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.

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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.

World Environment Day 2017

Photo: St. Vincent de Paul’s garden, in which staff and volunteers grow fresh produce to fill the shelves of the Choice Pantry.

By Maura Carpinello

It was Christmas during my year of service with Colorado Vincentian Volunteers.  I had traveled back East to visit my family for a few days.  I had a mid-morning snack then wandered around my mom’s kitchen for what seemed like minutes, trying to figure out where I should dispose of my banana peel.  (It was probably only 30-45 seconds, in reality.) I reluctantly tossed it into the trashcan, finally realizing there was no compost bin.

This very brief incident has remained in my brain for well over a decade now, a tangible reminder of the incredible power of habits – and the way in which such small acts can be truly transformational.  Not having access to a compost bin for my banana peel has become my often-used analogy for acknowledging the impact that small movements can make and impels me toward greater acts of change, even when I think it won’t make a difference.

I am a tree hugger.  I get laughed at when I walk to the printer twice to manually double-side anything I print. I carry things like banana peels and apple cores with me until I can get to a place where I can compost them. I also carry a reusable water bottle with me everywhere I go. I try to purchase mostly second-hand clothing and support companies with an honest and serious commitment to the environment. And my family prides itself on having only one bag of trash every week. All of these small things might not make a significant dent in the enormous environmental problem our planet currently faces, but it helps me to know that I use half as much paper than I otherwise would; I do my best to minimize what goes into the landfill; I rarely contribute to the 50 billion plastic bottles used in the US in a year (and when I do, they are most definitely recycled); and I’m making the trash collector’s life a little bit easier by not making him drag a heavy trash can to the dump truck.

And more importantly, for me, these small efforts are part of a bigger picture – an effort to live a more seamless way of life, where Care for Creation stretches well beyond people to encompass the Earth and all of God’s creatures.  Where people and things are treated with dignity and respect. Where people and things are not considered disposable. Where I recognize and act not only for my own benefit, but because I know and am aware of the ways in which my actions have a ripple effect.  Where I know that the ripple effect most negatively impacts my brothers and sisters experiencing poverty, in my own community and across the world.

“It is the poor and vulnerable who disproportionately suffer from the effects of climate change, such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, famines and water scarcities.  These climate change impacts threaten to foster more desperation and suffering in the world that could lead to more global instability and unrest. It is our moral duty…and in our national interest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and assist the poor and vulnerable among us to adapt.” (Archdiocese of Cincinnati Social Action Office)

Having spent my career walking alongside, encountering, and hoping to do some small thing to support people experiencing poverty, this reality truly grounds me in my convictions and efforts. Knowing that I can – and must – use my privilege in support of those who do not have that luxury challenges me to try harder and do more. People in the West End neighborhood in Cincinnati, who have no access to a grocery store in their neighborhood and few opportunities for education or employment around the corner from where they live, have an air quality level that is much lower than that in my own neighborhood within the city limits. Meanwhile, people in the Ocotillo community in El Salvador suffer from a lack of clean drinking water. No matter where we look, it is our neighbors most in need who suffer most from the effects of environmental degradation. It is unjust, and it is a call to action.

“Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Sí, 23)

We all have the great responsibility to share these realities and struggles, challenges and invitations to live better, more intentionally, more consciously. I have the gift of being able to do so with the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati. As VVC welcomes a new community each summer, I slowly unveil my banana-peel-carrying oddities, hoping to reveal the depth of purpose, meaning, and intention of each of these seemingly silly acts and hoping to inspire them, too, to look more carefully and more intentionally at their own actions and habits and how they impact others along the way. Just as mentors and role models in my own life have shaped and challenged my way of life for the better, I hope that I can impart a piece of this gleaned wisdom so that our ripple can grow wider.

“Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. (Pope Francis, Laudato Sí, 159)”

Growth Through VVC

By Molly Gibbons

Growth may stem from many different things.: The people I surround myself with, the way I pass time, the mistakes I make and what I do with the lessons I learn. All of these elements, and many more along the way, are the works of true growth. Living outside of my comfort zone has allowed me to uncover rhymes and reasons behind my way of being.

