Friday, December 19, 2014

Waiting in Joyful Hope

The following is an Advent reflection written by Katie Dorpinghaus, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

The theme of my reflection is waiting, and not just waiting, but waiting in joyful hope. If you've ever seen me in the 45 minutes before a community dinner, you’ll know how difficult a topic this was for me. My pre-dinner routine consists of about 4% waiting, and 96% snacking on everything in the pantry until we sit down for a meal.

But because waiting is such a difficult thing for me to do, I think that I especially could learn from this reflection. And, probably because waiting is such an unfamiliar topic for me, my mind immediately jumped to this story, which has very little to do with waiting.

Luke 10:38-42 says: As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me! “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I have always been confused by this story of Mary and Martha. Mary is praised for sitting down and not doing anything, while Martha is scolded for doing exactly what I would be doing in her situation—working her butt off to make her house look nice enough for the VIP guest who just rolled in.  But when I think of the why and I think of the how, I think I understand. As Martha and Mary were waiting for Jesus to come, Mary was thinking about how great it would be to see the person who was coming to visit. Martha, on the other hand, was definitely trying to remember how long it had been since she’d swept her backyard. There was so much work for her to do, that she barely spared a thought for her guest, and even when he arrived, she remained focused on the work that had to be done, when the reason for all her preparations was sitting right in front of her.

Waiting in joyful hope doesn't have to mean waiting without action—that’s not what Martha should have done. It probably means that we should be doing quite a bit. No matter what we’re doing though, waiting in joyful hope means that we’re acting for God and we’re acting because we depend on God.

Martha’s (and my) problem isn't what we’re doing. It’s how we’re doing it. I spend a lot of my time at work, at home, and interacting with others creating my own world. I’m so focused on what I need to do, and what I need to accomplish that I lose sight of why. I’m responsible because no one else will be. I’m kind because that person may be kind to me later. The world I create is one where I’m the sole source of good and the only one capable of solving problems. Somehow this never lasts for long, and when I can’t be good enough, fast enough, or smart enough, it is all my fault and the world is a worse place because of it. This is even harder for me at my site. I have a lot of responsibilities, and when I mess up, someone doesn't get the tutoring they need to pass their classes or the money they need to pay their rent. There are so many problems that I see, and when I fail, people are hurt and it is all my fault. I’m playing God, and I am terrible at it.

But that’s not how we are called to be. We are called to serve—not as God, but for God. Because the world has a lot of pain, suffering, and heartbreak, and we encounter it every day.

But the world also has beautiful, wonderful people who make every day a gift. I live with 7 of them and have met so many more here in Amate. Waiting in joyful hope means that we recognize the pain and suffering, but we choose to fight it and we choose to hope. Because God isn't some ancient and distant being. He isn’t coming only to judge us for the pain we've failed to ease. God is coming because we need him, and while I’m planning to work until he comes, I’m going to make sure that I’m waiting when he gets here.

Movement in our Rebirth

The following is an Advent reflection written by Carlavee Ervas, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

Rebirth is when you feel anew.  When you feel like you have a chance to start over again or to do better. It doesn't just happen one time, there can be a rebirth in each season of our lives and it is a process. The best thing about rebirth is that you’re given a new life, a chance to live out this life and live it to the fullest if you let yourself.

I experienced my first rebirth in 8th grade. I went to a Life in the Spirit Seminar Retreat where I encountered God for the first time. God showed himself as Love to me.  I was so taken by God that I wanted to know him more. And I did. I attended youth group meetings, got to know God through prayer, worship, service, study, and the sacraments but my journey didn't end when I got to know God better. I had another rebirth coming up.

During college God was still love to me but God also took on the form of hope. I loved my college experience much more than my high school one, but college was a difficult season for me.  I had episodes of depression and anxiety where I felt hopeless, I couldn't concentrate, I felt lethargic but I couldn't fall asleep. I didn't do well in my classes and felt pathetic and ashamed. There were times when I felt so lifeless, I didn't see the reason for morning to come.  It only meant another day of living and there was no point in that.

But, God didn't think so and I was able to get through college. I graduated but I was very broken.  Over the summer of 2013 I took the time to take care of myself and let God mold me. I continued to go to church and youth group. I got part time jobs as a music therapist and as a music teacher. I worked on myself, I went to therapy, let myself treat myself, and trusted in God that He could make anything new. And He did.

I’m happy to say that I’m not that same person in college. The summer of 2013 – the summer of 2014 was a year of rebirth for me. And that rebirth led me to keep growing. Out of my desire to grow, God led me to Amate House. Although I had jobs related to my desired profession, I felt God calling me to serve in a different way. So I decided to do this year of service with the intention to continue my personal growth and deepen my relationship with God through community and service. Each day, I find myself seeking God in the everyday moments. At dinner with community and when we are just hanging out, through conversations with my co-workers about our elders and faith, in my elders’ smiles and when they express their sorrow, I find God saying to me “This is where you will find me and this is how you grow”.

During this time of Advent, I know everyone is going through a different spiritual walk but I pray that as we walk this journey, that we would allow God to mold us in whatever areas we feel we need molding in and that we would keep that openness and vulnerability so that we can grow for better and allow ourselves to transform into who we are.

Waiting in Quiet Watchfulness

The following is an Advent reflection written by Lydia Hawkins, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

I have a confession to make. When I was a child, attending after-school day-care, the care-takers would get out the cots and start giving us the back rubs that signaled that it was “nap time.” I would curl up under the blanket and shut my eyes and breathe more deeply…but I never fell asleep; I only pretended. I never actually fell asleep because I was too excited for who was coming.

You see, my mom worked at the elementary school connected to the day-care and she would always come pick me in the middle of “nap time.” So while the other kids were dozing off into sweet slumber, I was attentively listening and hoping for the moment my mom would be there to take me home. My ears would perk up at every creak I heard. I would forget I was faking sleep and open my eyes at murmurs coming down the hall. And I would strain my ears for the sound of her jingling key ring and the familiar squeak in her sneaker.

I understood the idea of “joyful anticipation,” better as a child than I do now. I practiced “quiet watchfulness” better as a child than I do now. And as a child, I knew how to wait in quiet watchfulness, how to practice hope in anticipation, because I knew who I was waiting for.

These are the attitudes that the season of Advent aims to foster. Yet the power of this season can often be missed by a multitude of distractions that pull our attention away from “waiting quietly.” Our culture certainly doesn't encourage lifestyles of quiet awareness, especially during this loud, busy holiday season. And our generation certainly isn't practiced at “waiting” for much anymore with information and connection and consumer goods a mouse-click away.

I know all of these things distract me from practicing quiet watchfulness for Christ, not just in Advent but throughout my life. I constantly fail to create quiet spaces where I can grow in awareness of Christ in my life. And this foreboding idea of the return of Christ is really rather more frightening to me than exciting or hopeful.

But one of the biggest reasons I struggle with “quiet watchfulness” as an adult, is because I don’t who I’m waiting for anymore. When I was a child fake-napping in day-care, I knew what I was listening for and I knew who to expect when I heard my mother’s familiar noises. And I waited with such excitement because I knew my mother’s presence meant being saved from the boredom of day-care. I knew I was waiting quietly for a savior.

When I think about Christ as an adult, I don’t get excited about the idea of a baby born in a manger. I don’t think about Christ as my best friend and I don’t look for fuzzy, warm experiences that I can call Christ’s presence in my life. But when I think about Christ as a Savior, I think maybe I still do understand “waiting in quiet watchfulness.”

When I look around and see the consequences of systematic oppression, when I hear some of the powerful stories of my students, when I see the effects of hatred and bias and broken people and their broken love, I feel hopeless. When I strive to lead a life that fights for justice and realize just how little one person can do in the vast amount of work to be done, I feel overwhelmed. So when I think about the idea of Christ as a Savior from these things, I can get excited. When I think of Christ as a bringer of justice and peace in the world, I can understand the laments and history of the Jews who waited years for a Messiah to save them from oppression and I can understand their confusion when he seemed at first to just be a carpenter’s son riding on a donkey. When I think of the salvific power that will come from that Christ-child in the manger, I can get excited about Christmas and the idea of waiting hopefully for that power to return.

