My Cincy Experience

I am sitting at my desk and trying to evaluate my 5 months that I already spent in Cincinnati. Before coming  here I didn’t even know where Cincinnati was. After looking at the map I realized that it’s not in the wild wild west as people at home (I am from Slovakia) would expect but it’s just in the Midwest. (I don’t know why but Ohio sounds very exotic and pretty west-ish to me.) Now, I don’t understand why it’s called Midwest when we are still in the East, but anyway, I got here after 2 cancelled flights in Canada and a fancy night in the expensive airport hotel. (Yes, the airport paid for my stay thanks to Cincinnati’s storm.) I told myself that in the end of the day I was very lucky since I could spend a night in a luxurious inn at least once in my life. One thing on my bucket list done.

When I finally got here, Cincinnati surprised me by its history and by the fact that Kentucky is just across the river. I think that I was the most excited person ever to cross the bridge and go to Kentucky. For me it really meant a lot to “travel” to another state, and Kentucky sounds so “country” and American that I was proud of myself when I was telling my family that I was in Kentucky. What an adventure!

The first time I went to Kentucky, I think it was the day after I got here, I walked there from our house. That day I walked around 6 miles, because I was so over-motivated to walk (since I am used to walking at home) – poor American guy who accompanied me. (A few days later he moved to another town – I think that he didn’t want to see me again, the crazy walking Slovakian 🙂 ) Then I realized that Americans (in general) don’t walk as much as we do. When I walk in the streets here, sometimes I am alone or sometimes there are 3 people on the sidewalk with me. The sidewalks are so empty that you can even ride a bike on them (I know, I know, it’s illegal). This was totally new for me and one of the biggest challenges – to get somewhere without a car. Everything is far, almost nothing is in a walkable distance. I have been saying that I’ve become a professional biker since I came here ( I don’t know why I still don’t have leg muscles 🙂 ).

Anyway, what surprised me the most (except the fact that people drive everywhere) was how people are nice. Americans are in general known for their kindness, politeness and smiling all the time and now I can tell that it’s true. People here are very friendly, even if my English is not perfect and sometimes I don’t understand their accents, they greet me in the streets and ask how I am. They also shout at me when they see me riding a bike because they like that it’s purple and retro (they even shout from cars when they’re stopped at traffic lights.) Once somebody was trying to buy my bike – the girl/buyer was walking behind me and my bike and shouting out offers like “40 bucks” and “50 bucks” to buy it. It makes me laugh.

Another thing that people are always asking me about is food. There are some American things that are strange to me like having a sandwich for lunch (it’s a breakfast meal for me, but I am always saying that I am becoming American, because I started to eat a sandwich for a lunch 🙂 ), or eating chips or pretzels as a part of a meal, having cheese in everything. Also the thing that you can eat everything with everything (Tommy) or water with too much ice that is so cold that I am still afraid to get a throat ache 🙂

I don’t want to be too long, I just wanted to say that this experience has been awesome so far. I like Cincinnati. I really do. Even when I gained weight here. Even when I don’t like ice,  don’t drive, and coffee shops close at 4 pm. Even when I am not German, can’t find our national Slovakian cheese in Jungle Jim’s, and kielbasa doesn’t taste the same as at home… Yes, I really do. And one last thing. Cincinnati is not boring. 🙂


Betka Limanekova is a native of Slovakia. In order to get around, she has become a proficient city biker, and likes to bike to church and different coffee shops. She loves soup and couscous, and hates movies about space, monsters, or robots. Betka will frequently ask others if they decide to like her that day, but due to her great accent, it is impossible to say no. At work you can find Betka in social services wearing floral skirts and sassing everyone around her.

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Get to know: Rachel

Name: Rachel Nartker

Hometown: West Milton, OH

SVDP Position: Conferences support team and Social Services

My normal day usually consists of reviewing and analyzing CAF (Conference Assistance Fund) applications. My main role is to look over the applications and get them ready for approval. I do this by keeping in close contact with Vincentians. I also spend part of my days doing direct service in the social services department.

Fun Facts

Her favorite food is corn on the cob.

She wants to travel to Greece and Ireland.

Unique talents include making balloon animals and jumping rope on a pogo stick.

What’s been the most challenging part of VVC so far? What has surprised you the most?

The most challenging thing has been learning to cope with not being able to help everyone. The most surprising part is how easy it’s been to live with 9 strangers.


