Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Time of Preparation

The following is a reflection written by Jen Patton, one of this year's South House Volunteers.

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

Gratitude in Unexpected Places

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.