A Day in the life of the Social Service Client Advocate

Ana with 'Client'

I was discerning a Vincentian year of service for a while but I just didn’t know where. I honestly don’t know how this program ended up being the one I applied to, but I just couldn’t shake away the idea of it. I was so comfortable with my lifestyle that I knew I needed a change of perspective and this program seemed to fit perfectly with that desire. Although I felt called to serve in Cincinnati, I was still terrified- but as my twin sister always reminds me, God doesn’t call the prepared, He prepares the called and well, here I am!

Currently, I am working as a Client Advocate in the social services department of St. Vincent de Paul. Like all the departments at St. Vincent de Paul, the social services department wears many hats. Some of the services we offer include immediate assistance, such as writing vouchers for state I.D’s, birth certificates, and clothing and household items. Other times we serve our neighbors by assisting them with their monthly rent or utility bill. Apart from those services, we mainly serve as a friend; an ear to someone going through a tough time.

Here, a lot of our families are struggling with relationships and finances. My most important job is to be someone to listen to their story and then to offer to pray with/for them. It constantly amazes me how faithful my neighbors here are. One of St. Vincent de Paul’s main values is to see the face of Christ in all those we meet and my neighbors make that opportunity easy. They are often so joyful and uplifting and just FULL of Christ!

Throughout this position, I have had the opportunity to grow spiritually and professionally in ways that I didn’t know were possible. Spiritually, I have fallen more in love with God because of my neighbors. Their presence fills my cup daily. Sometimes I just smile when I am walking home from work because of how grateful I am for them. I honestly don’t know what else to say besides “thank you” to God for this program.

Professionally, I have also grown immensely. When I first found out what my job position was, I was terrified; I didn’t feel qualified or ready to experience any of it. However, through the support of my coworkers, community, and neighbors I can honestly say that for the first time ever I actually feel qualified! I feel as if I am taken seriously here and a part of a team full of caring individuals. I feel confident in my ministry and like a true professional and young-adult; it is refreshing.

Although I feel myself growing spiritually and professionally, I have definitely struggled in many ways. My favorite aspect of this year is the solidarity piece but, it is also where I have the hardest time. Solidarity is wonderful because it provides a perspective and feeling of unity and togetherness, but it is also temporary for me. I only have to experience this for a year, and while it is uncomfortable at times, I know it is going to end. I struggle with the idea that my neighbors don’t know when the tough times will be over and that there is a possibility that they will never get out of this cycle. All of these apprehensions propose the question of what do I do to remain intentional and in solidarity after this year? Well, I wish I had an answer right now but, I am still trying to figure that out.

The popular hymn “Here I am, Lord” always grounds me in times of anxiety, uneasiness, joy, and thankfulness through my ministry.  It also seems to guide me through all other aspects of my life this year. I especially love to reflect and pray the chorus, “Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.”

 

About  the Author

Ana Davila is a Niagara University graduate with a degree in developmental disabilities and a minor in religious studies.  In her spare time she loves to hike, camp, journal, and play with her dog. Ana is also a former Vincentian Lay Missionary where she spent a month in Kenya working alongside the Daughters of Charity.

 

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The M.L.K Radicalism Our Society Needs (MLK Day Reflection)

Equality

Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair, shall be crushed by the battering rams of the fires of justice.  Let us be dissatisfied until they – who live on the outskirts of hope – are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heap of history and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home…Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.  Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin.  Let us be dissatisfied.”[1]

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote and delivered this excerpt as part of his Where Do We Go from Here? speech in 1967.  Today, over 50 years later, there is still a lot to be dissatisfied with.  In this current age of mass incarceration, gentrification, and deportation, persons of color are still being targeted, exploited, and mistreated by our government – despite the official and legal end of segregated schools in 1954, there are still racial inequities within our educational system; despite the fact that blacks and whites use drugs at roughly equal rates, black people are incarcerated at the rate of more than five times to whites; and despite having similar qualifications (and often even higher qualifications) when compared to their white counterparts, black men and women are compensated significantly less for their work.

