Monday, October 31, 2016

It’s That Time of Year Again…

The following is a reflection prepared by Amate House Program & Recruitment Coordinator, Deirdre Kleist. Deirdre is an alumna of the Amate House program from 2012-2013. When she was a Volunteer, she lived in the McKinley Park House and worked at Cabrini Green Legal Aid. As a Recruitment Coordinator, Deirdre travels far and wide on behalf of Amate House to speak with young adults interested in dedicating a year of their life to service. 

In the city of Chicago all of the traditional signs of fall are upon us: there is a crisp chill in the morning air, the leaves are turning bold shades of red, orange and yellow, and smiling jack-o-lanterns dot the landscape of neighborhood stoops. Here at Amate House this can only mean one thing: recruiting season is upon us!

Throughout autumn I have the pleasure of traveling across the country, from Ohio to California and plenty of states in-between, to meet with young adults who are discerning a year of volunteer service. Most often, I get to represent Amate House at postgraduate service fairs held by colleges and universities to help expose students to the wide variety of opportunities available to them when they complete their degrees.

As I look forward to the final few weeks of recruiting, I want to offer a few pieces of advice to students discerning service, most especially those who will visit service and career fairs.

Don’t be afraid to approach a recruiter. It’s wonderful when schools are able to attract recruiters from dozens of different organizations, but sometimes walking into a room full of these eager representatives can feel overwhelming or intimidating. The good news is – all of us at the fair are there to help you. While each of us of course hopes you’ll choose the organization we represent, what we care about the most is that you find a program that suits your needs, and that will help you to grow and to serve in a way that is meaningful and impactful for you. I love having the opportunity to learn about different students’ interests, as well as the chance to share about my own experience of service and of working for Amate House, so please don’t be afraid to come and chat with me at a fair even if you’re not certain yet about applying to our program!

Ask all the questions you’d like. The whole point of speaking with a recruiter is to learn more about the program he or she represents. I welcome any questions, from the basics about logistics such as the size of the program or the types of site placement opportunities to the subjective and thought-provoking inquiries (my recent favorite was: what do you think is the hardest thing about living in intentional community?). I want to be as helpful and informative as possible, and it helps me if I know what you are most curious or concerned about. Don’t be shy about gathering as much information as you need or want – it’s an important part of the discernment process!

Stay in touch. It’s natural to come up with new and different questions as you continue to discern a year of service and begin the application process. Don’t hesitate to reach out by phone or email to get more information – it helps me know that you are genuinely interested in the program, and allows you to make the most informed decisions possible.

As I look forward to my final rounds of recruiting this fall, I am eager to continue connecting with young adults in the exciting stage of considering the commitment to a year of volunteer service, and to prepare for the next great Amate House adventure: Application Season! (In fact, our application has already gone live and is available on our website. The priority deadline is January 15th!)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Understanding Resorative Justice in Chicago

The following is a reflection prepared by Maggie Lamb, a Volunteer living in the Little Village Community. After attending a four day training on peace circles, Maggie, along with her fellow Amate House Volunteers, spent a day at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation on the south side of Chicago learning about this important restorative justice tool. Maggie is serving at Lawndale Christian Legal Center this year in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

A few days ago, upon hearing about my experiences at Amate House and Lawndale Christian Legal Center, a college friend observed that I seemed to be learning so much here in Chicago. I hadn’t really thought about it before that moment, but my friend was completely correct. It seems that with each passing conversation, I learn something new. I could talk for hours about my new knowledge in a myriad of different areas but the most valuable new piece of knowledge I have developed is in understanding restorative justice.

