Get to know: Rachel

Name: Rachel Nartker

Hometown: West Milton, OH

SVDP Position: Conferences support team and Social Services

My normal day usually consists of reviewing and analyzing CAF (Conference Assistance Fund) applications. My main role is to look over the applications and get them ready for approval. I do this by keeping in close contact with Vincentians. I also spend part of my days doing direct service in the social services department.

Fun Facts

Her favorite food is corn on the cob.

She wants to travel to Greece and Ireland.

Unique talents include making balloon animals and jumping rope on a pogo stick.

What’s been the most challenging part of VVC so far? What has surprised you the most?

The most challenging thing has been learning to cope with not being able to help everyone. The most surprising part is how easy it’s been to live with 9 strangers.


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A Bank Street Christmas

I have always heard people say that none of the material aspects of the Christmas season truly matter and that it is the people you are surrounded by who make it feel like Christmas. I have always agreed with the sentiment of that statement, but it has never truly hit home for me like it has this season. Experiencing Christmas in a new state, with people who were strangers to me only a few months ago, on a $100 per month stipend has been interesting to say the least. Being from Minnesota, I am used to snow and cold around Christmas. Here in Cincinnati, I have experienced a 65-degree December day and only a few truly chilly mornings. As silly as it sounds, the lack of winter weather was really putting a damper on my Christmas spirit for a while there. It just didn’t feel right to me to be singing “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” and putting up a Christmas tree when you don’t even have to wear a jacket outside. Being so far from home, I have missed many of my family’s Christmas traditions. For example, I didn’t get to go to a single Christmas craft show, something I have done every year with my mom since I can remember. The other day I made peanut clusters, a treat that my family always eats at Christmas, without any of my family members, and it felt odd, to say the least.

Despite missing my family and our Christmas traditions, I am actually having a great, albeit “alternative,” Christmas. While the weather is not what I am used to, there is something to be said for being able to walk around and look at Christmas lights and not be completely numb from the cold. These people who were strangers to me a few months ago are now some of my closest friends, and even though we do not have lots of extra money to spend on gifts and holiday treats, it has been a blast finding new ways to share the joys of the season. The regular pantry volunteers I work with week in and week out have become like another set of grandparents to me (who doesn’t want twenty new grandparents?!) and have made sure that I feel loved and appreciated during the Christmas season. Working alongside them every week has helped me to find the joy in serving others and has also helped me to remember why I am here. I will always cherish the memories of singing along to Christmas music in the white van, making cookies using the few ingredients we have in the VVC house, laughing with Bob Kamp over the crazy jobs we have had to do this holiday season, and watching cheesy Christmas movies with my roommates. Even though this Christmas season has been different from all those before it, it is one that I will always cherish!


Anna Krueger is a proud native of the “Bold North,” calling Minnesota home. At SVDP, Anna can be found in the food pantry alongside the many fantastic volunteers she has the privilege of working with on a daily basis. When she isn’t working, Anna enjoys reading, petting every cat she encounters in the neighborhood, and spending time outdoors.

Solidarity as a VVC

“Solidarity is a mutual relationship characterized by love, respect, willingness to learn, at least some of the same living conditions, sustained contact over time and a personal commitment to the well-being and liberation of both parties.”

That is how I defined solidarity on my application for VVC. While that definition remains valid, it is one thing to define solidarity and something else to attempt to live it. It is the kind of thing that loses all meaning in abstraction, but we know it when we see it. The closest experience I had with solidarity before VVC was the semester I spent with seven other Xavier students in the working-class Barrio La Luz in Managua, Nicaragua. We each lived with a Nicaraguan family, and mine happened to be one of the humblest.

This was my first experience with the poor. Over the 12 weeks I spent in Nicaragua, I formed relationships with the people I met, especially my host family. I ate meals with my host grand-mother and host-aunt. I brought my host-mother chocolate on Women’s Day and a necklace I from my trip to the Atlantic Coast. I played cards and joked with my host-brother and his wife. I teased my younger host-sister. I watched TV with them all in the evenings. Three months is short, but enough time to form a relationship. Solidarity cannot happen without that connection.

