Friday, December 07, 2012

Giving Thanks

The following is a reflection written by Ruth Elias, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

On a beautiful Thursday morning, I was faced with a difficult decision: whether to continue to lazily sleep in, or take the unfamiliar road by driving an hour away in an unfamiliar city to celebrate Thanksgiving with a family. Despite my weakness of often getting lost in this city, I finally decided to go. I got into the car and followed my written directions to John Lucas' house to celebrate Thanksgiving. Upon arrival, I was welcomed with happy smiles and laughter, and of course, delicious food. I had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving Day surrounded with a wonderful company, delicious food and moments filled with joy. John's grandchildren infused me with great joy. Having the chance to celebrate my first Thanksgiving in Chicago with his family is one of the things I am grateful for.

Second, I am thankful to God for his continuous protection, love, and guidance in my life. His unconditional love gives me strength to live each day to its fullest. Despite my hardships and moments of joys, I know that I can always turn to him for whatever I need. I am thankful to him for blessing me with an amazing family, awesome friends, great teachers and mentors. The lessons they've taught me, the advice they've given me, the challenges they've provided me with and their unconditional support continue to shape the person I am.

Third, I am grateful to be a part of Amate House this year. Living in community is one my main sources of happiness. I enjoy spending time with my housemates and all the other Amate volunteers. Cooking and eating meals together with my housemates, and interacting with my Amate community are some of the things  I enjoy greatly. Living with my housemates is teaching me so much about myself and living with others. For instance, I am very picky when it comes to cleanliness, but everyone has a varying definition of what that is. I have learned to compromise and leave my judgments behind and accept everyone the way they are and where they are in life with their different lifestyles.  After much adjustment to my community, I can finally say I am so happy living with my family of 12 wonderful housemates with unique personalities. I appreciate each and every one of them and the gifts they bring to our community.

Fourth, I am grateful for my awesome job. I tutor ESL and math to 3-8th graders at St. Thomas of Canterbury School. The student body is diverse and the students are dedicated, tenacious and well-behaved. They are eager to learn as much, just as I am eager to learn from them! Being an immigrant from Africa, there is often something new I learn every day! Assisting them with their assignments, sharing stories and interacting with them transmits so much light. I see an abundance of joy in their faces and their jolly presence makes me so happy!

Thanksgiving was a great day to actively think of some of the people that have shaped my life. However, despite the Thanksgiving holiday celebration, we should be regularly grateful for who we are, where we are in life, and the people and things that God has blessed us with.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Spinning, Fallling, and Getting Back Up

The following is a reflection written by Matt Cunnane, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

“Ya know, if you spin around in a circle for about a minute, then I shine a flashlight in your eyes, you’ll fall right to the ground.”

“No, Beth, that can’t be true.”

“It’s true.  I can explain the science to you.”

“Forget the science, grab the flashlight.”

So we walked off into the middle of the empty field, flashlight in hand, stars overhead, and that’s how it came to pass that after 30 seconds of spinning around like a loon, Beth knocked me clean over with nothing save for the bright exposure of flash light, the both of us laughing like children understanding the “orange-ya glad I didn’t say banana” joke for the first time.

Believe it or not, but my community experience is exactly like the above story.  I started off in the dark, completely unaware of my surroundings, creatures of the night lurking, completely invisible except for rustles made in the wilderness.  Then, we passed through orientation.  Suddenly, I felt companionship, a sense of belonging in the urban wilderness of Chicago.  No longer alone, but with guides.  Stars slated to point me North, if ever I found myself off track in my journey.  After orientation I began work at my service site, the Lawndale Christian Legal Center.  More stars emerged in the form of my supervisor and another support system, people who have my best interest at heart and wish for me to succeed, both for my individual benefit and for those whom we serve.

So far so good.  Community life began to make sense.  I started to learn the patterns.  Who gets upset when you leave dishes in the sink, who is willing to put all things aside in order to help you out with a problem, and what causes others distress.  Then the spinning started.  Tasks at work started to pile up, chores at home began to suffer because when I’m at work I’m thinking about community and when I’m in community all I can think about is what has to be done tomorrow at work.  I didn't realize it until I felt like I was about to throw up, but I was spinning like a loon, taking in the stimuli as best as I could with a brain that was too disoriented to know which way was up.  This continued on until finally...Bam!  Light flooded my vision, I hit an emotional breaking point, I fell to the ground, the inescapable result of a lack of footing, mixed with cochlear confusion and the sudden brightness.  “Just get to the ground,” my brain fired, “Wait for the spinning to stop, then we’ll get back up and take on the challenges of this world.”

In community, you have to fall down in order to know what standing is.  You have to be overwhelmed in order for your eyes to adjust to increasing amounts of light.  What Beth had wanted to tell me on that night with the flashlight were the facts, the hard science of the matter.  She tried to save me from falling down in order to learn the truth, but if community has taught me anything thus far it’s this: you can’t be told these things, you have to see them for yourself.

So, how do you cope?  How do you stay present, stop spinning, find your footing, and stand when the light is blinding?  Each community group has to answer this for themselves, but in Little Village House, we do simple joys.  Each evening at dinner, Monday-Thursday, we go around the table and we say one thing that gave us joy that day.  Each community member speaks, and all listen.  We even dubbed Kara the “Viceroy of Joy” so that if side conversations begin to take over there is someone to hold us accountable.  “Today, my boss congratulated me on helping him with a task”, “Today, a little boy told me that he liked my lunch bag”, “Today a young man came to our organization with nothing but the clothes on his back, and we were able to help him”.  It doesn't matter how big or simple the joy is, what’s more important is what it provides.  Simple joys not only remind us to be attentive to the experiences of those in our presence, but they also allow us to answer two very similar questions, “For what am I grateful today?” and “Where did I see God today?”

I've found that these two questions are tantamount to having a positive experience while in community.  For one thing, they keep me focused on the positive.  Each evening I know that I will be asked to speak an experience of my day which is life-giving.  You’d be surprised how many times you see God when you’re looking for him in the street, in the office, in the car, or in papers strewn across your desk.  From there I've noticed that I have grown in my ability to see God in each experience.  Of course I fall on my face and get frustrated just as much, if not more than, the average Joe, but when my mind is oriented towards asking where God is, I focus my attention when I see him that day.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Building Community

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

The current of ongoing change that has been propelling our lives since arriving in Chicago just over three months ago took a refreshing detour on October 19th as all three houses loaded up their trusty Amate House vehicles and sojourned forth to Watervliet, MI for three days of spiritual exploration, community development, and fellowship.   Such a break was well needed from the grind and beautiful chaos that is our new lives in the Windy City. Having personally grown up in a small rural town in Western New York, I was beginning to long for the rolling fields, quiet starry nights, and humble farmhouses that defined my childhood.