Today we are celebrating and honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born on this day 89 years ago.  King is the only non-president with a national holiday, and many people recognize and admire him for his nonviolent and overall peaceful approach to combating racial injustice.  After all, the Civil Rights leader was arrested and jailed 29 times on trumped-up charges, stabbed and nearly killed years prior to his assassination, sent countless death threats, and terrorized with his family at their home – still, he persisted without inciting the use of violence as retaliation.  However, the King that is often illustrated today is no more than a fantasy created by the white imagination.  What we often forgot, but is incredibly important to recognize, is that there were two very different versions of Dr. King that existed – a peaceful King and a much more subversive King.

Today’s media and educational settings have heavily diluted the image of Dr. King, in order to make people feel comfortable with celebrating his legacy.  Many of us in the public only focus on the early work of Dr. King – the King who preached nonviolence, and the act of loving your enemies despite their hatred towards you.  But people often tend to negate Dr. King’s radicalness.  After 1963, his message changed drastically, and towards the end of his life, King expressed increasing frustration with the very slow rate of progress that was occurring in America.  This is the same King who said that the greatest purveyor of violence in the world was his own government; the same King who even warned America that it may go to Hell for all of its wrongdoings.

If all Dr. King is to be remembered for was his optimistic I Have a Dream speech, why did so many people oppose him at the time?  Why was the F.B.I monitoring and tracking his every move?  Why, then, did the government in 1963 consider King to be “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation”?[2]  The radicalness of Dr. King has simply vanished from today’s King narrative, but it is this more revolutionary King that is the most relevant to our modern society.  As I reflect on this day and on the selfless actions of Dr. King, I too strive to cultivate a “kind of dangerous unselfishness” that Dr. King once spoke of.  The most effective way of honoring Dr. King is by channeling his radicalism, to not only challenge but adamantly oppose the racist and sexist ideas that are so deeply ingrained in our society.  In this way, we can at least begin to move towards that dream society that is characterized by radical equality and equity.

 

[1] King, Martin Luther, and Coretta Scott King. Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Beacon Press, 2010.

[2] https://www.npr.org/assets/news/2013/mlk-fbi-memo.pdf

About the author

Preeya Preeya  Waite is a passionate social justice advocate. She claims both Cincinnati and Philadelphia as home and loves to read, write and play basketball at her leisure. 

5 Worst Questions You Hear on Christmas Break

Finals are over. It’s time to relax, drink cocoa, bake cookies with Nana and forget that World Civ paper ever happened.

And then it hits you. You’re a senior. You have to figure out your life and nest steps in a few short months.

Then the questions about your post-grad plans begin. From Nana, Aunt Debbie, Uncle Steve, your parents…everyone. Don’t they know you can’t possibly have thought of your future plans, you were too busy spending the past two months (okay, maybe two days) writing that philosophy paper worth 75% of your grade?!

If you find yourself in this situation, we offer you some answers to these annoying questions, so you don’t have to spend all Christmas break dodging questions and avoiding the eye contact of your friends and family.

What are your plans after graduation?

Ahhh this is a classic. A question for the ages. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me this question, my student loans would be paid off…maybe.

While this question is loaded with many facets, you could give them an answer. My suggestion…you could tell them you were about to embark on the best first job you could ever have… VVC!

If you were doing VVC, you could tell your friends and family you were going to spend the next year gaining professional experience using your interests and talents while deepening your passion for faith and justice.

“What will you even do with that degree?

As a freshman, that underwater basket weaving major with a minor in party planning seemed like a great idea. But now that you are a senior, you are doubting your choice, and wondering how you can use that knowledge in the “real world”.

If you were doing a year with VVC, you could tell Nana that you are taking the next year to explore different ways to use your gifts and talents to serve the world in a safe and supportive environment.

“How are you planning to pay your student loans?”

The reality of student loans is one our generation knows all too well, and Uncle Steve just loves bringing it up any chance he gets.

