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.