I received all that and more as our Amate caravan rolled up the long gravel driveway to the dining hall of Ronora Lodge. The clear and fresh air that entered my lungs as I pulled myself out of the car served not only to remind me of my upbringing but also to bring me back to Christ and make me all the more grateful for the opportunities and experiences that I have been afforded this year. There is always some element of nature that succeeds in reeling us in and placing us fully in the presence of God and all the gifts and graces He has placed upon us.

The next 36 hours were jam packed with so many amazing talks, activities, and interactions that would unfortunately take me six pages single spaced to delineate in full, so I will zoom in on a few of the highlights:

Saturday morning the North House community got our first full day of retreat off to an optimistic and hopeful start with a silent affirmation exercise. In this activity the group stood in a circle with their backs to the center. A handful of people would be selected at a time to enter the center, and, while a plethora of positive and affirming attributes were read by one of the leaders, they would quietly tap the shoulders of all the people in the circle who they believed to exemplify those qualities.  The element of silence in this exercise was a powerful assurance to all those being tapped that they are individuals of value and worth. It does not matter who it is that thinks so; the point is that there is someone out there who believes in you for one reason or another. In our challenging and fast paced lives as volunteers we at times lose site of the aspects of ourselves that make us a person worth knowing and respecting. We tend to forget about the gifts that we have to offer our community and the world around us.  Though small and silent, these gestures of praise are meaningful and this affirmation circle was a great tool for preparing us for our next group discussion which centered on the theme of trust.

Throughout the rest of the day we engaged in a trust partner exercise, a trust continuum activity, and had several hours of free time in which there were so many options for things to do. We were fortunate enough to have a beautiful lake available to us just a short walk down the hill from our living quarters. Many of us took advantage of admiring it while having thoughtful conversations with new and old friends. Others utilized the extensive library of spiritual and social justice themed texts that our loving house coordinators were gracious enough to bring for us to enjoy. I myself began to page through a book of prayers and reflections by the influential Salvadoran priest, Oscar Romero. Others chose to use this silence to catch up on journaling, or another hard to find necessity…sleep!

The day ended Saturday night when we all gathered in an open field for a bonfire accompanied by s’mores and Ryan’s gift of song.  For several hours we opened our hearts and minds to the beautiful gift of nature that we have missed out on since coming to the city.  The skies, though cloudy, still shone with stars and several constellations were recognized. We all rallied around Ryan as he serenaded us with everything from The Beatles to Mumford and Sons.  There couldn’t have been a more fitting way to wrap up a weekend of prayer, new friendships, and community. Even as the fire burnt to its last ember we were all warm with love and the promise of good things to come the rest of the year.

As we packed up our vehicles once again on Sunday after mass I thought back on the discussions and group talks we had over the weekend and one element that came to mind was that of trust. I have been slow to trust most of my life and still am, but North House’s activity and the partner exercise helped me to recognize its importance and how fruitful it could be to take a risk for its sake. We all had to trust in ourselves and God when we chose to do what many of our friends and family back home scoffed at; a year of volunteer service. So far we have been guided rightly and all that is left now is to begin to place that trust in those we live with. Having faith that one’s intentions are pure is a scary thing but what is even scarier is not trying and never knowing.  The union of nature and prayer this week managed to put into perspective all that we had been through together and the roads that were still left unexplored. Now is the time for me and my fellow volunteers to give ourselves to this year and to each other. This is the point in our lives where the objective is not to hide from being hurt but to be pained by not having been.  There are so many beautiful things yet to be experienced.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Serving My Brothers and Sisters

The following is a reflection written by Ali Heinen, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

Biologically, I have 4 siblings. However after my past two months working as a legal assistant on the National Immigrant Justice Center’s Children’s Project, in my heart I have about 60 more little brothers and sisters to add to that. Over the next 8 months, that number will continue to grow but if you met some of these kids you would know how hard it is not to fall in love with them.

My new “hermanitos” and “hermanitas” are from Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and even a few from as far away as China and Romania. So perhaps now you are wondering what exactly it is I am doing, right? That is a great question. I am still learning exactly what my responsibilities and different roles are everyday, so bear with me as I try to explain them.

On my first day of work, my supervisor Ellen told me, “you have a super steep learning curve ahead of you.” This comment scared me but mostly excited me. She was absolutely right, I hardly knew anything about law let alone immigration law. I knew I wanted to use my Spanish and work with kids. So far, I could not have picked a better placement in which I can do both.

During a typical week, I spend Monday and Wednesday at centers throughout the Chicago area where those younger than 18 are sent after they are detained for attempting to cross the US border. Most of the kids are about 11-17 years old. The centers are nice places, they go to classes, have three meals a day, their own bed. These minors attempt to cross into the United States for various reasons: they want to make a better life for themselves and their families and/or they are fleeing from increasing gang violence in their home countries. The number one reason I have heard is that these kids purely want to be with their parents or older siblings. Their families have good intentions for immigrating to the US; they want to be able to provide for their children economically because there are no opportunities for them to do so in their home countries. Their only other choice would be living in complete poverty. Most of the kids understand this reasoning; however, the inevitable result is a lot of young people who desperately want to find and be with their parents who they miss so much.

My organization goes to these centers and gives Know Your Rights presentations so the kids know why they are being detained and that they need to go to their court dates or they will receive an order of deportation. Without the presentations that we give, it is possible these kids would not even know why they are at the center or that they are now in the court system. The United States requires that all detained minors under 18 years of age be assigned a court date.

We then do individual intakes with these kids to screen them for the possibility of qualifying for a Visa that would allow them to stay in the United States legally. Some of these types of visas include asylum, trafficking, and/or if one or both of their parents have abandoned or abused them. The reality is that many of them do not qualify for these visas and we then explain to them the options of either voluntarily deporting to their country or receiving an order of deportation. The latter is not my favorite to explain but it is important that these kids know the truth and whether they have a case to fight in court.

