Dear Me…

pen and paper

If I were to write a letter to my younger self as she was discerning whether she should do a year of service or not, I don’t think I would know where to begin. Now being close to three months into my year of service I can say that this was definitely the direction I needed to take in my life after finishing college. This experience has already provided me with opportunities to learn about the “real world” without technically even having a job yet. Not only have I learned about what the “real world” may look like, but I am also learning more about myself outside of being a student. I don’t think I would be as happy or passionate about the choice I will make at the end of this year to continue to fulfill the vocation God is calling me to had I gotten a job or gone to grad school after undergrad.

I have also already learned and gained so much from those I have worked with and served. That idea of gaining something from those I work to serve seems funny in my mind… shouldn’t I be the one giving to our neighbors in need? There is so much more I should do to be present to them and I shouldn’t be getting anything from them. However, I have learned that there is a difference between serving someone, as compared to helping or fixing them. Service is a relationship between equals, whereas helping defines the inequality between individuals. Or fixing implies that someone is wrong or broken and his or her brokenness requires me to act. Service sees the wholeness in others; it respects the dignity of their life and my own.

I have seen that in the midst of someone’s homelessness, hunger, struggle with bed bugs, etc. there is still so much joy, hope and gratitude. It’s humbling to encounter our neighbors and then question how I would be acting should I be in that situation. I don’t know that I would be quite as cheerful or as hopeful. I am constantly reminded of a woman I met while venturing on home visits. She had lost all her furniture, clothes, possessions, and even had to move because of bed bugs. Yet she was so welcoming and proud of her new apartment. She constantly thanked me and the other St. Vincent de Paul volunteer for our help and for talking to her. Not only was she grateful to us, but also to God. So grateful in fact that she wanted to lead prayer for the three of us before we left her apartment. I have not forgotten that experience and continue to reflect on it as I work, and use it as a way to hold myself accountable for having a more positive outlook and attitude for the obstacles I come up against.

Our neighbors’ attitudes challenge me to question my own attitude and my ability to keep an open mind to the world around me. That too is something I needed to be reminded of as I discerned whether or not a year of service was the right decision for me. I have a lot to learn from different experiences, conversations and people. The challenges I come up against can only help inform my future decisions and how to learn from the unexpected.

Thinking about how I made my decision to pursue a year of service, I now realize it is because of the challenges that I faced that drove me to step outside my comfort zone and consider serving. As I continue this year and look back on my decision to come to VVC, I need to remember that as daunting as an obstacle may be, it can lead me to where I am called; what I experience and learn through overcoming any challenge may lead to the next step in my life.

 

bio photoAmy Noser, originally from St. Louis, MO, graduated from the University of Dayton this past May. Without having written a letter to herself, she still managed to make her way here, to the VVC program, and spends her days helping coordinate our Ozanam Center for Service Learning and working with volunteers. Amy’s warm and compassionate presence are a gift to her work and her VVC community.

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Going Deeper…

At the end of last month, the Vincentian Volunteers attended the Vincentian Family Gathering – “Going Deeper: Building Community and Collaboration for Systemic Change around Homelessness” – held in Denver, CO. Besides seeing the majestic mountains, the VVC members were able to connect with other young adult Vincentian Volunteers across the States, meet members across the Vincentian Family, and dig deeper into the issue of homelessness. Here are some reflections from the event, from one of our VVC members…

Things I’ve Learned from the Vincentian Family Gathering 2015

  1. Collaboration
    1. Take the time to plan and look at resources that are already available in an area before setting up an organization or service so as to avoid duplicating services.
    2. Come together with other churches, creeds, etc. to do work in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul despite what our backgrounds or beliefs may be.
    3. Collaboration between the younger Vincentians and the more experienced Vincentian population. More specifically, showing us with where to go from here- guiding us, showing us what has worked and what has not worked- but also being open to a change in perspective, involving more technology and innovative ideas, etc.
  2. The Vincentian Fire
    1. While being in the same room as so many amazing Vincentians that have done such groundbreaking work, the Vincentian fire seemed to burn higher and stronger than ever as each of our littles flames fueled with the potential to ignite radical systemic change in our communities and the world.
    2. I realized just how invested I am in the Vincentian cause and also how excited and energized I am at the prospect of being part of a new generation of Vincentians.
    3. I also realized how enthusiastic I am about trying new ways to support our mission as well as challenging myself to try new leadership roles within the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (i.e. signing up to be on the Young Adult Advisory Board) with the hope to take the mission to heart by simultaneously striving to live out the mission in my day to day life.
  3. Homelessness is Closer Than You Might Think
    1. I learned that there are students at prominent universities who have or are currently struggling with homelessness.
    2. There is currently a program that was recently created by DePaul University, DePaul USA and either the Daughters of Charity to help students facing homelessness, in which they are placed with a host family or individual and are matched with a mentor or case worker.
  4. Warren Village Breakout Session
    1. Hearing the story of homelessness from someone who has experienced homelessness was much more powerful than just hearing about it from someone else or just hearing a bunch of statistics about the topic; doing so put a face with the subject matter and it made it much more personal and harder to forget.
    2. Hearing someone’s own experience-turned-success story caught my attention much more and appealed to the emotions much more than a regular PowerPoint or presentation would.
  5. DePaul Undergraduates Combating Homelessness Breakout Session
    1. I was able to hear first-hand what students in the Chicago area are doing to combat homelessness.
    2. I was also able to hear about how their personal lives were touched through helping others but also through the help that some of them received after having personal experiences with a different type of homelessness (specifically “emotional homelessness” after experiencing abuse).

So, what Jeanette and the other Vincentian Volunteers will do with this experience – their new knowledge and inspiration – is yet to be seen, but hopefully their year with VVC will help them continue to unpack this and other experiences they have walking alongside people in poverty, exploring issues of social justice, and figuring out how they can use their gifts to make the world a better place, especially for our neighbors most in need.

Jeanette Lesenko (“Bat Woman” – left) loves making lists – of questions, things she has learned, and insights she has gained. Her experience with the #VFG2015 will certainly provide her with insights as she kicks of the first “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World” program in Cincinnati, through her work with VVC.