Friday, December 20, 2013

Transformation through Rebirth

The following is written by Katie Kouchi, one of this year's Little Village Volunteers, for her community's Los Posadas Advent Reflections.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 1: 8-15

Have you ever stopped and looked around and realized how unique it all is?  The people especially.   The people you live with, your coworkers, the clients, students, elders, families, and toddlers you serve, the people around you are all so special, treasured and amazing because it easily could be so different.

I came to Amate House a year after I’d originally planned.  What can I say?  It’s a long journey from Hawaii to Chicago.  I was all ready to join Amate right after college, but in June of 2012 we found out about my grandfather’s terminal illness and I decided to stay at home with my family.  It was the best thing for me, and I am so thankful for that time.  When he passed in January of 2013, I found myself applying to Amate again.

In my head, it seemed very normal.  I would be in Chicago, working at Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, just like I’d planned in 2012.  But it’s not exactly the same.  The people I live with, the elders I visit, my coworkers, are all different from those I would've had last year.  And not just different, but unique and needed.  Every interaction, every individual is special and there for a reason.  It’s all connected and blows my mind.

In other circumstances, I would've come my first year around and had a completely different experience, not better or worse, just different.  And in knowing the chain of events it took me to arrive at this very moment, I value this experience in a way I originally wouldn't have.

There are times on this journey I am confused, frustrated and desperate to understand how all the pieces connect, but when I pause for a moment and realize how it’s all connected so far in the people I've met and spent time with, I am comforted that in time, all will be made clear.

This journey of life naturally has its ups and downs, and I find stability, comfort, and growth in those around me.  The shepherds went out to seek their Messiah and were so moved to share the good news with others.  They were moved and their lives were changed.

Every day, minute, second we are changing, we are different people than we were yesterday and I believe it has a lot to do with our interactions with others.  To me, the people of your life have the ability to shape your world and by recognizing the profound value they possess in all that they are, you can add that much more meaning to your life.  I see it in my family, friends, Little Village community, elders at work, and larger Amate community.  May we continue to revel in the complicated web of life that has brought us together, knowing we are each here for a reason, cherishing the gift of hope, love and each other this Advent season.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Be Watchful

The following is written by Liz Skora, one of this year's Little Village Volunteers, for her community's Los Posadas Advent Reflections.

“Be Watchful! Be Alert! You do not know when the time will come.”
Mark 13:33

This honest reminder from Mark that we do not know when the time will come stirs up a sense of anxiety in my often impatient heart. I love to make plans. I like to know where and when things will happen so I can plan accordingly and hopefully control the details. If it were up to me, I would have an outfit layed out the night before Jesus’ coming rather than live each day with this sense of the looming unknown. The concept of God’s plan and His timing seems completely foreign to my detail-oriented mind, yet as I immerse myself in the Amate experience I find more and more that God is calling me to learn how to release control and wait on His timing rather than my own. To wait, but not grow tired of waiting. For me, my time here at Amate thus far has felt like an extended lesson in the virtue of patience, but not my begrudging version of patience, rather, patience with a smile.

I had hoped that Amate would be a magical place where once I arrived I would suddenly know God’s plan for my life. All energy was focused on just getting to Chicago and then, in my version of the plan, God would reveal to me His will for my life. But four months in, I have realized that much less than knowing a plan for my life, I honestly haven’t even figured out God’s plan and purpose for these 11 months at Amate. And that’s perfectly okay. On my first day of work in August, I found out that the tutoring program I had volunteered to coordinate didn’t begin until October. I was so anxious for the kids to arrive, to get the ball rolling, to feel like I had come to Chicago for a reason. It seemed to me like I was wasting time with empty waiting. Why couldn’t the kids just start now? Why could I just know my purpose now? What am I waiting for?

While I felt like it was me waiting all this time for something to happen, in truth it was God waiting on me. Waiting for me to realize that His plan and timing are better than my own. I always thought that surrendering to God’s plan would be giving up and blindly following instead of forging ahead with my own plans and ideas. Instead, God has showed me that by trusting in Him and waiting on His timing I am not blindly following but instead faithfully surrendering the need to lead my own path. I often grow impatient, wondering why God hasn’t answered a prayer, only to find months later that he provided for me in a way far beyond anything I could have planned or asked for myself. And instead of gritting my teeth and waiting in annoyance, God calls me to wait in joyful hope.

Each morning, I try to pray an Our Father, focusing especially on the line “Give us this day, our daily bread”. This daily bread that I am asking for is the hope for each day that God is alive, and God is love. He is not lost in the world and has not forgotten about me. He is working each day on a plan for my life. By actively seeking out this glimmer of hope each day, I am able to wait joyfully as I discover step by step where God is calling me. This has been a tremendous blessing for me in waiting for work to start, waiting for my community to learn to trust, waiting to feel more adjusted in Chicago. These little breadcrumbs of hope, leading me on God’s path, have come in many forms. A handshake of thanks from a parent when picking their child up from my tutoring program. The smile on a student’s face when he FINALLY understood long division. Affirmation from a housemate. An unexpected phone call from a friend. I often find myself surprised by the joy in each of these moments of hope throughout my day, especially on the days when I become bogged down with my own worries and forget to be on the lookout for God in my day. The surprise of hope inspires me to watch more vigilantly for living signs of God in the world. This advent, let us each seek out our daily bread, asking God to teach us how to watch and wait in joyful hope.

“What I say to you, I say to all: “Watch!”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Sound of a Bird

The following is a poem written by Arielle Zelinski, one of this year's Little Village Volunteers, for her community's Los Posadas Advent Reflections.

Not so long and yet so long ago,
I, a wanderer, perched and slumped in the
chair of the day’s controlled routine
and intrudes
only to intrude and welcome again
an inevitable friend and foe, outside my window
            and inside my soul,
is a bird singing, hope,
following me with my heavy backpack
filled with fears, regrets, and longings
but hope persists,
“Hope” is the thing with feathers - *
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
the bird rests on a branch
emptying out reminders, remembering my past:
driving in a car up to college
            waving good-bye to high school
            and unknowingly stepping back
            into self-doubt, with my first C in English
two days before departure to Italy
hands drenched in tears, fear of the unknown—
living across the ocean, with strangers,
for three and a half months
and the possibility of not making friends

calling a friend, and considering
staying back from South Carolina
a week-long service trip to help build houses
to instead work on deserted papers and unread books

a year later, another week long service trip,
to Chicago, another trail of questions
but yet at a school, working with middle schoolers,
and staying with volunteers at Amate, Little Village