If you were doing VVC, you could tell Uncle Steve that upon completion of the program, you would receive an Education Award that can be used to pay off loans or pay for future schooling!

“Have you even lived on your own? Do you know how to do things?”

While the college bubble is nice, by this time you are probably ready to get out on your own, but you are terrified of having to actually do things. If you were doing VVC, you could confidently tell your mom that while you don’t know how to cook right now, this time next year you will have confidence and experience cooking for a group, budgeting, and doing simple house maintenance.

The best part is that you will be living with people who are also trying to figure it out, and you will have a great support system when you don’t know the answer.

You will also get to participate in professional development workshops that can help you both personally and professionally.

“How do you plan on getting into grad school with no experience?”

You know the vicious cycle. You can’t get into school without experience, and you can’t get the job without the degree.

 

Through VVC, you can engage in meaningful work that will help your resume stand out. You can reassure Aunt Debbie that 100% of VVC alumni have been meaningfully employed or continued on in their education within six months of the end of the program.

 

The thought of graduation doesn’t have to make you turn to eating an entire pack of candy canes, and you don’t have to convince yourself that life as a snowman might just be easier.

If you consider a year with VVC, you can be assured that you are taking a meaningful next step in your personal growth and professional career, and can spend your Christmas break the way it was meant to be: sleeping in, drinking cocoa, baking cookies, and enjoying a much needed rest.

The First ‘Trimester’

By Phyllis Kyei Mensah

First trimester

I can’t believe that exactly three months ago, we all met for the first time – both clueless and curious about what lies ahead of us. Just like conception of a new baby, where the first three months is considered the most precarious stage, the first three months of VVC have been a bumpy ride with ups and downs…

Just like the discomforts of the early days of pregnancy, we have all had our moments of discomfort, anxiety and vulnerability-unsure of how to react to the new life we are experiencing. This stage demanded that we changed old lifestyles and habits, stepped out of our comforts zones, and even for some of us, changed our eating habits. As uncomfortable as these were, they were necessary measures that we  needed to take so we could grow.

Nevertheless, just like how the baby’s body parts and organs begin to develop in the first trimester, our community has seen tremendous growth in the last three months. Thanks to our professional development workshops, reflection and spiritual nights, we have learnt about each others personalities, faith and stories. Through these, we have come to appreciate the strengths we each bring to our community and have also learnt ways to effectively accommodate and adjust to our different personalities.

The basic organs of the community have now been formed…

Therefore, as we stand at the threshold of the second trimester today, we are now more confident and comfortable around each other. Relationships that have already been established will blossom and the community as a whole will discover its true form and identity. However, this is only the beginning of the journey because there is more room for growth and progress.

And so I will say that we are all looking forward to the next stage of this important journey!

 

About the Author

1508801476220 Phyllis Kyei Mensah (left) is from Ghana. An ardent admirer of different cultures and a music lover, she finds the most pleasure in learning about and discussing different cultures and lifestyles. When not at her Community Relations desk at Bank Street, you will find her at the Winton Terrace SVDP office helping out with social services.

We are not in Kansas Anymore

By Carmen Lopez Agredano

Kansas

This famous quote from one of the greatest movies of all times summarizes a feeling that eight different people are going through.

It’s been almost two months since we first met and we are starting to understand what living in intentional community means.

As Dorothy and her friends, we are in a journey of self-discovery, and we need each other to survive. Even if we lived with other people before, this is different because we are living in an intentional community.

Although we may not necessarily like each other, we still must love each other. In this extraordinary journey, we are bound to face moments of disagreements, boredom, misunderstandings, even regrets… However, we will also learn how to transform these moments into something beautiful.  It is incredible and amazing that, in a mostly untrusting world, we are all willing to live with, trust each other and grow together.

We are not a bunch of crazy young people; only a group of young people who believe that everything will work out well if there is mutual trust. At the same time, we also acknowledge that it will take great time and efforts to straighten out our disagreements and differences. Thus, although I have feelings of uncertainty, I am also confident that we will arrive at collective solutions to the problems we encounter.

