We are not in Kansas Anymore

By Carmen Lopez Agredano

Kansas

This famous quote from one of the greatest movies of all times summarizes a feeling that eight different people are going through.

It’s been almost two months since we first met and we are starting to understand what living in intentional community means.

As Dorothy and her friends, we are in a journey of self-discovery, and we need each other to survive. Even if we lived with other people before, this is different because we are living in an intentional community.

Although we may not necessarily like each other, we still must love each other. In this extraordinary journey, we are bound to face moments of disagreements, boredom, misunderstandings, even regrets… However, we will also learn how to transform these moments into something beautiful.  It is incredible and amazing that, in a mostly untrusting world, we are all willing to live with, trust each other and grow together.

We are not a bunch of crazy young people; only a group of young people who believe that everything will work out well if there is mutual trust. At the same time, we also acknowledge that it will take great time and efforts to straighten out our disagreements and differences. Thus, although I have feelings of uncertainty, I am also confident that we will arrive at collective solutions to the problems we encounter.

Dorothy helps the Lion to get his heart, and the Lion helps the Scarecrow to get his brain, and all of them help Dorothy to go back to Kansas.

Even though we are complete strangers – from different backgrounds, cultures and with different languages – we will learn, grow and evolve. Unlike the movie, this community experience will not just be a beautiful dream, but one in which we will come out of as different and better people.

I have great expectations for this journey, not because I have a yellow brick road to follow, but because of the Community I am journeying with.

I can’t wait for the adventure!

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What Can I Bring to my Community?

Teamwork

By Mary Ellen Ostrowski

Returning for a second year of VVC was both an incredibly easy and difficult decision to make. While I relished in the idea of living this life for another year, I also worried about comparing the two years and harbored fears that I would regret my decision to stay. Last year was full of so much joy and personal growth, and while I knew this year would not be a mirror image of last year, I hoped and prayed it would still be a fruitful experience.

In the month between programs, I had some time to think about my own future and about the new community moving into the house. What would it look like? How would it be different? How would having more people change the community dynamics? What will my role be in a second year? I had to stop myself many times and remind myself of the following quote:

The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I had to remind myself that this adventure of intentional community living was about loving people, and not about what the community looks like in my own head. Painting a picture of what community should look like in my own ideal world only leads to disappointment, and also leaves no room for surprise or awe of those I have the privilege of sharing life with this year. While there are certainly new challenges this year, there are also new joys and new areas in which I am being called to grow; based on the example, witness, and accountability of my new community.

Ultimately, community is about receiving and the giving of life together with people; it is about being fed and supported. Community also begs me to ask the questions; what can I bring to the members of my community to draw us closer to God and to one another? What can I learn from them? Although these are what we are called to do, they are not easy tasks. Nevertheless, community should not fit into a neat little box because people don’t, and the surprises and complexities add to the richness of the community.

I look forward to the surprises that the people in this year’s community would bring because, in this way, we would create community amid the twists and turns of this year of service

The Gift of Diversity of Thought

ThoughtDiversity

By Preeya Waite

It’s been nearly two months since eight seemingly very different people first moved into the house that we would all be sharing for the next eleven months – and time has really flown by!  Some of us come here from places as far away as Spain, while others hail from more local areas.  Beyond our geographic diversity, we also come from different socio-economic, racial, spiritual, and educational backgrounds.  We have all had unique experiences and encounters throughout our lives thus far, and have varying plans as to what we would like to do with our lives and careers at the end of this year.  However, the one thing that unites us across all of these differences is our collective desire to make our global community a better place for all of its inhabitants.

Having previously lived on my own, I have quite an adjustment learning to share space with seven other people.  Though I have had my own personal challenges, I have come to appreciate many things about being a part of this community.  Living in an intentional community often allows us the opportunity to address many different topics and issues, and this is often when I appreciate our community’s diversity the most.  We don’t always (or ever, honestly) all agree on any particular subject – from disagreements on simple things, such as what to eat for dinner or what movie to watch on any given night, to disagreements on more complex social justice topics. Nevertheless, I truly value the opinions and thoughts that others are willing to share with the group because they give me the chance to appreciate issues and things from different perspectives that I may not have been previously aware of. Having these open dialogues and hearing everyone’s views also make our discussions much richer.

