Why YOU Should VVC

Hi! I’m Rachel, a current VVC (for about two more weeks).

In this article, I’m hoping to convince all of you single people between the ages of 21 and 30 that this VVC program that I’ve been a part of for 11 months is the one thing missing from your life.

No pressure right?

I gave myself this challenge when I found out a few months ago that we didn’t have as many VVC’s signed up for this coming year as we had for this past year. I personally found that to be unacceptable since the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati is clearly the best year of service program out there! Well, apparently it has not been made clear enough, so I’m here to set it all straight and tell you exactly why the VVC program is so great.

I want to start by saying that a year of service was not in my original plan. I was convinced to look at doing a year a service by one of my friends. Then, after a mission trip to Guatemala, I realized that God’s plans always end up turning out way better than my own, so I decided to put off grad school and finding a real job, to give what might be God’s plan a real shot.

Don’t get me wrong – deciding to do a year of service wasn’t easy. It was kind of scary. The idea of moving to a new city that I wasn’t familiar with, into a house with 9 strangers I’d never met before from all across the globe, working a full time job at a non-profit I wasn’t familiar with, all while living on $100/month stipend… yeah not an easy decision. However, 11 months later, these scary challenges ended up being some of the things I’m most grateful for at the end of this year.

Cincy

The new city I knew nothing about. It’s only about an hour and a half from my family and home, yet soooo different. We live in one big house in the West End of Cincinnati. It’s next to Over the Rhine, but hardly any Cincinnatian knows what it is. We live a few blocks from where we all work at St. Vincent de Paul, and we live in the same neighborhood with many of the neighbors we serve on a daily basis. It’s helped me to feel truly connected to the community, whether it’s complaining about the city not keeping up with our sidewalks, leaves, and snow, or talking about our favorite local park or place to eat. It’s helped me make Cincinnati a home and feel connected to the neighbors I work with every day.

Community

Another aspect of this year that’s helped me feel at home is definitely the 9 crazy strangers I decided to live with! 10 people in one house, all from very different places and different experiences, was probably the thing I was most afraid of. However, as it turns out, people can come from very different backgrounds, with different gifts and talents to share, but can bond very easily with similar values and a common love for Christ and His people. (Jesus is definitely somewhere saying “Duh!”) I’m still amazed that we all get along so well and I’m even more amazed at how quickly and easily these 9 strangers accepted me as I am. I feel so incredibly blessed to have each and every person in our community. They’ve all taught me so much and we’ve had such fruitful reflections and conversations and incredibly hilarious memories that I will cherish forever. They have helped me to grow and love my neighbors, the world, and Christ better, while being there for me through some really challenging times. Basically, if you get a chance to live in a faith-based community, do it.

Work Experience

Next I’ll talk about the question I get asked daily: “So what do you do?” Well, we all work at the non-profit, St. Vincent de Paul, in different departments based on what we’re interested in. I work with our local parish-based conferences and in social services. I didn’t expect to be working a real full-time job, and I definitely didn’t expect it to become my passion. I did not expect to love direct service so much, let alone the mission of St. Vincent de Paul. Working with our neighbors has taught me more than I could ever explain. I’ve laughed with them, cried with them and connected with them in our faith and love for Christ that has shown me the kingdom of God on earth can cross all boundaries and barriers, even being total strangers. I didn’t know this would lead me to find what I feel to be my vocation as a Vincentian. What I did expect was to feel like a freshman on the first day of high school, all new, young and inexperienced, but I’ve never once felt that way. From the beginning I felt welcomed, valued, and believed in. I’ve had incredible bosses and mentors with such passion and love for Christ and this work. They helped me to grow in my potential and challenged me to do things I never thought I’d do. I’ve enjoyed my time so much that I’m staying on as staff after this year to be the Volunteer Coordinator.

Simplicity

And finally, the stipend. Living on a stipend is not easy, especially when you’re also asked to be in a wedding the same year! But it taught me so much about budgeting, about what I need, don’t need, and about what’s really important. I’ve had an amazing year with amazing memories that didn’t center around money. And it’s brought me closer to our neighbors and their experiences with poverty. Maybe not as deep as they are experiencing it with needing money for rent and other things, but I can understand the little day to day things that become the big things when it happens over and over. Like the feeling when you can’t do everything your friends and family can, and how hard the decision can be between buying something you need (i.e. deodorant) and something you really want (i.e. to go to discount movie day). And we get our food for our community through food stamps, which was definitely difficult at times, but without this knowledge and experience I couldn’t help people with the SNAP application process or truly connect with our neighbors who were frustrated by the lack of organization and consistency with the process.