But I’m not just waiting quietly for Christ the Saviour, I’m watching for him with hope. And I see him when I see his Body at work.

Paul calls us to be Christ’s body alive and active in the world. I get filled with excitement when I see groups of people working for peace, when I see the world reacting to the recent incidences of national discrimination or the injustices occurring just across the border or across an ocean. I get filled with hope when I see glimpses of humility or love or restoration in relationships that overcome our sinful inclinations. My heart fills with anticipation, joyful anticipation, to continue to see what Christ’s Body will look like in our world.

So I wait quietly for the return of a Saviour. The Reedemer. The Light of the World. The Prince of Peace.

And I watch him work in the Body of volunteers who have taken a year to grow in justice and love. I watch him in the many speakers we have encountered this year who have incorporated that spark for justice into lifestyles. And everyday when I walk into Our Lady of Tepeyac, the site I teach at, I’m reminded to not just wait quietly but actively as the first thing I see are the words of Pope Paul VI hanging above the main door: “If you want peace, work for justice.”

I invite you this Advent, to spend some time reflecting on who you are waiting for with hope and anticipation. Because just the like the child pretending to sleep during nap time, I’m wide awake and watchful once I know who I’m looking for.

Receiving the Unexpected and the Unknown

The following is an Advent reflection written by Meaghan Sykes, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

It’s been about four months since I made the trip from Philadelphia to Chicago to complete a year of service with Amate House. Upon telling family and friends of my plans for after graduation, I was bombarded with many questions. “Well, where are you living? What exactly are you going to be doing? Have you ever even been to Chicago?? What happens if you don’t like it???” Most of these questions I didn't immediately have answers for, but I wasn't too worried. I have always been the type of person to go with the flow and just figure things out as they happen. I figured I would be okay with having a few unknowns in my life because I could see the big picture of what I was imagining to happen after this year, a chance to make a difference in the lives of those I've served, in my community and in my own spiritual life.

However, I wasn't just experiencing some unknowns; I was immersing myself in them. I moved more than 700 miles away to a completely new city living with 7 people I've never met before. For the first time in my life I’ll be working full time and living away from my entire family. It didn't really hit me until the first week of work just how much remained unknown. Nerves hit me and I began to question what I was doing here. I felt under qualified and uncertain that anything that I was doing would even make a difference to these people.

As the marketing and development manager at West Suburban Senior Services, I had the chance to interview many of the seniors and ask them questions about what we were doing well and also what changes they would like to see. I was overwhelmed by the number of nice things they had to say about the staff and the programs that are available. Although I didn't think it was a big deal, they told me that small things like having coffee out every morning and getting to play bingo a few times a week made them look forward to coming out of the house and getting time to socialize. The amount of happiness it gives them to be able to read a newsletter with photos of events we've had or sit with me for a short computer lesson is so much more than I had ever expected. Several people told me that the agency felt like a second home to them. I have come to realize is that although I might not be making life altering changes in the lives of the seniors I work with, it’s usually the little things that can turn their day around.

I come from a pretty big family and have been used to sharing my home with many other people. As the oldest in a family of seven children, I thought living in this intentional community would be a breeze. I wanted to begin this community living experience with no expectations, but that didn't mean I didn't have questions. Would they like to have spontaneous dance parties? Will any of them like to talk and laugh as much (and as loudly) as I do? Does anyone like the same TV shows as me? Are they funny or insightful or curious? Although it isn't always easy, and there certainly are challenges that I wouldn't have expected (like the chore of cleaning the kitchen—and keeping it that way) I'm happy to say that I have found 7 women whom I have grown to love. We share many similar views, but also have intense disagreements about a million different topics. We challenge each other to grow and to learn, but at the end of the day, we affirm each other and fully believe in one another and that’s what keeps us going through this year.

I have found a connection to Little Village and the culture that encompasses the community in St. Agnes of Bohemia, a church just a few blocks away. I love that the congregation is mostly Hispanic, and bring that passion to Mass and in the smiles they share. On Sundays I look forward taking some time to share with God and reflect on the week that is coming up. This time of Advent, we are reminded that when the Holy Spirit came, Mary said yes; let it be done unto me according to your word. I strive to be more like Mary during this season, and welcome the unexpected by saying yes to the experiences that present themselves to me in my work, in my intentional community and in my spiritual life.

 I think the artist and author Brian Andreas summed it up by saying "Say yes. Whatever it is, say yes with your whole heart & simple as it sounds, that's all the excuse life needs to grab you by the hands & start to dance.” So take time this Advent season to say yes to what God has put in front of you, and take whatever life has to offer.

Welcoming the Stranger

The following is an Advent reflection written by Therese Diola, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

I feel as though society gives the words “strange” and “stranger” a negative connotation. The word strange is defined as, “ unusual or surprising in a way that is unsettling, or hard to understand”, while some definitions of the word stranger include, “an outsider”, and “ a person who is not a member of the family, group or community.”  It is a common lesson told by parents to their children to not talk to strangers, and a wise lesson at that. It’s easy to fall into the comfort of routine, familiarity, commonalities and usual friends and family. However, if there’s one thing I've learned from this year it’s to make a whole-hearted attempt to change one’s view of a stranger into that of understanding as there is so much to be gained in the transition from stranger to friend. I have experienced this first hand with my roommates.. The strangers I was reluctant to live with at first have welcomed me into their lives as I have welcomed them into mine. From them I have learned and will continue learning an endless amount. They are helping to shape who I am and allowing me to view the world through their eyes.

Additionally, working with Trinity Volunteer Corps, I have been given the chance to grow relationships with who many would consider to be “others”. I have had the incredible opportunity to work along side adults with varying developmental disabilities and they've shown me what a force they are to be reckoned with as I've been a witness to the positive impact they are making on many lives.

Though they each have their own gifts, talents and wonderfully unique personalities, they are all similar in their eagerness to help, welcoming hearts and desire to build meaningful friendships. Before I began working with these individuals, I imagined how important my efforts would be in helping the Trinity Volunteers succeed and including them in society. Yet I've found that it is their warmth, their kindness and their acceptance of others that has shown me what true and pure hospitality is. They've allowed me, someone who they just met no more than 4 months ago, become a part of their lives and their friendship  has provided me with a deeper understanding of joy in life. When I think of all the Trinity Volunteers’ sincere and complete acceptance of everyone, I think of the many times in scripture where we read of Jesus’ love and compassion to everyone, including strangers that society deemed as undesirable and unworthy.

Ya know, it’s easy it is to become distracted and overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of life, making it easy to lose focus in our relationship with God, viewing Him as a Stranger….I've experienced this firsthand. Yet, the amazing thing during times when we feel like this, is the fact that God knows us even better than we know ourselves!

In Matthew 25:35, Jesus proclaims: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in”. Even Jesus calls Himself a stranger! In verse 40 He proclaims, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Where do I see God? I see God in my friends, in my family, and in the strangers I encounter daily,  as we are all created in His image. I feel connected to him through the people I meet and the relationships I grow. I believe that receiving strangers by opening our ears, minds and hearts to others, allows us to fully and wholly give ourselves to God. By getting to know others, we get to know God Himself.

So let us welcome the stranger! Imagine all the people who missed the absolutely incredible and wonderful opportunity of being a part of Jesus’ birth because they had no more room for strangers…stinks to be them!!!

One of my favorite passages found in Hebrews 13:2 proclaims, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

What a wonderful message and realization this brings to mind and I can say for certain that I am surrounded by angels constantly, and these angels are all of you!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Transformed by our Rebirth

The following is an Advent reflection written by Cristina Medina, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” Fr. Pedro Arrupe wasn't crazy when he recited this prayer. In fact, he knew exactly what he was talking about.

Rebirth happens in many forms. Sometimes you can see it coming, or from out of nowhere it appears. Rebirth can stem from a negative experience that you want to mend, or it can blossom out of a beautiful revelation needing care to fully bloom. The idea of rebirth in the advent season is to renew yourself, start fresh, be born again, in other words – we have the chance to be transformed by God’s love.

