Monday, November 23, 2015

Amate House Volunteer featured on Taller de Jose blog!

Amate House Volunteer Roberto Martinez recently wrote a reflection on behalf of his current site placement, Taller de Jose - it's titled "Waiting Rooms, Vulnerability, and Stevie Wonder: A Reflection on Accompaniment." Check it out!

Learn more about Taller de Jose by visiting their website:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Being" and "Doing"

The following is a reflection written by Stephen Umhoefer, one of this year's Volunteers in the Uptown Community.

It’s easy to forget how quiet the world can be. A few weeks ago we had our fall retreat at Ronora Lodge in Watervliet, Michigan. At that point it had just been a little over two months since we all began our service. Two months of becoming situated at our sites and figuring out where exactly we fit in. Two months of living in Chicago and becoming familiar with its size, sounds, and tempo. Two months of living in community. Getting out of the city a few weeks ago felt like it came at just the right time. I think it was becoming easy for me to fall into a daily routine and not give much thought about what I was doing. Being pulled out of that allowed for things to be viewed from a different perspective.

There are days where is seems like the time I’ve put in at my site doesn’t add up to much at the end of the day. But I’ve wondered if it’s not to much the ‘doing’ than it is the ‘being.’ Maybe just being a presence at my service site is just as crucial as any individual moment where I’ve helped someone. Maybe just showing up every day ready to take on whatever task is asked of me is enough for those I connect with to see that they are cared for.

It wasn’t until I was out of the city and walking on the trails in the forest that I appreciated just how soothing presence can be. Gazing among the silence in the trees gave me a calm that I didn’t think I was in need of.

As the weeks accelerate towards Thanksgiving and then Christmas I will be doing my best to acknowledge my presence. My presence within myself, my presence in my relationships within my community, and my presence within my service site.

I came back from fall retreat with a new lens with which to look through during my time in Amate House. ‘Being’ can be just as important as ‘doing.’

Enjoy these photos from Fall Retreat:

Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Restorative Power of Peace Circles

The following is a reflection written by Margaret Waickman, one of this year's Volunteers in the Little Village Community

Respect. Patience. Active Listening. Honesty. Authenticity.

It’s unsurprising to talk about these values during a year of post-graduate service with Amate House. These values are integral to community life and serving at our work places on a day-to-day basis. During our fall in-service at the Precious Blood Ministries of Reconciliation, however, these values took on new meaning within the setting of a peace circle.

Peace circles, a restorative justice practice used to respond to conflict, oftentimes bring together individuals on all sides of a conflict. At the beginning of each peace circle, values are set by those sitting in circle. While the leader of the circle brings some values to the circle, anyone can add the values which she feels are necessary for the peace circle. This process of setting values places ownership of the circle within the hands of those participating in the circle.

During our visit to Precious Blood, we sat in circle with other Amate volunteers and Precious Blood staff members. Our circles were of the “get to know you” variety, rather than in response to any conflict. Participating in the circle, however, allowed us to better understand the work of Precious Blood Ministries of Reconciliation. Situated in the Back of the Yards is neighborhood in southside Chicago, this ministry uses restorative justice and peace circles to respond to the neighborhood’s conflicts. Back of the Yards is a neighborhood with both joys and challenges, but it is perhaps in the news most for the violence which occurs there. Just the night after our in-service, a family coming back from an outing was shot in the neighborhood. Three were wounded, including an 11-month-old baby. The child’s mother and grandmother both died.

This is the heaviness which the community of Back of the Yards deals with on a daily basis. Precious Blood Ministries is there to walk with the community through this heaviness. Through victim-offender peace circles, community members who have committed a crime against another community member come together, in circle, to respond to the crime. Precious Blood also holds peace circles for mothers who have either lost a child to gun violence or who have a child locked up in the criminal justice system. In circle, these women come together to grieve their losses, mutually, despite the seemingly opposing differences in their situations.

Precious Blood Ministries was not my first exposure to peace circles; I studied restorative justice in college, and I work at a service site which also uses peace circles and restorative justice techniques. I find that there is a great, humble power derived from sitting in circle. Whether you are sitting in circle to respond to a conflict or to get to know those around you better, peace circles always cultivate listening. Listening is what we so often forget to do. I personally often get wrapped up in my hurt, my feelings, my opinions in a conflict, and I forget that there is another rational human being also embroiled in this conflict. The circle cultivates listening, which I always find causes me to remember the common humanity of those I sit with.

I entered into a year of service to more fully understand our legal system. I hope to attend law school next fall and eventually become a trial attorney. Before entering my formal legal education, however, I wanted to more fully understand some of those who are most negatively affected by the criminal justice system - young black men and the communities in which they live. Working at Lawndale Christian Legal Center has been a hard and humbling experience, but one thing I have definitely learned thus far is that the criminal justice system is not enough for our communities. The work done in peace circles to respond to conflict brings healing into the process of dealing with crimes, an essential component for communities.

Respect. Patience. Active Listening. Honesty. Authenticity.

Will I ever work at a non-profit which uses peace circles after this year? Probably not. But, as a future lawyer, peace circles help me to strengthen and sharpen my listening skills. As someone who wants to enter into the broken system of criminal justice, peace circles help me practice the art of spending time focused on others - hearing their stories and seeing their dignity.

The 2015-2016 Volunteers at Precious Blood Ministries of Reconciliation in the Back of Yards neighborhood