all these fears and longings,
but as I stand and reflect,
reflect and stand,
I open my window, allowing the overcast,
the obscurity inside
and with my once fearful eyes
opens them to a bird, chirping,
this bird and this woman grown
            driven with hope
cross into a darkly lit opening
and I, a wanderer,
gently merge
onto another wanderer’s path
carrying personal baggage up, up
packed with intrigue and curiosity
as uncertainty dresses their new walls
while one by one they uncover
their reality
unfamiliar voices echo in different places
dusting the past insides of a present dresser
once another’s,
in a world intersected by people and stories and places
            this other wanderer, a new community member,
a traveller from the west, a tall black woman with dreads
experiences so similar and different
   shepherds her community as she beautifully articulates
   truth and experience
   for she bears wisdom,
reliant yet deviant, trustworthy and honest
            she, the Holy Spirit in disguise, the bird
            with hope, God sent her with great purpose
but this traveller needs to break free
of her cage, for Amate,
her two and a half months,
she must continue onwards, a different direction
sooner than the other eight, she leaves behind,

the other woman uncertain again
and clenches a fist
and releases
only to cry
and cry

but a week later
before closing my window
I open it a crack
to listen to
a faint sound of a bird

*First Stanza from "'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers", by Emily Dickinson.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Taking a Year 'On'

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

After I got the call that I had been accepted into Amate House, I no longer dreaded the ever-popular question, “What are you doing after college?” One day, when a classmate brought up the topic, I sat up a little straighter in my seat and told her all about my upcoming adventures with Amate, to which she responded, “Yeah, I was thinking about taking a year off, too.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, a “year off” entails either traipsing across Europe from hostel to hostel or playing Nintendo 64 in your parents’ basement. This is quite different from what I have experienced so far with Amate.  In fact, I believe we at Amate House have been taking a “year on” by living in intentional communities in solidarity with those we serve and work beside everyday.

However, no matter how much I love my year “on,” I have begun to realize how important it is to take time “off.” Thankfully, the Amate volunteers and staff had the opportunity to spend a weekend retreat at the rustic Ronora Lodge in Michigan to reconnect and rejuvenate. On an unusually sunny and warm October afternoon, we packed up the cars with everything we would need for the weekend, from rice cookers and s’more fixings to Frisbees and tennis racquets, and drove from the always-busy city to the serenity of the woods.

The weekend’s sessions focused on the five fundamentals of teamwork: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results. While it seems like common sense now, I had never thought about the relationship between these components of a community. Each one is dependent on the others, and even if a community excels in one aspect, they cannot be truly successful until all are met. We took time to reflect on which fundamentals we succeed at personally and communally and which ones we need to work on. The staff members tied the concepts to personal experiences they have had in community and shared both healthy and unhealthy ways to live them out.

Each house community had the opportunity to assess our strengths and weaknesses regarding the fundamentals and come up with potential solutions to some of our shortcomings. In such a peaceful environment, we found it easy to have open and conscientious conversations. Issues that were perhaps difficult to bring up with twelve people at a noisy dinner table after an exhausting workday were comfortably shared in the tight-knit circle of attentive community members.

Throughout the weekend we had time to enjoy the beautiful grounds of the lodge, in between rain showers, that is, during both the retreat sessions and free time. We took walks with prayer partners, went paddleboating, played games, took time for personal reflection, had bonfires, and even a few brave souls took a dip in the lake.

We ended the weekend with an affirmation exercise that I think concluded the retreat perfectly. During the retreat, we had the chance to get to know our community members and ourselves more deeply, which helped us write our affirmations straight from the heart. Each community member took time to write an affirmation and prayer for the housemate sitting to his or her right. After some reflection, we read them aloud. I was truly taken aback by the authenticity and genuine love put into each person’s affirmation. Amid teary eyes and hugs, I realized how blessed I am to be a part of a community that is willing and able to eloquently articulate what is so wonderful about one another when we might not even be able to recognize it ourselves. By the time everyone had shared their affirmation and the final clean-up had been made, we all hopped back in our cars with renewed energy to take the year “on.”

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thank You!

Thank you to all of those who attended our recent fall fundraiser, Amate House presents Second City Happily Ever Laughter!  We hope you had a fun night with Amate House and Second City.  Thanks to you, we were able to raise over $10,000 for Amate House!

We are especially grateful to our sponsors for the evening, T.R. & Debbie Maloney, Garry & Barbara Scheuring, and Clune Construction Company. Thank you also to Rob & Lynn Martin, hosts of the VIP reception, and to all of the generous supporters who purchased ads in our program book.

This year, our 32 Volunteers are working in 24 different service sites around Chicago.  Our Volunteers serve as companions to the elderly, teach in schools, provide legal assistance to low-income populations, and work with immigrants and refugees.  Each Volunteer contributes $40,000 in public value to Chicago and will complete 1,700 hours of service during their year in Amate House.

Your support helps make it all possible and we are grateful for you joining us!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Learning How to Fly

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

“Like a butterfly stuck in a chrysalis, waiting for the perfect moment, I was waiting for the day I could burst forth and fly away and find my home.” - Emme Rollins

When I was younger, if you walked into my room you would most likely assume that I had an obsession with butterflies. You would first see the giant, colorful, butterfly kite above my bed, and then perhaps the poster of butterflies on the wall. If you looked closer you’d probably see a few painted butterflies hanging here and there, and then realize that those glow-in-the-dark things on my ceiling were not stars, but butterflies. The only problem is that for me, the butterflies were not a happy presence, but rather an infestation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t enjoy butterflies, but these were all gifts, not something I sought out.  Now, after such over-exposure, I avoid butterflies especially in decorations, and my room is nicely redecorated. Despite my resentment toward the swarm of butterflies I experienced, they seem to fit quite well into my reflections on transitions. Moving to Chicago to do a year with Amate House has been quite the transition. I’m farther from home than I've ever been, and jumping into a house with 11 strangers is something I cannot say I've ever done before. After being here for over a month, this new city, and new community has started to become home. It’s easy on some days to forget the struggles of the transition that I face, but on other days I’m up to my elbows in it.

A few weeks ago we started working at our service sites. I am working at St. Sabina Catholic Charities. We are an emergency assistance department, so we help people who are coming in for clothes, food, and resources. As an intake specialist, I meet with the clients and do assessments to see what we are able to provide for them. This is work I have never done before, so the transition from “I have no idea what I’m doing” to interacting with clients with confidence is a transition I’m still experiencing. Luckily, I have been blessed with very helpful coworkers who are more than happy to walk with me as I learn. I've gotten very good at asking questions so I can operate more comfortably here, and so that I can provide better services to those that I am working with. Soon, I will start coordinating the “Befriend a Family” program that we do here. This matches up our families with families from a sister parish for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter gifts. It seems I am on the brink of starting a whole new level of this job, and right now I can only wait to see what that will challenge me with.