This summer was a period of rebirth for me, or so I thought. 4 months. 3 road trips, 4 suitcases. A few plane tickets, and absolutely 0 idea of what August would hold – this was a transition, a road to rebirth – a new life in Chicago. Here to there. Student to teacher. Learner to instructor. But still, learner… always learner, as I have come to figure out. The beautiful thing about teaching is that I see rebirth every day from my lively, opinionated, sometimes rude, yet passionate and wholehearted students.

I see rebirth when the quarter ends and grades start over, and a light gleams from a student because they have a clean slate and a new opportunity to succeed. I see rebirth when a student re-enters a room after stepping out to regain composure – and they do. Rebirth occurs class to class, assignment to assignment, the rebirth of friendships, and as a phonics teacher, I see the rebirth of confidence when a student learns that they can read more words than they could the day before.
Part of being students and teachers at perspectives charter schools is living out the 26 principles of a disciplined life. My favorite, and quite possibly the most important principle is being reflective. This is where our rebirth comes from. We expect students to reflect on that experience – figure out how their actions affect themselves and others. This principle promotes rebirth, rebirth of everyday students facing adversity, teenage drama, and constant sass, into confident, determined, and kind scholars.

Though each day I see my students convert to different people with different ambitions for the week, I myself have been transformed in my own ways. In the beginning, I was very taken aback by the disciplined structure implemented at our school. While this discipline is important, I quickly learned that giving consequences for untucked shirts was not the best way to build relationships with my students. Instead of greeting a student with a gum chewing infraction upon entering, I learned to ask them about how their soccer game went. Rather than giving a student consequences for having their head down during the lesson, I learned to check in to see if things at home were still rough. I took an interest in my students’ lives. I gave them kindness and they showed their love back. We talk. We talk about their grades in other classes, essay topics, issues involving race, what they wish to major in, what it’s like to be a volunteer, what movies are out, and how they would change the ending to stories we’re reading. Not only are we learning to be better readers, better learners, and better teachers, we are learning to communicate, to show love, to be compassionate, and to know our purpose, and to live our lives with that purpose in mind. I cannot attribute my tactics to my student’s rebirths, but I can say that I had to learn the hard way, to renew my outlook, in order for them to experience a transformation in my class. I can say that being a witness to their rebirths, their passions, and their gratitude is what ultimately caused my renewal. My rebirth. Arrupe was right, I fell in love with teaching in a quite absolute way, and it gets me out of bed every morning. So I invite you, during this Advent season to fall in love, and as Arrupe says, it will decide everything.

Cristina shared this reflection as part of her community's Las Posadas Advent program this December.

Advent Waiting

The following is an Advent Reflection written by Christina Cunha, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

Waiting, as described in the dictionary is: the action of staying where one is and delaying action until a particular time or until something else happens.  When I think of the word waiting, I think of several images, such as times when I've waited at CTA for the next train.  I think of all the times I've waited for the ball to drop and counted down to midnight on New Year’s Eve.  I think of sitting at the dinner table as a child, waiting until my mom would finally say that dinner was ready.  In all of these incidences of waiting, I think of myself watching time pass by—and as the dictionary describes, staying where I am until something else happens.  Jesus however, asks that this Advent, we do not just sit by in a passive way and wait for His birth, but rather that we wait in action.

As German theologian Christoph Blumhardt states: “Here Jesus is speaking of his disciples and the preparation of His coming.  There must be people who stand by the door and listen for him and who open it quickly when he knocks.  Workers, not slackers are dressed for service…God has work that has to be done in work clothes, not in one’s Sunday best.  As long as God’s kingdom has to be fought for, it is more important to be dressed for work-ready action.”  As I think about waiting in this sense, as someone who is trying to work toward the kingdom, I must think of not just waiting, but waiting in action.  How am I actively waiting this Advent, and for the coming of God? This kind of active waiting seems like a contradiction at first, especially if I think of waiting as just killing time.  But God has challenged us to fight for the coming of the kingdom while we are at the same time, waiting for the coming.

I think that while volunteering with Amate this year, I have realized that I am part of this plan as I attempt to be in work-ready clothes rather than my Sunday best.  I think that one way that I have tried to be dressed ready for action is by being open to the challenges my job brings and being open to growth.  I teach 9th-12th graders at Perspectives Leadership Academy, which is a charter school that has a model of living a disciplined life.  Our school aims to develop future leaders in our society, prepare students effectively for college, and focus on 26 principles that fall under the categories of self-perception, relationships and productivity.  I am a proud staff member of my school and the Perspectives Charter network, which as a whole has doubled the graduation rate for neighborhood students in Auburn Gresham in just four years.  I teach a phonics intervention course to thirty eight students in five different classes every day. All of my students read below their grade level, and have decoding difficulties, where they have trouble breaking apart and sounding out words they have never seen before.  This intervention course is designed to improve their reading accuracy and fluency as well as instill a greater sense of confidence when reading.

When Christoph describes being in work clothes rather than our Sunday best, I think he is also speaking a lot to our comfort level.  For me, being in work clothes means being uncomfortable so that I am learning, being challenged, and growing.  This has certainly been the case while teaching at Perspectives, as I feel that although I am teaching high schoolers knowledge, I have learned and been opened to so many new ways of thinking which has challenged my faith in a very positive way.  I think of one of my students, who is in 12th grade and who has told me that she has to always guess at words when she is reading.  She is often confused, and tells me that it’s easier to usually just give up or have someone else read to her.  I think of another boy Damien, who has a stutter on his vowels when he reads aloud.  I know that throughout his schooling, reading aloud has always been a point of humiliation and shame.  These are just two of my thirty eight students who have trusted me to help them become better readers.  Several of my students feel embarrassed that their reading level is so low, so I have the challenge of encouraging and supporting them, through learning something that I took for granted as a child.

There are times when I feel incompetent as a teacher, wondering how so much faith can be put into my abilities.  I have so many moments where I feel uncomfortable, wondering if I am saying the right thing when they ask for advice or my opinion, or wondering if how I am teaching is effective.  I think that because of my doubts and uncertainties in this position, I am taking on the role of active watching, listening, and refining, especially as I’m trying to learn tools to be an effective teacher and role-model.

In a prayer dedicated to Archbishop Oscar Romero, Bishop Ken Untener beautifully captures how we can actively wait for God’s coming while working for the kingdom. He states:

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

I believe that as a teacher in Amate this year, I am part of the plan—part of the active waiting for the kingdom.  I may never see my students again after this year.  I may never see how my class has impacted them.  I may have said something this year that sticks with a student long beyond high school.  If a student is having a bad day, a smile may have a bigger impact than I would ever realize.  Even a simple “how are you”may show a student that I care about their well-being and success.  So as someone who is actively waiting, I should always be alert, just as the disciples were waiting by the door for Jesus to knock.  I don’t have all the answers, but I know that if I concentrate on my teaching abilities and use my gifts and talents that I have been given, I can let grace enter and trust God to do the rest.

Christina shared this reflection as part of her community's Las Posadas Advent program this December.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Good Vibes

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

Think about your average day. How many people do you walk past? How many people do you talk to? And how many people do you ignore? Take a second to think about that.

Both sets of lives, even with their own unique twists and turns, have brought you together for a brief moment. A brief moment of possibility to be the face of love to that person. Such a special intersection should not be disregarded or cast aside. Instead we must try to recognize those moments and then fulfill them until they over flow, because we cannot imagine how important a selfless act of love can be.

Now, I am not saying that every act of love must be this monumental, life altering occasion with confetti and balloons. It could be something as simple as holding the door open for someone with their hands full, or calling an old friend just to see how they are doing. The degree of the act does not matter, but what does is that you have willingly decided to step into someone’s life, even if it is for a brief moment, and then chosen to exhibit the face of love. I like to call those everyday acts of love, good vibes. And before you start to throw the word hippie around, let me explain.