One of my favorite quotes from the late poet Maya Angelou says that “we can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.”  As I reflect on my experience of living in this community for the past few weeks, this quote definitely rings true in my mind.  I must admit that I was a bit nervous being in community with people (most of whom I had never met) who were all very different from me.  However, I have come to realize that although we all have our variance; we have many more commonalities than we do differences. I also really appreciate the diversity and unique perspectives that each member of the group and members of the greater community have to offer.  I know that these will enhance my experience here over the course of the next few months.

A ‘Private Community’ is Incomplete

Inclusive

By David Devlin

I was on my run this morning and I passed a sign that read “PRIVATE COMMUNITY” in bold white letters and below it read, “Residents and Invited Guests Only.” I thought about the sign for the next few minutes as I continued my run.

“How can a community be private? A private community is an incomplete community,” I thought. That seems to take away from the very meaning of community. I was curious to what the dictionary definition of ‘community’ was so I looked it up. There are many ways to define it, but one that I found interesting – and possibly contradictory to the idea of a private community – comes from Merriam-Webster. It states that a community is “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.” One thing I enjoy about this definition is its openness for interpretation.

What exactly does it mean by larger society? Does it mean the VVC community? Bank Street? The West End? Cincinnati? We could keep increasing size until eventually we’re looking at community on a global scale – which to me is a little difficult to fathom. However, it is important to remember that regardless of the size, one important thing that should be constant is ‘inclusivity.’

So, even though I don’t think the second part of the sign mentioning residents and invited guests was entirely wrong, I think it misses the opportunity for the fullness of community. It is important to look at ourselves and our communities and ask who the invited guests are in our lives, and if we could do a better job at extending the invitation to others who may often feel excluded.

After all, I believe that our shared humanity with our neighbors is a common enough characteristic which calls us to extend the invitation to our communities whether they be local or global.

 

The Summons

By Ana Davila

The Summons

When I reflect on my first few weeks with my community and the St. Vincent de Paul society, I cannot help but listen and relate to the hymn, “The Summons”. Each line in this song is a question which seems to directly hit the points I am feeling in this phase of my experience with VVC.

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?– We all said “yes” to the unknown of being a VVC and living in the West End alongside our neighbors in need. Likewise, from a personal perspective, this “yes” was one of the hardest ones I have ever had to make so I imagine my community members have had similar experiences. However, although it was a difficult decision to make, I know God is calling me to be here for a reason and I feel honored to be given this experience through Him.

Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? – Our living space is intentional and one that we pray to grow in and through. God is changing our hearts every second and every day of being here. I have never been to Cincinnati before and I committed myself to taking that leap of faith to do something I have never done before and to go somewhere that I have never been. I am ready to “never be the same”.

Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known? – As a community we are trying to embody the Vincentian message through every action we take. Personally, I am seeing God’s face in our neighbors in such a profound and beautiful way. I am also taken back by my community member’s generosity to this question; they are all wonderful examples of Christ to me.

Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me? – As I mentioned before, God is growing in each of us every day. However, I can personally say that I am feeling closer to God through my neighbors and co-workers, I am reassured that I am where God is calling me to be and I pray this closeness I am feeling only continues to get stronger.

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? – I am a twin and prior to this experience Isabella and I had only ever been apart for a short period of time. By coming to Cincinnati, I was in a very real way leaving myself behind because I have always been my twin’s follower and always stepped back to allow her to take the lead. For the first time ever, I am challenged to be my own person and grow as an individual.

Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? – My community members and I feel passionately about our neighbors and the overall social justice system. From my end, I am doing what I can to promote a sense of community and equality among myself and those who I am serving alongside. While I can say that I may never be the same again through this experience, I am also striving to make sure my neighbors feel the same way through their encounters with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare? -When I tell people I am a part of a yearlong service program, I often receive the response; “why would you want to do that?” or, “don’t you want to get your life started?” These questions make me feel like I am risking the hostile stare because I know some won’t approve or understand my choice/calling to be here. However, I am firm that my life will flourish through this experience.

Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me? – I am enchanted by this question and humbled by its simplicity and strength. Although it is a question that is difficult to grasp, I am tickled by the idea that God is working through me, my community members, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as a whole to do His will and to be His hands and feet.

While I can keep going through the song, I feel that the first two verses of this hymn asks all the right questions in regard to how I am feeling about VVC, my experiences with community and SVDP so far. Likewise, these questions resonate with me through the way they keep me in-line with the ways I should be living the Vincentian mission this year and beyond. I am very blessed to be here and I am very hopeful for my future as an advocate and Vincentian.