We can represent them in court only while they are in Chicago. When they reunify with their family in the United States, which all of them are allowed to do once they leave the centers regardless of whether they have a legal way to stay here, we change their court venue to that new city. This is where the administrative part of my job comes in. Three days out of the week I am on the 20th floor of a building right down in the Loop, on the same block as the Chicago Board of Trade. There are a lot of databases to update for our funders and court venues to file in court and kids to keep track of as they come and go. I knew I would not love sitting in front of a computer and filing things but being able to meet and get to know some of the kids I am doing all the paperwork for, puts so much more meaning behind the routine tasks to which I am assigned.

Not to mention how amazing my co-workers are! The Children’s Project team consists of about 13 people: lawyers, legal assistants, and interns – they have been wonderful teachers for me. They are very knowledgeable and worldly and have seemed to find the perfect blend of a career where they can truly help others and work towards social justice while also making a living. For me, that is pretty much the ideal situation so I feel very blessed to be in a placement that allows me to witness that balance.

The National Immigrant Justice Center as a whole does a lot of phenomenal work in many different aspects of immigration. For example, during my first week on the job, the staff agreed to volunteer at Chicago’s DREAMer forum at Navy Pier. The government began accepting applications from immigrant youth applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on August 15th, a policy by the Obama administration providing temporary reprieve from deportation and work authorization for DREAM Act-eligible youth. Thousands of people came to the forum and it was one of the largest in the country. I literally felt like I was witnessing history in action!

At the end of the day, what remains in my heart and mind through the hectic trips to court and long team meetings and cramming onto an overcrowded El train, is the faces and names of the kids I meet. My housemates and other fellow Amatians will listen to me talk about them sometimes relentlessly but fortunately for me they are genuinely interested (at least that’s what they make it seem like…) These kids want to be doctors and teachers and study English. They don’t care when I make mistakes conjugating verbs in Spanish, they get excited when I sit and eat lunch with them, and many have such a beautiful and pervasive sense of hope for the future that I cannot help but be affected by it. They have traveled thousands of miles, by foot or bus or car, just so they can be with their families. While most of my family only remains a few hours away in Wisconsin, I honestly can only hope I would be as brave and do the same.

Many of these kids have already experienced more hardships and tragedies then I will probably deal with in my lifetime. Some of these kids seem to have no hope, and this is when I have to hold back my tears and do my job. I want to give them the information and power to make informed decisions in their legal cases but I also just want to wrap them in my arms and tell them everything is going to be okay. As a professional, I cannot do the latter but chatting with them about their favorite hobbies or telling them it is okay to cry or coloring with them are all ways I can still serve them with love and care and solidarity. I receive that love back and can only hope that come June, my heart will still be able to handle constant heartbreak of seeing these kids leave and more often than not, never being able to hear from them again. With the support of Amate and my family and friends back home, I have faith it is a challenge I can handle with grace.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Discovering our Strengths - Recapping the Fall In-Service Day

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

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Difference is something that we often run away from in life.  Most of us are drawn to similarities, find comfort in seeing where two ideas have common ground or love to discover mutual interests or friends when just meeting a new person.  Difference may be uncomfortable for many of us but it is the very thing that Paul claims builds the community of God.  The excerpt above from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians speaks to this idea that God uses differences in each of us to create a unique, spiritual unity between believers.  Our first Amate House In-Service this year explored this idea and what it means to be a faith community filled with thirty-three distinctively different individuals.

The StrengthsFinder, which was the topic of our Fall In-Service day, helps to highlight these differences (and similarities) between individuals as they relate to certain strengths.  Each Amate House volunteer was asked to take the StrengthFinder assessment, which asked us a myriad of questions about ourselves and our personalities, and in the end received a list and explanation of our top five strengths.  While exploring our own strengths was enjoyable, our In-Service allowed us to see how our strengths and the strengths of our housemates complement each other and build our unique community.

While my top strengths included empathy, harmony and connectedness, I was able to discuss and sit next to my housemates that have the strengths of communication, intellection, or responsibility.  The diversity in strengths and thinking patterns within the Amate community, and even my own house community, gave me a renewed insight into the importance of individuals using their strengths to work together in service.  We all have tendencies and ways of thinking and behaving that are unique to our own temperaments and backgrounds but only when we work and serve together are we able to fully complement each other and create a cohesive whole.  Affirming the strengths that I see in myself and in others allowed me to become more aware of where I fit into the community and how I can use my special strengths to benefit and challenge the individuals around me.

Throughout the day I was continually reminded of the continuation of Paul’s letter in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians in which he uses the metaphor of the human body to describe the community of believers.  Paul writes “you are the body of Christ, and each on of you is a part of it” and “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Corinthians 12: 18,27).  Just as the body has many parts that perform many functions, Paul reminds us that in a community each member has a different role to fill, which is not more or less important than the person next to him or her.  God’s work is accomplished when each part of the body or community performs its function with determination and passion.  This idea can help us better understand a cohesive community where we are able to willingly accept our roles, no matter what it may be, because we see them each as equally important and necessary in working together for God’s greater purpose.

If all the roles and strengths of the community were the same, then nothing would be accomplished or changed.  Therefore, just as God has created us with such diversity, we must embrace this difference in community, even when it is frustrating and confusing, so that we can work together to challenge and compliment each other. Discussing my strengths during our In-Service helped me realize that whether I’m the toe or the heart, which perform drastically different functions for the body, I have a central role to play in creating and sustaining the body of Christ in and through my community.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Adjusting to the City

The following is a reflection written by Livia Spilotro, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

Chicago - The Windy City. No, friends, they aren’t kidding! From day one I’ve been battling the breezes as they come across Lake Michigan, attempting and failing over and over again to maintain some sort of composure to my hairstyle. Don’t worry—I’ve realized the futility of this cause and have moved my focus to bigger and better things, such as figuring out the lovely CTA system. Which color of the rainbow runs north and south? That would be Red. What about east and west? Well, that depends on how far you want to go!  What time do the trains stop running? The answer to that question has always been the cause of a comical ending to the night. And don’t even get me started on the Loop! On the map it looks like a box of Lucky Charms gone wrong, right in the center of downtown, and it’s always undergoing some sort of face lift in one place or another.