Living out my faith in action through VVC has created a solid platform for me to continue to build upon. Even the strengths that I had before the start of this journey have been sculpted into skills that I can use in both my professional and personal lives. I am not leaving this program an entirely new person, nor would I want to. I am leaving this program with a heightened awareness, true patience, and the deepest form of gratitude I have ever experienced.

I know I have grown because I am moving forward in a physical, spiritual, and mental sense. Using each encounter as a tool to evaluate and reflect on my way of being. Listening to not only the words of others, but most importantly, the words I choose to speak. Exploring questions and finding answers to what it is I stand for and how I present myself to the world. I have learned that these questions will never fully go away, because I am committed to living a life full of passion and purpose.

Continuously putting myself in situations and surrounding myself with individuals who will challenge me and offer me a sense of unity. Seeing the world through another lens, experiencing a different collection of people, not simply observing how another lives, but striving to understand who they are is done through empathy. My empathy has allowed me to go beyond observing how others live and strive to understand them on a personal level.

Understanding the importance to never judge or make an assumption about another person. I am not here to hate; I am here to heal. As much as the work I do can be frustrating and seemingly hopeless at times, when I ground myself into my role of healing, I respond with love. I am not responsible for solving the world’s problems, but I can use my gifts to raise the vibrations that carry us all.

 

Molly Gibbons is a Margate City, NJ native who brings good vibes to this year’s VVC cohort. She enjoys meditation, burning incense to soothe the soul, and has found that everything tends to fall in place when a person approaches life with an open heart.

Restlessness

By Molly Gibbons

Restlessness is a feeling I have gotten to know pretty well during my time here on earth. It’s the feeling that comes up when I have been in one place for awhile, one that appears during times of frustration or excitement, and one that interrupts my peace of mind if I don’t keep a close eye on it. I used to think that it was my responsibility to get rid of this feeling altogether. I am feeling restless? This must mean that something in my life is wrong. This must mean that I need to make a change–and fast! I would do anything to chase this feeling away. I have lived a pretty colorful life thus far, and that has all been intentionally arranged. Seeking out opportunities, meeting new people, and traveling to different places is how I have managed to “escape” this feeling of restlessness. But, sure enough, no matter what my situation may be, I have recognized that this feeling continues to pop up from time to time.

What does this mean? It means that restlessness is a part of life. The trick is not to run from the restlessness, but to accept the feeling. If I feel this restlessness come on, it doesn’t mean I need to immediately jump ship and switch gears completely. Letting myself know that restlessness is a part of life actually ends up subsiding a lot of this feeling altogether. Running away will simply cause this feeling to eventually follow me to my next venture. It is when one is able to sit in the restlessness and continue with their daily rituals that this restless feeling will pass.

One of the many discoveries I have made so far during my year with VVC is that I am capable of accepting this restlessness. Dedication to personal and group reflection has allowed me to understand that it is, in fact, a part of life and not something that I am alone in dealing with. Although I may not have control over many aspects to do with contributing to restless feelings, I always have control over all the thoughts that enter my head. A way I have learned to sit with this feeling is through being mindful in ways of staying present in the now and practicing meditation. Adopting meditation into my daily routine has created space in my mind and invited ease into my approach on all things I deal with.

Meditation comes in many different forms and is meant to be a practice! Beyond silent and still meditation, one can also practice through walking, music, reading, etc. I am thankful for my relationship with mindful behaviors and encourage others to explore a practice that feels right to them. The key to inviting a new practice into one’s life is to listen to your body. Just like anything else, being mindful about dealing with restlessness is something that will take time and dedication. From personal experience, I can say the time you spend on meditation will better serve you than the time you spend on feeling stuck in the hopeless cycle of “restlessness.”

 

Molly Gibbons is a Margate City, NJ native who brings good vibes to this year’s VVC cohort. She enjoys meditation, burning incense to soothe the soul, and has found that everything tends to fall in place when a person approaches life with an open heart.

Our Community

by Rene Betance

Where would I be without community?

Five of us. One from Nigeria, one from Cleveland, one from Wisconsin, one from New Jersey, and finally one from Mexico. A relatively strange group of people if you’re looking from the outside. We all have a very different way of engaging with the world. The five people that signed up for a year of service with St. Vincent de Paul all took very different paths to get here. Yet we have shared in that fulfillment, struggle, community, and passion that comes with being a VVC.