Besides getting used to where I work, I've also had to adjust to living in Chicago. Living in South House has become fairly natural, but at the same time, the transition is not yet finished. This past weekend, a group of my friends from the University of Dayton (Go Flyers!) visited. I was beyond excited to see them, and did not anticipate the internal conflict of having my two worlds collide. There were times I’d be walking around the city with them and wonder why we were in this huge city of Chicago instead of in Dayton. Other times I’d get very homesick, and wish I could just go back to Dayton with them. One of my friends noticed the internal conflict, and reminded me how important it is that I am here to grow, serve and learn. It was then that I realized the significance of that always terrifying “grow” word in the context of my transition to living here. Transition is very much growth. It’s that uncomfortable feeling that is so easy to run from, yet so good to work through. I can’t imagine that it would be entirely comfortable for a caterpillar to be stuck in that cocoon for weeks at a time. At some point they probably want to stretch their legs, and get out of there for a while. But if they endure the discomfort of growth, they transition into (drumroll please) a butterfly!

So, as much as I despise comparing myself to such a despicable and cliché decoration, coming to Amate House is very much the same as building my cocoon. The transition involves some discomfort, but if I remind myself that they are “growing pains”, and not just “pains” then I can look forward to the change, and the day that I can crack open the cocoon and realize that here I am fully at home. The problem with this is that the average life-span of a butterfly is about month. It seems the process of transitioning and growing is never fully complete, and I will be challenged with many cycles of building my cocoon, bursting out as a butterfly, and then soon finding myself as a caterpillar with another uncomfortable growth experience before me. The thought is terrifying at times, but there’s some crazy part of me that seeks that out. It seems to me that there’s no better place to encounter those experiences than at Amate House, and with the blessing of my new community, and a whole lot of prayer, I am confident that while I am here, I will learn how to fly.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Climb On!

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

As I reflect on my first month at Amate, I cannot help to realize how fast this year will fly by. Just yesterday we were meeting each other for the first time, unpacking our belongings and attending orientation. Now I can feel myself adjusting to life in the city, settling in at my work site, and getting to know my roommates on a deeper level. When looking back on our orientation weeks, one specific day really stood out to my roommates and me. As much as we enjoyed the discussions about chores and petty cash; visiting Irons Oaks and engaging in some physical fun was the highlight of the beginning weeks of our year together.

Irons Oaks is an outdoor facility that provides team building exercises for many ages on their 37-acre nature preserve. For our visit we were presented with various physical challenges that promoted team work, good communication, positive feedback, emotional support, as well as self-reflection on our own strengths and weaknesses. Early on in the day I found my housemates and I to have a bit of a competitive streak in each of us; asking our leader to time us on our activities and if we beat the last “record”. Even with this competitiveness, we never forgot to work together, constantly collaborating on the best strategies to accomplish the challenges put in front of our team. Throughout the day we completed six different activities; each one showing us to work together, strategize, and have fun while supporting each other.

One particular activity stuck out to me after the day had ended. It included each person walking across a low tightrope while the remaining housemates acted as spotters walking alongside ready to catch the person if he or she would happen to fall (I am happy to say that no one did!). Before we began the tightrope walk each person would ask the spotters if they were ready. The spotters would respond back with a positive and encouraging “Climb on!” followed by the person climbing onto the tightrope and walking across. It felt a bit cheesy at the time but it was great to know that my housemates were there to catch me if I were to fall. I think it is important to remember this as we find ourselves struggling with our own issues and problems in our communities or at our work sites. We only have to look around us to find support and encouragement; knowing that if we shall ever fall, our housemates will be there to catch us. It is an indescribable feeling knowing how much support I have around me!

I have heard many times during orientation that the struggles and challenges we will face as a community will present us with opportunities to become closer and form relationships. I believe accomplishing the challenges we were presented with at Irons Oaks provided everyone opportunities to grow closer together as we stepped outside our comfort zones and pushed our limits both physically and mentally. At the end of the day we had a lot of fun laughing, strategizing, and working together, while also realizing we will be able to apply what we learned at Irons Oaks to our lives in our communities and at our work sites.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Starting a New Year

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

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission, I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.”

                                   - Cardinal John Henry Newman

Wow! As I write this, I realize that we all moved into our new homes three weeks ago. It has been a whirlwind of orientation activities, meeting new housemates and volunteers, coworkers, and alumni while adjusting to the new life of service that we will be experiencing for the next year. This is actually round two of service for me, but the beginning of the year still had that magical feeling, knowing that there are so many possibilities and wonderful experiences presented before me.

To start our year, we participated in about two weeks of Orientation. This was a time to really get to know those around us, to reflect, and to answer some pretty tough questions about why we are here, and what we want to experience this year. Sometimes it is easy to come up with surface level answers to these questions, but we were really challenged to find the answers that were placed deeply in our heart. All of these experiences have given us plenty of opportunities to bond and form relationships with our housemates and fellow volunteers, and I am beginning to realize how truly blessed I am to be a part of this wonderful Amate House community.

There were so many wonderful aspects of Orientation that I would like to write about, but I know that this isn’t really possible, so I am going to highlight one. Each morning as we gathered for Orientation, a different volunteer or staff member started by leading us in prayer. There were different times where we had the chance to pray or gather together during and at the end of the day, but the morning prayers seemed to be the most meaningful for me. I had signed up for prayer before starting Orientation, and was very excited to start with one of my favorite prayers by Archbishop Romero. But of course knowing me, I decided to bring another prayer “just in case” then changed my mind at the last minute and read a scripture passage followed by a prayer by Cardinal John Henry Newman. I am happy I did, because I feel like this prayer will hopefully represent what our experiences will be in doing another year of service.

I know that coming into this year I had expectations, which I am still trying to get rid of so that I can get the most out of this wonderful opportunity to serve through such a fantastic program with equally fantastic volunteers. And even though I try not to have expectations, I realize it is still important to have dreams, hopes, and goals. And my biggest hope is that this year each of us volunteers recognizes what that definite service is that God has created us to do Him, and that even though we may not currently know our mission in life, we may still work to better the world for those around us.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Life Lived For Others Is A Life Worthwhile

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

Widening the lens with which we look at the world seems to be the theme of an Amate House Volunteer. Most of our Community Nights tend to try and strengthen our faith or experience within our houses because our experiences do plenty to open our eyes. That was my feeling until recently when Alex Kotlowitz joined us for a discussion.