On the home front, I’m still adjusting to community life. Who’s cooking? What time is dinner? Better yet, what IS dinner? Due to the amount of vegetarians and lactose intolerance in my house, I think I’m slowly becoming vegan. I DEFINITELY consider this to be an adjustment. To be sure, there are other questions. Who’s leading prayer night? Where is the Sentra parked this time? Where is Community Night this week? Who’s driving? Did you grab the directions? Lord knows we’re still quite likely to get lost in this grand city from time to time. Besides the “daily grind” tasks of community life, getting to know my housemates and recognizing all of our unique quirks has proven to be a daily adventure that usually ends in laughter and a deeper understanding of each other. Even how I communicate with my loved ones back home has been an adjustment. Those who I used to see and talk to daily are now thousands of miles away, and I must say that although the distance is a force to be reckoned with, the wonders of technology have definitely proved to be the remedy for the occasional pang of homesickness.

It’s true - these are just a handful of some of the adjustments and changes of lifestyle I’m experiencing as I’m nearing the end of my second month here in the Amate House program. Although my mind is constantly flooded with questions, and my ears are filled with the sounds of Spanish, and the trains running by the house like clockwork shake my bed while I try to sleep, I can’t help but love this new life of mine. I’m slowly learning that this “adjusting” business isn’t going to happen in a day - nor should it. I’m accepting the fact that I will probably continue to find new ways to get home by getting a little lost at first. I’m also warming up to the idea that I will most likely be freezing my butt off for the next, oh, five or six months, because the lowest temperature this Texas girl is used to during an average Texas wintertime is only 40 degrees...Which, by the way, is the predicted low temperature for this upcoming weekend. And yes, it’s only September.

Here’s the beautiful thing - every day I’m learning something new. Whether it’s about what this city has to offer, or something new about my housemates,  or experiencing an epiphany about who I am and what I believe, this adjustment - although sometimes awkward and painful - is an adjustment that is helping me to grow and appreciate where I am and who I am. Thank God I have another eight months of this experience to continue exploring this Windy City that I’m excited to call home.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Visit with the Amate House Founders

During the first week of our Orientation, we were honored to be joined by John Haggerty, Ken Brucks, and John Horan, the Founders of Amate House.  To mark this special occasion, we had their visit and their conversation with the Volunteers recorded.  Please enjoy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Look Back at Amate Orientation 2012

The following is a reflection written by Becky Sinclair, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

On the Friday before my first day of work, a friend who lives in Chicago and kind of understands what Amate House is all about sent me a simple text message. Are you oriented yet? Understanding that she was simply asking whether the activities classified as “Orientation” had finished, I said yes, and we moved on to discussing our plans for the weekend. But later on, I revisited the question, and realized that to be “orientated” to a life as an Amate Volunteer means so much more than simply introducing ourselves 500 times to the same 32 people and talking about who is going to clean the bathrooms each week.

Amate Orientation is two weeks filled with activities and discussion that is intended to orient us to the lifestyle which we have committed ourselves to live for the next year; a life filled with service, community, personal formation, and, of course, love in action. It is a most curious experience; we all move into our new houses where we will live with 11 total strangers (who, of course, have become our best friends three days later). We then embark on a series of talks, meetings, and activities designed to introduce us to the idea of simple living and intentional community, as well as our service sites, where we will walk with others through the joys and pain of life. And let us not forget about having fun – though I think the jury is still out on whether fitting 12 people into a 2ft x 6ft box at Irons Oaks was actually fun… It sure was a close bonding experience).

Not everyone understands what we really do here at Amate. And let’s be honest, I’m not entirely sure myself. But Orientation has been a time to truly immerse ourselves in the year to come, to let go of the fact that we are no longer college students, that we aren’t starting high paying jobs like the rest of our friends, that we have 11 roommates and not a lot of personal space. These past two weeks have been a blessing and a challenge. It feels like we have been here forever, and we have hardly even started work. But, it has made me immensely excited for the year ahead.

Over the course of Amate Orientation, I have had the chance to get to know 32 amazing individuals, 11 of whom I get to live with. We have already had some formative experiences together, because what brings people closer than carrying a 350 pound TV up a flight of stairs just to find out that it doesn’t actually work up there?

Even more than the joy that has been Orientation is the hope that it gives me for the year ahead. As I understand it, to be oriented as an Amate Volunteer means understanding that to love is to live. Loving not only those with whom we are working, but also those with whom we are living. Two weeks isn't enough time to really “get it,” but it’s definitely a start. And, I can’t wait to see where this year takes us.

Becky with her North House Community at Promontory Point

Monday, August 13, 2012

Looking Back in Gratitude

The following is a reflection written by Felipe Fernandez del Castillo, an alum of the 2011-2012 Program Year.

A month after my tour of duty with Amate House has ended my strongest feeling is that of gratitude.

Gratitude for the dedication and support of the Amate House staff whose hard work made this experience possible. Gratitude especially for Ali Schlereth, world class House Coordinator and baker.

Gratitude for my coworkers at Cabrini Green Legal Aid, not just for their patience with me as I spent ten months learning how to do my job, but gratitude for the examples that they were in how to put love into action.

Gratitude for the volunteers I worked with at Cabrini Green Legal Aid who always impressed me by their willingness to make service a part of busy schedules, their passion for justice, and their simple friendliness.

Gratitude for the clients I worked with at Cabrini Green Legal Aid who were almost uniformly good natured, patient and extremely happy to hear me pick up my phone.

Gratitude for the opportunity to live in Chicago’s wonderfully vibrant Little Village Community, where construction workers pull their trucks over to leave flowers before the statue of Our Lady of Guadeloupe at the corner of 24th and Albany, where the only things to buy seem to be food, cell phones and dresses the color of hazmat suits, and where the sounds of giggling children, ranchera music and car alarms fill the air at all hours of the day and night.

Gratitude for my fellow volunteers, especially the ones I lived with. Gratitude for Melissa’s joy, Mayer’s good sense, Amici’s unflagging high spirits, Courtney’s eagerness to please and be pleased, Katy’s strength, Katie Kenefick’s ability to laugh at things, Nicole’s zest for life and Earl’s easy going goodness. I miss you guys already, and can’t wait to see you again.

Best of luck to all the new volunteers! You’re in for a great ride!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Farewell, Lisa!

Today, we're saying farewell to our Program Director and good friend Lisa Wittig.  After 2 years as Volunteer, and 5 years as a staff member, Lisa is moving on from Amate House and onto new, exciting adventures!  The contributions and impact that she has made on our program are enormous - if you're reading this and are familiar with Amate House, you have no doubt interacted with, served with, worked with, or been supported by Lisa in some way, shape, or form.  We're going to miss her dedication, organization, creativity, and sense of humor.