Dorothy helps the Lion to get his heart, and the Lion helps the Scarecrow to get his brain, and all of them help Dorothy to go back to Kansas.

Even though we are complete strangers – from different backgrounds, cultures and with different languages – we will learn, grow and evolve. Unlike the movie, this community experience will not just be a beautiful dream, but one in which we will come out of as different and better people.

I have great expectations for this journey, not because I have a yellow brick road to follow, but because of the Community I am journeying with.

I can’t wait for the adventure!

What Can I Bring to my Community?

Teamwork

By Mary Ellen Ostrowski

Returning for a second year of VVC was both an incredibly easy and difficult decision to make. While I relished in the idea of living this life for another year, I also worried about comparing the two years and harbored fears that I would regret my decision to stay. Last year was full of so much joy and personal growth, and while I knew this year would not be a mirror image of last year, I hoped and prayed it would still be a fruitful experience.

In the month between programs, I had some time to think about my own future and about the new community moving into the house. What would it look like? How would it be different? How would having more people change the community dynamics? What will my role be in a second year? I had to stop myself many times and remind myself of the following quote:

The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I had to remind myself that this adventure of intentional community living was about loving people, and not about what the community looks like in my own head. Painting a picture of what community should look like in my own ideal world only leads to disappointment, and also leaves no room for surprise or awe of those I have the privilege of sharing life with this year. While there are certainly new challenges this year, there are also new joys and new areas in which I am being called to grow; based on the example, witness, and accountability of my new community.

Ultimately, community is about receiving and the giving of life together with people; it is about being fed and supported. Community also begs me to ask the questions; what can I bring to the members of my community to draw us closer to God and to one another? What can I learn from them? Although these are what we are called to do, they are not easy tasks. Nevertheless, community should not fit into a neat little box because people don’t, and the surprises and complexities add to the richness of the community.

I look forward to the surprises that the people in this year’s community would bring because, in this way, we would create community amid the twists and turns of this year of service

The Gift of Diversity of Thought

ThoughtDiversity

By Preeya Waite

It’s been nearly two months since eight seemingly very different people first moved into the house that we would all be sharing for the next eleven months – and time has really flown by!  Some of us come here from places as far away as Spain, while others hail from more local areas.  Beyond our geographic diversity, we also come from different socio-economic, racial, spiritual, and educational backgrounds.  We have all had unique experiences and encounters throughout our lives thus far, and have varying plans as to what we would like to do with our lives and careers at the end of this year.  However, the one thing that unites us across all of these differences is our collective desire to make our global community a better place for all of its inhabitants.

Having previously lived on my own, I have quite an adjustment learning to share space with seven other people.  Though I have had my own personal challenges, I have come to appreciate many things about being a part of this community.  Living in an intentional community often allows us the opportunity to address many different topics and issues, and this is often when I appreciate our community’s diversity the most.  We don’t always (or ever, honestly) all agree on any particular subject – from disagreements on simple things, such as what to eat for dinner or what movie to watch on any given night, to disagreements on more complex social justice topics. Nevertheless, I truly value the opinions and thoughts that others are willing to share with the group because they give me the chance to appreciate issues and things from different perspectives that I may not have been previously aware of. Having these open dialogues and hearing everyone’s views also make our discussions much richer.

One of my favorite quotes from the late poet Maya Angelou says that “we can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.”  As I reflect on my experience of living in this community for the past few weeks, this quote definitely rings true in my mind.  I must admit that I was a bit nervous being in community with people (most of whom I had never met) who were all very different from me.  However, I have come to realize that although we all have our variance; we have many more commonalities than we do differences. I also really appreciate the diversity and unique perspectives that each member of the group and members of the greater community have to offer.  I know that these will enhance my experience here over the course of the next few months.