This was something I was looking forward to throughout most of the year. I had heard that the Volunteers did it last year and so to prepare for such an occasion, I naturally read every book by Alex that I could find. To be honest, I really had no idea about the books prior to reading except them being strongly recommended by friends. Those books…definitely something I should have indulged much earlier in life. I read There Are No Children Here and Never a City So Real. Though reading these after deciding to come to Chicago seems almost like a waste of time to those unfamiliar with them because they highlight most of the things we have learned this year volunteering; they still managed to open my eyes to many different things.

Take Never a City So Real for example. This book highlights about 7 or so neighborhoods throughout Chicago through one person’s experiences. These unique stories are a only a tiny glimpse into the vast diversity in Chicago.

Prior to this year, when I would think of diversity, I would immediately associate it to race because that is what our culture deems to be the only definition. So society looks at Chicago, especially Rogers Park, and says that is a diverse area. But what truly makes this city diverse isn't necessarily the number of different races in the city; rather, it’s the varying stories that all come together to make this great city. It’s hard to imagine 12 people to live in the same house with many core values the same and we think of Chicago and don’t comprehend how many completely unique stories are joined together by their living parameters.

Let’s face it, many of us are naive to the world and its issues. I only know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems our within our society and even that overwhelms me. So far, I have been unable to wrap my mind around how to fix issues that plague us. When I work towards the heart of the issue, I find another couple issues that need resolved before more can be fixed. And that is the problem that as we work towards one solution, we find other issues that need addressed.

And that is what I am contemplating to do with my life? Work in an almost paradoxical system that says that we can achieve perfection in society based upon an imperfect set up. It is a tall task then to take on changing one aspect of society without getting caught up in trying to fix everything else. I could legitimately spend my whole career working to fix one issue and never succeed because other things needed to be taken care of.
To many people, our societal problems are insurmountable. But if there’s one thing I have learned from people like Alex Kotlowitz, my boss, and my housemates it is that as a collective we can make a change by each working on our own tasks and collaborating.

Daunting work lies ahead of me and you know what? Bring it!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Roots of Action and Advocacy

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

Last month my service site, Lakeview Pantry, sent me to the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. Although I was sorry to leave my delightful 11 community members for a few days, it was rather exciting to go to workshops, hear about innovative anti-hunger programs, and be inspired to work harder. The whole conference was in preparation for the last day, which was spent lobbying on Capitol Hill. We met with State Representatives and their Staff to encourage them to support policies that, among other things, ensure food stamps and provide commodities for food pantries. It was also an opportunity to advocate for my clients and to share their stories with those who, although genuinely support anti-hunger policies, are removed from frequent encounters with the faces of hunger. 

Upon returning to Chicago, I realized that while lobbying in this manner is vital and an intrinsic part of American government, maybe this isn't the only kind of advocacy. It left me wondering about advocating within one’s own community, whether it is my Amate community, the larger community, or my place of work. It made me question whether I actually advocate for my clients in my everyday life. I realized that if I am not advocating for my clients every day and bringing awareness to the injustices they face, then how I can honestly advocate for my clients on a state and federal level?

At Amate House, we are dedicated to putting love into action. As volunteers living in an intentional community, we constantly strive to act intentionally, so that those actions reflect our beliefs. We want to, as St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” I think, however, that I sometimes forget that it is necessary to use words, as they can be insufficient and limited. Since our actions are preceded by thought, isn't there a time, sometimes, to share those thoughts, to voice those thoughts, and to dissect those thoughts? Because isn't that where real social change occurs? Within our own hearts and our own communities? Dorothy Day reminds us that, “The greatest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart. A revolution, which must start with each one of us.” I loved and appreciated the opportunity to lobby for my clients and still see lobbying as valuable. It is in community, however, that we plant the seeds of societal change with both our hearts and mouths.  I am so grateful for this year and the chance to live in a community that values discussion and challenges each other to continually turn our hearts toward the reality of Love. After all, there’s not much more that one could want than that.

** While in Washington, Elizabeth did not represent Amate House, Catholic Volunteer Network, or AmeriCorps in any official capacity.  Her actions and advocacy do not necessarily represent the views or actions of Amate House, Catholic Volunteer Network or AmeriCorps.  

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Community and Consequences

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

Consequence (n): a result or effect of an action or condition.

When I was 8 years old, I pulled down my pants. I thought that exposing my bottom to my mom would be a perfectly good way to pass a winter day indoors. She told me never to do that again. I made the executive decision to do it again. Mid-moon, she scooped me up and rubbed my bare behind all over the window for the entire neighborhood to see. Sadly, it took becoming a human squeegee for me to learn what a consequence was. Lesson learned.

Skip ahead a few years and I'm still learning about consequences. When I was 22 years old, I applied to Amate House. I thought that committing a year of my life to service and intentional community would be a perfectly good way to spend a year. Naturally, when they accepted me I made the decision to go for it. As I tend to make a lot of decisions without thinking, many of my actions result in unexpected consequences. However, I've come to find that one of my favorite things about living in community is that my housemates are always there to teach me new lessons and are more than willing to help me remember the important ones. For example, entering before knocking is almost never okay in any given situation. There is an appropriate way to clean a wok, and it is not with soap. There is a right way to cook an egg, and it takes exactly 17 minutes. Usually I would just swallow it raw, but once again: consequences.

More importantly, as a result of my decision to live in intentional community this year, I have learned a great deal about stewardship, faith, community, social justice, and service which are coincidentally the 5 tenets of Amate House. Had it not been for my housemates, I might still not know that being a good steward means using only one square of toilet paper and $16 can either buy you exactly 1 cheeseburger, 1 can of pop, and fries + tip at a restaurant or food for an entire week. Faith means believing in one another, trusting that everyone will be home in time for community night and will rescue you from the neighborhood bakery at 2:00 AM when your car battery dies. Dedication to service means getting up early on Saturday mornings to help at your roommate's service site even though you already have enough hours logged this month. Community means loving each person for who they are, being there for constant support, and mindfully arranging every single piece of Tupperware according to shape and lid size so that morning lunch-packing will go as smoothly as possible.

I'd be lying if I said I haven't learned a thing or two from this experience. Almost every decision I make affects not only me but those I serve and more often than not, those I live with. All of these lessons, small and large, have been a result of my community's willingness to share their lives with me, their opinions and their struggles. They have let me see both the good and the bad, and let me show all sides of myself. After committing a year to community and service, I've decided to redefine “consequence.” It took living with 8 people to learn that not all consequences are negative outcomes as I had once believed when I was 8 years old.

