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.