Wednesday, September 28, 2011

are you a REAL teacher?

Molly Dougherty
          Throughout my first week as a volunteer at Detroit Cristo Rey High School, I was consistently bombarded with the same question: "Are you a REAL teacher or are you a volunteer?" For the first few days, I told them I was a volunteer. By the end of the week, reality began to sink in--volunteer or not, I am as "real" as any paid staff member at the school. At first, that fact made me feel overwhelmingly anxious, frustrated, and afraid. Now that I have a couple weeks under my belt, I still deal with anxiety and frustration, but the fear is gone for good!

              I have developed an incredible respect for high school teachers and administrators--it's still strange being on the "other side" of things, sometimes. The amount of work that goes on behind  the scenes is astounding. The faculty and administration here appear to be tireless, which provides daily inspiration for me to increase my efforts.
             It has been a struggle sometimes to bring enthusiasm to community life because I feel so drained from ministry, but Colleen, Brit, Amy, and Xochitl have been very supportive and understanding. Everyone is working hard and we have been pretty good about responding to each other's needs. Detroit itself is amazing! It is a fascinating city with great people and a unique atmosphere. I can already see why so many volunteers have stayed in the area after their service year. Keep us in your prayers.

Molly Dougherty - Detroit Cristo Rey High School - Detroit, MI

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reasons Behind the Poverty

Katie Acosta
               My experience with MVC thus far has been eye-opening, challenging, and thrilling. Working and living in New York City is incredible; there is always something new and exciting to do and thankfully, a lot of it is completely free. There are so many opportunities to pursue your interests through free classes or meet-ups, no matter how varied or obscure your interests may be. We’ve been able to take advantage of a free orchestra concert in Central Park, donation-only yoga classes, and book readings, and we have just barely scratched the surface of all the things that we want to do and accomplish during our year here.
            Although I love all the free activities and events that New York City has to offer, my job at my service site has been my favorite part about my experience as a Mercy Volunteer so far. All of the staff at Mercy Center are overwhelmingly nice, helpful, and open to sharing their experience and knowledge of the South Bronx and Mott Haven neighborhood with me and my fellow volunteers. They have been so welcoming to us that it has not taken long for us to feel right at home here. It is the participants and their stories, however, which have had the greatest impact on me. Although challenging at times because of the language barrier that often exists (most of the participants speak Spanish and my Spanish abilities are limited), I have been able to have some wonderful interactions and conversations with some of our most devoted participants. Although I would never know from the happy smiles that most of our participants wear while at Mercy Center, I have come to learn a lot about the challenges and obstacles that our participants face every day, along with many other residents of the South Bronx. They are constantly surrounded by the poverty that exists in the neighborhood, and they lack the political and financial power to address many of the obstacles to development that exist in the South Bronx such as underfunded public schools, a lack of tenants’ rights, and an overall need for greater investment in the neighborhood.
            I have no doubt that during this year of service I will continue to learn more about the struggles that our participants endure, and many of the reasons behind the poverty that exists in the South Bronx, but I am ready for the challenge of working alongside our participants and absorbing all that I possibly can. My experience has been amazing and enlightening thus far, and I hope that I only continue to grow more and more as a person as the year progresses.

Katie Acosta - Mercy Center - New York, NY

Friday, September 9, 2011

Optimism for the year ahead

Philly volunteers building community at orientation (left to right: Kaimeesa
Stevenson, Leslie Clague, Julianna Ryan, Megan Mathews)

Life in Philadelphia has been going great. My house mates and I have gotten settled into our house in Narberth and into our new jobs. We have also had some time to explore the city and see some of the sights including Reading Terminal Market, Penn’s Landing, and the Italian Market.

My position is with Bethesda Project as the Church Shelter Assistant. This means that I work with the men who stay at Bethesda’s three church shelters. Right now only one of the churches is open (the other two open in November when it starts to get cold), so it has been kind of slow and there has been some down time, which has given me a great opportunity to get to know some of the guys.
This is my first time working with the homeless population, so I was a little worried that I wouldn’t have the right skills or that the guys wouldn’t feel like they could relate to me. But, the guys have been great! They have put all my doubts aside and have been so welcoming to me. They have also been tremendously helpful. Anytime I have a question or need a favor they are quick to help. They also have given me great suggestions on where to go and what to do in the city. Not only are the men generous with advice, but they are generous with their stories. Already, so many of the guys have opened up and shared their incredible life stories with me. This has been a great way for me to get to know them and start to build relationships with them.
Having the men be so willing to open up to me has shown me that I have more in common with them than I thought. We may come from different backgrounds and have vastly different life experiences, but I have seen that we still have a lot in common. We might have the same hobbies, like the same food, or have the same favorite sports teams. And, at the end of the day, we all like to have a good laugh.
Being able to relate to the men and already being able to develop relationships with them gives me optimism for the year ahead.
Leslie Clague - Bethesda Project - Philadelphia, PA