In spite of the challenges and our very different backgrounds, we managed to find a way to live together in peace. I still cherish the relationships I made there and I stay in touch with my host family and other friends in Nicaragua. When it was time to return to the United States, I didn’t want to leave. I would say the same happened with all of my companions from Xavier: we all fell in love with Nicaragua and its people.  

Since I have returned, I continue to carry my experience in Nicaragua with me as I continue to study Latin America and its peoples. I realized that even though I had some grasp of poverty in Nicaragua in 2017, I did not know much at all about the lives of poor people, particularly Latinos and immigrants. in the United States. That was one of the reasons I applied to be a bilingual advocate at SVDP as the organization adjusts to an increased demand for services in Spanish. I have everything to learn.

One of the blessings of my experience as a VVC has been the opportunity to have closer contact with the growing Hispanic/Latino community in the Cincinnati area. Through my work in the pharmacy and social services, and especially through my collaboration with the San Carlos conference, I have begun to form connections with that community. At SVDP, I see mostly Guatemalans, Honduras and some Mexicans. I consider myself privileged to be able to accompany these people –as well as all our neighbors—in their struggles and trials.

I was thankful to be able to share that experience with some of the other VVCs -Betka, Herman and Alleya – as we raised funds for San Carlos conference selling tamales after mass. Gioconda Belli, a famous Nicaraguan poet, once wrote that “solidarity is the tenderness of peoples.” If two Americans, a Ugandan and a Slovak can join themselves to two Guatemalans, three Mexicans and two Peruvians to support a marginalized community, that is a positive sign of solidarity. 

I think the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s model – conferences and home visits – is uniquely suited to creating solidarity with the poor. It discourages paternalism and requires Vincentians to listen to our neighbors and pursue systemic change as much as possible. Although it is technically above and beyond the scope of my duties, recently I have helped out in two home visits to Spanish-speaking neighbors by conferences that do not have bilingual capabilities. On one occasion I went in person and on another I interpreted through FaceTime. It was humbling and gratifying to be able to facilitate an encounter between people from different cultures and backgrounds. On both occasions we were able to provide assistance, though the reality is that sometimes it is impossible. In that case we can only offer hope and support.  

In the end, we are all neighbors. Solidarity requires that connection, that humility, that spirit of true generosity, that positive and continual commitment. All people -regardless of their faith – have a positive moral responsibility to commit themselves to the liberation and well-being of all.


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Phil Dunn is from Walton, KY but has spent his adult years between Cincinnati and Northern KY. He enjoys eating food, drinking coffee or beer, speaking Spanish, singing and dancing, learning about Central America, and doing his job. There are no typical days for Phil. You can find him interviewing patients for certification or interpreting Comprehensive Medication Reviews in the pharmacy, helping the social services area with walk-ins, translating documents to Spanish, researching resources for San Carlos conference or helping out with holiday programs.

Falling into Something New

Just as the leaves fall, indicating a new season, we often find ourselves falling into new things. Do you embrace that something new? Or are you like a cartoon character who tries to staple the leaves back on branches because you are not ready to embrace your new season? For me, that something new is Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati. And I chose to embrace it.     