Given the craziness that has been my life the past year, I believe it is fair that I can’t peacefully say that this has been a great year. I’d be lying to you if living in community wasn’t one of my initial reservations about this year of service. You just never know who you’re going to live with. I was taking a chance with living with four strangers. But I can gladly say that these four friends of mine have helped me to overcome a year of political turmoil and change.

Regardless of where you stood during the election, the political climate in the United States is at a point of contention unlike any I’ve ever seen. That certainly made me feel a little hopeless about the direction of this country. Yet having the community I did, along with our ability to have productive political dialogues, made one of the most complicated political realities bearable.

The intensity of the work at St. Vincent de Paul can be daunting for people joining the workforce for the first time, then add in adjusting to a 8:00-4:30 schedule while trying to manage the emotions that come with seeing people who are experiencing levels of urban poverty we were not previously aware of. Despite all of the obvious challenges that a year of service brings, I don’t believe I speak alone in saying the benefits of a year of service, especially being in community, are invaluable.

After our midyear retreat for VVC, I had time to reflect on the progress that we’ve made as a community. Last time we were all on retreat, we were playing Uno and asking awkward questions about each other. Now we’re taking personality tests and saying how each of us fit our personality types. “Oh Fare, you’re such a 9!”

The important question is, how did we get here? I look at our progress as a result of vulnerability, intentional conversations, and challenge. Community hasn’t been easy; there were certainly moments that really frustrated me. I willingly take those frustrations with the joy community has brought me. The next five months are what get me excited. I can’t wait to see how we grow in the next months because, as of now, I don’t know where I’d be without community.

 

Rene Betance spent his first few years in Chihuahua, Mexico, before bouncing around Texas and Ohio. The Xavier grad has a knack for conversation, will tell it like it is, and has never been sarcastic in his life.

The Importance of Retreat

Retreat. /rəˈtrēt/ (n.) an act of moving back or withdrawing.

By Sarah Spech

Retreat. /rəˈtrēt/ (n.) an act of moving back or withdrawing.

As part of our year with VVC, we are able to go on a mid-year retreat. Three days, almost exactly halfway through the program, with no work, (minimal) outside stress, and lots of community bonding. In the two weeks leading up to the retreat, there were many remarks of “I’m so ready for retreat” and the like from all of us.

Personally, it was needed even more as a renewal of enthusiasm for the work I do than anything else. While I thoroughly love the work I do, after so many months, it has become more of a “job” to get done than an act of service with a mission. Entering the retreat, I wanted to renew and refresh that sense of mission and the energy that I had. It’s so easy to grow away from the relational aspect of service and settle into the impersonal, transactional mentality of day-to-day tasks.

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Warm weather, nature, time with community, and time to focus on the reason for the work we do were the necessary medicine.

 

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(And fuzzy cows)

 

It makes me think about how in other years of my life, there was never the same time set aside for true retreat. While vacations can be relaxing, intentional time to reset and refocus while on retreat is rarely given priority (if ever). I have learned the necessity of leaving room for retreat in my future career. Even if that means vacation motivated and filled with my own intentionality to examine my life and goals.

It gives you a chance to refill your own cup. We were able to put intentional time into our individual and communal relationships, think deeply and critically about where we are in life and where we want to go, and center ourselves within ourselves in order to go out into the world, more solidly grounded within ourselves. And with a full cup, we are able to enter back into daily life, ready to give of ourselves to our neighbors in need.

 

Sarah Spech hails from Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from the University of Dayton with an English degree. She enjoys music, talking about feminism, a hot cup of fair trade coffee, and dreaming about one day living beyond the borders of the Buckeye State.

Living the Year of Mercy Beyond 2016

Through VVC, I am able to live the Corporal Works of Mercy and my faith in an active, tangible way.

By Mary Ellen Ostrowski

As I look back on 2016, I am struck with how blessed I was to be able to spend part of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy in such a meaningful way, through becoming a VVC and working as a Patient Advocate at St. Vincent de Paul – Cincinnati.