A Bank Street Christmas

I have always heard people say that none of the material aspects of the Christmas season truly matter and that it is the people you are surrounded by who make it feel like Christmas. I have always agreed with the sentiment of that statement, but it has never truly hit home for me like it has this season. Experiencing Christmas in a new state, with people who were strangers to me only a few months ago, on a $100 per month stipend has been interesting to say the least. Being from Minnesota, I am used to snow and cold around Christmas. Here in Cincinnati, I have experienced a 65-degree December day and only a few truly chilly mornings. As silly as it sounds, the lack of winter weather was really putting a damper on my Christmas spirit for a while there. It just didn’t feel right to me to be singing “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” and putting up a Christmas tree when you don’t even have to wear a jacket outside. Being so far from home, I have missed many of my family’s Christmas traditions. For example, I didn’t get to go to a single Christmas craft show, something I have done every year with my mom since I can remember. The other day I made peanut clusters, a treat that my family always eats at Christmas, without any of my family members, and it felt odd, to say the least.

Despite missing my family and our Christmas traditions, I am actually having a great, albeit “alternative,” Christmas. While the weather is not what I am used to, there is something to be said for being able to walk around and look at Christmas lights and not be completely numb from the cold. These people who were strangers to me a few months ago are now some of my closest friends, and even though we do not have lots of extra money to spend on gifts and holiday treats, it has been a blast finding new ways to share the joys of the season. The regular pantry volunteers I work with week in and week out have become like another set of grandparents to me (who doesn’t want twenty new grandparents?!) and have made sure that I feel loved and appreciated during the Christmas season. Working alongside them every week has helped me to find the joy in serving others and has also helped me to remember why I am here. I will always cherish the memories of singing along to Christmas music in the white van, making cookies using the few ingredients we have in the VVC house, laughing with Bob Kamp over the crazy jobs we have had to do this holiday season, and watching cheesy Christmas movies with my roommates. Even though this Christmas season has been different from all those before it, it is one that I will always cherish!


Anna Krueger is a proud native of the “Bold North,” calling Minnesota home. At SVDP, Anna can be found in the food pantry alongside the many fantastic volunteers she has the privilege of working with on a daily basis. When she isn’t working, Anna enjoys reading, petting every cat she encounters in the neighborhood, and spending time outdoors.

Solidarity as a VVC

“Solidarity is a mutual relationship characterized by love, respect, willingness to learn, at least some of the same living conditions, sustained contact over time and a personal commitment to the well-being and liberation of both parties.”

That is how I defined solidarity on my application for VVC. While that definition remains valid, it is one thing to define solidarity and something else to attempt to live it. It is the kind of thing that loses all meaning in abstraction, but we know it when we see it. The closest experience I had with solidarity before VVC was the semester I spent with seven other Xavier students in the working-class Barrio La Luz in Managua, Nicaragua. We each lived with a Nicaraguan family, and mine happened to be one of the humblest.

This was my first experience with the poor. Over the 12 weeks I spent in Nicaragua, I formed relationships with the people I met, especially my host family. I ate meals with my host grand-mother and host-aunt. I brought my host-mother chocolate on Women’s Day and a necklace I from my trip to the Atlantic Coast. I played cards and joked with my host-brother and his wife. I teased my younger host-sister. I watched TV with them all in the evenings. Three months is short, but enough time to form a relationship. Solidarity cannot happen without that connection.

In spite of the challenges and our very different backgrounds, we managed to find a way to live together in peace. I still cherish the relationships I made there and I stay in touch with my host family and other friends in Nicaragua. When it was time to return to the United States, I didn’t want to leave. I would say the same happened with all of my companions from Xavier: we all fell in love with Nicaragua and its people.  

Since I have returned, I continue to carry my experience in Nicaragua with me as I continue to study Latin America and its peoples. I realized that even though I had some grasp of poverty in Nicaragua in 2017, I did not know much at all about the lives of poor people, particularly Latinos and immigrants. in the United States. That was one of the reasons I applied to be a bilingual advocate at SVDP as the organization adjusts to an increased demand for services in Spanish. I have everything to learn.

One of the blessings of my experience as a VVC has been the opportunity to have closer contact with the growing Hispanic/Latino community in the Cincinnati area. Through my work in the pharmacy and social services, and especially through my collaboration with the San Carlos conference, I have begun to form connections with that community. At SVDP, I see mostly Guatemalans, Honduras and some Mexicans. I consider myself privileged to be able to accompany these people –as well as all our neighbors—in their struggles and trials.

