Friday, December 18, 2015

Movement in our Rebirth

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

I’m a health educator at Erie Family Health. Like several Amate volunteers, my initial job description isn’t really an accurate description of what I actually do. Sometimes I talk about cavities to Kindergarteners. Sometimes it’s a frank conversation on starting to wear deodorant in the 6th grade. At least twice I’ve had to learn how to say pap smear in Spanish. “Papanicolau” if you’re wondering. But in spite of what I’m teaching, I give the same spiel everywhere I go, no matter where I am. “My job is to teach people how to be healthy, and why it’s important to be healthy”.

Erie’s mission is to provide accessible, affordable, and high quality healthcare to those in need. I live out this mission primarily through education. The neighborhoods I work most closely with are North Lawndale and West Humboldt Park. The people and students here face several challenges thanks to a complicated history with the city that I still struggle to figure out and understand. They are labeled a lot of things because of where they live, how much they earn, and the color of their skin. But to me as a health educator, I see people who have the same right to good health as any other person.

Using education as a means to achieving good health is powerful to me. Simply said: We are preventing a wound, and not fixing an infection. Although I love education as a whole, to me, the funnest part of education isn’t getting the “how to be healthy” down. Because that’s just me spewing out facts left and right and hoping what I say sticks. It’s a one sided way of doing things and although I have been prepared to provide this information, it is not always the best approach.

For this reason, the exciting part to me is getting at the “why”. Focusing on the “why” allows me for the greatest part of my job: inspiring and motivating others. Inspiring others to take ownership of their health and respecting their bodies by understanding their own feelings and knowledge of health, and why it matters. I may not be here with all of the answers, but I’m at least here to motivate you to find the best answers for yourself. It gives people the autonomy and power to take things into their own hands.

Similarly, when I think of the concept of rebirth, I think of inspiration. An inspiration that isn’t fleeting, but lingers, confuses, moves, and transforms. Amate was the natural part of my journey because I was, and still totally am confused. And better yet, I get to share this journey surrounded by other confused and confusing people. We are all in the process of rebirth.

We are moved by what our service sites throw at us through challenges and moments of grace. We are moved by our neighbors and new housemates/friends, as they reflect our biggest weaknesses and vulnerabilities, along with joys & awesome dinners we cook together. We are moved by the struggle of being away from the loved ones that aren’t in this city, but will always be in our lives. But ultimately, we are transformed to live out our journeys in a meaningful and contemplative way. So I urge everyone to use the holidays as an opportunity to evaluate what moves you, and how have you transformed yourself in the past year.

Amate House is accepting applications for the 2015-2016 Program Year! Our early application is January 15 - learn how to apply by visiting us at

Receiving the Unexpected and the Unknown

The following is an Advent reflection by Kate Kennealy, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

“Mary was a beautiful, faith-filled door. When the divine visitor tapped on her heart, she was at first hesitant and afraid. Full of questions and concerns, she paused for clarity before she opened the door. But she did not let her hesitations keep her from extending a welcome to love. With her “Yes, you may come in,” Mary is every person who has stood at the door and felt fearful of the future with its unknown direction. She is every person who has experienced self-doubt or has had a totally unexpected event upset them. She is each of us struggling with our own fears and hesitations when the Holy One taps on the door of our life asking for an entrance. “–Joyce Rupp

I had many hesitations right before I left for Chicago. I questioned my decision and honestly did not want to leave what I knew, what was comfortable and easy. But I didn’t let my hesitations stop me, for whatever reason I opened the door and I'm still discovering what’s behind it.

Beginning Amate House was daunting. Starting work and Coordinating an after school program by myself was a challenge I doubted I could accomplish. I began questioning it all and had a deep fear inside of me, as Mary did when she stood at the door. Am I the right person for this job? I don’t speak Spanish very well and I’m not exactly as experienced as someone else might be in my position. Why am I doing this? Do I want to do this? Am I worthy? Am I good enough? These questions and doubts invaded too much space in my head. They paralyzed me with fear and held me back. It is a constant struggle to find clarity and comfort in the chaos. But, slowly I started proving myself wrong and even though doubts are still present, I am trying to be more accepting and gentle with them.

Amate revealed all of my flaws and insecurities and they seemed to show like an open wound for me. This was a terrifying, vulnerable place, but there is something special about having a community behind you during those times when you don't want to be seen or heard. Not only do they acknowledge the challenges, they ask questions that you want to avoid just because it's easier. Mary also had hesitations and doubts. She was authentic in her response and it took time to pause and reflect before she could accept with love.

Welcoming the unknown like Mary is something that I strive to do. With that, I can also relate to the fear she had in the beginning, and then eventually seeing the light. While working with 3rd-5th graders it has rejuvenated my energy to focus on the present moment. Seeing the world through kids’ eyes is always so refreshing for my spirit because some of them act so invincible; their dreams are so big and no one can tell them how to feel. It doesn't matter what they don't know because they live very much in the moment. The unknown can be exciting for them and it should be for us too. I miss this, back when we spoke with less doubt and more confidence. Fearless. I am lucky to have that spirit in front of me as a reminder that the unknown can take you on an exciting journey if you allow it to.