Experiencing the VVC Community Living

By Sarah Ochieng

Community

 

August 27th, 2017 was my first official day as a VVC. To me, this day was the first day of testing whether I had made the right choice by accepting to do a year of service. One of the things VVC requires of us is to live in intentional community with one another. While some people might find this exciting, I anticipated intentional living to be my most challenging VVC experience. This is because I knew that most intentional communities require the community members to always be together and to constantly partake in communal activities.

As an introvert, I dreaded the thought of always being around people since I get mentally and physically exhausted after spending a lot of time socializing. Thus, I often need time alone to recharge my energy. In spite of this, I believed that intentional community was necessary for a great service experience.

Living in an intentional community make for a great service experience because, in addition to impacting self-growth, it brings about the feeling of togetherness, support, and positive interactions with people who share the same interests. These things are important when participating in a year of service because people often learn new things about themselves, their surroundings, and their neighbors. This form of learning enables the members to grow and experience new things, which in turn gives rise to change. It is this intentional community that helps you during the transition process as other members of the community are also experiencing their own periods of transition. Consequently, this makes intentional living beneficial.

Knowing the benefits of living in an intentional community did not deter me from worrying about how challenging it would be for me to practice this. Nevertheless, my positive nature empowered me to embrace the VVC experience in hope that all will be well. After living with other VVC members for one month, I am glad to say that I am enjoying living in an intentional community because we get to learn about, support and also celebrate each other as we socialize.

What makes my VVC community experience fun is that we strive to respect each other in everything that we do – including both respecting peoples’ alone time and our community time as well – and we also acknowledge that there are other equally important people in our lives beside the VVC experience such as family and friends that we also need to connect with.

Furthermore, I appreciate the fact that each VVC’s get their own private bedrooms. This is because it is important to have a private place to practice solitude that allows one to reboot their brain and unwind, especially since we all live and work together.

Nevertheless, knowing that “WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER” gives me hope that VVC will continue to give me good experiences. I am also assured that in the event that I have a rough day at work, I can go home and vent to people who understand my situation since we all have shared experiences and face similar struggles in service.

 

 

 

 

What Community Means to Me

community-group

By Phyllis Kyei Mensah

Community, a place where unity is created in diversity is born… A place where we are temporarily distanced from our loved ones so we can gain new ones; Where we were total strangers just the last minute but became comraderies in love and service the minute after; Where old dreams and ambitions will die to be reborn into new exploits and aspirations; where we stepped in to the unknown but will step out to long lasting friendship and surety; Where we learn to overcome our differences and our imperfections; Where imperfections are turned into strengths and strengths into achievements and service to those who need most…

Even though I have lived in one form of communal living or the other in educational settings, I have still lived a very independent life and haven’t had to answer to anyone about basic decisions concerning my life. In these periods, I have lived a simple life by spending as little as I could to save money. It has never been a result of a conscious philosophical questioning of consumerism. However, community living has given me a chance to have deeper thoughts about simple living and the impact of our everyday spending choices on other people and the environment.

It is one thing to share an accommodation with seven housemates but an entirely different thing to have to build consensus with these people on almost every aspect of your life in the course of the year, especially when we have all come from different places.

The most challenging aspect of living in this community for me has been the fact that I can no longer have the prerogative to decide on routine daily activities and exercises by myself. I now have to consider the impact of my lifestyle preferences and decisions on the other members of the community and I have had to confer with seven other people to make some of these decisions.

However, these have been great lessons for me and I have come to value and cherish this aspect of community living. I have learnt to listen to and respect the opinion of others on even the most mundane issues of life. I am now able to shed off the long-held position of being the ‘boss’ of my life for the new role of a being a ‘board member’ of my life in our shared community. I have also learnt to replace ‘self-interest’ with selflessness and communality, virtues that, I believe, are very important in life.

I have also come to appreciate the awesome stories, experiences, skills and talents that people have and continue to share with me. For most of these, I would never have had the opportunity to experience but for the community.

Game time has always been a great time and so far, I haven’t denied the community a chance to have a good laugh about my ineptitude at playing games. Hopefully, I get to improve but otherwise, who cares? We get to have a good laugh after-all.

I have also really enjoyed conversations in the kitchen and the dining rooms while savoring all the delicious cuisines cooked by community members.

Although the year is still young and we have much more to experience, I know that this community has begun on a very good note. It is my hope that as the year wears on; we continue to share in love, hope and faith rather than battle with conflicts and regrets.

… It is this community that I commit to for the next ten months; to uphold, respect and love everything that the community and its members stand for.