I was thankful to be able to share that experience with some of the other VVCs -Betka, Herman and Alleya – as we raised funds for San Carlos conference selling tamales after mass. Gioconda Belli, a famous Nicaraguan poet, once wrote that “solidarity is the tenderness of peoples.” If two Americans, a Ugandan and a Slovak can join themselves to two Guatemalans, three Mexicans and two Peruvians to support a marginalized community, that is a positive sign of solidarity. 

I think the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s model – conferences and home visits – is uniquely suited to creating solidarity with the poor. It discourages paternalism and requires Vincentians to listen to our neighbors and pursue systemic change as much as possible. Although it is technically above and beyond the scope of my duties, recently I have helped out in two home visits to Spanish-speaking neighbors by conferences that do not have bilingual capabilities. On one occasion I went in person and on another I interpreted through FaceTime. It was humbling and gratifying to be able to facilitate an encounter between people from different cultures and backgrounds. On both occasions we were able to provide assistance, though the reality is that sometimes it is impossible. In that case we can only offer hope and support.  

In the end, we are all neighbors. Solidarity requires that connection, that humility, that spirit of true generosity, that positive and continual commitment. All people -regardless of their faith – have a positive moral responsibility to commit themselves to the liberation and well-being of all.


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Phil Dunn is from Walton, KY but has spent his adult years between Cincinnati and Northern KY. He enjoys eating food, drinking coffee or beer, speaking Spanish, singing and dancing, learning about Central America, and doing his job. There are no typical days for Phil. You can find him interviewing patients for certification or interpreting Comprehensive Medication Reviews in the pharmacy, helping the social services area with walk-ins, translating documents to Spanish, researching resources for San Carlos conference or helping out with holiday programs.

Falling into Something New

Just as the leaves fall, indicating a new season, we often find ourselves falling into new things. Do you embrace that something new? Or are you like a cartoon character who tries to staple the leaves back on branches because you are not ready to embrace your new season? For me, that something new is Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati. And I chose to embrace it.     

Most people are not ready for the transitions that come with new seasons. In the fall, there is the uncertainty of when the leaves will fall (because you cannot trust the weather nowadays). And when they do fall, time needs to be set to rake them. Let’s not forget buying dresses for the fall dance and purchasing costumes for Halloween. OH SNAP! What about Thanksgiving? The turkey needs to be bought and cooked, as well as the sides. Invites need to be sent out. And the painful part – the coldness begins to seep in. This is how the first month of VVC has felt for me. Imagine living with nine other strangers from abroad and nationally. Visualize nine different personalities under one roof. Nine various ideas, thoughts, opinions. Going in, I thought to myself, “HOW IN THE WORLD AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THIS?! How do I balance living in intentional community while allowing time for myself?” And although I went to school across the bridge at Northern Kentucky University, Cincinnati is foreign to me. Cincinnati possess a culture of its own and getting acquainted with it has proven to be challenging. Not to mention having my first professional job in Social Services as a Client Advocate was distressing. Learning what I am assigned to do was not easy and I was scared to fail. But, we must not forget about the beauty and fun that comes with shifting into the fall season as well.

Ladies   giphy  we can FINALLY wear boots, leggings, oversized sweatshirts, sweaters, and scarves. The leaves change to wondrous colors; we drink hot apple cider; pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and apple picking come to life. Lovely things have also taken place in my first month as a VVC. I have become enlightened in my role as a Client Advocate. I am thankful for my department and the patience, support, and guidance they have given me, as well as the constant encouragement when I believe I am failing. We are all grateful for the open arms we have received from those that work and volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul. I have begun to familiarize myself with the culture of Cincinnati. (Shout out to everyone who has recommended exciting things we can do in town.) And the idea of residing with nine FRIENDS has been an awe-inspiring experience thus far.

Falling into new experiences can be crazy, but I dare you to embrace it. Embrace the delightful aspects in addition to the challenges. Let the uncertainty of new seasons guide you. You can surprise yourself with what you are able to grasp.


chrissyChristiana Tabugbo hails from Louisville, Kentucky but keeps her Nigerian pride close to heart. She loves all things floral, reading, and fashion. You’ll find her singing gospel tunes, jamming out to Little Mix, and dancing in the kitchen. Christiana also has a feisty side, and will sass you to the ends of the earth as her alter ego, Chrissy T. She can be found posted up in the social services department at SVPD.