Through VVC, I am able to live the Corporal Works of Mercy and my faith in an active, tangible way. I am able to comfort the sick through my role as a patient advocate, assisting neighbors in receiving life-saving medication. I cloth the naked, by giving thrift store clothing vouchers to neighbors who sometimes only had the clothes on their backs. I help feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty by assisting in the Choice Food Pantry. I am able to (hopefully) be Christ to those that walked through the doors of our Outreach Center. I pray with people, listen to people, and give encouraging words to people. And even though looking back it seems like only a drop in the bucket, like it was a futile attempt to try and do something in a world so full of problems, I am reminded that even serving one soul makes it all worth it.

A quote attributed to Mother Teresa (a woman who exemplified living the works of mercy) sums it up perfectly, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” As I continue this VVC year of service in 2017, I am challenged to continue having an attitude of mercy with neighbors, with my community, and with myself.

But I encourage anyone reading this to also continue living a year of mercy every year. Do something. Do something big, small, short term, long term, helping one neighbor or a whole community, just do something. Have an encounter of mercy with your own neighbors. Remember that even seemingly small acts of kindness like sharing food or clothing can have an immense effect on those you serve and on your own life as well. Don’t let the immensity of the world’s problems cause you to be complacent or indifferent.

Don’t be afraid to make ripples! You never know what effect they will have on the world.

 

Grounded in her faith, Mary Ellen has an optimistic outlook on life. Through intentional decision making and dedication to personal prayer and reflection, Mary Ellen strives to grow as an individual on a daily basis.

Soul Food Feeds St. Vincent de Paul – Cincinnati

By Tim Barr

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As people, we share common needs for both physical and spiritual nourishment. Physical nourishment could be anything along the lines of eating, being active, or actually doing something. Spiritual nourishment would consist of self-reflection, prayer, and creating a space to allow God’s presence in.

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St. Vincent De Paul has been a common area where both of these needs have been met in one way or another, whether it be serving our many neighbors with food through our pantry or sitting down for a meal together as a staff. Praying with a neighbor is a staple of the organization and a strong foundation of hope through adverse times. We all share the common experience of our souls and the need for them to be nurtured.

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In February 2015, we hosted the inaugural Soul Food Session potluck, recognizing and celebrating Black History Month and the many souls that have helped and are continuing to help create it. We host the lunch in celebration of black history and to further perpetuate the love culture that exists in it and its home here at St. Vincent De Paul.

Soul food, in essence, comes from a place of love and nourishment for the soul. A lot of the recipes consist of everyday things that people would just have “around the house.” I use that term loosely because, for a lot of black families, it would be the very last of what they had or everything they could afford, which wasn’t much. The beauty in soul food is that it’s made from very basic ingredients, but made with enough love to feed families for generations.

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As we grow as an organization, it’s important to remember what’s at the core of our mission and the work we do: love. A recent study from the University of Chicago (Woolley & Fishbach) has proven that sharing meals or eating the same foods builds trust and cooperation within groups of people. The goal of the Soul Food Session potluck was to increase awareness and spark conversation about all the physical contributions of black culture to American history and the spiritual contributions to who we are as people.

 

Tim Barr is a former VVC and current volunteer coordinator at St. Vincent de Paul – Cincinnati. His succotash was a huge hit at the potluck, and his recipe was requested many times.

Dissatisfied and Ready

In this year of transition and discernment I feel as though I am standing at a vantage point. I see similarities between my new environment and my place of origin and cannot help to quench the urge to find my niche in our complex society.

By Fare Olagbaju

I smile when I reflect on my journey from Lagos, Nigeria, to the West End of Cincinnati. My upbringing laid the foundation for my personal growth and deliberately conscious way of life. From a young age, in spite of the rebukes I received from elders who believed children were to be seen and not heard, I realized that questions are more important than answers. I stood out among my peers because I actively sought to learn more about the socio-economic mechanisms behind fast-paced Lagos, and the close-knit communities it comprised of. I could not come to terms with what I saw as my compatriots’ apathy about the curious state of our nation. However, as I grew older and became more cognizant of my relative privilege in society, I began to realize that the average Nigerian’s top priorities were not insight and enlightenment, but survival and sustenance.