I crave Mary’s clarity and acceptance as I encounter the unknown because she welcomed love into her heart. It is easy to want control in your life. At work and in community I am learning to really focus on what I can control even if that is a very small amount. Letting go and being content with the outcome. I'm not always going to get reassurance but that shouldn't stop me from having confidence in my own capabilities. I cant control my roommates happiness and fix their problems. But, I can be present with them and hear them out when they need it most.

Mary was so gentle with herself and even though she was full of questions she did not allow this to take over her heart. Her fears were present and valid but she turned them into a fearless spirit that is admirable. I want to be kinder with myself and my fears. Though they may seem endless; it is important to not let this define who I am. Mary had doubts about the unexpected like many experience. And because of that Mary is every person. She is you, she is me. A beautiful faith-filled door.

Amate House is accepting applications for the 2015-2016 Program Year! Our early application is January 15 - learn how to apply by visiting us at

Waiting in Quiet Watchfulness

The following is an Advent reflection by Eryn Gronewoller, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers. 

When I was in pre-school, I would wait in anticipation for the day I could go to kindergarten and learn with the big kids. When I was in high school, I couldn’t wait for the day I would graduate, leave my small school, my small hometown, and go to college. When in college, I refused to wait until I was an upperclassman to take advanced classes or study abroad. My whole life, I have been in a rush to move on to the next thing, always prepared before the world told me I was ready. I was forced to be patient though restless, to wait my turn, to wait for my time.

Now I am waiting for other things. In my work at little brother friends of the elderly, I require constant and unfailing patience.  I wait holding open doors for elders who move slow and unsteady. I wait with my elders for their social security checks so I can help them go grocery shopping. My elders in turn wait for my phone calls and visits. They wait by their doors for me to pick them up to go to holiday parties. Some wait for visits from loved ones or old friends. They wait at doctor’s offices, wait for test results on their health. Some bide their time, waiting to die.

When in the presence of my elders, -my brain, my busy schedule, my hectic life- it all slows down. I look at my elders who are all over the age of seventy, and I ask myself- why am I in such a rush? What’s my hurry? Life is long and should be enjoyed.

But my elders look at me in my youth and feel differently. They tell me- life is short, don’t waste it.
For them there is no more waiting for what the future will hold. Me- I see my whole life ahead of me. But I’m no longer rushing to the next thing. I have no idea where I will be next year, when my career may start or my journey may lead. I struggle not to have all the answers, not to have a set plan, not to have it all figured out. But for once, I am content in the waiting. I know God will guide my path, and that I need this time to quiet my heart, learn, grow, and know Him. I know he has something great planned for me just as we in advent preparation know the great coming of Jesus is imminent. It is easy to get caught up in the craziness of life, the hectic bustle before Christmas, the anxiety and anticipation. It is easy to forget what it truly is we are waiting for.  It is easy to forget that we can find peace in the waiting. Because life- whether you think it is long or short, whether you are inpatient or patient, ready or not- is made in the quiet moments when we are waiting for it to happen.

Amate House is accepting applications for the 2015-2016 Program Year! Our early application is January 15 - learn how to apply by visiting us at

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Giving Thanks

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

To those that do not know me, I’m Mark, a current Amate House Volunteer from the Uptown Community. In a sense, I’m introverted yet love being with people. Typical for Amate House, I’ve been given a place, I’ve been met at where I’m at, and – led by example – I do hope I’ve contributed towards doing the same. 

Given that all the Amate community members have their own Amate stories, I do hope that what I share offers some light on what this year has meant for me so far and, in a non-dogmatic sense, resonates with how others experience Amate House.   

When I would explain what brought me to Amate House, I would give a two part answer. One – I needed to return to the Midwest –, and two – I was seeking a meaningful, relevant law-related position.  Retrospectively, both of these draw to my young-adult-self.   

Amate House has given me both. Right now, the distinctively Midwestern turn of seasons makes me happy. Furthermore, my service at Cabrini Green Legal Aid allows me to work with talented professionals in assisting Chicagoans find stability after encounters with the criminal justice system.   

As many of my Amate friends have uncovered, the people that we all serve each have their own stories and merit their own responses. Often, the natural North House living room conversations refocus this to me. In many other ways, the community enriches my outside engagement. Their friendship makes this service year more substantial – and fun. 

Beyond the Midwest and the legal service, the community life has come to be one of my favorite boons of this experience. We share daily life with authenticity and humor – with friendship and familiarity. To be direct, the intentional community, both of the “inter and intra” house variety, has touched me for the better.  And while autumn and the service both have profound worth in themselves, the imperfect and always-in-development community life provides much of the scaffolding and the energy that creates a significant part of the world that I’m grateful to participate in.    

To state obvious facts, it is not seamless.  Rather, the unassuming events of everyday life such as coffee at night, grocery shopping on Mondays, and scrambling to do the weekly chores on a Sunday afternoon ground the friendships, the trust, and the conversations that further inspire my maturing relationship with the world.

And somewhere in the fabric of the budding friendships and conversations, there dwells a sense of a shared experience, of growing trust, of growing acceptance, and of a comfortable silliness that only makes sense because it is silliness amongst friends.  

So, that is what I am thankful for right now – novel service experiences, Chicago having distinct seasons, growing friendships, and being able to share subtle laughter that marks enjoyed presence of truly appreciated company.

Happy Holidays, and thanks for reading.