Meet the 2017-2018 Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati Cohort

First day at Work

David, Ana, Carmen, Mary Ellen, Sarah, Phyllis, Preeya, and Jack

 

Ana Davila is originally from Clifton Park, NY and joins VVC after her time at Niagara University (a Vincentian school), where she completed a major in Developmental Disabilities and a minor in Religious Studies. Ana spent a summer with Vincentian Lay Missionaries in Kenya working with the Daughters of Charity, and has also spent time at a St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen. Ana will spend her year serving with our Social Services department.

“By doing service and expressing my Vincentian spirituality I have learned that it is more than just helping those who are less fortunate than I; it is an expression of equality. It is about inclusion and by uniting us through that sense that God made us all equal; He doesn’t love me over the marginalized.”

 

Jack Delisio is a Cincinnati native who completed his undergraduate degree in History with minors in Latin and Greek from Xavier University. He traveled to multiple places during his time at Xavier to learn more about social justice and the issues people in poverty face. He also served as the Summer Service Intern at SVDP in the Ozanam Center during the summer of 2015. This year, Jack will help facilitate immersion and retreat programs through the Ozanam Center for Service Learning.

“Living simply means finding value not in superficial things but in lasting and meaningful experiences, moments, and relationships. On the flipside, living simply also means de-cluttering one’s life by removing those things which are superfluous, empty, and insignificant. Another important part of living simply is aligning your words and actions with your values.”

 

David Devlin comes to VVC from West Middlesex, PA. He completed his undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton. While at UD, he was actively involved with a service brotherhood and led various groups in music ministry. He was also involved in service experiences in Dayton. David will be serving in our Choice Food Pantry for his VVC year.

”I had an idea of what poverty was but I never imagined it happening so close to home. At the time I didn’t think too much of my experience at the soup kitchen but looking back I think it was a valuable experience to learn a little bit about poverty and serving those less fortunate than myself.”

 

Phyllis Kyei Mensah  is originally from Sunyani, Ghana. She completed her Master’s degree from Miami University (OH) in Political Science where she was involved in various research projects. She also earned an African Studies degree at Oxford University in the UK prior to coming to the US. She has been actively engaged in her church in Oxford, OH. Phyllis will be splitting her time between our Community Relations department and supporting our Winton Hills Outreach Center.

“As part of my faith, I am an ardent believer of the doctrine of expressing love to everybody we encounter during our lifetime. I therefore find meaning in being a blessing in my own small way to people I encounter.”

 

Carmen Lopez Agredano comes to VVC from Algeciras, Spain. She has a background in political science, and she completed her Master’s degree in Public Administration & NGO Administration from Granada University. She worked as an au pair in England, Ireland & France and did a year-of-service in Lithuania. She completed an internship for her Master’s degree in Paraguay. Carmen will support the work of the Conferences and provide much-needed translation for our direct services and pharmacy.

“The question “What is there to do?” really shocked and inspired me; it is a question that we all have to ask every single day.”

 

Sarah Ocheing  is originally from Nairobi, Kenya and comes to VVC through her time at Xavier University, where she completed her undergraduate degree in Political Science/ Theatre and Gender & Diversity studies major/minors. She held numerous leadership positions and received various awards during her time at Xavier, and she also completed a summer service internship with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. Sarah will be working with the Getting Ahead program and providing some assistance to our Social Services department.

“Living simply means that we examine our daily lives, be conscious of our spending habits, and the way we spend our time. Instead of focusing on materialistic things and technology, living a simple life calls us to focus on the things that matter. These things are people, our relationships with others, our planet, and ourselves.”

 

Preeya Waite is from Cincinnati, OH, and she completed her undergraduate degree in Biology with a minor in Theology from Xavier University.  She was heavily involved at Xavier with the alternative breaks program and off-campus in area nonprofit organizations. She was also involved in biology research during her time at Xavier. You will find Preeya providing support to patients through the Charitable Pharmacy.

“By experiencing God’s unconditional love for me, I have been able to radiate that same love onto others in the community whom I encounter, and I do not know if I would be the same person if I did not have such a strong faith in God.  The Bible instructs us to love our neighbors and I take pride in attempting to live my life in the way that Jesus intended for us.” 

 

Mary Ellen Ostrowski, is originally from Eau Claire, WI, and she received her Biology degree from Benedictine College. She has just completed a year with VVC, serving in the Charitable Pharmacy. She will be joining us for a Fellowship year, a new leadership position with VVC in which she will be working with the VVC program rather than in a direct service capacity within one of the departments at SVDP.