Meet the 2018-2019 Vincentian Volunteers!

We are so excited to welcome 10 new Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati! Learn more about this year’s cohort in their bios below!

Alleya Harris is from Gilchrist, Oregon, and attended Northwest Christian University where she earned a degree in Exercise Science. Alleya has done service both in her hometown, through a local food bank and a nursing home, as well as in Mexico and Colombia. Alleya will be working part-time with the Ozanam Center for Service Learning as well as coordinating the Getting Ahead program.

“Everything I have experienced has done much to help me get past the abstraction I believe is common to people like me who have always had enough, the one that keeps us from seeing people “in poverty” as something other than our friends and family.”

Anna Krueger hails from Stillwater, Minnesota, and earned her degree in Agricultural Education with minors in Animal Science, Dairy Science, and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. During her time in college, Anna spent time student teaching children from incredibly diverse backgrounds. She is also highly involved in agricultural organizations such as 4-H. Anna will be working in the Choice Food Pantry during her time with VVC.

“I see God in the little things I encounter every day. From the birds chirping in the trees welcoming spring to the sound of a child’s carefree laugh, I can see God’s presence everywhere if I take the time to look. As I have gotten older and my faith has matured, I would like to think that I have gotten better at ‘looking’.”

Alžbeta Limáneková is originally from Hniezdne, Slovakia. She earned her Master’s degree in Education with a concentration in French language, literature, and history from Blaise Pascal University in Clermont Ferrand, France and lived and studied in an intentional community in France. She has done volunteer work teaching Slovak children and food distribution for people experiencing homelessness in Boston, MA. She will be serving with the Social Services team.

“I came to the conclusion that I want Him to do His own will in my life, rather than mine. Every day, I learn to trust Him, to reject fear and to believe in His love and goodness. I know that He is working in my favor.”

Christiana Tabugbo is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, but has spent the last four years at Northern Kentucky University where she earned a degree in Human Services and Addictions. Christiana has been on a service trip to Zimbabwe and has also interned with her church community. She will be using her gifts in the Social Services department.

“When God created us, He didn’t intend for us to walk this life alone, so He gave us the gift of community. As we grow in relationships with others, we are growing in our relationship with Him.”

Herman Muguluma comes to VVC from Lugazi, Uganda. Herman is currently a self-employed computer technician, and has also volunteered for many organizations both in Uganda and abroad in projects related to education, healthy living, and social services. During his time with VVC, Herman will be working at the front desk at St. Vincent de Paul as well as assisting with data management for the organization.

“I love to be inspired by the people in community because communities tend to have people from different backgrounds and every person seem to have their own story of life and faith, a community setting also gives me a sense of security, family, friendship and most importantly the aspect of unity in the community motivates me, knowing that I am not on my own.”

Jordan Battaglia hails from Chelsea, MI and has already been involved in the Vincentian family through her time at DePaul University, a Vincentian university, where she earned her degree in English. While at DePaul, Jordan was involved with campus ministry, and participated in multiple service immersion trips. As a VVC, Jordan will be working with the Community Relations department and assisting our neighbors in need.

“An important part of living simply, to me, is living a life of transparency and authenticity. To be open about where you are, and what you are feeling and going through. This creates simplicity because there are no lies or barriers between you and the people around you.”

Phillip Dunn comes to VVC from Walton, Kentucky. He graduated from Xavier University with a degree in Spanish and a minor in Latin American studies. His studies led him to Managua, Nicaragua, where he studied for a semester as part of the Nicaragua Solidarity Semester. In Nicaragua, he lived in community with a local family and engaged in service with the community. During VVC, Phillip will be using his gifts to work as a Client Advocate for the Latino community.

“Solidarity is a mutual relationship characterized by love, respect, willingness to learn, at least some of the same living conditions, sustained contact over time and a personal commitment to the well-being and liberation of both parties”.

Rachel Nartker is originally from Englewood, Ohio. She attended the University of Dayton, earning her degree in Religious Studies with minors in Psychology and Film Studies. While at UD, Rachel worked leading student retreats and went on an immersion experience trip in Guatemala. Rachel will be using her gifts as the Conference Support Associate, assisting Cincinnati’s over 900 parish-based volunteers to serve their own neighbors in need.

 “I realized how much we, as humans, are so much alike, even when we have totally different backgrounds and life experiences.”