I'd like to conclude with a quote from my favorite comedian Amanda Bynes who said, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.” Reflecting on my year with Amate House, I can’t help but agree with her that it is important to cherish the present moment to the fullest and find a way to take what you've learned with you for the rest of your life. I have learned lessons that I will take with me along the way and I know that my time with Amate House, my community, and my service site will affect the decisions I will have to make down the road. If all that I've learned thus far are the consequences of my decision to be here, I’ll take them.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Significance of the Small Things

The following is a reflection by Deirdre Kleist, one of this year's South House Volunteers. Deirdre shared this reflection during the annual Amate House Stations of the Cross Community Night.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it [in] clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. (Matthew 27: 57-60)

At this station, we reach the end of Jesus’ journey of suffering. After persecution, torture, crucifixion, and ultimately death upon the cross, it seems that Jesus’ time on earth has finished. And yet, our journey goes one step further – following Jesus to the tomb. It is here that we meet Joseph, and learn that he was a disciple of Jesus. When we first hear this story, we may be inclined to think – who is this Joseph? Where has he been all along? If he was truly a disciple, why have we never heard of him until after Jesus has died?

I like to think maybe Joseph was a little like me. I imagine he was quiet, maybe a little introverted; a devout believer but not an outgoing evangelizer. My guess is Joseph didn't do anything as bold or significant as the other disciples may have, but he was a loyal follower who happened to blend into the crowd most of the time.

There’s another thing I imagine Joseph and I have in common: we see the significance of the small things. Picture the scene of the crucifixion after Jesus has breathed his last. The crowd has been literally and figuratively shaken, people are crying, angry, and confused, and the body of the man who many now believe may truly have been the Savior is limp and lifeless, nailed to a cross. It seems that, for all intents and purposes, hope is lost. Still, Joseph decides to take action rather than stand idly and mournfully by.

The actions he takes are not grandiose. They are simple, and small, and may almost seem like too little too late. Joseph didn't throw himself in front of the guards, beg to take Jesus’ place, or do anything else to intervene before Jesus was killed. Perhaps it was because he knew there wasn't
 anything he could do to stop the process. So instead, he did what he could. With love and care, he carried Jesus. He cleaned him up, gave him fresh linens, and laid him in a resting place. He showed him dignity, compassion, and love when everyone else looked the other way.

This reminds me of what I do at Cabrini Green Legal Aid. My role as the Client Concierge places me at the front desk of our office where I interact with clients and potential clients over the phone and in person. My job is not glamorous, and my duties are not substantial. Quite frankly, sometimes, I feel a little useless and hopeless. I answer phone calls, chat with clients in the waiting area, and perform office-type tasks to assist my coworkers. I spend a lot of my time listening to stories that make my heart ache. I have listened to a mother cry on the phone as she tells me her daughter has been taken away and she doesn't know what to do. I have looked into the angry eyes of a man who swears the system has done him wrong. And I have hugged the woman begging for help for her incarcerated son who has been accused of murder. But here I am – not the attorney who can stand in court and fight for justice, not the social worker who can find resources and support for a struggling family, just the girl sitting at the front desk taking everything in.

So, I am charged to do what I can: I sit and I listen. When it’s appropriate or I am asked to, I provide tissues or hugs, give words of comfort or share in prayers. But mostly, I open my heart and I listen. Most of the time, I cannot fix the problems our clients are facing, and I cannot save them from pain or frustration. Like Joseph, all I can do is show them the dignity, love, and compassion they can’t seem to find anywhere else. I hope that with my time and patience, I offer them a brief respite from the pain of a difficult journey, and push them onward, like Joseph prepared Jesus, toward the hope of new promise and new life.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Serving Like Simon

The following is a reflection by Annie Swenson, one of this year's South House Volunteers. Annie shared this reflection during the annual Amate House Stations of the Cross Community Night.

They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. (Mark 15: 21)

I've always had the very strong desire to save the world—to be the hero, to be a savior, to have a whole chapter about Annie in a history book fifty years from now because I was so important that everyone must know about me. But if there’s anything I've learned this year, it’s that I was not sent to Chicago to be a hero or a savior, and I definitely won’t be in any history books because of anything I did this year. If anything, this year has taught me that I need to be a little humbler. I wasn't put here to save the impoverished community in south Chicago, much like Simon wasn't sent to be a savior to Jesus. Simon’s purpose was to help Jesus carry out his mission. His job was to help carry the cross. That’s my job. I will never, ever as hard as I try, come even close to solving all the problems that my clients face, but I can walk with them, humbly, and help carry their crosses.

I assume that we all, at some point this year, have felt incompetent in some way or another. I often worry that I’m not being the support that my clients need, the friend that my housemates need, that I simply don’t know enough to be in this field of work, that I need to change myself and work harder to accommodate the needs of others. I believe it was Simon himself, or maybe Bill Cosby, who said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” I’m not perfect. I’m simply incapable of being what everyone in my life needs. I don’t know what Simon thought or felt when he carried the cross, but I imagine he probably didn't feel quite like he was up to par for his particular role. Peter was probably the more obvious and logical choice. My boss has actually told me that I was not really the most qualified Amatian she interviewed. But she thought that I would get more out of working at St. Sabina—out of my comfort zone—than the person who was the far more qualified and obvious choice. Simon walked into the picture as a nobody, like I walked into St. Sabina. I doubt that the impact I make this year will have any remarkable lasting value. But I recognize that, like Simon, what I do—while seemingly insignificant—does matter.

A couple months into working at St. Sabina, I took an elderly woman back to my desk to assess her for access to our food pantry. As we walked down the hallway, she complained about how long she had been waiting, how no one in social services actually cares about anyone, that we just do it for the money. “Hmm...” I thought. I don’t ever recall any time during my undergrad or in my time spent researching social work, anyone making any claim that I would ever make much money. As she yelled at me that she had been waiting in our lobby for two hours, which I knew was impossible because we had only been open for 45 minutes, my frustration started to get the better of me. She dictated to me how I felt about my clients and my motives for working in social services. At some point, my tolerance gave out. “Ma’am, I volunteer here full time. I don’t do it for money. I’m here because I care about you and everyone else here. I don’t appreciate you telling me that I don’t care about you.” She replied, “You’re young—you don’t know. You've never suffered. You don’t know anything I've been through.” “You’re right,” I said. “I have NO idea what you've been through. But I still care about you.” She stared at me, shocked, then proceeded to tell me her about her previous experiences with other social services agencies, in which she wasn't treated with much respect or dignity. An hour later, I had heard all about her late husband, her daughters, and her son who was absolutely her whole world and could do no wrong. As she left my cubicle, she was hugging me, kissing my face, and telling me that I’m smart and that the world needs more people like me. I didn't feel that I had contributed any meaningful words to our hour-long conversation, but that didn't matter. She just wanted someone to listen to her. She needed to take a load off her heart, to have someone else to help carry her cross.