All of us walk around putting dozens of actions into the world. And all those actions have a ripple effect that directly and indirectly influence the lives of those around us for better or worse. For example, earlier last week I gave a homeless gentleman $5 and maybe there was someone who saw me do that and then they too decided to give a good vibe to someone else. Now all of a sudden over the past week a chain reaction has occurred and suddenly millions of people are now part of a vast network of kindness and love that has grown out of one simple act I did in passing. That might be wishful thinking, and I doubt it ended up resulting like that, but wouldn't that be awesome if it did?

So go back to thinking about all those people you walk past, talk to, and ignore. All of those people represent an opportunity for you, an opportunity to embody love. That is such a tremendous gift and it occurs daily! So please take that gift and fulfill it. Be a smiling face to a stranger. Be a positive word of encouragement to a friend. Be an act of charity to those you would normally pass by. If all of us continue to put good vibes into the world day after day, then I cannot see why a network of millions of loving people helping each other out would not happen. When you put good vibes in, you get good vibes out.

Monday, November 17, 2014

"This I Believe" - Spirituality Night at Little Village House

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

Amate's tenet of spirituality is, I feel, the most versatile, challenging, and widely interpreted. Does spirituality involve your belief in God? Religion? Reflection? Hope? What is it? One night in Little Village, our spirituality night focused on what we believed in. “What does that even mean? What do I believe in?” Exactly…It would mean something different for everyone, much like spirituality does. We were faced with the challenge of reflecting on what one idea, concept, word, or mantra we believed in, how we came to this belief, and how we live it out in our lives. “This I Believe” has become an organization that promotes the sharing of core values with one another and with the world. These beliefs of people everywhere have been articulated through essays, printed in books, played on NPR, and now, written in journals in Little Village. Meaghan and Therese, the facilitators for the night, read a few essays from the book. One essay was about believing in getting angry and the other was about giving.  After they finished, they gave us instructions. They told us to write about what we believed in. We had 25 minutes, some inspirational tunes in the background, a journal and a pen, and were expected to come up with something to share with the group in 25 minutes… Cool, easy… Not. How can you choose just one thing? To my surprise, at the end of those 25 minutes, everyone shared a piece of themselves, and it made me feel more connected to everyone’s being. Everyone’s response made sense to who they were, and everyone’s heart really showed as they all read their testimonies aloud. The following words will be my story, and excerpts or ideas from everyone else’s in our home. I believe in…

“I believe in honesty - the kind of honesty that comes straight from one’s own heart to the heart of another - an honest outlook, honest words, honest love, and honest fear. Growing up in a household where honesty was valued is part of the reason I believe in this. When I was 13 and my current life goal was to become a journalist, my brutally honest dad told me to reconsider because he loved me and he didn't want me to have to work hard for a job like he had to. He told me it would be cutthroat, competitive, and ultimately wasn't a good life choice. Well dad, today I want to be a teacher. And today, he supports me in every way possible because he raised a daughter with honest intentions and a good head on her shoulders. My dad’s honesty rubbed off on my sister and me growing up and made us strong and determined. We always spoke our mind and told people what we were thinking and how we were feeling, sometimes coming off harsh or abrasive. My mom, whose gentler honesty saved us from our own honesty at times, kept us grounded. Her genuine and honest care for the two of us reminded us to always be ourselves, but to keep the well-being of others and their feelings at the forefront of our minds. She raised girls with good hearts who always spoke from the core strings of them, but always reminded us to use our minds, to not only feel, but to think of ourselves and others.

"Our home was always full of open communication, ideas, and honest love. When I went away to college, I lost sight for a moment of my belief in honesty. I trotted off to Los Angeles with a long-term boyfriend and tried to start a new life there. Somewhere along Interstate-15 I lost my roots. I was honestly afraid, but refusing to admit it. I was living a lie for a while. I pretended it wasn't important for me to find a home at LMU. I pretended the only important things about being in college were the classes, and I convinced myself that my boyfriend at the time was the only friend that I needed. My year of dishonesty caught up with me when I met some people that wanted to be my friend when I was genuinely being myself and opening up my heart - something that I hadn't done for a while. It was Caitlin and Kailey who brought myself back into me – who restored honesty by giving me honest friendship when it was a dim subject. Upon acceptance into Ignatians, the service organization that I was involved in, I didn’t think my life could be any more in line with my values. The recruitment theme one year was “ignite the fire within”, and to say that I experienced this that year is an understatement. I learned to be honest in a room full of equally, if not more honest people where we learned each other’s beliefs, challenged one another, and honestly and respectfully disagreed with one another. I learned to believe in the honest challenge of connecting with someone who might seem hard to connect with – that’s how I met Mimi. And I believe in honest conflict and honestly telling someone how badly they've hurt you – that’s where Mimi became my sister. I believe in honest friendship – that’s where the Nora’s, Brooke’s Mackenzie’s and Emmy’s of the world come in. I believe that honesty is what has shaped and connected all of the different stages and parts of my life, and I can attribute that value to who I am today. I believe in living honestly to find out who you are. Today, I sit in a room of 8 women who are honestly themselves, who teach me something new every day, and who all exhibit honesty in different ways… to honestly complain about the groceries or chores, to honestly admit to feeling left out, to honestly telling someone that you like them, or honestly telling the dinner table that you have to poop – one thing we all exhibit, in one way or another, is honest intentionality – an honest effort to form a year full of growth and love. I believe in being honest so that others feel that they can be honest – to not over-analyze, to just know, to be vulnerable, and genuine. For all of these reasons and more, I believe in honesty." –Cristina

Being where your feet are…
“I believe in being where your feet are. "People wait all week for Friday, all year for summer, and all life for happiness." It always seemed like I was waiting for the next big event in my life. I would wish time would move faster through what I deemed as monotonous or boring, and when that thing I was waiting for finally rolled around, I would wish the opposite, hoping that time could slow for the happy and fun moments so I could enjoy them a little more. But I've found that life is a series of ups and downs and speeding through those downs won't let you appreciate the ups when you do have them.  Being fully present means finding joy in the little things and what’s happening around you right now. You don't have to wait for the next big thing. There is joy all around you, sometimes you just have to pause to find it.” –Meaghan

Treating others with genuineness and integrity…
“I believe that each person deserves to be treated with genuineness and integrity. We are all individuals and we all deserve a chance to be evaluated as such. No one is a stereotype and no one is a number.” –Katie

Broken Hearts…
“I believe in broken hearts. I believe hearts are meant to be broken; to open up, to learn, to accept and heal, and to motivate. Broken hearts are behind powerful movements and ideas, allowing compassion within action. I believe broken hearts are the birthplace of beautiful things.” –Stephanie

“I believe that love, although imperfect at times, is the greatest gift one can give and receive.  I believe being in relationship with others, giving every ounce of yourself, and choosing love, even when it is difficult, is what makes us human.” –Christina

“I believe in deep connection with others—connections that teach you more about human nature and yourself and others. Connection which lets you experience love. And I believe in being self-aware and knowing your gifts and areas of growth and paying attention to the connections you feel to Truth so that you can be the best version of yourself in this one, short life.” –Lydia

“I believe in hope. I have hope. I crave for hope because without hope I would be living a dead life. I only have it because my teachers had hope in me, my family and friends have hope in me and for some reason God hoped in me.” –Carlavee

“I believe in happiness. Although there is much terror and sadness occurring, I remember hope. I think of the goodness I see in my family, friends, those I work with, my roommates, and from strangers on a daily basis. I see hope in the pureness of children and hope in smiles and laughter; hope in kindness and compassion. All of these things bring me immense happiness. Therefore, I believe in happiness! I believe that happiness causes a ripple effect and for me, a world of happiness is a world of love.” -Therese

The important thing about this exercise was sharing a piece of ourselves with the rest of the group, and feeling connected to one another. I felt closer to people after they read their raw, quickly written thoughts – that made it more authentic. I felt like in some way, I was adopting the beliefs they were sharing I felt that our home was adopting these beliefs as a whole, since we all make up our Little Village community, and live and breathe as a result of the actions of others. This is a part of what spirituality is for me – feeling connected to people and the world based on common values, noticing the beliefs present in humanity, and reflecting on how these things effect my life. Once we feel like we know what others believe in and what they are about, we find common ground and connection, and are able to unite on a deeper, more meaningful level - ultimately forming trust, friendship, vulnerability, and new beliefs. Each member had these beliefs individually, and now Little Village shares pieces of these beliefs as a unit. I believe in “This I Believe”, and Little Village believes in honesty, being where your feet are, love, broken hearts, happiness, connection, hope, and treating others with genuineness and integrity. What do you believe in?