A ‘Private Community’ is Incomplete

Inclusive

By David Devlin

I was on my run this morning and I passed a sign that read “PRIVATE COMMUNITY” in bold white letters and below it read, “Residents and Invited Guests Only.” I thought about the sign for the next few minutes as I continued my run.

“How can a community be private? A private community is an incomplete community,” I thought. That seems to take away from the very meaning of community. I was curious to what the dictionary definition of ‘community’ was so I looked it up. There are many ways to define it, but one that I found interesting – and possibly contradictory to the idea of a private community – comes from Merriam-Webster. It states that a community is “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.” One thing I enjoy about this definition is its openness for interpretation.

What exactly does it mean by larger society? Does it mean the VVC community? Bank Street? The West End? Cincinnati? We could keep increasing size until eventually we’re looking at community on a global scale – which to me is a little difficult to fathom. However, it is important to remember that regardless of the size, one important thing that should be constant is ‘inclusivity.’

So, even though I don’t think the second part of the sign mentioning residents and invited guests was entirely wrong, I think it misses the opportunity for the fullness of community. It is important to look at ourselves and our communities and ask who the invited guests are in our lives, and if we could do a better job at extending the invitation to others who may often feel excluded.

After all, I believe that our shared humanity with our neighbors is a common enough characteristic which calls us to extend the invitation to our communities whether they be local or global.

 

The Summons

By Ana Davila

The Summons

When I reflect on my first few weeks with my community and the St. Vincent de Paul society, I cannot help but listen and relate to the hymn, “The Summons”. Each line in this song is a question which seems to directly hit the points I am feeling in this phase of my experience with VVC.

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?– We all said “yes” to the unknown of being a VVC and living in the West End alongside our neighbors in need. Likewise, from a personal perspective, this “yes” was one of the hardest ones I have ever had to make so I imagine my community members have had similar experiences. However, although it was a difficult decision to make, I know God is calling me to be here for a reason and I feel honored to be given this experience through Him.

Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? – Our living space is intentional and one that we pray to grow in and through. God is changing our hearts every second and every day of being here. I have never been to Cincinnati before and I committed myself to taking that leap of faith to do something I have never done before and to go somewhere that I have never been. I am ready to “never be the same”.

Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known? – As a community we are trying to embody the Vincentian message through every action we take. Personally, I am seeing God’s face in our neighbors in such a profound and beautiful way. I am also taken back by my community member’s generosity to this question; they are all wonderful examples of Christ to me.

Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me? – As I mentioned before, God is growing in each of us every day. However, I can personally say that I am feeling closer to God through my neighbors and co-workers, I am reassured that I am where God is calling me to be and I pray this closeness I am feeling only continues to get stronger.

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? – I am a twin and prior to this experience Isabella and I had only ever been apart for a short period of time. By coming to Cincinnati, I was in a very real way leaving myself behind because I have always been my twin’s follower and always stepped back to allow her to take the lead. For the first time ever, I am challenged to be my own person and grow as an individual.

Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? – My community members and I feel passionately about our neighbors and the overall social justice system. From my end, I am doing what I can to promote a sense of community and equality among myself and those who I am serving alongside. While I can say that I may never be the same again through this experience, I am also striving to make sure my neighbors feel the same way through their encounters with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare? -When I tell people I am a part of a yearlong service program, I often receive the response; “why would you want to do that?” or, “don’t you want to get your life started?” These questions make me feel like I am risking the hostile stare because I know some won’t approve or understand my choice/calling to be here. However, I am firm that my life will flourish through this experience.

Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me? – I am enchanted by this question and humbled by its simplicity and strength. Although it is a question that is difficult to grasp, I am tickled by the idea that God is working through me, my community members, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as a whole to do His will and to be His hands and feet.

While I can keep going through the song, I feel that the first two verses of this hymn asks all the right questions in regard to how I am feeling about VVC, my experiences with community and SVDP so far. Likewise, these questions resonate with me through the way they keep me in-line with the ways I should be living the Vincentian mission this year and beyond. I am very blessed to be here and I am very hopeful for my future as an advocate and Vincentian.