Thursday, November 24, 2016

Amate House Celebrates Thanksgiving

The following is a reflection by Amate House alumnus and current Junior Board Member, Matthew Schultz. Matt was a Volunteer in the 2013-2014 Volunteer year. He lived at the McKinley Park House and served at One Million Degrees. He is currently working at DePaul University as a Resident Director. Matt shares a reflection about Amate House Thanksgiving, an event held every fall as an opportunity for the larger Amate Family to gather together.

A few weeks ago I attended an event that has quickly developed into a staple tradition of my fall each year, the annual Amate House Turkey Bowl and Thanksgiving meal. If you’re reading this then chances are you know well the excitement, delights, and many aromas of this day as you’ve gathered with fellow alumni, family, staff, and friends of the Amate House program.

You probably can recall your volunteer year: lacing up your cleats, layering your clothing, and making your way to McKinley Park with your fellow Amate House peers, and later leaving the field wondering how in the world it would have ever been possible to beat what basically amounts to an all-star team of alumni who’ve gathered from across the city to compete.

You may also recall perhaps being just a little distracted during the homily at Our Lady of Good Counsel as the church began to fill with the scent of a wonderful home-cooked Thanksgiving feast only several feet below the pews in the church hall. Oh, the memories…

Amate House Alumni and current Volunteers gathered on November 5th for the annual Amate House Turkey Bowl.
It’s really only been three years since my very first tastes of this holiday classic as a Volunteer, and yet so much has happened in that seemingly short span of time since I resided in South House with my eleven other community members. I’ve moved to and from a different state, earned a master’s degree, and landed a job here in Chicago. My Amate House Service Site has nearly doubled their program and staff size to now serve over 440 community college students and many of my fellow Volunteers have since moved all over the country and beyond to continue to serve, pursue graduate school, or even start their young lives together in marriage (oh, Amate love). Our nation and world have borne witness to much in three years, from shocking tragedies to major civilian led movements opposing social injustices that have transformed the national discourse. Even our beloved Amate House has experienced change, changes that become ever apparent during such a time of gathering and celebration of our community.

Amate House Junior Board hosted this year's Amate Thanksgiving.
Thanks John, Roberto, Mackensey, Tara, Shannon, Kevin, Sasha, Tim, Matt and Claire!
In fact, much about Amate Thanksgiving this year was, well… different. For starters the near 70-degree weather sort of threw me off a bit as I opted to leave my sweatshirt and beanie in the car, and our flag football match quickly turned into a mixed affair featuring teams of current Volunteers and Alumni together. This year’s mass was a prayer service giving thanks to the dedication of those who’s service to the Amate House program have helped shape countless lives. And that home-cooked thanksgiving feast filling the church with delicious scents was made possible this year by not one, but many very charitable families and friends coming together to celebrate in a new way. Even as Amate House has welcomed new Staff, new Volunteers, new Service Sites, new Board Members, and even a new Executive Director; amidst all the change, this program’s spirit, it’s very soul, has shown brighter than ever. As the years pass and kitchens are remodeled, new Amate bricks are dedicated, and the halls are filled with new picture frames attempting to capture all the ups and downs of a love-filled year of service in community, one thing will remain constant; unwavering love exists in this community’s past, present, and most assuredly its future. So next year, at this timeless Amate House tradition, when its 45 degrees and the current Volunteers are trouncing the alumni 42-0, and my old housemates and newly befriended Alumni are eating whatever roast beast may be present, I’ll pause and smile knowing that this is exactly how God intended it to be.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Amate House Welcomes New Executive Director

The following is a reflection prepared by Amate House’s new Executive Director, Jeannie Balanda. Jeannie joined the staff as of November first and has been enjoying getting to know the Volunteers and the program. She shares her story and what brought her to Amate House.

Hello Amate friends! My name is Jeannie Balanda and I am very pleased to be the new Executive Director of Amate House. My whole life has been in preparation for this challenge. I was born and raised in Chicago and my entire career has been dedicated to working with young people. I’ve developed education programs for youth in remote rural villages in Guatemala, worked to protect youth victims of domestic violence in Chicago and created many programs to prepare Latino students for a college education. My experience directing Chicago nonprofit organizations has led me to Amate House and I look forward to leading this fine organization into the future.

I was born on the southwest side of Chicago not far from McKinley Park. I’m the oldest of three children and was educated in parochial schools until I went to college. I received a BS in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Directly after graduating college, I served in the US Peace Corps in Guatemala where I coordinated youth development programs on the southern coast region.

I married a Guatemalan national while in the Peace Corps and we returned to the US where I began working with Latino youth who were victims of domestic violence. I ran support groups, provided individual counseling and advocated for them in the court system. It was rewarding but emotionally difficult work. My work with domestic violence victims taught me the importance of approaching one’s work with compassion and humility and this is something I’ve carried with me throughout my career.
Jeannie and her husband, Edwin.
In the mid-1990s I began working in education at East Village Youth Program (EVYP), specifically with low-income under-served minority youth to prepare them for a college education. These were very happy years working on behalf of youth to make sure they had a place in higher education. Many of the students I worked with went on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers and business people. It was at EVYP that I first became an executive director and learned what an enormous responsibility it is to be at the helm of an organization.

While I was directing at EVYP, I was working on my masters’ degrees. I have a master’s in nonprofit administration and an MBA from North Park University in Chicago. After 16 wonderful years at EVYP, I decided it was time to take on a new challenge where I could fuse my skills as a nonprofit professional with my business skills. Lucky for me, I found the perfect fit. I began working for MayaWorks, a nonprofit, fair trade social enterprise that works with indigenous women in Guatemala to support them as they lift themselves out of poverty. MayaWorks sells the artisan’s handicrafts in the US through various distribution channels. The organization also funds microcredit loans and provides educational opportunities for the daughters of artisans. I’m still involved with MayaWorks as a volunteer and will always fondly hold this organization in my heart.

While at MayaWorks, I hired Stacey Freeh, an Amate House alumna who had worked in marketing at Women Craft while she was a Volunteer. She always spoke fondly of her time at Amate House and the formation she received. Stacey is, hands-down, one of the most outstanding people I have ever met, so when the directorship at Amate House was announced, I just knew I wanted to be a part of this organization. I said to myself, “If the Volunteers are of half the caliber of Stacey, then they are incredible individuals and I want to be a part of the change they are creating in Chicago.” So YOU are what attracted me to Amate House and I’m so grateful the Board of Directors and the Archdiocese of Chicago thought I would be a good fit.

I have a beautiful blended family. I have two sons: Sam, 18 and John, 22. They are both musicians and soccer players so there has always been a lot of noise in my home and a lot of broken windows! I also have three stepchildren in their 30s. They have blessed us with four wonderful grandchildren ranging in ages from 6 weeks to 10 years old. I can’t forget to mention my four-legged love, Grizzly. He’s a Chocolate Lab and Chesapeake Bay retriever mix. He’s the best dog ever when he isn’t attacking small dogs and playfully lunging at children.When I’m not busy working or caring for my family, I love to cook and read. I’m also a news junkie -- don’t even get me started about the coverage of the presidential campaign!

I’m so happy to be at Amate House and I look forward to meeting you soon.

Peace, Jeannie