass was absurd, let alone on a weekday. Two months ago I kept my faith well-hidden. Two months ago I stood at the doorway to something unknown, and I placed my conflicted heart into the hands of God. My whole heart. I prayed that the beauty of that single act would impress upon Him how much I needed to grow.
The discipline this year requires is the real challenge - facing myself constantly and with grace. Placing myself and my needs at the mercy of others before I have an opportunity to second-guess myself. The discipline of being a role model - to children and to my outer world. Discipline is exhausting, but it is a marathon, not a sprint.
As I walk out this morning, amidst the hundreds of reverent students, I suddenly feel the rewards. Every child knows my name because I teach them all. The sidewalk, once empty, is now filled with waves and shouts. They know my name! I hold the door open and bow my head humbly. If Jesus could call our names himself, it would sound like this.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I’m in Chicago. I’m living in Chicago.
I’ve been here for nearly two months, but sometimes I’m still in awe and disbelief that I am, in fact, living in Chicago. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t lived in a big city before. I’m from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, a big, giant sprawl of city and suburbs. But these past few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that I am, indeed, living in Chicago, and loving it.
There are plenty of things to do and see around the city: festivals, fairs, museums, parks and concerts. Whenever I’m at home during the weekends, I always feel like I shouldn’t be. I feel like I should always be out and about, taking advantage of all that Chicago has to offer, especially before winter sets in. With my housemates, I’ve gone to the German festival, the jazz fest, a few art fairs and heard music at Millennium Park. I called home asking my mom, “Do we have these things back home?! Am I oblivious to what’s going on around Dallas?!” Maybe there are a few of these events going on but as my mom pointed out, “It’s 100 degrees outside over the summer. Maybe it’ll drop down to 90 in the evening. Nobody wants to be outside.” Oooohh yeah...Texas doesn’t have short bouts of high temperatures but days (and I don’t miss it).
I’ve also enjoyed hearing the historical aspects of Chicago, especially from a few of my housemates who’ve lived around the city for a while, but I’ve also come to realize the costs of living in Chicago. It’s not the cheapest place to live and when we’re living on a stipend, the decisions to explore and enjoy the city and to live simply are conflicting.
Despite the negatives of living in a large city (like city traffic), I’m going to enjoy Chicago and all the Chicago things as much as I can while I’m here. As a house, we’ve created a South House bucket list of things we must do before our year is up and I have no doubt that we’ll accomplish it all, including the bazillion visits to Huck Finn Donuts for donut delights.*
*A donut delight consists of your choice of donut with a heaping scoop of ice cream of your choice, topped with whip cream and a cherry and are indeed, quite a delight.