I had never heard of restorative justice (RJ) before I began working at Lawndale Christian Legal Center. Given that I took two different classes titled “justice” in college, this was somewhat surprising. In the past few months, this has changed for two reasons. First, Lawndale Christian Legal Center, where I’m working this year, is an RJ Hub so restorative justice is a crucial component of its practice. In an attempt to understand the work that my colleagues are doing, I researched this area and was able to attend a four day Circle Keeper training (a crucial component of the practice of restorative justice). As I grappled with the questions that emerged, Amate House’s Fall In-Service arrived. We spent the day at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, another RJ Hub, speaking with Father Kelly about the meanings and implications of restorative justice.
Maggie and her fellow Peace Circle trainees learning about Restorative Justice.
In the simplest terms, restorative justice is an alternative to criminal justice that understands crime as a violation of a relationship rather than a violation of a law. The appropriate response, therefore, is not necessarily punitive. Rather, it seeks to repair the harm done to the victim and the community through facilitated encounters. In my courses on justice, we had pondered whether justice necessarily meant punishment for wrongdoing. As a Catholic, I find it both challenging and rewarding to explore that question through the lens of my own faith. Is a just God one that condemns or one that forgives? The Bible, frustratingly, offers examples of both kinds of justice. At the in-service with Fr. Kelly, we had a chance to explore these questions and contemplate what this might look like.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful and persuasive components of RJ is the Peace Circle. This exercise, adapted from a practice of indigenous tribes, is a type of facilitated encounter that can be used in conflict resolution. I spent four days being trained in how to lead such an encounter. In Peace Circles, victims, offenders, and the community can come together on a foundation of respect to engage in dialogue about the harm done. This leads to more just outcomes for offenders, who are asked to accept responsibility and repair the harm done rather than being punished without acknowledging culpability. It also provides more just outcomes for victims whose voice can be heard and whose story can be told. The criminal justice system is designed such that the needs of victims are not and should not be taken into consideration because the crime is against the state rather than the individual. In restorative justice, both victim and offender are able to take ownership of promise and articulate their own needs.

After studying as much as I could in the short time I had and completing Circle Keeper Training, I was filled with questions when I arrived at PBMR for our in-service that Monday. Learning the basics of restorative justice made me at once excited and confused. I could feel that this was a principle and theory that I wanted to practice and yet I still could not claim a total understanding. And to be perfectly honest, I still can’t. That day together, however, offered me something I didn’t anticipate. Father Kelly patiently answered all of my questions (even when I followed him into the kitchen during lunch). He showed us the way that restorative justice manifests with the youth at Precious Blood. But the most important thing that he did was give me the space to bring my questions to my community. By learning about restorative justice together, I was brought further into relationship with Amate House. I realized that a burden I was holding alone was now shared among 20 incredible friends. I don’t know that we have the tools to tackle the challenging questions of restorative justice. I do know, however, that on the days when I am particularly confused or frustrated, I have a community ready to listen and have my back. I am so grateful for our day at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation and I am eager to bring restorative justice into our home community!
Maggie and her housemate Caroline during Amate House's In-Service day at Precious Blood Ministries.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Amate House Welcomes New Volunteer

The following is a reflection prepared by Bryson Kemp, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Bryson reached out to Amate House after he learned that his plans with another organization to do service in Chicago had fallen through. He joined the McKinley Park Community mid-August shortly after Amate Volunteers had started at their Service Sites. Bryson has been able to keep his commitment to St. Margaret of Scotland School, where he had previously been planning to do his service.   Amate House Staff and Volunteers are very excited for him to be with us and wanted to take this opportunity to introduce him to the wider Amate House family.