In the end, there are some things I probably would have gone my whole life without knowing and understanding without this year of service, and those things have been so essential in shaping me into who I am now. I’ve never grown so much in one year. I can’t imagine who I would be if I had never done VVC. I would have missed out on so much opportunity and understanding about life. I’m not saying it will be easy, but it will be so, so worth it. How often are you given a chance like this in life? To completely trust your faith and follow Christ by dedicating an entire year of your life to serving others? Not to mention, you’ll feel connected to just about everyone else who’s ever done a year of service, and in my experience, they’ll probably buy you a beer.


Applications for the 2019-2020 cohort are still open! Visit our website to learn more and apply today! https://www.svdpcincinnati.org/Give_Help/Give_Time/Vincentian_Volunteers_of_Cincinnati/

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Meet Charissa!

The Vincentian Volunteers just welcomed a new program manager – Charissa Qiu!

About Charissa

“A native Singaporean, I came to the U.S. in 2008 to go to college at the University of Dayton, and the kindness I received as an international student has greatly impressed upon me the importance of extending that same hospitality to others throughout my life, and played a big part in my decision to do VVC after college. I pursued my Masters in Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago after VVC, and returned to Cincinnati, worked in youth retreats at the Jesuit Spiritual Center at Milford before serving as a campus minister at Mount St. Joseph University for the past three years. One of my favorite images from Scripture is the Emmaus journey, and I’m excited to return to VVC as program manager and get the chance to accompany wonderfully intentional, faith-filled and service-minded young adults through this VVC journey!”

Fun Facts!

  1. I’m from the little sunny island of Singapore (most recently highlighted in the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” 😀 )
  2. I’m a new mama to a ridiculously curious 10-month old
  3. My husband, Mike, and I met at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, so I’m excited to be back at a place that will always hold a special place in my heart!
  4. My favorite number is 13, because I refuse to believe it’s unlucky.
  5. One of my favorite things to do is sitting on a porch on a rainy summer day with a good book.

Two Sides of Poverty

Hello, my name is Alleya! I’m originally from Oregon, but it has been my pleasure to be a Vincentian Volunteer of Cincinnati in Ohio for the past 8 months. My job as a VVC is split between the Ozanam Center, which is the service learning department at SVdP, and the Getting Ahead Program, which is a workshop for people experiencing need that helps build resources. It has been a good mix and I get to have a lot of great experiences. It is interesting that you could say I get to work on both sides of poverty, because in the OC I interact with people who rarely or, more likely, have never experienced poverty, and in GA I am with those who deeply desire to get out of need but have typically been stuck in it for a long time. In both cases, I get to do what I can to facilitate a deeper understanding of others who have different lived experiences than their own and, along the way, a deeper understanding of themselves. Because I believe it is true that the more you understand others, the more you understand yourself and your position in the world.

In the Ozanam Center, we intentionally dig into this search for understanding through retreats, workshops, and various service learning opportunities. For retreats we spend days on end learning about issues of social justice and connecting those issues with our living and breathing brothers and sisters who are affected by it. I’ve seen people realize how much privilege they themselves have and how hard it is to live without it because of one honest conversation with someone they hadn’t thought to speak with before. Men and women at shelters, people with the wisdom of many years, children from poverty ridden neighborhoods, returning citizens, and more. In addition to retreats and a few other things, we also do poverty simulations which are basically hour long experiences that help people understand what a complicated and traumatic experience poverty truly is by putting them through a single hour living a life modeled after someone experiencing extreme need in Cincinnati. By “modeled after,” I mean we changed the names. Nothing else. It is worth noting that we have to warn groups before we start that the experiences they will be living through was based on a real human who let us use their story, otherwise they think we are making things up for emotional impact. It is unfortunate we don’t have to do that.