Most people are not ready for the transitions that come with new seasons. In the fall, there is the uncertainty of when the leaves will fall (because you cannot trust the weather nowadays). And when they do fall, time needs to be set to rake them. Let’s not forget buying dresses for the fall dance and purchasing costumes for Halloween. OH SNAP! What about Thanksgiving? The turkey needs to be bought and cooked, as well as the sides. Invites need to be sent out. And the painful part – the coldness begins to seep in. This is how the first month of VVC has felt for me. Imagine living with nine other strangers from abroad and nationally. Visualize nine different personalities under one roof. Nine various ideas, thoughts, opinions. Going in, I thought to myself, “HOW IN THE WORLD AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THIS?! How do I balance living in intentional community while allowing time for myself?” And although I went to school across the bridge at Northern Kentucky University, Cincinnati is foreign to me. Cincinnati possess a culture of its own and getting acquainted with it has proven to be challenging. Not to mention having my first professional job in Social Services as a Client Advocate was distressing. Learning what I am assigned to do was not easy and I was scared to fail. But, we must not forget about the beauty and fun that comes with shifting into the fall season as well.

Ladies   giphy  we can FINALLY wear boots, leggings, oversized sweatshirts, sweaters, and scarves. The leaves change to wondrous colors; we drink hot apple cider; pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and apple picking come to life. Lovely things have also taken place in my first month as a VVC. I have become enlightened in my role as a Client Advocate. I am thankful for my department and the patience, support, and guidance they have given me, as well as the constant encouragement when I believe I am failing. We are all grateful for the open arms we have received from those that work and volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul. I have begun to familiarize myself with the culture of Cincinnati. (Shout out to everyone who has recommended exciting things we can do in town.) And the idea of residing with nine FRIENDS has been an awe-inspiring experience thus far.

Falling into new experiences can be crazy, but I dare you to embrace it. Embrace the delightful aspects in addition to the challenges. Let the uncertainty of new seasons guide you. You can surprise yourself with what you are able to grasp.


chrissyChristiana Tabugbo hails from Louisville, Kentucky but keeps her Nigerian pride close to heart. She loves all things floral, reading, and fashion. You’ll find her singing gospel tunes, jamming out to Little Mix, and dancing in the kitchen. Christiana also has a feisty side, and will sass you to the ends of the earth as her alter ego, Chrissy T. She can be found posted up in the social services department at SVPD.

Meet the 2018-2019 Vincentian Volunteers!

We are so excited to welcome 10 new Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati! Learn more about this year’s cohort in their bios below!

Alleya Harris is from Gilchrist, Oregon, and attended Northwest Christian University where she earned a degree in Exercise Science. Alleya has done service both in her hometown, through a local food bank and a nursing home, as well as in Mexico and Colombia. Alleya will be working part-time with the Ozanam Center for Service Learning as well as coordinating the Getting Ahead program.

“Everything I have experienced has done much to help me get past the abstraction I believe is common to people like me who have always had enough, the one that keeps us from seeing people “in poverty” as something other than our friends and family.”

Anna Krueger hails from Stillwater, Minnesota, and earned her degree in Agricultural Education with minors in Animal Science, Dairy Science, and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. During her time in college, Anna spent time student teaching children from incredibly diverse backgrounds. She is also highly involved in agricultural organizations such as 4-H. Anna will be working in the Choice Food Pantry during her time with VVC.

“I see God in the little things I encounter every day. From the birds chirping in the trees welcoming spring to the sound of a child’s carefree laugh, I can see God’s presence everywhere if I take the time to look. As I have gotten older and my faith has matured, I would like to think that I have gotten better at ‘looking’.”

Alžbeta Limáneková is originally from Hniezdne, Slovakia. She earned her Master’s degree in Education with a concentration in French language, literature, and history from Blaise Pascal University in Clermont Ferrand, France and lived and studied in an intentional community in France. She has done volunteer work teaching Slovak children and food distribution for people experiencing homelessness in Boston, MA. She will be serving with the Social Services team.

“I came to the conclusion that I want Him to do His own will in my life, rather than mine. Every day, I learn to trust Him, to reject fear and to believe in His love and goodness. I know that He is working in my favor.”

Christiana Tabugbo is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, but has spent the last four years at Northern Kentucky University where she earned a degree in Human Services and Addictions. Christiana has been on a service trip to Zimbabwe and has also interned with her church community. She will be using her gifts in the Social Services department.