Wednesday, November 05, 2014


The following is a reflection written by Mary Kate O'Connell, one of our second year Volunteers.

I’m currently in my second year with Amate House. This year I live in South House and serve at Heartland Alliance’s Youth and Residential Services where I work with unaccompanied minors who have traveled up from Central America to be reunited with their loved ones in the United States. This is not a far cry from my position last year – I worked to welcome newly arriving refugees into the United States with the Christian organization Exodus World Service. Through my experiences in working with both of these organizations and in my time at Amate House, I’ve realized the importance of finding a safe place to call home. I’ve worked with strong, resilient families that have decided to uproot themselves for the sake of safety in order to build a new life in a foreign country; I currently work with children that make the harrowing, dangerous journey alone to the US-Mexico border to be reunited with their mothers that they haven’t seen in 10 years or an uncle that they've only ​met in person​ once or twice; and, personally, I've created two homes, two families, with Amate House here in Chicago – not exactly a stone’s throw away from my home in New Jersey.

I’ve become passionate about the marginalization of immigrant populations because I’ve seen it firsthand through the work that Amate has allowed me to do. During my time at Exodus, I learned how to facilitate an interactive simulation that gives a brief insight into the journey that some refugees face while leaving their home countries. Every group that I led through this simulation seemed to come away from it with a connection to the population and an understanding of how it feels to be uprooted, even if it is just for a short time. I asked the staff if I would be able to facilitate this simulation for my fellow Amate volunteers as a community night, and, because they’re so wonderful and open, they agreed.

I was always very comfortable giving presentations when I worked with Exodus. There was something exciting about telling people information that is completely new to them – I visited middle schools, high schools, colleges, even adult church groups and I was met with the same curiosity in all of these settings. However, there is something different about getting up in front of a group of 28 people that you know – that are your friends. Amate House has several sites that allow volunteers to work with refugees or asylum seekers specifically; there are even more sites that serve immigrants who have similarly dreadful journeys. So how was I supposed to take what I know and present it sensitively to people that might have already heard a client recount their story? On the other hand, there are some Amate volunteers that don’t work with refugees or immigrants at all and never will in their placement this year. How was I supposed to make this valuable for them?

So I decided to approach the facilitation of this community night with a more personal spin on things. I went through all the steps of the simulation as normal, but after each step I tried to tell a personal connection that I had to it. There is a section of the presentation that puts the participants in an enclosed, dark, uncomfortable space without letting them out and without giving them any idea of how long they would be in there. After I would perform this step last year, I would sit the group down and talk about how Iraqi refugees are typically kidnapped; this time I talked about how I met an Iraqi man that had been kidnapped for 3 months. His wife told me that she had no idea where he was and she thought he had been killed. It wasn’t until he finally escaped and was forced to live in house with dozens of other people – he, his wife, and his 2 young children had to sleep on a floor for weeks with minimal food and no place to bathe – that he decided to flee his country. In my work this year, I have met Central American girls that have been kidnapped and labor trafficked for months while trying to get across the border into the United States. They are kept against their will in warehouses, often facing repeated sexual assault, and are never told how long they will have to wait, why they are waiting, or when this type of torture would be over – when they would get to see their moms and dads.

Taking this very personal approach to a simulation that I’ve done many times made me feel extremely vulnerable – talking frankly, openly, and sincerely about something that you care about is a very nerve-wracking thing. What if they don’t connect with it at all? What if they think it’s a waste of time? What if they just stare at me blankly while I’m spilling my guts on the floor? Every other time I gave this presentation, I was not worried about these questions. Because every answer was, “Well, it’ll be okay, because I’ll never have to see these people again.” A college volunteer group doesn’t connect to the simulation? Fine. I can just go home and that’ll be that. A ministry group thinks it’s a waste of time? That’s okay. I tried my best. A college class stares at me blankly when I ask if there are any questions? No big deal. I am certainly not the first person to experience this. Not the end of the world. But facilitating this simulation to a group of people that I know personally was so different. I do have to see these people again, I even have to drive home with some of them! There are few things more heart-breaking than the people you care about being indifferent towards the things you care about.

But, of course, this did not happen. While it would have been crushing to watch my friends stare at me blankly while I tried to convey to them how much I care about this subject, it was an entirely different thing to watch them evolve into caring about it too. Watching the other volunteers be concerned about this topic was a huge source of pride for me. It’s not often that people are put into this situation – being able to unabashedly lay your biggest passions on the line and say, “well, this is it, this is what I care about. I hope you care about it too.” And it is even rarer to have your peers pick up those things and run with them. There were no moments of blank stares or awkward silences while I waited for people to give feedback or ask questions. The other volunteers were quick to jump in when I asked them how they felt about a certain part of the simulation and actively listened when I shared experiences from my own work with immigrant populations. Several people came up to me afterwards with positive feedback, saying it was the best community night so far. Facilitating this activity was a great experience for me and I’m lucky that I was able to do it.

Opening yourself up and being vulnerable is extremely frightening – almost paralyzing. However, giving this presentation to the other Amate House volunteers taught me that the payoff is worth the risk involved.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Living The Defining Decade

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

“Eighty percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age thirty-five”.  My jaw dropped and eyebrows lifted as I heard more and more of the facts: Personality changes in our twenties more than any other time in our lives.  Our brains cap off their second and last growth spurt in our twenties.  Our twenties are the defining decade of our adulthood.  I suddenly had a reality check hearing all of this just a couple of weeks ago at our Amate fall in-service day.  Thirty is not the new twenty.

Our fall in-service was a time for the 28 of us to reflect on wise words from our staff about Dr. Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade - Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now. Our day was divided into three parts: work, love, and spirituality in our twenties.  I think it is safe to say that I was not the only one feeling uneasy when talking about how to take control of our twenties, and ultimately the rest of our lives.  This unsettling feeling slowly passed however by the end of the day, and was replaced by a sense of empowerment—once I realized how I can take control.  

Coming to Amate House was definitely an opportunity that I could not resist.  Meg Jay describes twenty-somethings as airplanes taking off from LAX.  One slight change in course can cause the plane to go to a completely different part of the world, just as one good break can have an inordinate impact on a twenty-something’s life.  I just finished Dr. Jay’s book, and I couldn't help but think she was directly speaking to me in this part, given that only two months ago I myself flew away from my home in California to my new home with Amate—LAX to Chicago.  The sense of empowerment that I walked away with after the in-service was from the realization that I have a great amount of power and influence in how I want the rest of my life to look.  Fortunately, Amate House is a way that I am investing in myself and positively influencing the course of my twenties.

Dr. Jay talks about how important it is for every twenty-something to invest in identity capital and to grow by forcing yourself outside your closed circle.  Identity capital comes from choosing to do something that adds value to who you are and is an investment in who you want to become.  I never thought that I would be teaching phonics reading classes to high school students this year with Amate.  I feel challenged, overwhelmed, and often incompetent as a teacher.  Luckily, Meg Jay notes in her book that if I have these feelings, I am working in a job that is allowing me to reach my full potential (thanks Dr. Jay!)  I feel that in this position I am growing, while also ensuring that I gain identity capital. Dr. Jay also emphasized how important it is to not huddle together with like-minded peers.  We grow by using weak ties, finding new jobs, new friends, and new opportunities outside our comfort zones.  Well, I can’t really think of a better way to do all of these things than moving to the other side of the country and joining the Amate fleet.  I've realized how important it is to always be slightly outside my comfort zone.  There is no certainty in the future, but as Dr. Jay says, by challenging myself I can claim my adulthood now.      