For these past months, I’ve seen the Ozanam Center do great work in opening eyes to some of the many causes and effects of poverty, while connecting the discussion to the lived experiences of others. Likewise, Getting Ahead focuses strongly on understanding the causes of poverty in all its facets. We start with understanding ourselves more by taking a look at what poverty is in general and then what it looks like for us specifically. “Investigators” (participants in the group) learn a lot about themselves by taking an honest evaluation of where they are right now by looking into financial health measurements, making a mental picture of their inner and outer landscapes, and taking a few assessments. Along the way we consider and look ahead to what we desire for ourselves in the future. We learn what resources we have weaknesses in and which are high. Finances are clearly a resource, but so are social connections, emotional strength, mental ability, spiritual groundedness, and seven other resources. One of the most basic theories of Getting Ahead is if people can use their strong resources to help their weaker ones, then their lives can become more stable.

Then, just as the Ozanam Center focuses on learning about others, GA also covers a lot of material meant to help Getting Ahead Investigators understand the perspectives of others, especially those in higher socioeconomic classes. Did you know there are different “hidden rules” depending on economic class? They are basically “cultural” rules that affect most everything in a person’s life. The one that stood out to me the most when I first heard of them had to do with food. Those from a background of poverty, where food wasn’t always guaranteed, tend to think of food in the sense of having enough, whereas in middle class the question is often if it tastes good, because it is assumed there will always be enough. If you get to the levels of wealth, what tends to matter more is the way the food looks, because it is a given that it will taste good. All told, it is a pretty low-impact rule to know, however, it describes how each person cares about something by reflex which another person may not even think to consider. Someone who only cares if there is enough food laughs at the fancy plating of a single bite of food. On the other hand, a person from wealth who may care highly for presentation may be disgusted by a meal presented in brown bags and Styrofoam by someone who mostly cares about having a large amount. All this feeling and pressure lives under the surface where words don’t often come into play to explain but rather just to make jokes about each other!

A higher impact hidden rule then, is the rule of destiny. Often people who grow up with stability believe that they create their world through their choices – because that has been their experience. That means those who have a world that is impoverished must have done something wrong or are making stupid choices. On the other hand, people who grow up with very little stability have experienced throughout their lives that even the best made plans fall through and those who haven’t had this happen simply had an easier destiny. Just think for a second, if disaster strikes despite all the effort you make to protect yourself, and this happens over and over, isn’t it hard not to learn that your choices don’t matter and there is nothing you can do to change your life because apparently your fate is to struggle? Can you see how the two hidden rules of destiny work against each other? Which do you think is right?

Both are right aren’t they? No matter how much a person can afford or how many friends they have, calamity can still come. Perhaps less often, and perhaps there are enough resources available to be a safety net, but there are things on earth that no human can control no matter how well we plan. Death, changing markets, war, divorce, sickness, etc. On the other side, no matter how much life seems to be out of your control, your actions still have an effect on the outcome of your life. Even if it seems small at first or even if it is legitimately small.

I think, looking back on this year, through my experiences in both the OC and with GA, this will be my biggest takeaway: both those who are in poverty and those who are not benefit deeply from understanding each other better. We should not assume that those in poverty are stupid or that those who have more worldly possessions are heartless. We are human. The better we can understand that, I believe, the better we will be able to act it out in intelligent and graceful ways that will decrease both frustration and the poverty of humans who have unmet needs.


Alleya Harris hails from the Pacific Northwestern state of Oregon and as such nurtures a deep love for trees and water. She enjoys reading, trying anything new, and listening to music in languages she doesn’t understand. Here in the office she is often found laughing with neighbors from Getting Ahead classes or setting up materials for the next Ozanam Center event.

Get to Know: Herman

Name: Herman Muguluma

Hometown: Uganda

SVDP Position: Outreach Center Coordinator

Everyday tends to be different, I spent most of my days with the data department of the organization where I support and train conference members and Volunteers how to use our data system, some days I’m pulling reports for the end of the month out of the system, other days I provide font-desk coverage during food pantry and pharmacy hours, welcoming people requesting help and helping them begin the appropriate intake process and once in a while I’m holding hands praying with people on a home visit.

Fun Facts

  • My favorite food is Steak
  • If I could meet anyone from history I would meet Paul the Apostle.
  • My favorite quote, ” Love your neighbor as you love yourself”

What has been the best part of VVC?

