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.