As she moves on, our staff wishes Lisa nothing but the best, and we hope that she remembers that she will always be a part of the Amate House family!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Little Village Fun Day!

The following is a reflection written by Katy Kawauchi, one of this year's Little Village Volunteers.

Little Village celebrated our In-Service Day by having a scavenger hunt in Wicker Park! Planners, Nicole and Melissa created an individual clue for each member of the house and our House Coordinator. Each clue related to a destination that triggered a fond Little Village memory, or a personal favorite thing that we learned about the individual this year! There were 9 clue destinations in all, with an additional special “secret” mission that needed to be completed before heading to the next location.

Our first stop was Felipe’s clue, where we witnessed the beautiful architecture of a Polish Catholic church. We then headed to a coffee shop to fulfill Nicole’s daily caffeine addiction! Next up? Illinois' own native, Anna M.’s clue, brought us to Illinois’ own Oberweis Dairy, to grab her favorite dessert, ice cream! Our very own House Coordinator, Ali, revisited her days of teaching, by playing Lava Monster with us all at a local playground. After our game of Lava Monster, Earl’s love for man’s best friend found us all at a dog park where we got to play with some adorable new friends! We then did a hop, skip and a jump to a place called, “Double Door“ which related to Anna A.’s love of all things Harry Potter and also lead us to a mini scavenger hunt within a scavenger hunt in Wicker Park. With Melissa’s love for reading and books, we ventured over to a unique bookstore, full of books of all genres. Right across the street, Courtney was pleased that we ended up at a video shop called “Exchange,” that sold both used and new movies where she was able to showcase her knowledge on different films of her liking. Our final stop was of course my own clue, which lead us to…food of course! We ended our scavenger hunt at Thai Village, where no seconds or thirds were needed!

I wouldn’t have spent my Friday any other way, but with the rest of my community, as we soaked up the sun and reminisced on the year.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

North House Fun Day!

The following is reflection written by Kevin Franey, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

North House is certainly not one to shy away from new and exciting experiences, so when my housemate Colin proposed to me that we spend our in-service day at a place called Extreme Trampoline, I knew that not only would there be no opposition to it, North Housers would jump all over it (yes, pun intended).  Even better still, trampolining wasn't all we would have the time and resources for.  We have kept a bucket list all year, and while trampolining was not on the list, when we realized our budget left us a little extra wiggle room beyond the trampolines, we thought what better an opportunity to cross an item off of our bucket list than with an in-service?  Some things from our childhood will never die and a desire to eat birthday party food in a fort built out of bedsheets and shakily positioned poles will always be there.  So the agenda was set and we were pumped.

Extreme Trampolines is exactly what it sounds like.  Wall-to-wall trampolines, trampolines on the walls (so that we could literally be bouncing off the walls), trampolines leading into a foam pit, trampolines set up for dodgeball matches, this place had everything you could want for an afternoon of high-flying fun.  Ninety minutes of flips, spins, dodgeball, choreographed dance routines, relay races, and just plain jumping, left us with burning legs, sore backs, and full hearts.  A quick stop at a nearby park for a picnic and relaxing games gave us shady respite before heading back to North House and a fort which would have impressed Gaudi himself.  We followed the perfect physical activity with the perfect non-physical activity of pizza and pillows to complete our wonderful day.  It was an excellent day of light-hearted fun which brought us closer as a community and gave us a few memories which we will be able to cherish always as the North House Ninjas!

Monday, June 04, 2012

South House Fun Day!

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

As our Amate House experience comes to a close, many of us have struggled to remain focused and present within community.  Amidst the stress of trying to plan what we will be doing post-Amate we continue to work a 40-hour workweek, have numerous Amate House obligations and still attempt to maintain the relationships we have outside of Amate. Needless to say that within this juggling act, often times, we lose sight of why we are in Amate.  So, for our final in-service we took a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life to enjoy a bit of the beautiful Chicago scenery.

Our day began at 9:00 a.m. with a scrumptious breakfast prepared by two of our wonderful roommates.  We enjoyed the relaxed meal over some light-hearted conversation and once again, came to appreciate the community that we’ve formed over these past 9 months.  After breakfast we grabbed our bicycles and headed out into a nearly perfect spring day.  Our bike ride began through the busy city streets of Chicago’s south side, a territory that we at South House have come to know and love.  The scenery took a drastic change as we turned onto the bike paths that follow the gorgeous Lakeshore Drive.  Along the lakefront we stopped for pictures and water and walked along our first destination: Navy Pier.  After a brief rest on the pier we continued north to our second destination: North Avenue Beach. We spent a couple hours at the beach soaking up the sun, playing catch and going for a quick dip in the refreshing lake water.  A few of us were brave enough (stupid enough) to challenge the rays of the sun with SPF 0…the sun won and continues to win every time I move my shoulders.  Content with the tan (or burn) that we received, we hopped back on the bikes and headed to Portillo’s for a late lunch.  With Amate House picking up the tab, we treated ourselves to our first ever community dinner while dining out.  I chose the Italian beef sandwich with hot peppers and a side of fries, a must have if you ever dine at Portillo’s.  Bellies full and bodies burned, we decided to call it a day.  We biked back along Lakeshore Drive all the way down to the south side and cut directly across the south side of the city to our humble abode.  After a few hours of retreating to our rooms and entering various states of coma, the house once again joined together to grill out and enjoy one final community meal for the day.

South House could not have asked for a more perfect day at a more needed time.  The in-service truly helped our house re-focus on the communal aspects of living that had most recently fallen to the wayside.  By taking a break from our day-to-day realities and focusing only on the community in which we live, we re-discovered the beauty that arises from forming a loving, supportive and caring community.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Life, New Light

The following is a reflection written by Colin Henning, one of this year's North House Volunteers.  He prepared this talk as part of the North House's Pentecost reflections.

We have something in common, you and I. We have all been down; seemingly beaten by our losses. It can be tough to get back on your feet, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Prior to moving into the Amate House I had a falling out with my father. For those of you that do not know, I am the oldest child, and it is safe to say that our momentary split affected the others in our family. Once we were reconciled and were speaking again it was as if we had both gained an understanding of each other, and how important we are to the people we are dearest to.

