Community: to extend your family.

VVC alumni retreat group 2016

What does it mean to a part of a community… to extend your family.

As I return back to Chicago ready to teach the 120 middle schoolers that await me, I sit filled with gratitude. I also sit missing my family. I miss my mom, dad, and brothers who I haven’t seen in a couple months. However, I also sit missing Maura, Luke, Jeanette, Tim, Andrea, the VVC community, and SVdP. I have just returned from the VVC alumni retreat in Cincinnati this past weekend where past and current members of VVC gathered together. We gathered to reflect on our experiences during and post VVC, to reground ourselves in our Vincentian roots, and to spend time in friendship with one another. My heart is very full.

Though each community is unique, we all shared the bond of the VVC experience. Whether, we were from the first-ever VVC community, a member of cohort 2, a year 3 alum, or a current VVCer, we share a bond of what it means to dedicate a year to an organization as outstanding as SVdP and to a community as dynamic, challenging, and life-giving as the West End. We can connect on what it means to reflect together each Tuesday, to venture down to the basement where the photos of “The Man’s” birthday still lie, to engage with neighbors along the way to and from work each day, to join in the laughter, friendship, and spirit of collaboration among all SVdP staff members, and to have Maura guide, mentor, help, and care for you in one of your biggest years of personal growth. We all share a bond no matter what year we completed VVC. Working at a place like St. Vincent de Paul, with a staff like SVdP’s, and in a neighborhood with neighbors like the ones who visit SVdP, gives you this gift.

So again, I say to be in community means to extend your family. I am a part of the VVC family in the broad sense, and I am a part of the VVC Year 3 family. Jeanette, Luke, Tim, and Andrea each have made an imprint on my life and are my family. As I sat around the table reflecting with them this past weekend on where we have been the past 7 months, I did not want time to end. I wanted to freeze that moment and get to stay in it. Looking around the table at each of them, laughing with them, sharing with them, giving and taking advice with/from them, and being present to them is being in a family. Yes, we bickered (well Luke and I bickered). Yes, Jeanette and Tim said a thousand movie and song quotes that went over Luke, Andrea, and my heads. Yes, we reminisced about the incredible meals we cooked last year. Yes, we sat on the couches in the VVC house talking until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. Even though it had been 7 months since we had been together, it was as if time never passed. We picked up right where we left off in August of 2015. Our year in VVC bonded us in ways that cannot be undone. I could not be more thankful for VVC and the people it has brought into my life. It has given me an extension to my family.



Kelsey McCarty, VVC 2014-15, teaches middle school kids at the Fuller School of Excellence in Chicago, IL. Affectionately coined “Ms. Carty” by the kids she student taught, we are sure her current students regard her with similar affection. Kelsey’s passion for justice and inclusion – especially in the classroom – stand as the foundation of who she is and how she lives her life.


Be inspired. Trust your instincts. Relish in the unknown.

Be inspired. Trust your Instincts. Relish in the unknown.

Be inspired. Trust your instincts. Relish in the unknown.

These are the significant lessons I have learned after giving up the Internet for an entire month.

This was not as much of a sacrifice for me since I have not yet obtained a smart phone, so my usage was solely restricted to my laptop. I was allowed to use the Internet at work, of course, but once I left work, a whole other life began. I could not look up answers to questions that instantly popped into my mind. I could not pass the time aimlessly on Pinterest, the only social media site I indulge in aside from the occasional glance at LinkedIn. Then I began to adjust and compensate by using physical bus schedules instead of Google maps to plan my trips or by filling my time with activities like leisurely reading.

I was most excited about the fact that I now had more time to read, something I have always loved but that had become more of a wish than a reality in the past few years. I longed to soak up the stories and information through the pages as if I were in grade school again, like when I literally used to walk off the bus with my nose in a book or when I was scolded for reading during math class. I was now making even more of an effort to get out and take the bus in order to experience the world with all my senses instead of only with my eyes from behind a screen.

Not only did my habits change during this month, but my thoughts did as well. I was no longer weighed down by the shackles of inundating stimuli that had convinced me to believe that the answers to everything I could ever wish to know were just a click away. Instead, I began to rediscover that sense of spontaneity, curiosity, and wonder that is found through realizing the power within our fingertips and within our interactions with the world and its inhabitants. The sense of imagination that I so valued as a child had returned quite easily, and now, paired with the wisdom I had gained through the years, it seems as though I have the tools to actually make my dreams a reality. Throughout this process, I am also continuing to value the process of making and then learning from my mistakes, which is such a treasured privilege that many seem to dislike and take for granted in this day in age.

I have come to the conclusion that there is a reason we are not meant to know everything. We are finite, limited beings and despite this vast and seemingly beneficial information database of knowledge known as the Internet, we as a human race are continually striving to know all even though this is a feat that cannot realistically be accomplished by one being alone.

So the next time you decide to use the Internet to guide you toward an answer, take a moment to pause. Ask yourself: “Is this something that I can figure out on my own?” “Do I really need to know the answer to this or can I allow myself to find inspiration in the ambiguity?” “Is it absolutely imperative that I find the exact answer right this moment?” You might gain wisdom despite the lack of immediate knowledge or figure it out with your own gifts and talents. Plus, you will always have that safety net as a backup to re-direct you if you stray too far off course.


Jeanette “Eunice/Batman/Cool RA of the VVC House” Lesenko uses her encyclopedic knowledge of movie quotes and songs to provide a consistently entertaining substitute for the Internet.  In her free time she imparts nuggets of philosophical wisdom (often shared while actually eating chicken nuggets), leads her community in dramatic reprisals of Les Miserables‘ song “One Day More,” and indoctrinates her friends into sharing her love for the TV show Community.  Next month she hopes to whip her co-workers into shape as the no-bulls*** coach of St. Vincent de Paul’s softball team.