Hello There!

Hello there! My name is Rob Sander and I am the member of the VVC Community you have not met yet. I am a native Cincinnatian, a graduate of St. Xavier High School, and University of Dayton graduate. I am not a big blogger but I will try to accommodate the program’s wishes.

At St. Vincent de Paul Cincinnati I work on the Mission Integration team in the Ozanam Center for service education. The team I am a part of try to ensure that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is carrying out it mission. As a part of the Ozanam Center I help to facilitate and organize retreats for youth and adults. I was recently part of three great urban immersion experiences that inspired me to share them.

The first experience was at the beginning of January in the middle of a polar vortex. Seriously the coldest weather Cincinnati has seen in 20 years (no big deal). Being a recent college graduate; it was nice to connect with fellow college students. It felt very natural to get to know this group because of their age and maturity. They truly grabbed the experience by the horns and made it inspiring for everyone.Typically on our retreats; we have several community partners in the West End/Over the Rhine area who work with us during the experiences. The cold weather made it so that many of our partners were closed for the day. We had to adapt the schedule and be flexible. Fortunately the Notre Dame students were very mature, and understanding of what we asked them to do. We had left over toys in our building leftover from the holidays, and the students helped us to sort through them. They were very efficient and were able to move everything that remained from the holidays to our basement. Even though this was not the most enjoyable task for them they accomplished it with gusto. We then braved the elements and after a tour of Old St. Mary’s Church in Over the Rhine we wound up at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. They are a great community partner with us, and were so generous to let us in from the cold; when we had no place to go. We were not scheduled to go to their office until much later, and they even let us order pizza. We then go to hear a great speaker from the Coalition named Lauren. She enlightened all of us, including myself, on what it is really like to be homeless. We then went back to our retreat center, and had our Center’s own City of Cincinnati poverty Simulation. The students put great effort into the simulation and got real perspective from it. There is always a discussion after the simulation to process what occurred. It was by far the best and longest discussion by a group that has come through our center and participated in the simulation. This was reflected in our retreat evaluations and their reflections afterwards.

The next group we had in January was Mount Notre Dame High School; a local, all girls, Catholic school. The girls on our immersion experience has never experienced being in an area like our neighborhood before. They also inspired me with their change in attitudes and perspectives from beginning to end of the immersion retreat. We got to go to the Sarah Center which is a women’s empowerment group attached to St. Francis Seraph’s ministries. At the Sarah Center the women make jewelry and quilts to sell and support themselves. The girls of MND go to make a pair of earrings and to listen to the stories of women who attend the center. We also got to walk around our neighborhood and talk to people about Cincinnati. Through their school the MND students were able to pay someone’s rent. They got to experience what many staff at St. Vincent de Paul face weekly: a conversation about which person’s rent is paid and which is not. I felt that many of the students on this experience were greatly affected by what they learned, and could possibly make great retreat leaders someday.

B4B1 this is a retreat a take a lot of personal pride in. I helped plan a lot of this retreat, and I really think it went well. It started out of a lack of shanty town experience for some high schools and turned into a beautiful experience This retreat’s theme was about building bridges and breaking barriers. The point was to teach unity and diversity to high school students. We had four high schools come together Lasalle, Mother of Mercy, De Paul Cristo Rey, and Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. Together these schools came together and formed the start of great friendships. They also learned how similar we are as human beings, but also respecting that we are all unique in our own way; with our own stories. We had small group discussions, we learned about hip-hop music from a professor of culture at the Ohio State University, had some great pizza from Venice on Vine, discussed privilege, did some service sorting cans for St. Vincent de Paul, broke down stereotypes, and formed friendships. This was by far the most unique retreat I have helped to plan. I cannot wait for the opportunities with other groups who will come on our retreats soon.

Peace and Blessings,