Although I had to experience a loss, and spent many months grieving, my relationship with my father is greater now than it has been in years. We see and interact with each other in a new light, and with new, mutual understanding. I have been given the courage to speak of this event to a few of you in the past, and each time it has delighted me to see myself looking at such a situation with greater compassion, and a more open heart.

Each of us may not always be aware of our growth, and our healing over time, but then one day, here we are. We most likely have some sort of realization as if we were walking around with dirty, grimy glasses on which have suddenly been removed. You again become aware of the greatness of your life, and the gifted role you play within it. I begin once again to exude excitement, energy, and a caring confidence into those around me that I love. This leads me to a verse I feel speaks of the newness one can feel in life, and the strength necessary to share the gifts we have been given.

Matthew 5:13-16 -  “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Living as a light. When I had the moments of clarity that I spoke about earlier, it is as if I, Colin, was simply a shell. There was something instilled in me long ago that was making its way to the surface of my exterior. It is such a strong sense of life that all I want to do is share it and make it visible. I have felt the presence of Pentecost by living wife a new spirit, full of love and compassion for others. That is how Amate has helped me to receive more love this year than ever before. I would now like to lead us in a prayer of renewal. Thank you for listening to my story.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Letting God Lead

The following is a reflection written by Anna Amici, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

Going into this year with Amate House, I told myself that I was going to be open to letting God work through me and lead me where He wanted me to go.  I wasn’t banking on Him turning my plans around and leading me in a totally different direction!

My mom joked when I started my site placement at Catholic Charities-West Regional Service as the coordinator of an after-school program and an Adult ESL teacher that I was going to fall in love with teaching and never be able to get out.  I laughed off her comment.  I was not going to change my plans of applying to Nurse Practitioner programs that I would dive into after my site placement was up.  However, as I started working with the students in my two programs, strange thoughts began to cross my mind.  Hmmmm. . . . I really seem to be enjoying working with these kids! Maybe there is something in this whole teaching thing!

As the year progressed, I pushed these thoughts from my mind.  I was struggling at my position as I started having to deal with an increased class size, students misbehaving and classroom management.  Yet, somehow, the idea of teaching still seemed appealing.  I felt as though I was making a real impact on my student’s lives and that my presence was actually helpful.  Despite often feeling overwhelmed by my job, I was able to realize that it was less the profession of teaching itself, but more a lack of experience on my part.  Even on my worst days with the students, there was still a thought in the back of my mind: Maybe you should go into teaching!  Naturally, I thought I was going crazy!  My kids don’t listen to me and my adult students have no idea what I am talking about.  Am I really considering this as a career?  But, the harder I struggled against the idea, the more persistent it became.  God was trying to tell me something, but I was very reluctant to let myself listen.

This past month, I finally realized that I was fighting a losing battle!  I could no longer fight against where God was leading me.  I am currently sending off my applications to teaching programs across the city (thank goodness for late deadlines) and hope to continue serving in that way.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Amate Magic 2012 - Thank you!!

We are so appreciative for all the guests, sponsors, and well-wishers who made Amate Magic 2012 such a success!

Please enjoy some of the sights and sounds from the evening...

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Serving, Teaching, and Learning

The following is a reflection written by Kim Dennis, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

Just a year ago now, I was a college student weeks away from graduating Loyola Marymount University, participating in all the senior events that I could, mourning the closing of an amazing four years of college, and safe in the knowledge that I had life plans for at least a year: Amate House. I was excited - felt called to do service, and was ready to move on to the next stage of my life. Also, the thought that I had a plan for a year was comforting amidst the panic of friends not knowing what they would be doing with their futures; but a voice still lingered in the back of my mind, saying “I don’t really know what I want to do either.”

And then before I knew it, there I was in orientation, going on amazing summer adventures, and acquainting myself to the unwelcome humidity of Chicago with time flying by at ridiculous pace. I was having a blast - still not knowing what I wanted to do “when I grow up,” but simply ready to dive into my year of service. I was content just enjoying the summer orientation time when I was introduced to housemates, social justice issues, and the lifestyle that I was to lead for the year.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Disciples of Christ - Amate Magic 2012

Our "Disciples of Christ" video featured at this year's Amate Magic is now online!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Program and Recruitment Coordinator II

Hello friends,

Amate House is seeking candidates for our Program and Recruitment Coordinator II position!  Please visit our listing on NPO for more information:

All inquiries can be directed to Ryan Lents at  Resumes and Cover Letters will be accepted until Friday, May 4.  The tentative start date for the position is July 1, 2012.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Putting Together Puzzles

The following is a reflection written by Nicole Ashley, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

In college, I heard that applying to medical school was like putting together a puzzle of yourself— showing as many sides of yourself as possible and how they all fit together with the goal of becoming a physician. Grades, MCAT scores, letters of recommendation, volunteer experience, research, tutoring, employment, other activities, they each form a piece. Without any few pieces of this puzzle, one can still distinguish the images there, but the more pieces one is able to contribute, the clearer the picture ends up—and the better chance of getting into medical school. At the same time, the number of puzzle pieces is not the only important factor in revealing the picture of who you are; the pieces must be clear and the right fit with each other to construct the best puzzle. I learned that applying to medical school involves understanding many different elements of ourselves and how they interact. Not only must we challenge ourselves in a variety of ways, we must do so consistently to provide a comprehensive picture of ourselves and our motivations.

Well, now that I’m on my way to medical school this fall, I can forget about that whole puzzle analogy, right? It served its purpose.  I got where I wanted to go.

Actually, not the case. Working with health care providers, case managers, therapists and medical assistants on a daily basis at Erie Family Health Center, I have come to realize the importance of putting together multiple perspectives to reach a common goal. It is so applicable to all aspects of patient care, not just applying to medical school. I believe this is best demonstrated by how my team starts our day three mornings a week in what is called a case conference. For whichever of our over 200 HIV-positive patients with an appointment that day, we attempt to put the pieces together. The case managers often have valuable information that the patient has neglected to tell the doctor. Perhaps the patient is afraid to discuss substance abuse with the medical provider but has previously done so with the case manager. In case conference, an opportunity exists for discussion about this sensitive issue, possible resources and how to approach them. However, the patient might have mentioned missed doses of medication with their health care provider, who can approach the case manager and suggest further adherence counseling. We have had discussions that ensure the patient’s preferred name is used—we serve several transgender patients who prefer names that are different from those in their electronic medical record.  Quality medical care involves both broad scopes and deep digging; compiling each individual concern with the ability to look at each issue in depth. The puzzle is both complete and clear.