Although Dr. Jay does not directly mention spirituality in her book, we had the opportunity to explore how spirituality plays a part in our twenties at the in-service.  We were introduced to our prayer partners for the year, (another Amate member) and were able to delve into what our spirituality looks like now that we are in our twenties, out of college, and away from our families and loved ones.  In Amate, we talk about how this year is a “year of growth”, and through this in-service I realized how important it is for me to take ownership and become aware of how I am individually shaping my spirituality.  I have realized that I have so many more questions about my spirituality now that I am an adult, which I think means that I am growing or at least open to growth.  Thank you Dr. Jay and Amate for giving me assurance that this time in my life isn't random, and that I actually have a great amount of control in dictating my future.  I can’t wait to begin more adventures in my defining decade—my mom always says “every day is a gift” and I now know that especially in my twenties, every day is an opportunity.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Finding Life in Vulnerability

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

Over fall retreat, I was opened to a number of new experiences, ideas, and relationships. But perhaps most powerfully of all, my heart and mind were opened to the life-giving power of vulnerability. From this revelation, my reflection is born:

Finding Life in Vulnerability

Living in community is not easy. Here are some examples of non-easy things: Not having Wi-Fi; making dinner for ten; giving up energy and lots and lots of time for your community; trusting people whom you’ve only known for two months; trying to understand those who are very different from you; navigating conflict in an open, peaceful, and productive way; and last but not least, being vulnerable. In a way, vulnerability encompasses many of these difficult tasks. For instance, vulnerability is the foundation of mutual understanding, and rarely is conflict productive without vulnerability from all sides.

But, as I previously mentioned, vulnerability is not easy. It takes courage and strength. It requires the difficult and sometimes painful task of removing both our own and others’ emotional, spiritual, and interpersonal barriers. It asks us to let go of what is familiar, known, and comfortable and to reach toward the unknown, the unexplored, and sometimes, the uncomfortable. In this brave and often frightening extension, we break the barriers of social stigma, isolation, and interpersonal limitations, opening up a new space in which joy, creativity, meaning, and love flourish.

It is critical to note that this type of life-giving vulnerability requires two intentional movements. Firstly, it necessitates a personal submission to vulnerability. Secondly, it calls for willingness and concrete effort to understand the wounds of others.

In order to walk with others in the experience of their wounds, we must first tend to our own. Albeit painful, we must be willing to open ourselves, reveal our wounds, so that by the power and grace found in a (literal and figurative) communal embrace, our scars may be redeemed. In the communal embrace of acceptance, solidarity and love, the wounds are transformed into beacons of hope for all. Just as Christ’s wounds were redeemed by his death and resurrection, our wounds are also redeemed by self-giving actions of unconditional acceptance and love. Opening oneself to others is a terrifying experience, but it allows one to truly experience the love of community.

Life-giving vulnerability also requires action to understand the wounds of others. Cultivate curiosity (™ Catherine Scallen) about the words and actions of housemates or those encountered in the work-setting. Instead of protesting (e.g. “I cannot believe he/she did x, y or z!”), ask (e.g. “What caused him/her to act this way? And what do his/her actions indicate about his/her needs for love, acceptance, healing, etc?”). Over the weekend, I was reminded of the fact that people act the way they do for certain reasons. There is always so much more to the story, as understood in both good and bad contexts, than the eye can see. Judgment leaves no room for compassion or connection via understanding, and thus, no room for healing. It is important to note that none of this involves trying to change or fix another person, but rather necessitates a deep, compassionate, and intentional mutual understanding such that the “looking upon from a distance” of judgment becomes the “walking with” of compassion.

This retreat opened my eyes to how expansive our mission as Amate Volunteers, and moreover, as members of the human race, actually is. We are not just being called to serve. We are being called to create and participate in a community of acceptance, solidarity, healing, and love. In order for this community to flourish, we must be vulnerable, both recognizing our own wounds and seeking to understand the wounds of others. In this vulnerability, the mission to heal wounds and sow love, that is, the mission of a service community, is brought to life.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Post-Amate Life: Teaching For and With Others

The following is a reflection written by Tim Bristol, one of our Volunteers from the 2013-2014 Program Year. After finishing his year with Amate in June, Tim moved to Los Angeles, where he is currently participating in the PLACE Corps program at Loyola Marymount University.

Last Christmas break, I flew home to my small town in Upstate New York from Chicago. I officially was halfway through the year. I had somehow survived one semester at the Rodney D. Joslin campus of Perspective Charter Schools with some intense, crazy, and hilarious teenagers. My first ever semester of teaching—Honors Statistics, Middle School Health and Fitness, advising a grades 6-12 classroom designed for growth as a person, and individualized middle school math interventions—finally completed.  At home, I had a few things to look forward to, like getting back to Chicago to be with my new Amate family, a new semester of classes to teach, and some new responsibilities of ACT prep and Algebra I tutoring and targeted instruction.  I was fully utilizing my degree in Math Education from Canisius College less than a year after graduation by volunteering at Amate House and I knew that I still had so much more to learn about myself and teaching, all of which Amate brought to me.

I also had some time to start thinking about life after Amate. Being from New York, I needed to complete my certification in teaching by earning a Master’s degree.  After cruising and googling a little bit to do some researching, I came across the PLACE Corps program through one of the nation’s top Jesuit universities, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  PLACE Corps, similar to Notre Dame’s ACE program, is a program where someone with teaching credentials or with little to no teaching background commits to two years teaching in a underfunded Catholic school in Los Angeles County, receiving a master’s degree at LMU, and living in community with other teachers.  Three people in my community, Matt, Erika, and Lauren all came from LMU and sometimes just couldn't keep quiet about how awesome it was in beautiful southern California.  How could I not be interested? Another couple of years living in community developing close relationships and growing professionally and spiritually? It was nearly impossible to ignore this offer. It seemed too blatantly obvious God’s plan for me was to continue my teaching and growth in southern California.

I applied and got an interview in mid-February. Conveniently, some PLACE representatives flew out to Chicago from Los Angeles and ultimately were frozen due to the polar vortex making its way down from the arctic, but luckily they were able to thaw out in time for my interview. I knew I’d be talking a great deal about my experiences and role in community at Amate and my background in first year teaching in an urban charter school. I didn't rehearse many (if any) questions—my experiences at Amate and Joslin were so authentic and I was proud that I was associated with Amate and volunteering at Joslin. It definitely showed. I left the interview confident that I had earned a spot, and sure enough, I got the acceptance from PLACE Corps about a month later.

I've been living in Los Angeles for exactly three months now and Amate has certainly prepared me for PLACE. It’s been four weeks since beginning at St. Pius X - St. Matthias Academy and I couldn't be happier with where I am professionally.  I am integrating my Jesuit education ideas of cura personalis of development of the whole person to my teaching practice and doing my absolute best to be a man for and with others.  I feel confident in doing this after getting those first year teaching jitters out of the way.  I owe a lot of my confidence and success a few weeks into teaching from what I learned about instruction and teaching practices because of volunteering at Joslin.  My coworkers at Joslin were always encouraging and wanted to see me grow professionally and, though my job was certainly challenging, I thank God everyday for Joslin, the staff I worked with, and the students I taught and impacted.

My year at Amate House was more than just living with roommates and volunteering for a non-profit organization. Amate brought me things that I could never have imagined and is still teaching me things three months out.  I find myself often referring back to and reflecting on the five tenets of stewardship, social justice, faith, community, and service on a daily basis and I anticipate continuing to learn these tenets for the rest of my life.  The relationships that I developed with community and staff during my time with Amate House are held so closely to my heart and there isn't a day that passes where I am not thankful for their presence in my life. With that being said, SoHo 13-14, FOREVAH!!!

Post Script - The Ode to Chris Wagar:
My routine was pretty simple—I was always the first one out of the house for tutoring Algebra students at the Rodney D. Joslin Perspectives Charter School campus at 7 am every morning.  Every morning before I would leave, Chris Wagar, one of the fearless leaders of Amate House, would check in with me. Our conversations ranged from the cheesy smile on my face after talking about my girlfriend who lived in Little Village, the excitement of a upcoming road trip with a close housemate, and everything else in between regarding Amate events, community, and work.  These morning talks would rarely be short. In fact, I would wake up an extra few minutes early just to enjoy a good conversation with her (that’s if I willingly didn't wake up even earlier to shovel the walk to prevent the neighbors, my community members, and Amate staff from trekking through the snow).  I tended to have to run to the bus stop to prevent me missing the 62 Archer bus or break a sweat biking hard to work because I was talking to Chris for too long, but it was worth it.  Chris Wagar is one of the many faces of Amate House and one of the biggest go-doers for the program. She’s a big reason why it has been so successful for so many years and was a huge part of my life at Amate. Thank you Chris for all that you give to everyone that passes through the Amate House doors and all the great conversation and banter back and forth you’d give me so early every morning!