As I was jostled through the doors of the train, I became frozen with fear the moment I instinctively patted my pockets and felt they were flat. I looked back into the Orange Line train car and saw my wallet lying on the seat I had just vacated.  The doors had already closed shut, and all I could do was tap on the window for a second before the train whisked away.  It was just two days after I had arrived in Chicago.  Several community members and I had hung out with some  former Amate House Volunteers, and were taking the "L" back home.  Just as the train was leaving, I saw a woman walk over to the seat and pick up my wallet.  I immediately told the others, booked it towards a Chicago Transit Authority stand, and explained my error to an employee.  She called the conductor and had him ask around in each of the cars to see if anyone found a wallet, but to no avail.  The employee then explained to me that the person must have already exited the train and unfortunately there was nothing she could do.  Meanwhile, my fellow Amate House Volunteers were waiting patiently near the “L” entrance.  Just as we were about to leave the station, my cell phone rang, and a woman says, “Are you Bryson Kemp?  I just found your wallet on the train.”  After thanking her profusely, she was instructed by the CTA employee to give it to the conductor of an oncoming train.  Ten minutes later I had my wallet back.  My community members were as happy as I was, and one of them said she had prayed to Saint Anthony, the Patron Saint of lost objects.  We then took an Uber home, and I was grateful that my community members offered support without chastising me for the incident.  I had learned two things that day—there are good people in Chicago, and I know that my community has my back.        

Since March of this year, I had been gearing up for a year of service in Chicago with another volunteer organization that had placed me at St. Margaret of Scotland School (SMOS).  Only a week before orientation was to begin, I was informed the Chicago house for that program was closing.  Amidst the panic and heartbreak, I began frantically calling and emailing dozens of year-of-service organizations, asking them if there was a chance I could join late.  The principal at SMOS, Mr. Powers, who was just as surprised as I was of the closure, suggested I contact Amate House.  And coincidentally, my sister's sister-in-law who lives in Chicago had volunteered there several years ago, and she also encouraged me to reach out to them.  It was late afternoon, just two hours after I had heard the news, and I was talking with Alison Archer, Amate House’s Program Director. And although the current Volunteers had been through orientation and had begun at their service sites already, Alison was willing to look into the possibility of me joining the program. It wasn't easy, but the Amate House Staff worked quickly to reach out to Mr. Powers, and the following week I was on my way to Chicago!  My hopes of teaching at St. Margaret of Scotland were restored because of the kindness of the Amate House Community and Staff, who conducted an expedited interview process and welcomed me. 
SMOS principal Kevin Powers poses with Bryson in the school office. 
St. Margaret's is a pre-k through 8th grade school on the south side of Chicago. I serve as their computer teacher, teacher’s assistant, and aftercare assistant.  It has been a month since I first started teaching at St. Margaret of Scotland, and every day I feel closer to the staff and students.  Throughout the first week I was stopped by students several times a day asking me how tall I am, with their heads craned upwards.  I have received questions like, “Are you 7 feet tall?  Can you count to 100?  Are you in high school? What type of blood do you have?”  Besides the time I hit the principal’s car during recess with an overthrown football and having the feeling that the school would contact my parents, I relish walking through the halls, tidying up my classroom, eating at the coveted teacher’s table at lunch, but most especially interacting with the students.  I have a passion for music, so I have been enjoying incorporating music into my job. At the end of each computer class, I play the harmonica, while the older kids gather around a desk and play their best drum beats with two pens as drumsticks. I play classical music (with mixed reviews) on a Bluetooth speaker during class time as the children work quietly. Soon I'll bring my guitar and add it to the harmonica. My grandmother has generously donated the funds needed to buy percussion instruments so that I can start an after school drum circle, which I am very excited about. I look forward to seeing what the students can do with an African drum in their hands.  Having the ability to share what I love about music with the students at SMOS and, perhaps, enriching their lives in a small way, has been a highlight of volunteering.
Bryson plays the harmonica at the end of one of his classes.
I have been welcomed with open arms by my fellow community members, and continue to thrive and grow closer to them.  I was pretty nervous joining a house of eleven people who had already gone through orientation, but I found it pretty easy to become one of them, due to an atmosphere of chillness and welcome.  At the end of this week I fly home for my sister’s wedding.  In some ways it feels like I left home a year ago—not a mere five weeks.  I am returning home a little wiser and a little more confident.  And more sure than ever that I ended up exactly where the Lord wants me.