So, what’s the lesson from all this? From my time at Erie, I have begun to more clearly see the importance of each team member’s contribution to the care of our patients.  I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to interact with such a variety of professions within the health care field.  Each perspective is valuable and contributes to the medical care as a whole. And what’s next? For one, plenty more puzzles to put together, while realizing that none is ever truly complete. For many of our patients with depression, substance abuse, or housing issues, HIV is the least of their problems. Constructing each puzzle is a gradual process involving the maintenance of a relationship with the patient, and vast networks of additional relationships in the health care team.

Finishing the puzzle? Not quite. It’s only just beginning.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Images from our Stations of the Cross Reflections

For Good Friday, we are sharing some images from our recent Stations of the Cross reflections, led by our South House Volunteers.  The Amate House family wishes you and blessed and holy Easter Triduum!!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Stations of the Cross - Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

During Holy Week this week, we will be featuring reflections by our South House Volunteers centered around the Stations of the Cross, which commemorates the Passion of Jesus.

Today, for Holy Thursday, we share a reflection by Kalli Vaughan on the Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus.

To start this station I want you to briefly call to mind a painful or terrible situation that you have experienced. We often do not want to think about these situations, but instead we fight to repress these awful memories. Now think is there someone who helped you out of this pain? Someone who is always there for you during these rough times? Or is there some help you wish you would have had?

Jesus provides us the best example of how to be a friend and comfort, even to the point of sacrificing his own life. As we hear in the fifth station, Simon of Cyrene also provides a fantastic way to be a friend, literally shouldering a crushing burden for a stranger. However, Veronica?? What does Veronica really do? She sees Jesus covered in blood, completely ravaged by the blows of the soldiers’ whips, exhausted from carrying a very heavy tree, and crushed by the impending death he knew he would suffer in a matter of minutes and Veronica wipes his face? To me this seems a little like offering a band-aid for a gushing wound. What difference does it really make? Why are we talking about Veronica some 2,000 odd years later when all she really did was take away some blood that would just return in a matter of seconds?

The story that goes unheard of, is who is Veronica actually, and why despite not being in the bible does she have such a prime place in the Paschal mystery? Well tradition has it that Veronica is actually Sheraphia, a woman who was married to a very powerful Jewish Man and as a result could only follow Jesus in secret. Thus as she stood amongst the crowd that followed Jesus on the way of the cross, she had a difficult choice, join the rest of the people and do nothing, or step outside of herself and do something. By performing this very simple gesture of offering her veil, she risked her marriage, her status, and perhaps even her life.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Stations of the Cross - Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry His Cross

During Holy Week this week, we will be featuring reflections by our South House Volunteers centered around the Stations of the Cross, which commemorates the Passion of Jesus.

Today, for Holy Wednesday, we share a reflection by Tori Dice on the Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry His Cross.

As you might already know this year I have been working at Girls in the Game. From the outside looking in, this non-profit provides sports, health, and leadership opportunities for girls all around Chicago. Personally, I oversee 6 afterschool programs for 3rd-5th graders and coach at four of them. While we do coach the girls on sports, health, and leadership, there is so much more to these programs than meets the eye. After almost 8 months of having an insider’s perspective, this position is not just teaching girls sports. It is developing relationships with them! The more time that passes, the more these girls open up to me and share their lives with me.

Having insight into the culture of adolescent girls has been rather entertaining. Hot Cheetos are the snack of choice. Math is hated among all but endurable thanks to stickers and colorful pens. They forget to bring their field trip forms to the coaches every time, but without fail can recite every word to every song of Mindless Behavior..and Princeton without a doubt is cutest band member.

If you appreciate an honest opinion and blunt statements, you should join me in a day of after school programming. Nine and ten-year old girls hold nothing back. I have been told that my hair looks better down, my teeth look yellow from coffee, and asked if I was married. I was told I sound like Miley Cyrus, advised to bring Hot Cheetos as a snack, and informed that I act like I ate a whole bowl of sugar before programming. While sometimes their comments can be inappropriate, I can’t help but laugh at their blunt statements and lack of filter. I appreciate this raw honesty that girls still possess at this age because it is this very quality that allows them to share with me difficult things in their life as well.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Stations of the Cross - Jesus is Condemned to Death

During Holy Week this week, we will be featuring reflections by our South House Volunteers centered around the Stations of the Cross, which commemorates the Passion of Jesus.

Today, for Holy Monday, we share a reflection by Becca Knight on the First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Death.

The crowd, who a few short days before had been welcoming Jesus ecstatically, turns against him. They want blood and Pontius Pilate is weak. Pilate said: 'Shall I crucify your king?' The Chief Priests answered 'We have no king except Caesar.' So at that Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified. (John 19:15-16)

Jesus stood by himself in front of Pilate. He was defenseless. He was alone. I believe Jesus felt abandoned and afraid; he was being blamed and treated unfairly.

As I entered into my second year of post grad volunteering, I knew I wanted to do something different. Cue my arrival at the National Immigrant Justice Center, an immigration law office in downtown Chicago. I focus primarily on unaccompanied minors held in detention. We visit the kids each week, explain their rights, accompany them in court and advise on legal relief.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Final Deadline for Applications is Sunday!

Hello friends,

Our final deadline for applications for our 2012-2013 Program Year is April 1!  Please email your application to us no later than 11:59pm Central Time on Sunday night, or mail your documents to us postmarked no later than April 1.

Applications and questions should be directed to



Thursday, March 29, 2012

Your Invitation to Amate Magic 2012!


The 16th Annual Amate Magic is less than one month away!  We hope that you'll join us at Navy Pier on Friday, April 27!  Look below for a personal invitation:

You can learn more by clicking here for the Amate Magic home page.

Follow the excitement on Twitter by following @amatehouse and #amatemagic2012!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

One Year After Amate

The following is a reflection written by Amate House Alum (2010-2011) Allison Schallock, who lived at South House and served at the Academy of St. Benedict the African.

At this time last year, I was finally feeling confident in my purpose at my work site and my role in a community of 11 South House volunteers. We were planning the Stations of the Cross, preparing for the annual Amate Magic fundraiser and attending community nights that focused on the transition out of Amate House. I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to take on what was next.

My work site during my time at Amate House was at the Academy of Saint Benedict the African. I co-taught second grade and third grade writing each afternoon. Although my Amate year was extremely challenging, the help and support of my co-workers, students and roommates provided me with the strength I needed to grow and progress in a variety of ways.