Taylor Welch is from Cleveland, OH, and graduated from Xavier University with a degree in Athletic Training. While attending XU, Taylor was involved in the Alternative Breaks program, where she led a trip focusing on prison injustice and has also engaged with issues of gentrification in Cincinnati. Taylor will be using her gifts in the Ozanam Center for Service Learning as well as assisting our re-entry program.

“Living in direct community with others is how we grow to understand the world around us. Developing a community takes intentional effort and motivation – it is everyone’s responsibility to help one another grow and I think that is why engaging and being present in communal moments are of benefit to everyone in that community.”

Tommy Emmet is originally from Grapevine, TX, and comes to VVC after completing his degree in Neuroscience and Behavior and minor in International Development Studies from the University of Notre Dame. Tommy has shadowed physicians in Ghana, West Africa, organized service projects as a Resident Assistant, and planned medical-related service opportunities. Tommy will use his gifts as a Patient Advocate in the Charitable Pharmacy.

“I experience God through my relationships with other people. I experience Him when someone performs an uncommon and undeserving act of kindness toward me, or even just in the presence of my friends and family. I know that the love I feel from them comes from God, and try my best to make His presence known to them as well.”

 

A day in the Life of a Getting Ahead Coordinator / Client Advocate

By Sarah Ochieng

Sarah with doughnuts
Sarah serving treats at last year’s Thanksgiving Distributio

Client Advocate:

As a client advocate, my responsibilities include: participating in programs to support the work of the Social Services Department of SVDP, service delivery for people requesting assistance during walk-in hours and on home visits, and building helping relationships with people in need so that they recognize and utilize their personal strengths and resources in problem-solving.

Social Services

My time on Monday and Thursday mornings is spent with our neighbors.  I assist the social services department by providing basic needs assistance to our neighbors, including providing them with clothing, birth certificates, state ID vouchers, and public transportation tokens. During this time, I have the opportunity to engage with our neighbors on a personal level and get a deeper understanding of their living situations and life experiences.

On Thursday afternoon, I participate in rent and utility decision meetings, where client advocates, including myself, read through rent and utility applications and choose the top applications (based on need and sustainability). The next process includes presenting a client’s case and advocating the need for them to receive the assistance they applied for.

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Getting Ahead Coordinator:

The 16-week Getting Ahead program helps individuals to build their personal sustainable action plans to get out of poverty. As a Getting Ahead coordinator, I support all program-related needs including: coordinating logistics, recruiting participants, facilitating training sessions, working with individual participants, training additional facilitators and mentors, creating an ongoing relationship with neighbors in need, supporting the work of our area Conferences, and developing opportunities for SVDP to address systemic change.

We currently have two ongoing Getting Ahead workshops. One group is held at St. Martin of Tours Church in Cheviot, Ohio and has a total of eight participants, while the other group (with a total of eleven participants) is held at Mt. Healthy Christian Church in Mt. Healthy, Ohio.

 

 

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Day of Workshop 

The Getting Ahead class begins at 11:00 a.m. and ends at 2:00 p.m. Since the foundation of  Getting Ahead is co-investigation, both participants and facilitators are investigators. We investigate poverty from different perspectives and discuss how it affects our communities. We define poverty as the extent to which an individual does without resources.

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We view People in poverty not as the problem, but as problem solvers. Not as needy, but the needed. We need them to give us relevant information to fix poverty as they are the experts of their own community. Aside from the economic factors, we also consider other causes of poverty in our investigation. During this analysis, we find that poverty is not just about the financial inadequacies. It is much deeper!

Among other things, we also talk about bonding capital – those people that we hold closest to us – and analyze how we can use our bonding capital as resources to create a support system that can comfort us in times of need. Most importantly, we support and encourage one another.

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I cherish my role as a Getting Ahead coordinator as it gives me an opportunity to know my neighbors on a personal level and hear their perspectives on ways to improve the communities we live in. I also get to see them improve their situation and take action in their lives, create their future story by setting goals and working toward those goals. I have been able to form strong relationships with the investigators and have shared memories, laughter, and experiences.

 

5 Myths About VVC

There are many misconceptions about doing a year of service. This post looks to dispel some of these myths about a year of service in general, and more specifically about VVC.

Myth #1: I won’t be able to pay student loans or other bills

Fact #1: For student loans, VVCs receive assistance to put their loans in deferment status for the duration of the program. In addition, VVCs are granted an Education Award (for ’17-’18, it was in the amount of $5,815) upon completion of the program to pay for past loans or future schooling. Mary Ellen, a 2nd-year volunteer writes, “I was not able to put that much money toward my student loans in an entry-level job right out of college, so this was a great benefit for me.”