The apathy I once perceived at home has come back as I leave the collegiate bubble and immerse myself in the “real world.” I left Nigeria at the age of seventeen to broaden my perspective of the world, but in the U.S., I have come to observe that people have been stripped of a sense of human dignity; in the land of the free and the home of the brave, I have found that many people still struggle to survive and sustain. My curiosity pushes me to pose the question, “Why?” But in my four and a half years in the United States, I have found that the inequality is not hard to see, especially for someone who looks like I do.

It has been a struggle to discern for myself who I am, but this year there is a new identity that I have taken on: I am a Vincentian. I have been called to live a holy life, to be humble, and to be of service to the poor. With the injustice and lack of love in the world, I have found that it is easy to burn out, especially when one takes on such a calling at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Dissatisfaction is a good thing, to not be content with societal inequities and always strive to foster hope for those who live on the margins.

So far, this year of service has led me to appreciate the human condition much more. In this year of transition and discernment, I feel as though I am standing at a vantage point. I see similarities between my new environment and my place of origin and cannot help to quench the urge to find my niche in our complex society. Simplicity has taught me to not worry, but to embrace discomfort and search for avenues to continuously learn and grow.

Over the course of my lifetime, I would like to bring people together to help build frameworks that enable communities to learn, grow, and hold leaders accountable. I want to go beyond helping our neighbors in need. I would like to search for alternatives to the current mechanisms that keep my neighbors in need.

 

To learn more about VVC, visit http://bit.ly/learnVVC

Hailing from Lagos Nigeria, Fare is a contemplative and curious individual, especially in subjects of Economics, Politics, Science, Arts, and Poverty. Aside from his questions and books, Fare is also sustained by chicken, music, bagels, and a profound sense of chill.

Discerning a Year of Service

As someone who constantly battles an inherent disposition to view things in black and white, a year of service helps me see the grey in the world. Sometimes in that constant pursuit of an ideal–in my case, justice–we can really forget to slow down and reassess.

By Rene Betance

Looking back, it now seems funny that I thought I was never going to do a year of service. In my time at Xavier University, I was part of the “social justice crowd.” This group of people included a number of folks who were pursuing a year of service after graduation. I thought of myself as the exception to that rule. While I wholeheartedly believed in spending a year in intentional community, pursuing conversations about our faith, morals, and the social justice, I viewed a year of service like a parenthesis, a pause in my life. Instead of heading off directly into the workforce or grad school, it would serve as more procrastination from the “real world.” I am restless. I can’t pause! There’s always work to do and we need to get going. I don’t have time to pause, grab a shovel, and get digging.

Yet, I sit here writing this blog post from a desk at St. Vincent de Paul – Cincinnati, in month 4 of my year of service. What happened between then and now is my discernment; perhaps without that discernment, I wouldn’t have truly learned the lesson of contemplation and the value of a year of service. As someone who constantly battles an inherent disposition to view things in black and white, a year of service helps me see the gray in the world. Sometimes in that constant pursuit of an ideal–in my case, justice–we can really forget to slow down and reassess. Maybe the best example of this is the parable of Babies in the River. In that moment of relentless pursuit, we can forget to look around and discern where our gifts are best utilized, what the world needs and where God is inviting us.

In college, I was ready to dive into that river to get the babies. A year of service, specifically the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati, helps to calm me and truly discern. Do I want to be someone who is taking the babies out of the river or do I want to go up the river and find the source of the problem? Taking the time to consider this question is essential to my life. The answer will dictate my future.

I believe that we all need to answer big questions in our lives. Our best selves demand that we carefully consider our future. We must be intentional about who we want to be in the world. I loved going to college; Xavier helped challenge and empower me in inexplicable ways. But as an undergraduate student with so much going on at once (social life, school, involvement, future plans, family, parties, etc.), it is hard to say that college students have appropriate time to fully discern. For us to be able to make the best decision possible, we need time and space. A year of service really provides that time and space. In other words, consider a year of service.

To apply for VVC, visit http://bit.ly/VVCapplication.

Rene Betance spent his first few years in Chihuahua, Mexico, before bouncing around Texas and Ohio. The Xavier grad has a knack for conversation, will tell it like it is, and has never been sarcastic in his life.