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.