In addition, all basic needs are covered by the program, including rent, utilities, health and renter’s insurance, as well as stipends for cell phones, transportation, and personal use.

Myth #2: I’m not Catholic, so I don’t belong in VVC.

Fact #2: While St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic organization, the VVC program is intentionally diverse. People of all faith backgrounds are encouraged to apply because the diversity of belief adds to the richness of community. We all have something to learn from each other. Phyllis, a current volunteer says,

 “I have never felt judged because of my denomination, which I am allowed to practice without any restrictions. When we all get together to discuss spirituality, we are bonded together by the universal principles of love, respect and service. These are the beliefs VVCs stand for.”

Myth #3: Intentional community seems too intense; I need to keep up with other relationships.

Fact #3: Intentional community certainly does not mean anyone is cut off from the outside world. Family members, significant others, and other friends are all vital relationships, and making time for those people is important. VVC does challenge you to make your community a priority, but that does not mean you are cut off from the other people in your life. David (VVC 2017-18) explains,

“You are going to have a life outside of community, and that’s understandable and ok. Intentional community is more about being intentional about the time you spend together, rather than spending all the time together.”

Myth #4: My role won’t be relevant. I will only be doing the work of an intern.

Fact #4: On the contrary, VVCs are an integral part of the staff at St. Vincent de Paul. They are tasked with contributing to major projects in a meaningful way, giving their honest opinions, and making real contributions toward the organization. Many alumni were granted their next step after the program year directly because of the professional work they did as a VVC.

Myth #5: As a Cincinnati resident, I don’t have anything new to learn from here.

Fact #5: A number of VVCs have had previous ties to the Cincinnati area, but that does not mean there is nothing left to gain from serving in a local program. Jack, a VVC, and lifelong Cincinnatian, writes,

“This year is unique to the previous parts of my life in Cincinnati, and gives me a new perspective from which to see my hometown and its people, because I am now an adult, out of school, and living intentionally in the West End community.”

To hear more of Jack’s thoughts on doing a year of service in his hometown, read his blog entry.

 

Hopefully, this was able to dismiss any myths you may have about VVC. To find out more, visit our website and like us on Facebook!

Different Neighborhood, Same City

By Jack Delisio

I was born and raised in Cincinnati and even went to college in my hometown as well. I decided to stay in Cincinnati for VVC mainly because I have an incredible family and community of support here already and I felt I was not ready to leave that behind for a different city. That being said, once I decided to do VVC, I was nervous about not having much left to learn about my hometown and the issues that people face here every day while experiencing poverty and other forms of oppression. I had even participated in an immersion retreat during college in Cincinnati focused on urban education, gentrification, and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. “What more could I possibly have to learn?” I thought. I feared that VVC would be a repeat of my previous experiences, presenting new material to those not from here but the same old stuff to me.

However, that has definitely not been the case. I have already learned so much and I expect to learn more and more as my year with VVC continues.

This year is unique to the previous parts of my life in Cincinnati, and gives me a new perspective from which to see my hometown and its people, because I am now an adult, out of school, and living intentionally in the West End community. I grew up in Westwood and lived in Norwood/Evanston while a student at Xavier University. These neighborhoods are both fairly ethnically and economically diverse, but my experiences there differ from this year. Now that I am an adult and out of school, my parents are no longer there to avert my eyes from suffering, my classroom walls are no longer there to “protect” and isolate me from my surrounding community, and the multitude of distractions available on a college campus are no longer at my fingertips.

This year, my neighborhood is my classroom and my neighbors my professors. For this whole year, I get the opportunity to be a student of the West End, learning from real people about their real lives and real stories. VVC offers me the chance to have a much more intimate, personal, and real-life encounter with my neighbors here in the West End and build relationships with these people, the vast majority of whom experience poverty and other forms of oppression. Walking around the neighborhood and to and from work every day, I cannot ignore or escape seeing the realities of people suffering in poverty and discrimination. And when I get home, I am not isolated and distant from my neighbors but I remain connected to them, because I have chosen to live counter-culturally and live in solidarity with my neighbors. I have chosen this year to live not just according to what I want and what makes me comfortable, but to live intentionally more in accordance with what my neighbors and I both need.