“When God created us, He didn’t intend for us to walk this life alone, so He gave us the gift of community. As we grow in relationships with others, we are growing in our relationship with Him.”

Herman Muguluma comes to VVC from Lugazi, Uganda. Herman is currently a self-employed computer technician, and has also volunteered for many organizations both in Uganda and abroad in projects related to education, healthy living, and social services. During his time with VVC, Herman will be working at the front desk at St. Vincent de Paul as well as assisting with data management for the organization.

“I love to be inspired by the people in community because communities tend to have people from different backgrounds and every person seem to have their own story of life and faith, a community setting also gives me a sense of security, family, friendship and most importantly the aspect of unity in the community motivates me, knowing that I am not on my own.”

Jordan Battaglia hails from Chelsea, MI and has already been involved in the Vincentian family through her time at DePaul University, a Vincentian university, where she earned her degree in English. While at DePaul, Jordan was involved with campus ministry, and participated in multiple service immersion trips. As a VVC, Jordan will be working with the Community Relations department and assisting our neighbors in need.

“An important part of living simply, to me, is living a life of transparency and authenticity. To be open about where you are, and what you are feeling and going through. This creates simplicity because there are no lies or barriers between you and the people around you.”

Phillip Dunn comes to VVC from Walton, Kentucky. He graduated from Xavier University with a degree in Spanish and a minor in Latin American studies. His studies led him to Managua, Nicaragua, where he studied for a semester as part of the Nicaragua Solidarity Semester. In Nicaragua, he lived in community with a local family and engaged in service with the community. During VVC, Phillip will be using his gifts to work as a Client Advocate for the Latino community.

“Solidarity is a mutual relationship characterized by love, respect, willingness to learn, at least some of the same living conditions, sustained contact over time and a personal commitment to the well-being and liberation of both parties”.

Rachel Nartker is originally from Englewood, Ohio. She attended the University of Dayton, earning her degree in Religious Studies with minors in Psychology and Film Studies. While at UD, Rachel worked leading student retreats and went on an immersion experience trip in Guatemala. Rachel will be using her gifts as the Conference Support Associate, assisting Cincinnati’s over 900 parish-based volunteers to serve their own neighbors in need.

 “I realized how much we, as humans, are so much alike, even when we have totally different backgrounds and life experiences.”

Taylor Welch is from Cleveland, OH, and graduated from Xavier University with a degree in Athletic Training. While attending XU, Taylor was involved in the Alternative Breaks program, where she led a trip focusing on prison injustice and has also engaged with issues of gentrification in Cincinnati. Taylor will be using her gifts in the Ozanam Center for Service Learning as well as assisting our re-entry program.

“Living in direct community with others is how we grow to understand the world around us. Developing a community takes intentional effort and motivation – it is everyone’s responsibility to help one another grow and I think that is why engaging and being present in communal moments are of benefit to everyone in that community.”

Tommy Emmet is originally from Grapevine, TX, and comes to VVC after completing his degree in Neuroscience and Behavior and minor in International Development Studies from the University of Notre Dame. Tommy has shadowed physicians in Ghana, West Africa, organized service projects as a Resident Assistant, and planned medical-related service opportunities. Tommy will use his gifts as a Patient Advocate in the Charitable Pharmacy.

“I experience God through my relationships with other people. I experience Him when someone performs an uncommon and undeserving act of kindness toward me, or even just in the presence of my friends and family. I know that the love I feel from them comes from God, and try my best to make His presence known to them as well.”

 

A Letter to My Past Self

By: Carmen López Agredano

Dear Carmen from the past:

You made it. It’s unreal that I’m writing you this letter at the end of one of the most incredible years that you have lived.

It’s interesting to take a look back and see how a year can transform you. You will be full of questions, wondering if it was a good decision: being far, far from home ,in another country, using another language, another culture… the only reference that you have are movies or tv shows, which are far from reality.

