Friday, May 26, 2017

Amate House at DePaul and Vincent & Louise House Farewell

The following is a reflection about the Vincent and Louise House (formerly Amate at DePaul) prepared by Michael Van Dorpe, a former resident and volunteer from the 2009-2010 school year. Michael now works at DePaul University in the Office of Mission and Values, and he shared this story at the Closing Mass and Reception for Amate at DePaul and the Vincent and Louise House on May 20, 2017. The Vincent and Louise House will close in June 2017 after 25 years of serving DePaul University and many other Chicago communities.

Residents and coordinator of the 2009-2010 Vincent and Louise
House pose for an argyle Christmas photo.
If I went back in time and randomly selected one program or organization to omit from my undergrad experience at DePaul, I think it’s likely that my life could have turned out almost the same as it has today. If I wasn’t in the Honors Program, I would have taken other general education courses and been just fine. I could have skipped being the liturgy coordinator of Sunday Night Mass, and I’d merely know less about how to coordinate the parts of Mass and plan a liturgy.

But, if in this hypothetical time traveling exercise, I took away living in the Vincent and Louise House (formerly Amate at DePaul), I couldn’t imagine who, what, or where I would be today. To illustrate this, I want to share three personal stories from my year in the House.

My first story is about the Living Wage Campaign. In late 2009 and early 2010, the food service workers on campus and Chartwells, the food service provider at DePaul, were renegotiating the workers’ union contract. Several members of our community worked with the workers and union to gather broader university support to provide a living wage for these wonderful people we saw every day on campus. At the time, employees were barely making $9/hour, and the living wage rate in Chicago was calculated at just over $14/hour. For a significant portion of the workers, this was their only income for their families.
Photo from the Living Wage Palooza hosted at the Vincent and Louise House.
This was my first real experience of living out the tenet of Social Justice. We walked through the dorms asking students to sign a petition, we held rallies in the parking lot next to the House, and we even had a few of our housemates sit in on the contract negotiations at times. When all was said and done, a new, fairer contract was signed that provided higher wages for Chartwells employees on campus.

My second story is a more somber one. We were unloading the week’s groceries on Sunday, November 1, 2009. I got a call from my housemate Pamela who was calling to tell me that the previous night Frankie Valencia had been shot and killed at a house party. I only spent quality time with Frankie once, on a VIA retreat three weeks earlier, but that was all I or anyone needed to know how special and incredible he was.

That afternoon on campus, University Ministry and other campus partners held an emergency meeting to talk about what had happened to Frankie and to explain what services would be offered to students on campus. They named the V&L House as a place for all students to be in community with one another as we tried to understand this incomprehensible tragedy. I don’t recall a time when we had so many people at the House for dinner. The House that night was a safe space for students to share stories about, grieve, process what happened to, and remember Frankie.

For my last story, I am going to single out my wife, Jillian. She also lived in the V&L House in 2009-2010. Towards the end of fall quarter, she asked me to attend her cousin’s wedding as her plus one. Romance was in the air…

Fast forward two months, and we were on the winter retreat having a three hour long conversation about why we couldn’t date while living in community. Fast forward one week, and we were on the first floor solving a crossword puzzle one minute, holding hands the next.

For most people, community living ended after one year, but here I am eight years later still living in community. When Jillian and I cook dinner, we struggle to cook for less than 20 people at a time. The bathrooms only ever get cleaned when someone’s parents are coming over. And, somehow, I am still doing the same chore I had while living in the House -- taking out the first floor recycling.

The thread that ties these stories together is community. One intense yearlong experience forever changed who I am, and for me that is was made this experience stand out above the rest of my undergraduate journey. The House was many things to many people, but at its roots, it was a community.

It was a place for people to come together and build intimate relationships, albeit most probably don’t end up marrying their housemates. It was a place for groups of people to reflect and find meaning, just like we did after Frankie’s death. It was a place to organize and take action together, as we did in the Living Wage Campaign.

When we first moved into the V&L House, Pauline, our program coordinator, had left us a pan of brownies with a note on it which reads “This is just the beginning of home cooked goodness in this House! Welcome Home!” This same post-it note has been taped onto every fridge in every apartment I’ve lived in since then. Jillian and I keep it as a reminder of where we have come from and what is yet to come.

Amate DePaul or the Vincent and Louise House as we’ve known it is closing this June. In spite of that, we carry the spirit of the House with us wherever we go. In whatever new iteration the House takes in the future, I hope it fosters community in the unique way that it always has.

Here’s to the twenty five years behind us, and to twenty five more years of home cooked goodness.
The "old" Amate at DePaul/Vincent and Louise House was lost in a fire in 2005-2006. Pictured left is the rebuilt "old" house that was lived from 06-07 through 09-10. Pictured right is the "new" house that was lived in from 10-11 through 16-17.