During the last four days of school last year, I was hired on as the fifth grade teacher at the Academy of Saint Benedict the African. Like any new teacher, I was overjoyed; I was going to do it all. I knew the school and I had worked with many of these students before; so naturally, this was going to be a breeze. I was going to move into an apartment with three girls from my volunteer year, which meant we could skip all of the orientation games and discussions about communal living because we had already done that. I would be able to relax each night because no longer would I have obligations to community dinners and prayer nights during the week.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Winter Retreat 2012 Recap Video!

Looking out the window here in Chicago, you can quickly forget that we're just coming out of winter and entering spring!  (82 degrees on the first day of spring??!!)

Just a few weeks back, our Volunteers went on our Winter Retreat, and while visions of snow and ice seem like a distant memory, we hope that you enjoy some of the sights and sounds from our weekend together by watching this recap video!

Special thanks to Volunteer Courtney Hardebeck, who shot and edited this video.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Calling all Amate House Alumni!

By Lisa Wittig, Amate House Program Director

We are currently looking for an enthusiastic and energetic Amate House alum to fill the role of Alumni Council President! Amate House has a huge and growing population of alumni and in an effort to keep them involved with the program after their year of service and to provide them with networking and reflection opportunities post-service year, we are hoping to get the Alumni Council up and running again.

The Amate House Alumni Council took a short hiatus, but it’s coming back and we’d love for you to be a part of it. Please take a look at the job description (link to attachment) to see if you would be a good fit for the role. Once we have the position filled more information will be provided about getting the first meetings up and running.

As an alum, I know first-hand what a great community we have here in Chicago (and across the US and world!) It would be great to plan some more formalized activities (happy hours, retreats, fundraisers, etc.) to gather together and share our experiences of service and community with not only each other, but also other post-grad service alumni and friends. Please consider this great opportunity, and if you have any questions about it, I’d be happy to speak with you!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Spotlight on Cabrini Green Legal Aid

The following is a reflection written by Shannon McDonnell, one of this year's South House Volunteers. This year, Shannon is volunteering at Cabrini Green Legal Aid, an agency that provides free legal services to low-income Chicagoans in four primary areas of law: family, housing, criminal records, and criminal defense. Amate House has proudly partnered with CGLA for over 10 years now.  Learn more at

Three hour meetings.  Not typically the highlight of a work week, but this past Friday, it just happened to be.  For the past few weeks, I have worked on putting together our quarterly Focus Meeting.  Four times a year, Cabrini Green Legal Aid does intakes for clients who would need clemency in order to have their record cleared.  Clemency is a last resort for many people who have convictions that are not eligible to be cleared through expungement and sealing.  It is a process of petitioning the governor, asking for a pardon to be granted to allow for the expungement of a record.  Unfortunately, this is a process a large majority of the clients I work with need.

Each potential client meets with a volunteer or staff member for an intake where their story is gathered.  During the intake meeting, each story is shared and questions are clarified.  At the end of the meeting, a decision is made regarding whether a case is accepted or rejected.  Unfortunately, resources are limited and while in an ideal world, all cases would be accepted, that is not possible.  The decision process is the most difficult part, knowing you are part of a decision that could potentially change someone's life forever.

While making a decision to not accept a case can be difficult, being part of this process has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.  I have been given the privilege of hearing and knowing some incredible people.  The circumstances overcome are often overwhelming and it is incredibly humbling to have someone open up and trust you in a first meeting to share their story so openly.  I feel so blessed to have been privileged to be a part of this and only hope I am able to continue to be as strong as the clients I am so lucky to work with.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Amate Alum Profiled in the Catholic New World!

One of our Alumni, Father Mark Krylowicz, was profiled this week in the Catholic New World's "5 Minutes with Father" column.  Click here to follow the link:

Father Mark volunteered during the 1984-1985 Program Year, when Amate House first opened its doors!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Fighting for Educational Equality and Opportunity

The following is a reflection written by Samantha Robinson, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

3.9 GPA. Top 10 in her high school graduating class. Prom queen.
I’d like to tell you that she is one of our scholar success stories at the Illinois Education Foundation, but she isn’t, not yet at least. This bright girl must have done something to earn a nearly flawless grade point average. She must have worked as hard as the majority, if not all, of her class. She must have done something to win the hearts of her classmates.  By all reasonable standards this young woman should be excelling in college and well on her way to an associate’s and later a bachelor’s degree.

Instead, she struggled to scrape out a D in a math course two levels below college credit. She’s currently retaking a beginner’s level English course. Hours of tutoring and she can’t meet the 2.5 GPA requirement that her scholarship program requires for renewal.

What’s wrong when a hardworking woman with a great personality can’t seem to make 1 + 1 = 2? Well, the way I see it is this: She was unprepared, and I don’t think anyone in their right mind can blame it on her. She must have studied for her tests. She must have written to the standards asked of her. She wouldn’t have done so well in her school if she hadn’t. But somewhere along the line, she either wasn’t taught, or wasn’t held to, the standards we expect of our high school graduates. She’s the victim of an underfunded, inadequate education system. And yes, I know the word “victim” sounds dramatic, but the problem is I’m not dramatizing. And the even bigger problem is that she’s not alone.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Continuing the Journey of Service

The following is a reflection written by Amate Alum Christina Gebel.  Tina volunteered with Amate House in 2007-08, and 2008-09.

Nowadays, my life looks much different than my years in Amate. 

Instead of standing in front of a room full of squirming teenagers, I am mostly seated at a desk, trying to Google quick tips for Excel, wondering if HTML is an ancient language used by aliens, and attempting not to allocate money to the wrong account.  Yup, I am your friendly administrative assistant and/or secretary.
When interviewing for my current job, my supervisor asked if I thought I’d miss doing direct service every day.  I knew I would.  I miss my students and having lots of silly or dramatic stories to tell my roommates when I come home each day.  I miss my girls’ insightful questions, and I even miss pulling out the “teacher look,” although my bedroom mirror is a good place to remind myself I still got it, followed now by a smug smirk.

When I switched to working the workings of a nonprofit, I traded my grade book for Microsoft Outlook and began to settle into my new role.  No longer would I be face-to-face with those I’m serving.  Instead, I am in a cubicle (and appreciate Office Space that much more).  However, I now fully realize my job is still worthwhile.