“I have seen the benefits of community, especially in being able to process the work we do and the questions and issues we are wrestling with throughout the year. I think mission needs community to support it, and community needs mission to drive it forward. I don’t think you can have one without the other.”

A Day of Rest

By Mary Ellen Ostrowski

Over the course of this year, we have had many conversations about the concept and practice of voluntary simplicity. Composting, recycling, and being challenged to be aware of what I am buying and consuming have all become commonplace in my life. However, when I really look at my life and in what ways I struggle to live simply, most of the time the answer is in how I spend my time.

So much of my time is spent worrying about to-do lists, schedules, and how “productive” I am. I use my weekends to catch up on all the tasks I was unable to do during the course of the week. When I am not doing those things, I find myself spending my time ‘escaping’, particularly through the media. Whether it’s Netflix, Facebook, or Pinterest, there always seems to be an amusing video to watch, a friend to Facebook stalk, or a delicious (looking) recipe to try.

While these things can be fun, beneficial, and helpful (I’m looking at you Pinterest crock-pot recipes), I have come to find in my life that when I overindulge in these things (which can be often), I don’t find that I am able to enter into true, simple, life-giving rest. They add to the mental clutter in my life, and I usually don’t feel refreshed after spending so much time indulging in screen-time. Even when my justification for spending my time this way comes from wanting to relax after the busyness or stress of the day, I usually don’t actually feel a reprieve from the stress or refreshed from the bustle of the day after zoning out in front of yet another episode of “The Office.”

Recently, the VVCs and I were privileged to have the opportunity to spend time at a lake house, relaxing by the lake, kayaking, tubing, and entering into good conversation with good food and drink. When I looked back on this day, one of the things I was struck by was that I didn’t look at a screen of any kind the entire time we were there. Moreover, I didn’t even miss my phone or my computer, and I certainly didn’t need to ask for the WiFi password. We were in the sun all day, tubing behind a boat, and kayaking, so I figured I would be exhausted afterward (and I certainly was tired), but I also felt so content and joy-filled. For me, this was an experience of true rest and leisure, not of just filling my time with more tasks or the noise of the world.

bob's lake house.jpg

The past few months, I have been convicted of the importance of a true day of rest. In a world based on doing and going, it is so important to find time to step away from the busyness of life to enter into true leisure, to look for ways to connect with God, with friends, and with family. Whether it is hiking, boating, spending the day with a good book and a cup of fancy coffee, or spending the day cooking a nice meal with friends (if you don’t find that a chore), spending time in true rest is so important to recharge and to be able to look deeper into life. These things can also be catalysts for silence and contemplation, as well as building community. For me, I am trying to make Sunday about worship and making space for life-giving leisure, not about checking off more items from my to-do list or escaping into media.

As I finish up this year with VVC, one of the ideas I want to take with me beyond this year is not only practicing voluntary simplicity in how I choose to use my material goods, but also how I use my time and energy. I want to make sure I make time for silence, for building community, and for growing closer to God, and not just watching re-runs of “The Office.” Leaving time for life-giving leisure simplifies my life, my mind, and my heart.

Finding Peace Within Chaos

by Sarah Spech

Recently, Molly and I went to Smale Park to do yoga in the evening. For both of us, this was a huge step into the uncomfortable. For me, I had to not only begin practicing yoga again–but do it in public. Doing yoga in the park allows me to be both outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and also practice yoga, which heals my body, mind, and spirit. It’s the best of both worlds.

Even though it was my idea, I knew that the only reason I wasn’t turning around was that Molly was walking next to me with her mat into the park.

As she lead us through different poses, I struggled to pay attention to my breathing and my current self. The noises around me–kids yelling, dogs barking, feet running on concrete, bells chiming, cars passing–all called to me, vying for my attention. The world was literally moving around me, and it was my job to find the center within myself even through it all.

Focus, especially sustained focus, has been a barrier between me and many spiritual activities like meditation, yoga, and silent prayer.

I found in that park that I could more easily notice when I lost focus and draw myself back in. Rather than getting lost within my own head, I was being distracted by external stimuli. The physical separation between my mind and the distractions helped me to bring myself into myself.

It’s still a challenge to center within myself and focus on the present moment of simply being instead of the many responsibilities competing for my attention all day. But this practice has finally given me a space to exercise that ability.

It’s a moment of peace. It’s acknowledging the world but making time for myself within its chaos.