It is a good thing that you are coming a little bit early, you will need to adjust and adjustments take time. But everyone here is so nice that you will feel at home in no time.

The moment you will meet with your community… it’s going to be awkward, but these people are going to be your support, family, friends… and at first it’s going to be overwhelming (specially for an introvert like you)  There is so much diversity… such a beautiful diversity that all the awkwardness will go away.

Your community is going to be your rock, you will laugh and cry with them, you will share victories and defeats, you will argue about the dishes in the sink, you will discover new movies, new music, new food, you will grow with them, you will be vulnerable with them, and them with you. It’s such a precious thing when people decide to live intentionally that it’s so complicated to put that in words, but you will feel so happy and complete saying yes.

Work will transform you as well. One of the questions that are running in your head is if this year will help with my professional career, the answer is very simple: YES.

It might not be very clear at the beginning but as the days go, you will acquire competencies that will help you in your professional career: how to treat others, how to send a proper email, answer the phone, work in a team, work under pressure and in a deadline, etc. Facing new challenges each day will form and prepare you.

You are such a blessed person for being able to work in such an enriched environment, that you will love your job more and more.

Of course, you will face difficulties, it’s a new scenario and you sometimes need to take baby steps, but all baby steps move forward so with your community, the help of your supervisor and Maura… anything is possible.

I’m going to finish this letter with one of the things that will make all of your doubts go away: the people that you will encounter.

Because of your position, you will encounter neighbors, Conferences members… they will give you hope, will teach you very valuable lessons, and will help you to grow in faith… Your neighbor will not look like in the tv shows, and the bus most of the time coming late will stress you out, but the people that you will encounter in these spaces are so rich that you will feel like you won the lottery.

 

I’m very proud of you, you said yes, and these days, saying yes to give yourself for others is not very trendy. As typical as it might sound: you will receive much more than what you give.

You will not regret this, so, live this year, get out of your comfort zone and open your eyes, ears, and heart for all the things that are going to come.

 

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Carmen López Agredano is originally from Algeciras, Spain. Her generosity to her VVC community is unparalleled, and her excitement and joie de vivre is infectious. Carmen used her warmth and organizational skills to assist the St. Vincent de Paul parish-based conferences. For fun, Carmen enjoys all things artsy, going on adventures, watching the movie Trolls, and trying to convince her VVC community that cats are acceptable creatures.

Everything Looks Better in Hindsight

By: David Devlin

 

Reflecting on this year brought a lot to mind including the people I met, the experiences I had, and the work I got to do. But I think one of the biggest things I’ve realized is my change in feelings about how I felt about this year of service. To be honest, as I was preparing for VVC last July and August I remember feelings of apathy and failure. I was doing this because nothing else had worked out for me and this was plan “z”. After everything that this year was I’m glad plans ”a” through “y” had fallen through.

Because of this year I was able to live and journey with seven incredible young adults whose lives will continue to inspire me even as we depart and go our separate ways. I’ve found joy in community in growing closer to others as well as growing with others. Having others around that are walking a similar path was very beneficial and encouraging. Because of this year I was able to I was able to encounter so many people from so many walks of life and learn something from all of them. After meeting more and more people I began to see how we share so many things in common and those commonalities outweigh the differences. I’ve come to appreciate genuine interactions with others, something I think this world is lacking due to our constant presence to screens. I have realized that small acts can add up to big things; for example, composting to keep food waste out of the landfill, using cloth napkins and using a reusable water bottle.  But I think of the things I’ve come to learn the most important this is a call to service. I think we are all called to live a life for others so that we all might be able to live in a just and equitable society.

I am incredibly blessed for these past 11 months and for the people I have met along the way. My experiences will be unpacked and explored for the rest of my life but I’ve come out of this year a better version of myself and for that I am truly grateful.