I clearly remember a time when Dave and I were at Mass at St. Sabina. Father Pfleger spoke some simple words that always find their way to the front of my mind when my insecurities being to overwhelm me. “Your purpose is greater than your pain.”  I came here knowing that this year would not be about my comfort; it’s about walking humbly beside my clients and helping them to carry their burdens. This purpose is far greater than any pain or discomfort I have or will experience this year. As a detailed reminder to myself, I keep the Litany of Humility taped above my sink. It reads:

O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, Hear me. From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being loved, from the desire of being extolled, from the desire of being honored, from the desire of being praised, from the desire of being preferred to others, from the desire of being consulted, from the desire of being approved. From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being despised, from the fear of suffering rebukes, from the fear of being ridiculed, from the fear of being wronged, from the fear of being suspected. That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me to the grace to desire it. That others may be esteemed more than I, that, in the opinions of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, that others may be chosen and I set aside, that others may be praised and I unnoticed, that others may be preferred to me in everything, that others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should. And may the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be glorified in all places through the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bearing the Cross

The following is a reflection by Tara Smith, one of this year's South House Volunteers. Tara shared this reflection during the annual Amate House Stations of the Cross Community Night.

When the chief priests and the guards saw (Jesus) they cried out. “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him”…They cried out. “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them “shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called to the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha.  (John 19: 6, 15-17)

There were a lot of experiences I was looking forward to when I first learned that I got accepted to Amate House. I won’t give you the whole list but a few included meeting my community members, forming relationships with the girls that I would be serving, retreats, a warm St. Patrick’s day, and Amate Magic, but this reflection was by far on the bottom of my list. However, in the 7th month of my year of service, living in community and at my placement, Girls in the Game along with the spirit of the Lenten season, I have learned what a gift vulnerability can be and by taking up our own cross, we come humbly before God with our brokenness.

I am pretty sure there can’t be an Amate event without a quote from Jean Vanier and so I felt compelled to uphold tradition tonight. Upon reflecting on this station I found words that mirrored Christ’s call for us to take up our cross and follow him. Vanier tell us, “If we are to [enter into personal relationships of love and communion with others], we shall have to die to all our selfishness and to all the hardness of our heart.” With these words in mind I began to think of what gives weight to the cross that I carry this year in Chicago. Immediately I thought of the girls and their families in the 4 public schools that I coach in my after school program very week.

Every day I come into contact with the injustices that my girls endure at such a young age. Most days I feel like a really patient older sister to my girls as they come to me with their problems like poor self-esteem, bullies, low grades, their impending engagement to Justin Bieber, and, more seriously, problems at home. Every day I walk into schools that have their own crosses to bear, especially this year with the teacher’s strike and school closure list. I got a front row seat to the broken educational system that exists here in Chicago. Something I have always thought about in the Lenten season are the moments where Christ is surrounded by hundreds of people following him as he carries his cross, and yet how alone he must have felt in that crowd and even perhaps from his Father. I think it is so easy for kids to be invisible in a school of several hundred kids and what I love most about working in an after school program is giving my girls a safe place to feel special and to find their voice.

Several times this year I felt that the weight of my cross was falling on incapable shoulders. How was I qualified to be a role model to my girls when I am still finding out who I am supposed to be? How can I make a lasting impact when I only see a school one day a week for only one hour and half? I feel like the woman at the well, carrying her insecurities along with her water as I carry so much more home than a bag of soccer balls. I, like the woman long to hear Jesus say “I know” and to heal the broken cycles my girls are fated to endure. Most of my prayers this year have been a call of strength to continue to carry my cross, even and most especially when I fall under the weight.

On those tough days I have counted down the weeks for this weight to be lifted and for me to move on to the next chapter of my life, but as I look towards the future I crave the weight of my service. When Jesus says to take up your cross and follow Him, He is asking us to give up some of our comforts. While I still don’t have an answer to the dreaded question, what are you doing after your year at Amate, I will most likely not be an after school coach. And as I share stories of funny things my girls said or be able to show off my newly developed lacrosse skills, I hope that the weight of the crosses my girls bear will also stay with me keeping me mindful to seek out justice.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Helping Community College Students "In Work, In School, and In Life"

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

Imagine yourself, a first generation college student, taking four classes at the local community college, and working part time to pay rent.  You are trying hard to better your life, but cannot seem to handle the stress from work, school, and life.  Class is going well, but Math is giving you the biggest challenge.  Fail the class and you could potential lose the federal grant given to low-income students.  Where can you turn for support?  Nobody assists community college students!

In the heart of downtown Chicago at the corner of Jackson and Franklin sits the City Colleges of Chicago district office.  Within the building, however, a nonprofit has emerged and is leading community college students to succeed “in work, in school, and in life.”  This is the motto of One Million Degrees, to assist community college students both academically and professionally.  Working with the seven City Colleges and two colleges just south of the city limits, One Million Degrees (OMD) is supporting students who otherwise would not receive any type of personal or financial support.  This is where my role in Amate and AmeriCorps comes into play.    

As a Program Assistant at OMD I work with a caseload of students, or scholars, ranging in age from 18-50 years old.  Most are the first in the family to attend college.  Some are new to America, and are trying to figure out what type of career will help improve their life.  Almost all earn below the poverty line, whether themselves or their support system at home.  The students I work with face a number of challenges on a daily basis, but their desire to learn is what motivates them to succeed.

I check-in regularly with the students in my caseload and work on everything from goals to academic plans.  Through phone calls, emails, and in-person meetings, I am able to deliver personalized support and refer students to outside resources in the Chicago area.  Further, once a month I help facilitate workshops that help students develop professionally.  Working on everything from resume development to speed networking, it is a unique opportunity for individuals in the program, and an excellent learning experience.  In fact, recently thanks to a partnership with Brooks Brothers, all first year scholars in the program were fitted with professional attire for them to use for things like interviews.  One Million Degrees is an incredible learning experience for all those involved.  I knew I would enjoy interacting with the students in the program.  I knew some would learn from me, and my previous experience.  Finally, I knew I would learn something from them.

I had a unique experience recently with one of my students.  He came to me unannounced, visibly stressed, uneasy, and upset.  We talked for over an hour, and I hardly spoke a word.  He told me his experience growing up, the neighborhood in Chicago he still calls home, and his hopes for the future.  He also told me the guilt he sometimes feels for bettering his life, when many of his peers are struggling or in jail.  Finally, he shared with me his personal struggle growing up a minority, in a racially divided city.  I studied Sociology while an undergraduate, and know the terms, theories, and general struggles.  Never had I heard someone give a firsthand account so candidly though.  His story was personal, alarming, and eye opening.  It made me reconsider the work I was doing, the “difference” I was making, and my overall thought about the students in my caseload.

