This post is recounting an encounter that I had with a client of October 18, 2013 that marks a profound moment in my time here in the Vincentian Volunteer Program.
I’m sure those of you that have started following this post have been wondering “Where the heck does this kid live? He says it’s in Cincinnati, but what does it look like?” Some of you may not care much, but those that do are in for a treat.
This post is going to highlight a few major landmarks in my neighborhood, as well as a virtual tour of my community. Let us begin:
Casa del VVC
Below are three pictures of Herberle Elementary School…
Hello All! My name is Demar Lewis and I am currently completing a year of service in the Vincentian Volunteer Program through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (officially referred to as VVC) in Cincinnati, OH. Thus far, I am loving the experience that I am having and look forward to sharing different moments and thoughts with you over the next several months.
A bit about me: born in California, grew up in Denver, CO, and attended college at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. After graduating from St. Thomas in 2011, I spent a short time doing some consulting with an engineering company in Montreal and then began working full time at General Electric-Aviation in their Financial Management Program. During this time, I realized that the environment in Corporate America was not the kind of environment I wanted to spend the rest of my life in. Though I was well-compensated in monetary terms, I was starving spiritually and yearned for a professional opportunity that would give me a chance to work with people directly and have a valuable impact. Thus, I left GE at the end of January 2013 to take control of my life and strike out for new endeavors. Prior to leaving GE, I had been volunteering with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul through my church locally in Cincinnati, and it was the best 2.5-3 hours of my week. After leaving, it occurred to me that I should see if there were any year of service or fellowship programs that were sponsored by the organization locally to explore personal, professional, and spiritual interests in a new setting. Lucky for me there was, and the rest is history.
Life is an adventure that often catches us by surprise. In some moments, we feel like we are in control of everything, and in others, God demonstrates to us who really has the final say. Do not be afraid by this. It is alright to go against the grain of society and pursue opportunities like a year of service with VVC because you are striving to preserve your personal welfare and discover your professional vocation. Never be afraid to follow your heart and live your dreams, as you only have this one life to live…might as well be happy along the way, right?
I hope that you find this introduction somewhat useful. Moving forward I will try and update this blog a few times a month, but please feel free to contact me directly with questions or suggestions for topics that are of interest to you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Holidays & God Bless!
It feels good to be connected again with the rest of the world! My laptop finally died, so I went a couple weeks unplugged from a personal computer. In that time I went to the Cincinnati Main Public Library, received a library card for the first time in about 16 years and checkout 3 books: one about love, one about Jesus, and the last about food. I’m a sucker for an old library book – love the smell! (Any Carrie Bradshaw fans who can cite my quote? ;D)
I have had a busy past couple of weeks, though. I have just adopted the Mattress Program Coordination from a lady who worked the interim before my hire and when I felt ready to take on the workload. One of the great things St. Vincent de Paul does, among many, is to use the fund donated by the late sponsors Bob & Sylvia Rahe toward new mattresses for families who desperately need them. For those who don’t know, bed bugs are real, will definitely bite you, and will basically wreak havoc and hell on your life if they snuggle into your mattress. If found, all of the furniture needs to be thrown away, and clothes need to be blasted in the drier on high heat. In our first week of living here we got to experience it first hand. Because of this city-wide infestation, too many people are left sleeping on couches, floors, plywood pallets, etc. Our office can give away 10 beds per month, and each of the 57 St. Vincent de Paul conferences can get 4 per month. I am in charge of coordinating all of those requests, and mailing out vouchers to the individuals requesting a new resting pad. Its a wonderful but very busy part of my job! Still trying to find the line between busy and productive, to overwhelmed.
|“I see trees of green,
red roses too.
I see them bloom,
for me and you.
And I think to myself,
what a wonderful world.”
|“I see skies of blue, And clouds of white. The bright blessed day, The dark sacred night.
And I think to myself, What a wonderful world.”
|“Yes I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”|
All of these photos were taken within a couple blocks of my house. We get lots of comments like, “you know you live in the hood right?” yeah to you. But there’s perseverance, resilience, faith, here. I am inspired by my neighbors, and am holding the relationships I am making with my clients close and dear to my heart. This is my home now too, and I plan on defending and cherishing it as long as I am here.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captive and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Luke 4:18
The scripture from Luke above popped on my computers lock screen via my Windows app that shares scriptures daily. I thought it was too fitting to not share.