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David Devlin is from western Pennsylvania, and he graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in Chemical Engineering (go Flyers!). David currently works in the Choice Food Pantry at St. Vincent de Paul. When not driving to pick up some donated corn or managing volunteers in the pantry, you can find David playing various string instruments, exploring nature, or sharing his love of the relationship between faith and science.

Gratitude, Growth, Go!

By: Mary Ellen Ostrowski

Writing this blog post has been on my to-do list for weeks now, but I don’t know how I can adequately express what these past two years have meant to me. But those who know me well know I like to organize my thoughts using lists, so here are my three words to describe my VVC experience.

Gratitude

I am incredibly thankful for the people I was able to meet through my time with VVC. Both within my VVC community and in the greater St. Vincent de Paul community, I was able to find a second home. As a non-native of Cincinnati, it took me a while to learn how to pronounce “goetta” (and learn what it is), how the high school someone went to can be an important fact even decades after graduation, how you really shouldn’t criticize Skyline (even though I still don’t really get it), and how Cincinnati’s quirky charm can sneak up on someone (me!) and make it really hard to leave.  But I did eventually learn these things, and so much more. I will be forever thankful for the time I spent here and for the people I had the privilege of meeting.

Growth

I don’t know if there has ever been a two year period of my life where I was (gently) pushed to grow so profoundly in all areas of my life. Professionally, I feel more confident to take on whatever comes my way. I did things and met people I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to do without VVC. Personally, I grew in interpersonal skills, and in knowing myself. Spiritually, I was challenged to live my faith in a new way, and to grow in understanding of those who expressed their faiths differently than I do. I am sure years from now I will still find myself contemplating on how VVC has helped form me into the person I am today.

Go!

VVC really gave me courage. Going into my first year with VVC, I thought saying ‘yes’ to a year in a different state living with total strangers was the real act of courage. But I am realizing now how much courage it took throughout the year, and how much bolder I am because of it. I said ‘yes’ to a second year in a totally new and unfamiliar field, and to live with even more strangers! I was challenged to have difficult conversations, to make small steps to change the way I was living, and to open my heart more deeply to those around me. While I was not perfect at any of these things, I can see how the experiences I had have given me the confidence to leave this place with confidence and courage; to say yes and to go!

MEOKnown for her sharp intellect and quick wit, Mary Ellen Ostrowski (or MEllen, as most folks know her) is a 2-time-VVC champion! This past year she served as VVC Fellow, working on recruitment, publicity, and group reflections. Originally from Eau Claire, WI, Mary Ellen has a Biology degree from Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. MEllen’s deep connection to her faith is evident in the way she goes above and beyond to care for others in whatever way they need. She is able to strike a difficult balance between being incredibly hard-working and at the same time enjoying life’s small pleasures and indulging her goofy sense of humor! When she is not herding her fellow VVCs like cats, she can be found curled up with a good book, adventuring in the park, making buffalo chicken dip, and quoting “Parks and Recreation” like it’s no one’s business!

 

Reflections on my VVC Year

By: Phyllis Kyei Mensah

This year has been a great adventure and a journey of self discovery. Although I came into this program with the intention to learn and be educated about issues of social justice, what I have learned this year has been above my expectations. To a large extent, I was ignorant of the many problems that my neighbors face on a day to day basis. However, this program gave me a unique opportunity to interact with, learn from and listen to them share their experiences, hopes and aspirations for their future and that of their future generations.

I have been energized by the faith, hope and resilience that our neighbors exude despite their circumstances and these have inspired in me the willingness and eagerness to learn more and to be an advocate for people who are unjustly treated everywhere I find myself in the future.

Personally, this year has also given me the opportunity to retreat, reflect and re-evaluate my life, my values, strengths, and my aspirations for the future. It is a precious moment and opportunity that is not always available to everyone and I am happy and blessed to have experienced it.

