Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mentoring: Learning from Each Other

The following is a reflection written by Paul Obbagy, one of our North House Volunteers. This article originally appeared in a newsletter for the Refugee and Immigrant Community Services (RICS) office of Heartland Human Care Services. Learn more about RICS at

Last January marked the one year anniversary of the start of our youth mentoring program. In this program, volunteers are paired with a refugee youth to be a guide, a resource, and a source of support. Since it started, we have had over 35 matches, and many successful stories from both the volunteers and the youth!  One such story is of Habib and his mentor, Marco Spinelli. Their match only began six months ago, but Marco said, “It seems like I’ve known Habib for years...we definitely had an immediate connection.”

So far, they’ve done a lot together. Marco mentioned that, at times, it can feel a little stressful trying to find fun things to do, but Habib is so open and has such a warm personality that if nothing is planned, they normally end up doing a lot of talking. Habib also really enjoys playing video games, so they sometime just end up playing games. Habib is very inquisitive and interested in the life of his mentor, but is also comfortable sharing things about himself. Habib often goes to Marco for advice on different subjects, such as school, getting a job, and, as is common for boys his age, girls. Habib truly appreciates Marco’s willingness to help out, saying, “Whenever I need him or have a question, I can just call and talk to him and he’ll answer me…even if it’s a personal issue unrelated to mentoring.”

Habib has many goals for his future, and he says that Marco has helped him find the strength to continue towards those goals. Marco has connected Habib to different resources that will help him to eventually realize these long-term goals. Habib also said that Marco inspires him and has taught him how to be more independent, how to face difficulties in a different way, and keep working hard. He appreciates Marco for setting forth a positive example and for being a role model in showing how Habib should live his life.

However, there are also some challenges that come along with mentoring. Those issues can be as simple as timing and trying to find when would be good to meet up. At other times, though, the challenges are deeper. Habib is a refugee teenager who has been through a lot, and Marco, as an empathetic person, sometimes finds it hard. As he puts it, “when you care about someone, their problems are going to affect you too.” However, Marco encourages Habib to speak out more about how he’s feeling and what he’s going through, which proves for deeper discussions and new perspectives. Each has learned a lot from the other, and these emotional struggles are ones that they are happy to face and live up to.

When asked why they think the mentor match works so well, they both credit it to each other’s personalities. Marco was afraid, at first, that Habib would be hesitant and take a while to open up. However, Habib was immediately open to the experience and willing to jump right in! Habib also accredited the ease of the match to Marco’s positive, uplifting, and encouraging attitude. He said that due to Marco’s goal-focused outlook, Habib has learned how to be more goal-focused, persistent, and hardworking himself.

Marco and Habib are just one of our many mentor/mentee matches, and without this program, they would never have met each other. They both see it as a privilege to be able to share this experience. Now, they meet at least every other week and have bonded, created a solid support system between the both of them. Both hope that this mentor relationship will last longer than just the next year. As Marco puts it, “I am really excited to see what the future holds for him and being a part of that is a privilege.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Station 6: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

The following is a reflection written by Chris Provost, one of this year's South 
House Volunteers, for his community's Stations of the Cross Reflections.

As tradition tells us, Veronica, not being able to offer too much to take away the pain and suffering Jesus is going through, takes a cloth and wipes his face. Imprinted on the cloth was the face of Jesus. Now, the way I view the message in this station is that Veronica will be able to have something tangible, and every time she looks at this stained cloth she can think, “Now that’s the man who saved us all.” In many reflections we’ve participated in, we talk about where we see Jesus in our everyday lives and how we can model our actions after his, but, what about those who surround and support us? What about the Veronicas in our life?

Just like how we can see Jesus in many different areas of our lives, Veronica exists through various people. My parents, who literally gave me life and support me in every facet of my being, my friends who, on more than one occasion have saved my life, and Merrimack College for instilling my passion for service and social justice. A combination of these has led me to Amate House, and my service site at Cabrini Green Legal Aid. My job as Intake Specialist provides me with the opportunity to screen potential clients to see if they meet our guidelines for free legal representation, interview said potential clients, and present cases to our staff of attorneys, social workers, interns, and the like. After listening to the story of Veronica, and how she wanted to help any way she could, I couldn’t help but relate to her situation. My experience in the legal field is next to nothing. I took a Sociology of Law class two years ago, but I got a B in the class so clearly I’m not super knowledgeable on the subject. As clients started asking me questions about their specific cases, I felt myself saying “I don’t know” quite a lot.

