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.