As I say goodnight for a week or so, I want to ask – who do you Stand by? Who might need you to stand by them? Solidarity is a deeply powerful tool that can move mountains.
Peace and Blessings to everybody!
***Quotes under pictures are lyrics to Louis E. Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”***
What a whirlwind the past couple of weeks have been! After spending time at home with family, I traveled southeast with my mom and about a third of my belongings (we are asked to “live simply” this year) and landed in The Queen City. I moved into the Vincentian Volunteer community house on August 25th, and welcomed my two housemates, Rob and Demar- my fellow Vincentian Volunteers to the beautiful abode that was built in 1870.
We had a very short time to settle into our rooms and pack a bag before heading out to our orientation, which is taking place at Mount St. Joseph Monastery – Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Motherhouse.
This beautiful expansive building and land are on the west side of the city, tucked away in a quiet serene and sacred corner. It is here where we are engaging with our program director and sharing our stories, learning about each others faith journey’s, discussing what it means to live in an intentional community, and how to see the face of Christ in the people we will be serving.
During this retreat we have covered a range of topics, but today we focused on poverty. What it means to be in poverty and what are certain hidden rules for those in poverty, in the middle class and in the upper class. We literally live a block up from the St.Vincent de Paul office and thus will live out the mission of “neighbors serving neighbors” in our year of service work. About 30% of the buildings in our neighborhood are abandoned. It is very much a food desert in that there is no close grocery store, no laundromat or other places of service that most of us take for granted. One of the pillars for this year is living in solidarity with the community; loving our neighbors like they deserve to be loved, and by living a life that is rid of many “luxuries” of life (cable tv, cars, and a salary income – we will be utilizing SNAP food benefits for food). To some this may seem like a task that is not to be desired, but I see it as a privilege and a gift. How unique of an opportunity I (and Rob and Demar) are given to walk in the footsteps of those like millions of others in our country who have perhaps fallen off a track they were on before, or who have been in poverty for multiple generations… As Vincentian Volunteers we will be empathetic and enjoy the gifts that our neighbors will undoubtedly bestow upon us over the next 11 months.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (svdpcincinnati.org) is a highly respected nonprofit that thousands of West End friends visit throughout the year needing everything from food from our pantry, bus tokens, a prescription we might have, help with groceries or paying off an energy bill, but we (Rob, Demar and I) are learning that more often than not our neighbors may simply need a listening ear and an eager heart to help. We haven’t fully been introduced to our positions yet, but we are all anxious to start seeing faces at our job that will be engraved in our hearts forever. When the days are trying and we may not be able to give someone the help they need, or when we simply are having a bad day, we are all looking forward to relying on each other as an intentional supportive community and the staff at SVDP to give us spiritual, emotional, and mental guidance.
Now to throw some stats at you: the city’s overall poverty rate is a shocking 30.6%. Of that, 48% are children. Cincinnati is topped only by Detroit and Cleveland which have 53.6% and 52.6% of their cities percentage of children in poverty, respectively. Yes, every city has its areas of need, but I have been challenged this week by how there are so many Fortune 1000 companies located here (Kroger, Proctor & Gamble, and Macy’s to name a few) and yet 3 blocks down from them there are neighbors who need help desperately. I am finding hope in places like St. Vincent de Paul and other nonprofits who do house visits and foster relationships with the West End folks to bring humanity back to an area that just needs a bit more love.
The second day of our retreat we did a lot of focus on faith and how God is going to be a significant part of our daily life working with our clients. We had a 3 hour silent retreat where we took the time to do what our heart, mind, and soul needed. For me, it was taking a walk on the grounds of the Monastery – finding God in many places in nature and taking the time to conversate and listen internally. One profound moment for me was when I was sitting on a bench out on the grounds and a 4 inch long grasshopper landed a couple feet away from me. At the time, I was focusing my thoughts on my journey and decision to take a year of service here in Cincinnati and how it was very much a leap of faith for me to do something that -quite honestly- intimidated me upon knowledge of what the year was about. I saw that grasshopper as an affirmation of my decision to be here. To jumpstart this new journey with God in a Catholic-Vincentian organization even though I was brought up in a liberal progressive Congregational church. To live simply in solidarity with a community that is often faceless to the rest of the nation. That taking a leap of faith would land me in a place that is safe and supportive. I could not feel more at peace, blessed, and ready to start this new adventure.
From the words of one of our neighbors:
Numbers/statistics shared from:
Pictures were taken from Google images.