Amate House is now accepting applications for the 2015-2016 Program Year! Click here to learn more about how to apply. To learn more about PLACE Corps, click here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Real World

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

The “Real World”: “The true story of seven strangers, picked to live in a house, work together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite… and start getting real.” This may as well be the intro for the start of my journey as an Amate House volunteer. Unlike the show, an additional detail must be added that us Amate House volunteers all share the same goal of putting love into action as we are provided with experiences of full time service to people in need, community living, and faith formation. Yet, similar to the popular MTV show, I am positive we will all end the year with lifelong friends, stories of adventure and undeniable self-growth.

After graduating from Michigan State University this May, I was a bit nervous at the idea of trading my accustomed life as a college student for a new beginning in the unfamiliar city of Chicago. However, nearly a month and a half into the year, I now consider myself an expert “L” rider, a Chicago Cubs fan and I've learned to replace ketchup on my hot dogs with mustard, onions, pickles, relish, peppers and tomatoes. Most significantly, the 7 complete “strangers” I live with have now become my dear friends. From the short amount of time we've lived together, we have learned a startling amount about one another. From our numerous deep conversations and frequently playing “20 Questions” and “Would You Rather”, we've discovered how we operate, what our dreams are, what we believe in and which of us would rather have fingers as long as legs than legs as long as fingers. From our spontaneous rock out sessions, not so deep “girl talks” and spells of uncontrollable laughter we've come to love and embrace one another’s quirks, goofiness and weirdness - being a huge goofball this is good news for me! Because of my roommates and the other Amate House volunteers, Chicago has become my second home on the other side of the Lake.

This past week marked my 4th week of working as the program coordinator for Trinity Volunteer Corps. We are an organization based out of Old St. Patrick’s church in downtown Chicago and we seek to promote inclusion of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their community by securing and developing meaningful volunteer opportunities. Volunteers are given the chance to express and cultivate their unique gifts by volunteering throughout the community. I have been granted the immense pleasure of working alongside Trinity Volunteers with one of a kind talents and personalities including: a studio room full of artists, a rock band, linguists, zoologists, avid gardeners, sports lovers, singers, actors, chefs, astrology experts, Disney villain enthusiasts and even a mayor! Though each volunteer differs, their welcoming smiles, eagerness to help and tremendous hearts are things they all share in common. 

Last Sunday I assisted with putting on a Special Friend’s mass at Old St. Pat’s, which was an incredible experience. Special Friend’s masses are celebrated with children and adults with special needs who serve as lectors, singers and hospitality ministers. Looking around the room during mass I was overwhelmed with the sense of community I felt as I witnessed individuals with and without disabilities working together.
In the society we live in, it is easy to grow comfortable in the niche of people that we find to be similar to ourselves and we unknowingly create categories and divisions for anything that differs from our “norm”. Nonetheless, with my recent exposures in Chicago, a city chock-full of culture, it has become more and more apparent that diversity in our society makes us rich, beautiful and valuable. 

Through Amate House, Trinity Volunteer Corps and Old St. Pat’s, I have been given incredibly enriching opportunities - the chance to help others cultivate their gifts, share their story and celebrate diversity, as well as the chance to add amazing experiences and wonderful friends to my own story. I am extremely #blessed.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Friendships and Gratitude

The following is a reflection written by Anna Paige Frein, one of this year's South House Volunteers.

After spending a year with my head in the books pursuing my MSW degree I knew I was ready to step out of my comfort zone and into a new environment where I would be challenged and encouraged to actively love others through service. I had no idea what to expect when walking through the doors to my new Amate home on the first day of August. On the other side of that door I discovered nine of the most interesting and hilarious individuals imaginable. All of my housemates have different life experiences, beliefs, and worldviews to offer. Some say pop and some say soda. Some are artists, athletes, bookworms, musicians, and travelers, and most of us are just trying to figure out this thing called life.

The wonderful thing about Amate House is that it brings together dozens of young adults from all over the nation who are willing to spend a year serving others. We may all come from unique places and backgrounds, but we are all here for the same reason. Throughout orientation we were able to open up about our individual experiences with service, social justice, faith, and community, which helped us form the foundation for our year to come. We have come to realize that we are all in this together. We will all have to shovel snow in the winter, help jump the Amate cars when they do not start in the morning, and encourage each other when we have challenging days.  

The two weeks of orientation also allowed us to learn more about the program, build friendships, and explore the city and our neighborhoods. As a small town Arkansan I am so excited to live in a city that has frequent street festivals, concerts and movies in Millennium Park, and deep dish pizza. However, my favorite part so far has been getting to know all of my housemates and the other Amate House volunteers. We have bonded over the fact that we are all super weird and I am pretty sure there will rarely be a dull moment around our house. Our time around the dinner table has been filled with stories and laughter, and our weekends have been filled with fun and adventure. 

Now that orientation is over we all get to embark together on this year long journey of service. We have already been at our sites for a few days now and every afternoon someone has an interesting story to share about their placement. Most of the volunteers in my house serve as mentors, teachers, social service workers, or volunteer coordinators at agencies that serve at-risk populations on the South Side of Chicago. On my first day of work at St. Sabina Catholic Charities my supervisor told me that one of the main things I will hopefully take away from this year is a new sense of gratitude for all that I have been given. She is already spot on! After spending one week at my site I have already experienced renewed gratitude for the people and experiences that have brought me to this point in my life and for the opportunity to serve alongside all of these new great people this upcoming year. I am especially thankful for the little things like being able to watch the parade for the Jackie Robinson West championship little league team from the South Side with my new coworkers today. The sense of pride and excitement for this team was contagious and it made me feel like a member of the St. Sabina community. 

The first month of Amate has been an incredible experience so far.  I can only imagine where a year will take us! I am always one to look ahead to the distant future, so I have already thought about what it will be like leaving this group of beautiful people at the end of the year. But then I stopped myself because I did not want to take away from the present moment. For now I get to spend every day with this group of authentic and eclectic people and I could not be happier.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Last Day of School

The following is a reflection by Tim Young, one of our North House Volunteers.

I remember when I was growing up, that I couldn't wait until June 6th came, because the school year would finally be over and I could enjoy my summer. I didn't have to think about school again until the 3rd week of August, when I would have to go back to school. I would start a countdown in my assignment book starting in May, where I would cross out the days, so when the teacher jokingly asked how many days were left, I was fully prepared to answer them.

This year was dramatically different…this year I’m on the opposite side of the desk. I have seen kids who, if I asked, how many days were left in May, they would be able to tell me the exact number of days. Today is the last day of school at St. Mary of the Lake School, my site for 2013-2014 Amate House year. I have been blessed to be a part of the s
chool this year, through my service with Preschool, 2nd/3rd grade, 4th/5th, along with my after-school program. I started this year as a complete stranger, as each were to me. As the year progressed, I found it hard to think of life without each and every one of them. My students this year has not only changed because of me, but they have also changed me. Heading into this year, I had never worked in a school before, but I knew with my year of service, that I wanted to be placed in a school that needed the help.

Throughout my year, my students have taught me not only about the countries in which they came from, but they also taught me a lesson on resiliency. Students have overcome language barriers, problems at home, or the loss of a loved one. Students are forced to deal with these issues while caring a heavy workload. I tried to bring with me each day a listening ear, and a smile to help out the students in anyway possible, which seemed to make all the difference in the world to some. Others, I had to try harder and over time, I was able to truly connect with those students. I stressed to my students the importance of education to accomplish their lofty goals, which in turn, taught me that I had to set my own lofty goals and accomplish them just like my students. I have seen significant growth from each of my students from the beginning of the year to the end, beyond my wildest dreams.