What I couldn’t offer in legal knowledge, I make up for in compassion, patience, and attempting to make them smile. One client in particular stands out in my mind. She came to us for a housing case where she was being evicted for circumstances in her life that were out of her control. Upon meeting her, you could see defeat written all over her face. I knew there wasn’t much I was going to be able to do in terms of relieving her of her legal case, but I just wanted to make her smile. So, when we went to meet, I accidentally tripped right in front of her and tried to play it off professionally, but she exploded with laughter. We joked a little bit about my inability to walk that day, and then continued our discussion about her legal case. As she was leaving, she turned to give me a hug and said “Even if you can’t help me, I just want to thank you so much for making me laugh. It’s been a while since that happened. You’re the first person to make me laugh in months.”

Hearing clients’ stories of struggle and injustice made me want to do whatever I had in my power to help. What I can do is present their cases and advocate on their behalf, and I am very proud to say many cases I presented have been accepted. Not saying it was all 100% my doing, but it still makes me happy. Now I have clients calling me to thank me for my help, clients giving me hugs as they cry from happiness, and I was even added to a prayer list. In a way, I hope I can be Veronica to these people. I may not have something tangible like a cloth with all of their faces imprinted on it, but what I did gain from them is something no physical object could ever amount to. Hope. They’ve inspired me that no matter how bad things get, we can’t give up the hope that we can make it better, and that there will be people around to guide us.

The South House community and the amazing staff at CGLA are also there to wipe my face when I am struggling along this journey in Chicago. There’s something special about these people, about my Veronicas. My roommates are on this journey with me, and provide me with a sense of security. I’m not very good with words or at telling people how I genuinely feel about them, but my community has helped me more than they know. CGLA has also taken this kid from a small town in Vermont and helped me to be more confident in my job performance, and show me that I am a truly valued member of the CGLA family.

To conclude, I ask you all to do something very simple. First, please keep all of the clients at Cabrini Green Legal Aid in your prayers. Second, take a moment and reflect on the Veronicas you have in your life. There are moments in everyone’s lives and personal journeys where we struggle, where we think that what we’re doing isn’t helping, but you have abilities that make you special. You have people in your lives that notice them. These people, these Veronicas do exist. All you have to do is look hard enough.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy

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

I have always had trouble making decisions in my life. From deciding what to do on the weekends to what my future endeavors will be, I would always rather someone else make the decisions for me. Because of my indecisiveness, I would get anxious and worry about the various possibilities. If I decide option A, what would I miss out on from option B? Will this decision make me happy or cause me more stress in the future Am I following God's plan for me or am I headed in the complete opposite direction? I could never stop worrying about the future and what I was supposed to be doing next.

Making any kind of decisions in my life always came with stress and worry until I actively started putting my trust in God. During my last year of college, I was extremely overwhelmed and worried about what I was to do after graduation. Instead of constantly worrying about my future, I started praying for an answer. After learning about and applying for Amate House I kept thinking, "yes, this is exactly where I am supposed to go", a feeling that is very foreign to me. I had never felt so sure about my decision for my future. Accepting this call to Amate House has been one of the easiest and best decision I have ever made.

During my time with Amate I have learned to let go and take one day at a time. I have learned to trust that God will provide for me and show me where I am supposed to be. I have also learned to be open and accepting of whatever He gives me. Now, as our Amate year draws to a close, I feel myself once again worried about my future and where I should be. What if I choose the wrong path? Which is the right decision for me? As I've continued to pray and ask for God's help in my decisions I have realized there may be no "right" or "wrong" paths; just endless opportunities to learn and grow from. As I am deciding on what to do after my year of service, I continue to pray for God's direction and remind myself to remain open and willing to wherever I am called next.

"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."
                               Philippians 4:6-7