I look out into the blur of frozen foliage mixed with man-made structures as a train propels me backward toward the city of Philadelphia during my short break at home. I gaze out the window at the continuous line of backyards and feel I have been allowed the rare opportunity to gain an inside look at the lives around me through the intimacy of their own backyards.
I begin to reflect on my year in the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati (VVC) program thus far (I was four months in at the time) and think about how not unlike this opportunity to see the world from someone’s backyard, I have similarly had the rare and humble opportunity to experience a taste of the lives of those we serve through visiting their homes to provide assistance with St. Vincent de Paul. Beds made out of crates and covered by blankets, barely enough food to make it through the month on the food stamps allotted, and bare apartments without a trace of their inhabitants’ presence- these are a few of the conditions that I have witnessed from weekly home visits. Being able to witness a family or individual’s situation within their own home is such a blessing, not only because areas of help can be recognized and addressed (especially those areas with which the individual or family may not have asked for assistance) but also because it is such a humbling experience to be able to be reminded to never take such necessities as food, clothing, and shelter for granted.
In the beginning I was so overwhelmed by the needs of the individuals coming to us for help that I felt that my work and service would not make even the smallest dent in the mounting poverty our neighbors in need are faced with everyday. However, after working in the Social Services department of St. Vincent de Paul for about six months, I have come to realize that every little bit helps. I also strive to uphold a high level of quality in the interactions I have with our neighbors in need rather than solely focusing on the quantity of assistance I can provide. If my suggestions and overall help with things such as providing material assistance or information on how to budget can prevent someone from experiencing the same types of hardships once again, then I believe that I am doing my work correctly. Although I have learned that we cannot always help with every material need they have, I have also discovered that even just lending a listening ear to a person who is not being heard, or even giving one small bit of assistance or other resource to someone who is asking for much more is appreciated and can make all of the difference in the world.
Although I have not yet reached the final destination at the end of my year of service, I know I will arrive shortly. With the moments I have left, I hope to be able to change the lives of others as they continue to change mine.
The horizon is fast approaching, but I am not ready to get off quite yet.
Jeanette Lesenko (left, at the VVC mid-year retreat), originally from Philadelphia, finds herself extending her listening ear to those who come to SVDP in need of assistance, working in our Social Services department. Since beginning her year with VVC, Jeanette has helped over 550 people in Hamilton County get a free mattress to sleep on, in addition to sitting with many more, providing that listening presence. In her free time, Jeanette has been busy touring Cincinnati for free, thanks to her good luck winning radio contests.