The best part about VVC is the people! My co-workers, volunteers, and fellow VVC Community members. I have strongly felt the aspects of faith, friendship and service throughout this program from the moment we started!

Get to Know: Jordan

Name: Jordan Battaglia

Hometown: Chelsea, MI

SVDP Position: Community Relations Coordinator

Every day brings something different! I may be updating the website or promoting things on social media, or coordinating a community food or clothing drive. We regularly work with the different departments to make sure that we are getting messages and stories out about what we do here at SVDP.

Fun Facts

  • I could eat pizza every day
  • I love to travel and want to travel everywhere
  • I love musicals and singing!

What has been the best part of VVC?

The best thing about VVC is everything I am learning. The experience is so rich and allows for so much personal reflection and growth. The reason I decided to do a year of service was to learn what I want in a job and to give myself a jumping-off point for what’s next, and I really feel like I am getting that.

I also have to mention my community in the best things about VVC. Having 9 people I can turn to for support, for laughs, for sitting in the kitchen and talking all night – it’s amazing. We really have become a family.

Get to Know: Christiana

Name: Christiana Tabugbo

Hometown: Louisville, KY

SVDP Position: Client Advocate

A project I am the coordinator for is a program called Sweet Cheeks. I am tasked with managing 50 families to ensure that they are receiving their diapers every month. Families usually come in the second week of each month to pick up.

Fun Facts

  • I want to travel to Capetown and Israel
  • I was on the puppet team in elementary school
  • Favorite quote:
    “Beauty is when you can appreciate yourself. When you love yourself, that’s when you’re most beautiful.” -Zoe Kravitz

What has been the most challenging part of VVC?

The most challenging part about VVC is hearing about the challenges our neighbors face. My instinct is to want to help every person that walks through our door, but it is not possible to do that. Sometimes the most I can give is a listening ear. I can refer our neighbors to surrounding resources, but the challenge I face is asking “Did I do enough?” The answer is yes but in those moments it feels like no. So I guess a second challenge is learning to extend grace on myself in situations where that question arises. I am working on that now!

Get to Know: Betka

Name: Betka Limanekova

Hometown: Lakova, Slovakia

SVDP Position: Client Advocate

A typical day for me is meeting clients for clothing vouchers, birth certificates, state IDs, rental and utility assistance.

Fun Facts

  • I love Chinese food
  • A fictional character I want to meet is Superman – but only because he is played by Henry Cavill…
  • The best vacation for me would be to a place by the sea, but with historical monuments nearby

What has VVC taught you so far?

That I can help people despite the language barrier.

Get to Know: Alleya

Name: Alleya Harris

Hometown: Gilchrist, OR

SVDP Position: Ozanam Center Coordinator and Systemic Change and Getting Ahead Program Coordinator

It seems like every day is different. One day I am preparing the schedule a Getting Ahead workshop will be following and the next I am buying pancake mix for a retreat group to make for hospitality.

Fun Facts

  • I would love to travel to Italy, Germany, and New York
  • A useless talent I have is being able to do a backbend
  • I can also do origami frogs and butterflies, but I’ve found that terribly useful…

What has been the best part of VVC?

The best part is the people. It is an uncommon work experience because coworkers and supervisors care so much for me. Surprising… I was expecting to be really burnt out socially as an introvert but that hasn’t been the case.

What have you learned so far?

I can do more than I think and that poverty is complicated, terrible, and ridiculously hard to confront.

Get to Know: Taylor

Name: Taylor Welch

Hometown: Cleveland, OH

SVDP Position: Ozanam Center & Re-entry Program Coordinator

On any given day, I am preparing for upcoming retreats or workshops, talking with community partners, meeting with my OC coworkers, paperwork and developing new ideas to implement for Re-Entry program.

Fun Facts

  • A useless talent I have is napping
  • A song that describes me is Miss Independent by Ne-Yo
  • I want to travel to a South American rainforest

What has VVC taught you so far?

I have learned so much more about what it means to be a Vincentian and about the Catholic religion. Finding out that social justice and diversity is very evident and prevalent in Catholic teachings was awesome to me and seeing how Vincentians take pride in living out their life to serve and be intentional in helping those experiencing poverty was very eye-opening and honorable.