So as I finish my last day of school, now I’m the one who didn't count down the days until the end of school. I am the one who is wishing for more time with my students, so that I could see their smiling faces; receive their hugs and high-fives every morning when I get to school. Each of my students has left an important impact to me this year that I cannot put into words.

Amate House is still accepting applications for the 2014-15 Program Year! To learn more, visit us at or call the office at 773-376-2445!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Discerning God's Plans

The following is a reflection by Amy Streit, one of this year's North House Volunteers. She shared this story as part of the North House community's Pentecost Reflections, which took place last Wednesday.

“And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”
Luke 24: 25-27

How did we get here? And where are we going next?

This was probably a question that the disciples on the Road to Emmaus asked in the passage above, after realizing that while they missed Jesus, they still did not recognize Him when He was present with them.

 I feel like this is also a question that we often ask ourselves, whether we are trying to do a quick check in or prepare to make a transition for our future.

This year has been a year of transition for me, very much like that of other volunteers. I came here to Amate House after completing a year of service in Sacramento, CA where I served as a volunteer at a day shelter for homeless women and children and an assistant teacher in a Montessori Preschool for homeless children. The whole reason I picked my service site for last year was so that I would not be serving in an educational setting, which seemed silly last year, but even funnier now as I serve as a preschool teacher’s assistant for eight different classrooms with three to five year old children.

This year I feel that I have learned how to better transition or adjust in different situations, but it hasn’t been easy. At the beginning of the year, I especially struggled with making transitions from one classroom to another. I felt that I would finally connect to a classroom of students, learn all of their names, get to know to them as individuals, then be switched to a different class. I had not really had this type of experience before, something that required me to be so flexible and open to the needs of the other teachers, but I feel that this was a way that I was able to recognize how God was guiding me to better influence the children that I worked with.

Something that I have lost in this past year, outside of my service site, would be part of my plans for my future, as well as something that I truly used to identify myself. For the past four years I have been discerning religious life, and this played a big part not only in my plans for my future, but also in my spiritual development and the reasons that I chose to participate in Amate House.

This Easter I discovered that it would not be possible for me to continue to discern with the order that I was in contact and this was the second time that this had happened to me in the past two years. I was turned down due to a diagnosis of depression that I have had for half of my life.  When I first found out this information I honestly did not know how to handle it. It took me a while to get to the point where I could think clearly about the situation and make a decision, but the whole time my community was there to support me. After sitting with the situation for a couple of weeks, I realized that I felt that maybe I was no longer being called to religious life. This was one of the hardest decisions that I had to make, and was definitely not something that I took lightly, but I was so blessed by the outpouring of love I received from my housemates as well as the children that I worked with. It was hard to not feel a sense of pain and despair about the situation, especially the first few days after making my final decision, but the love, compassion, kindness, and sense of joy that I recognized in other truly helped me to overcome these challenges. Through all of this, the Spirit has been guiding me. The day before I was contacted by the religious order, I began an application process to join a Catholic Worker Community in the city where I went to school. Since making this decision I have remained in contact the community, which I will be visiting this June, with the possibility of becoming a live-in community member later this summer.

Now going back to my experience at Saint Vincent’s. In the past month, I have been able to spend more time in one classroom which has helped me to recognize the importance of being open to being present to all of the students. Prior to this month I would only see the children from this classroom outside or at random times when I would step in for a little while during the day, so I didn’t really know many of the children that well. The teachers have all been very encouraging and affirming, reminding me of my skills and talents, and allowing me to recognize where I can best help. I soon began spending more time with one little boy was very kind and friendly, but seemed to really be displaying some challenging behaviors towards his classmates and teachers. On the day that I met him, he was having trouble listening, and became pretty angry. When I first began talking to him I thought that he was angry at me, but he openly shared that he was truly angry about things going on in his home life, which affected his behavior. I spent time with him throughout that day, hoping to make things a little easier. At the end of the day I went to say goodbye to him, and he wouldn’t have it. I explained that I would be back the day after tomorrow, we looked at the calendar together, and I promised that I would give him a hug when I came back. The day I came back I was already in the class when he arrived, and when he saw me he simply hugged me and told me he knew I would come back. I now realize that this experience would have never happened if I hadn’t died to my expectations, my hopes to stay comfortable and remain with “my” students, and been able to step into the unknown to make them all “mine.”

This memory says a lot for me, but it also helps me to make wonderful connections to my own life. It tells me that no matter what is happening in our lives, we always have people who are willing to help us. It comforts me to remember that God has a plan for what is happening within us, and many things happen so that we may be more understanding of those who struggle. But mostly, it reminds me to lose expectations that I have, about what I should be doing, and remember to become more open to how God might use me to serve him.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Beyond the Tomb

The following is a reflection by Caitlin Kerwin, one of this year's North House Volunteers. She shared this story as part of the North House community's Pentecost Reflections, which took place this past Wednesday.

I finally had a post-college plan. I’ll do a year of service, go to grad school to get my Masters in Social Work (whatever that means), and become a counselor. I was moving to a new city and doing something different and exciting. I couldn’t wait to get experience with case management before going back to school. I expected none of these plans to change in my 10 months as an Amate House volunteer, but things never really turn out exactly how I expect them to. God had something a little different in mind.

When reflecting on the Pentecost story, I couldn't help but see myself in Mary Magdalene as she opens up the tomb of Jesus to find something she does not expect. She does not find Jesus where she expected Him to be. She does not even recognize him when she does find Jesus. As my time as an Amate House volunteer comes to a close, I feel as though things have not gone as I expected them to go 9 months ago. I feel like Mary Magdalene clinging to her expectations of Jesus, just about ready to let go and walk in a different direction for something new.

Since August, I have been working at Lakeview Pantry as the West Pantry Assistant Coordinator (I know, what an exciting title…). Most of my position consists of running the daily operations of the pantry’s West site alongside my supervisor, Carrie. The other part of my position consists of working with the manager of client services by meeting with clients one-on-one during walk-in case management hours at the pantry’s East site. The main reason I picked my position was because of the case management experience I would gain. I expected this to be the best part of the job. Who would be better at listening to people’s problems than me?? I was wrong. Although I am not terrible at case management, it is certainly not something I want to be doing for the rest of my life.

This year has really made me question whether direct service is for me. Just recently, I had an absolutely terrible day at work. A client became very upset and told me that I should not be allowed to work at Lakeview Pantry. I was absolutely devastated and although I knew I should take what she said with a grain of salt, her words made me no longer want anything to do with direct service. A week later, I was covering for my supervisor once again during distribution on a Saturday. Toward the end of my day, a client came up to me and said the most gracious thing. “You know, you are doing a great job. It’s sometimes so hard to come to a place like this. It can feel so…undignified. But I do not feel like that here.” She had no idea what had happened a week earlier, but I felt like she knew I needed to hear this. She assured me that I was where I was supposed to be; doing what I was supposed to be doing. The best part of my job are the days when I am at the West site running the pantry. I know it sounds extremely nerdy, but this year I discovered how much I enjoy managing and supervising people. It brings me so much joy when the volunteers have had a great time and the clients appreciate the organized operations of the pantry. I love making people feel welcome and appreciated.

My time as an Amate House volunteer has made me even more confused than ever about my future. In the beginning of winter, I ruled out Grad school as an option because I don’t know what I want to go for, and I don’t want to waste money on something my heart is not completely set on. When I ruled out Grad school, I was still unsure about what jobs I even wanted to apply for. I had expected to love the case management part of my job, and that is the opposite of what happened. About a month ago, I started applying to jobs that I thought looked interesting and that fit with my experience running part of the operations of a not for profit food pantry. I’m still confused about what city I want to be in and what I will be doing after my time with Amate House, but I would rather be confused now, than regretful in Grad school. I am so grateful that I picked my site placement even if it was originally for the wrong reason. I’m taking one step forward and trusting that God is walking with me. I am no longer a confused Mary Magdalene, but the Mary Magdalene that finally recognizes Jesus outside of the tomb in the garden. I’m not sure where I am going, but I’ll see when I get there.