Looking back, his story makes me think of the sociological term “luxury of obliviousness.” If you have never read the book Privilege, Power, and Difference by Allan Johnson I encourage you to find a copy.  In the most basic terms this phrase references a number of notions directly related to power and privilege in our society.  As a white, college educated male, I know I am one of the most privileged individuals in this country, let alone this world.  I recognize that given my privilege it is up to me to work towards social change.  However, being white I still had the “luxury” of not having to think of the minority experience on a personal level.  If I chose I could remain “oblivious” to the stories and experiences of the students I work with, but how would that help me understand them on any kind of personal level?  As fate would have it, my students would not let me be oblivious to their experiences; and I am definitely thankful that many of them are willing to share.  Though I may not be making a huge difference in Chicago, and certainly not in the communities the students live in, I can only hope that I am making some difference in their lives.  Sometimes I am skeptical, but having a burning desire to assist my brothers and sisters is what motivates me to work in the social services sector.

Recently, at dinner, we had a guest from a local church where many of my housemates attend service.  The Pastor of the church said something that I found very fitting for this blog.  We are not meant to change the world.  It is not necessarily our responsibility.  We cannot solve all the world’s problems.  In my short, one year at Amate House, I will not make a significant difference.  I will not change multiple lives, nor will I be remembered far past the next volunteer. But I am fine with this because I know for this short period of time I am doing what I should be in a struggling community.  Though I cannot change the privilege I have, nor can I shift privilege to another group, the least I can do is work towards social change and equality.  To do otherwise would be an injustice.

May I leave you reflective over this quote allegedly said by Saint Francis of Assisi. “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Don’t speak the words of Jesus.  Live it in your everyday life.  Love thy neighbor, and recognize his or her struggle. Finally, do something.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Electing a Pope

For each of the past several years, Cardinal Francis George has been gracious enough to join our Volunteers and Staff for a meal and an evening of conversation. The Cardinal enjoys learning about the Volunteers' experiences and where each of them are serving.

During the Q&A portion of the night, it's fairly common for one of the Volunteers to ask about what it's like to participate in a papal conclave - Cardinal George was one of the electors who participated in the 2005 conclave after the death of Pope John Paul II.  Once again this year, the Cardinal spoke about this unique experience. What made this year's encounter especially distinctive is that less than 2 weeks after this evening, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.

How illuminating it is to watch this clip again, knowing that the process the Cardinal speaks of is happening once again, as this is being published!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Replenishing our Living Water

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

Recently, all three Amate House communities braved the beginnings of a winter storm and traveled to Jones, Michigan for a much-needed winter retreat.  In the days leading up to the retreat, my housemates had expressed a variety of reasons why they were looking forward to spending a full three days focusing on prayer, reflection, and fun.  I personally was looking forward to the opportunity to rest, “unplug” from technology, and renew my commitment to this year of service.

Upon arriving at Bair Lake Bible Camp in Jones, we participated in a Taize prayer and read the gospel passage in which Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well.  This time at the beginning of the retreat for listening and prayer helped set the stage for the entire weekend.  One of the main themes of our reflections and discussions during our time on retreat was thinking about how our lives relate to this story of “the well,” especially in light of the Lenten season.

On Friday, we started the day with a beautiful prayer and reflection from the Little Village community.  This activity allowed us the opportunity to write down something that we hoped to be able to gain or work through while on retreat.  It was incredibly comforting and unifying to remember that not only is everyone facing their own issues, but also that we can all be there for each other as a larger Amate community.  I appreciated the opportunity to have a fellow community member pray for me as I also prayed directly for another community member’s concerns.

The rest of Friday included additional time to reflect and consider how the story of “the well” can relate to us individually as we, like the Samaritan woman, also work toward healing the broken areas of our lives.  We were also given a fair amount of unstructured time to simply reflect and recharge in whatever way worked best for us.  It was nice to have such an opportunity to just sit and "be," as it can often seem difficult to find time in our busy lives to truly rest our hearts and minds.

There were a variety of activities available for us at Bair Lake Bible Camp on both Friday and Saturday, from a pool hall to a tubing hill to an ice wall to an indoor basketball court.  The free time we were given on retreat was a wonderful chance for us to reconnect with our community members and take the time to simply have fun.

We began the day Saturday morning with a thoughtful reflection and relaxing Tai Chi activity led by two of my North House community members, Andrew and Ali.  This time allowed us all to begin our second full day of retreat with calm and peaceful hearts.  Saturday included a session on “burn out” and self-care.  The timing of this discussion seemed especially appropriate since we are at a time of the year when many of us have felt ourselves “burning out.”  Furthermore, with all of our various daily commitments, self-care can often be the first thing we eliminate from our lives.  Between the frequent gray days and often frigid temperatures, I’ve personally found that February in Chicago can sometimes feel like the longest month of the year.  Therefore, it was even more important as a community to think about how to minimize burn out and renew our commitments to self-care so that we all can be the best possible community members going forward.

Saturday evening included a small, intimate mass led by Chicago priest Father Ed Shea, and after dinner that evening we had the opportunity to participate in reconciliation.  Later that night, we sat down for the “2013 Amate House Film Festival.”  During that time, we watched the videos that each of the three houses had created as a way to showcase what makes each of our communities so special.  At this point in the year we have all had the chance to get to know each other fairly well as both individuals and communities, so it was a lot of fun to see what each group chose to highlight in their video.  Although it was pretty hilarious to create our own house skit, it was even more fun to see what the other houses had done for their videos.

Our final morning of retreat opened with a meaningful and inspiring reflection prepared by South House before we began our last session of the weekend.  Our closing session allowed us to spend some time talking with the prayer partner that we had met with at the Amate fall retreat. We concluded the session by offering both a blessing of the body and a prayer for our partner.  There was something simple yet powerful about reaching out to bless our partner’s forehead, ears, eyes, feet, and hands, then receiving such a blessing in return.

Between the treacherous snowy travel conditions and a sense of restless anticipation, our drive to Michigan was somewhat reflective of how we felt going into the retreat that weekend: tired, weary, and maybe even a little anxious.  However, the ride back to Chicago seemed quieter, relaxed, and more peaceful—similar to how we all felt after a weekend of prayer, rest, and fun.