How can I also forget the wonderful people I have met along this journey? The mentors, community members, conference members, staff and other connections that I have made this year. Everybody I have met in the past year has been extremely wonderful and welcoming to us and I will always treasure all the meaningful, random and even ‘silly’ conversations I have had with all these amazing people.

As I begin my research career in the fall of 2018 at Miami University, some of these conversations and experiences have already begun to shape and define my research interests, objectives and goals, as well as my general perspective of life as a whole.

It has been a great learning and humbling process for me, and I am extremely happy to have said yes to a year of service with the VVC program.

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Phyllis Kyei Mensah is originally from Ghana, and she has studied Politcal Science in both the UK and at Miami University. Phyllis used her gifts this past year both in the Community Relations department and in the Social Services department at the Winton Terrance Outreach Center. In community, Phyllis was a constant source of humor and sass. One day, Phyllis hopes to be the president of the world.

What if God is One of Us?

By: Ana Davila

Sometimes when I am on a run, on the bus, walking home, laying in bed, and so forth, I wonder to myself, “Where is God in this moment?” Is He in the person sitting across from me? The wind blowing through a tree? The ants invading the sidewalk crack?…Maybe all the above? Regardless, God has shown himself to be with me in everything done this year with VVC and in a lot of ways that really surprised me because coming to Cincinnati was, for me, a culture shock. Prior to VVC I had never lived in a city, never been apart from family, never had to rely on the bus as my main means of transportation, and I wasn’t used to hearing people and cars at every hour of the day. Therefore, to sum it all up, the expression “fish out of water” comes to mind when I reflect on my feelings during the first few months of this year of service. I struggled a lot with finding my place here. Seeing and feeling Christ so deeply through my fellow VVC’s, St. Vincent de Paul staff, and West End communities helped to bridge that gap for me.

I have always been enchanted by the question, “What if God is one of us?”. As a Vincentian, I love to deepen my spirituality through pondering where I saw Christ that day. During this year of service with the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati, I have met Christ countless times and in various ways; convincing me that God is indeed in all of us.

For me, God was in my community and He was disguised as Jack, Mary Ellen, Phyllis, Sarah, David, Carmen, and Preeya. I knew He was in them because I could feel His presence when the tough conversations were shared and when the conversations that had me laughing so hard I’d nearly fall out of my chair were shared. Jack resembled God through his humor, Mary Ellen through her leadership, Carmen through her selflessness, David through his patience, Preeya through her protectiveness, Sarah through her determination, and Phyllis through her dependability. I love and understand God deeper since sharing life with these seven people and I am a better, more authentic version of myself because I had them, specifically, to share the mission and time of VVC with.

The greater Cincinnati and West End community has also been a place where I’ve unfailingly met Christ. Mother Teresa once said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest to you.”. I feel this quote to be true in two different ways in the West End: in how I perceive being alongside my neighbors, and in how they have been alongside me. To accept that you cannot help everyone is a heavy cross to carry. My neighbors and this quote have made it less of a burden by carrying that cross with me. My friends in Cincinnati who would come into St. Vincent de Paul exuded love and pain in a way that exemplified Jesus beautifully. Their sacrifice of  self for others, unconditional love for their neighbors, prayers with/for me, laughter, singing, and dancing shared, their hard working examples, and their praise for God above all else opened my heart and mind to the Vincentian mission in a new light. Too, they radiated the Lord to me and because of how they treated me as their neighbor, I see God in them.

The parish I celebrate mass with is St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. There, I was introduced to a hymn called “God has smiled on me”. The words are short, but powerful. When I think about my year in Cincinnati, and all the people I met God in, I can’t help but conclude that God is one of us and that He has smiled on me.

 

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Ana Davila is originally from the Adirondack Mountain region of New York. She is passionate about the mountains, being a twin, and seeing Christ in others and being Christ to others, especially those with developmental disabilities. When not doing her social services work at St. Vincent de Paul, you can find Ana on a run, dancing like nobody’s watching, or sharing wacky stories about her childhood.