And there is SO MUCH to learn from the West End community. There is a great deal of important history and social justice issues to learn about just as they affect this small neighborhood. And there is even more to learn from becoming an intentional and active part of the West End, which VVC has given me the opportunity to do. By going to the same gym, attending the same community events, and walking the same streets as my neighbors, I receive a more in-depth, complex, and intimate relationship with my fellow West End residents. I can more clearly and personally see the dignity, potential, and gifts of my neighbors and the ability of communities to heal themselves. I can also see more clearly how big picture changes to the neighborhood, funding allocations, and city plans affect my neighbors, because they affect me, too. Through these experiences, I learn more and more every day that, regardless of whether or not someone is experiencing poverty or another form of oppression, I am completely and utterly equal to my neighbor. We do not always have the same life experiences, but we are surely equal in our value and dignity, because we live next door to one another.

These are choices that I have never made before. I am living a lifestyle I have never lived before. I am living in a neighborhood where I have never lived before. And because of all of that, I have a new perspective that I have never had before and I am constantly learning.

 

About the Author:

Jack Delisio is a Cincinnati native who loves Skyline Chili, the Reds, and goetta. Jack thrives on making connections with people, using weird voices, and learning from different people and cultures. On a given day, you can find Jack educating retreatants on issues of social justice as the Ozanam Center Coordinator, making curry, journaling, or going on adventures in the West End.

A Day in the life of the Social Service Client Advocate

Ana with 'Client'

I was discerning a Vincentian year of service for a while but I just didn’t know where. I honestly don’t know how this program ended up being the one I applied to, but I just couldn’t shake away the idea of it. I was so comfortable with my lifestyle that I knew I needed a change of perspective and this program seemed to fit perfectly with that desire. Although I felt called to serve in Cincinnati, I was still terrified- but as my twin sister always reminds me, God doesn’t call the prepared, He prepares the called and well, here I am!

Currently, I am working as a Client Advocate in the social services department of St. Vincent de Paul. Like all the departments at St. Vincent de Paul, the social services department wears many hats. Some of the services we offer include immediate assistance, such as writing vouchers for state I.D’s, birth certificates, and clothing and household items. Other times we serve our neighbors by assisting them with their monthly rent or utility bill. Apart from those services, we mainly serve as a friend; an ear to someone going through a tough time.

Here, a lot of our families are struggling with relationships and finances. My most important job is to be someone to listen to their story and then to offer to pray with/for them. It constantly amazes me how faithful my neighbors here are. One of St. Vincent de Paul’s main values is to see the face of Christ in all those we meet and my neighbors make that opportunity easy. They are often so joyful and uplifting and just FULL of Christ!

Throughout this position, I have had the opportunity to grow spiritually and professionally in ways that I didn’t know were possible. Spiritually, I have fallen more in love with God because of my neighbors. Their presence fills my cup daily. Sometimes I just smile when I am walking home from work because of how grateful I am for them. I honestly don’t know what else to say besides “thank you” to God for this program.

Professionally, I have also grown immensely. When I first found out what my job position was, I was terrified; I didn’t feel qualified or ready to experience any of it. However, through the support of my coworkers, community, and neighbors I can honestly say that for the first time ever I actually feel qualified! I feel as if I am taken seriously here and a part of a team full of caring individuals. I feel confident in my ministry and like a true professional and young-adult; it is refreshing.

Although I feel myself growing spiritually and professionally, I have definitely struggled in many ways. My favorite aspect of this year is the solidarity piece but, it is also where I have the hardest time. Solidarity is wonderful because it provides a perspective and feeling of unity and togetherness, but it is also temporary for me. I only have to experience this for a year, and while it is uncomfortable at times, I know it is going to end. I struggle with the idea that my neighbors don’t know when the tough times will be over and that there is a possibility that they will never get out of this cycle. All of these apprehensions propose the question of what do I do to remain intentional and in solidarity after this year? Well, I wish I had an answer right now but, I am still trying to figure that out.

The popular hymn “Here I am, Lord” always grounds me in times of anxiety, uneasiness, joy, and thankfulness through my ministry.  It also seems to guide me through all other aspects of my life this year. I especially love to reflect and pray the chorus, “Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.”

 

About  the Author

Ana Davila is a Niagara University graduate with a degree in developmental disabilities and a minor in religious studies.  In her spare time she loves to hike, camp, journal, and play with her dog. Ana is also a former Vincentian Lay Missionary where she spent a month in Kenya working alongside the Daughters of Charity.