Even though we still faced a heavy downpour on our drive back from the retreat, the fact that the snow had changed to rain reminded me that both our literal and spiritual “winters” will always prepare us to welcome the renewal and promise of spring.  The time we spent on retreat allowed us to replenish our own personal “wells” in the same way as the Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus.  Even more than that, our time away helped us to prepare our hearts and minds so that we can wholly embrace the  Lenten season and final weeks of winter, ready for all that God has in store for us.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Honoring Dr. King's Legacy Through Service

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

“Do you think doing a day of service is the best way to honor the memory of Dr. King?” This question was posed by one of my housemates, Rae, who enjoys asking thought provoking questions.

According to, the holiday was signed into being in 1983 and made a National Day of Service in 1994, just 11 years later. It is the only federal holiday with this designation. The idea of MLK Day as a ‘National Day of Service’ is a new concept to me and I did not even know that there was such a designation. For many of my peers and me, it was just a day we got off school in honor of some distant, historical figure. I doubt this is a way Dr. King (or any historical figure) would want to have his life and vision remembered. This is why MLK Day was made a National Day of Service.

Now is doing a day of service the best way to honor the memory of Dr. King? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~Aristotle

If we take one day out of the year to volunteer, an act, then I would say no. In this context, the day was merely a time to hear overplayed and decontextualized soundbites and do relatively easy work so we could feel good about ourselves. But, if we use it as a way to remind ourselves of the mission of Rev. King and rededicate ourselves to ideas we strive to live each day, a habit, then I would say a day of service is a true way to honor the memory of Dr. King.

“But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” ~Paul

Initially I did not want to write this blog. It’s not that I’m  incapable, I simply felt I had nothing significant to say on the matter. I spent most of my time whitewashing part of a hallway. It’s not particularly difficult and it doesn't stand out. I worked by myself and did not get very conversational with those around me: not the best example of service.

Paul’s works on the body from his first letter to the Corinthians (12:12-30) offered me some insight into the importance of whitewashing. If the paint around a mural is splotchy or chipping away, it detracts from the whole. If a mural’s background is even and smooth, it may not be noticed, but it enhances the whole.

Most of us will not end up with a high profile life such as Dr. King Jr. and it is easy to dismiss our labors as menial or worthless, as I felt about whitewashing. But our work and our life is as important as the work and lives of the great historical people who have come before us and continue to lead us.

Amate House Volunteers Matt Cunnane, Kara Olenick, and Nick Hammond participate in a CityYear-sponsored MLK Day of Service Event at Lafayette Elementary School.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Recommitting to Service and Community

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

“Let us hold unwavering to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy.  We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works…encouraging one another to love and good works.”

As I read this passage from Hebrews today, I was struck by how accurately it resonates with my reflections about my transition into the second half of Amate.  Though I’m not usually open to sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings on the internet, when Ryan asked for a blog about midyear experiences I felt driven to share, despite my reservations.  So here goes.

The first half of my Amate experience was wonderful in many ways: making new friends, exploring Chicago, having fun with my community. However, I must admit that this joy was coupled with an equal amount of challenges and frustrations.  How would I touch the lives of my high school students when I couldn't even get them to stop talking long enough to learn anything?  How would I balance the demands of planning, grading, and parent meetings with Amate events, my community, keeping up with friends and family, praying, and still find time to sleep at night?  Though I was chipping away at finding this balance, by the end of December I was worn out mentally, physically, and spiritually.  So before I had even finished submitting final exam grades, I was on a plane home to get some much needed R&R.

It was such an enormous blessing to celebrate Christmas and New Years with my family and old friends, spending a full week soaking in their abiding love, joy, and support.  Once I had gotten a chance to relax, I began reflecting on what it would be like to return to Chicago for Amate: Part 2.  I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive, recalling the tensions from the end of the year and holding onto the many ways I had failed in the past five months.  I couldn't let go of the lessons that had flopped and the relationships that were still distant, the perfectionist in me insisting that if I hadn't gotten it right by now, it just wasn't going to happen.  Also, I had just reconnected with friends and family with whom my relationships were so natural and easy, it would be tough to return to all those young relationships that were still growing.

Thinking and praying over these reflections, a single thought entered my mind and stuck with me: I didn't choose to do Amate because it would be easy or comfortable but because I felt called there by God to carry out the mission of love in action.  I realized how much my reflections had become about me and my personal contentment, not about those whom I was serving or the community to whom I had committed myself.  I understand now that God was asking me to trust him “unwaveringly” and to allow him to replace my fears and self-doubts with a new sense of hope.  In some ways, I think this re-commitment to Amate was much more demanding than the initial covenant signing in August.  Instead of committing to a broad idea of “service”, I was signing on to all the demands of first-year teaching with which I was now so familiar.  Instead of committing to “community”, I was now agreeing to be patient when the twelve of us take an hour debating the best method of cleaning dishes.  In essence, God was asking me to say “yes” every day to the very tangible joys and the challenges of community.  I knew what I was signing on for, but what I didn't know were the blessings God had in store for me when I got back on the plane and trusted him unwaveringly.

When I stepped out of O’Hare and onto the blue line that chilly January afternoon, I knew I was returning back to South House with a small spark of renewed purpose, and I soon found that I was not alone.  Each of my community members seemed to  radiate a new spark of their own, passionate about living out our mission together.  Having spent many days apart, we were all thankful when all twelve of us were back around the dinner table again.  Coming together, our individual sparks of renewal are starting to grow into a steady flame as we “rouse one another to love and good works.”  As I begin part two of my Amate experience, I have been pleasantly surprised by the abundance of joy and renewed zeal that is overflowing in South House, proving once again that God is indeed trustworthy when we have even a small amount of faith in His promises.

I am also amazed by the ways Amate is transforming me that I would not have believed a few months ago.  Though being a new teacher seemed impossible at first, now I find myself confident in my role at Seton and grateful for the opportunity to touch the lives of my students, and more often have them touch my life in profound ways.  I find myself connecting with my community members at a deeper level, feel comfortable sharing my insights on even the most controversial issues at meetings (syrup in or outside of the fridge???), and sometimes even leading the meeting myself.  Somehow I’m finding time to balance school responsibilities that swamped me in September with Amate events, keeping up with friends and family, exploring Chicago, joining the gym, and continuing to build all these beautiful new relationships with my community.  Though the challenges still persist, I find that the way I approach them is different these days, focusing my energy on what I can change and not forgetting to triumph in the small everyday victories.  It is this unwavering hope for deeper relationships, for learning from mistakes instead of dwelling on them, and for the excitement of learning and discovery that ultimately make transformation a reality.  Who knows how these next few months will transform me or my community, but with this sense of renewed hope, I am open to surprises.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Early Application Deadline this Friday!

Hello everyone,

Our early application deadline is on this Friday, February 1! Download the application at or call the Amate House office at 773.376.2445!