Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from Franciscan Outreach Volunteers!

Charlie entertains fellow guests during dinner at the Marquard Center

Monday, December 17, 2012

A New Way of Celebrating the Holiday


Molly Anne enjoying Chicago
It is that time of the year, the holiday season.  The past four holiday seasons have been filled with stressful tests and papers followed by a month-long break.  However, this year I am not in college; I am a full-time volunteer with an allocated amount of time off, ten vacation days.  I went home to North Carolina for the week of Thanksgiving knowing that it would be the last time I would be at home for any holiday during the 2012-13 volunteer year.  While I was at home though, four of the other full-time volunteers worked during the Thanksgiving holiday because the soup kitchen is open every day of the year.  Now those housemates are going home around the Christmas season instead.

Charlie playing Christmas music
I have finally come to the realization, which is always delayed, that I will not be at home this Christmas.  My parents mentioned the other day on Skype that they are sad that I will not be home but know that being a volunteer means giving up normal life routines such as being at home with my family for every holiday.  The radio has been playing Christmas tunes all morning in the soup kitchen, and one in particular, "I'll be Home for Christmas" hit me hardest because I will not be home.

Franciscan Outreach Christmas party
I am sad about being away from my family over Christmas, but I am excited to celebrate the holiday season with the guests at the soup kitchen, with the part-time volunteers, with the full-time volunteers, with my cousins and aunt, and with my boyfriend's family.  One of the guests who is a very nice man, but normally is shy and quiet, came up to the coffeepot that I so regularly find myself using, and said it is "that time of year".  I agreed and spoke to him about my adventures at home and my future Christmas experience at the soup kitchen.  He shared that we treat him so well and that he is looking forward to spending the holiday together with us.

Donald providing dinner entertainment
So just the moment I felt sad about my time apart from my family and friends, I realized that I will be celebrating Christmas in new ways and with people who I consider my family, the guests and full-time volunteers at the soup kitchen.  No, I will not be opening Christmas presents under the tree while eating homemade pumpkin bread and drinking mimosa's, but I will be spending my day in Chicago with people who know me better than most.  This is my home, Franciscan Outreach, and this is my family, the guests and volunteers.  The gifts that I will be opening are not materialistic presents, which I never desire anyway, but gifts of fellowship and love.  I will be experiencing the most Christ-like Christmas-serving, as Christ did on Earth.

Friday, November 30, 2012


Thanksgiving decorations from a local school

"So what is Thanksgiving?" I asked myself.  We don't have that back home.  I am from Germany, so I was both excited and clueless about the Thanksgiving holiday.  I wondered why people go home on that special day, travel miles and miles to see relatives and parents.  My image of Thanksgiving was of turkey, wool sweaters, pumpkins and lots of food.  So I set out to figure out what this holiday was all about.

I have loved my work at our soup kitchen so far this year.  We are open every day of the year, including Thanksgiving, so I was able to get a unique perspective on the holiday by spending it with our guests.  One of our guests, Hector, helped me to understand Thanksgiving by sharing wild stories about the pilgrims.  The dining room was decorated; stacked pumpkins and greens helped make the room look nice and festive.  School children donated artwork wishing our guests a Happy Thanksgiving and detailing things they were thankful for this Thanksgiving.  I noticed that the people around me were in the best mood, not that they aren't all of the time, but especially during the holiday.

FOV Community Thanksgiving
Then there was the food.  TURKEY...tons of turkey!  We spent about 3 days preparing turkeys for Thanksgiving.  I got to learn what the Thanksgiving menu is all about.  Turkey (of course), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing and casseroles.  Delicious!

Despite being open on Thanksgiving there was no rush or hectic feeling to the day which I really enjoyed.  Being together with the guests, without rushing, enabled me to enjoy great conversations that made me truly thankful.  I have a sense of security and welcome here with the guests and especially on Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving also showed me that all of our guests are deeply grateful for Franciscan Outreach and what we are doing.

For about two weeks before Thanksgiving our community began planning our own community-Thanksgiving which was on the following Sunday.  I loved being together with everybody for a "lunch-dinner-meal" at 3pm in the conference room of our home.  We each took a moment to share what we were thankful for, many sharing their gratitude for being in community with one another this yearThere, I think I really felt what Thanksgiving was all about, sitting together with people you love and just enjoying good food and conversation.  Delightful!
Thanksgiving feast!

All-in-all, I can say that Thursday-Sunday taught me a lot about Thanksgiving, being in community and especially being thankful for all the small things.  On Thanksgiving it is important to just enjoy being with people you love.  Thanksgiving is a day of relaxation, of love, of joy and of giving thanks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Franciscan Outreach Video Presentation

During our recent Open House event, we presented our new Franciscan Outreach video!  Carolin Hubscher, the video's creator, is a member of our Young Professionals Board.  The video includes stats, tours and interviews with guests. 

Click through the presentation to find out more info about the services provided at Franciscan Outreach!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hunger Action Month: Welcoming the Nameless is Welcoming Change

Franciscan Outreach Volunteer Holly Thompson was asked to be a guest blogger with Franciscan Mission Service (FMS) for their Hunger Action Month series.  

Holly during her first week as an FOV

Marquard Center Soup Kitchen

Monday, September 10, 2012

First Impressions

Franciscan Outreach Volunteer Gillian Douple, was invited to be a guest blogger for CVN/AmeriCorps.  Gillian shares some of her first impressions as she beings her year of service, reflecting on one of her many AmeriCorps responsibilities.  This article first appeared on the CVN/AmeriCorps blog on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 and can be viewed here:

*Names were changed to protect the privacy of the individuals

When I found out I would be a full time AmeriCorps Member at a soup kitchen this year, I experienced a panorama of emotions.  Excitement, nervousness, expectations of cooking-all kinds of things.  When I thought about it, though, I did not expect to be doing the guests' laundry, though my soup kitchen complex also offers one of the only-if not the only-free drop-off laundry services in the city.

Doing a persons laundry is, ultimately, a humbling experience.  There is an intimacy in cleaning a person's dirty clothes and the information I can gather from doing the laundry itself.  I know that Charles' wife is a tiny lady with a sassy dressing taste; I know when Mike has been on a drinking binge by the level of disgustingness in his laundry; I know just how many pairs of jeans Roberto has.  I know not to inhale when doing the laundry, and I know that Karen is sneaking in her friend's laundry into her suitcase.  Today, I washed Lawrence's sheets, which were so thin that they were transparent-and now I know for a fact that he has bedbugs as well.  There are even times when I can speak to a person who barely knows me and still know what type of underwear they prefer.
Marquard Center volunteer with Br. Donald

Doing laundry has also helped me remember the guests' names and stories.  There is something to folding a person's clothes that helps them stick in one's mind.  Doing the laundry is a moment of trust, also:  these guests are handing over the few articles of clothing that they have, expecting to receive it back intact, expecting their possessions to be returned unscathed.

One of the first few times I was on laundry duty, Julia came back in for laundry pick-up and to drop off another bag.  "Oh, Julia!" I said, already writing her name down on the laundry drop-off sheet.  "See, I remember your name now," I added conversationally, mostly to myself-it is hard to remember the names of the hundred or so people we serve each day.

Gillian and the Chicago skyline on Community Night
"At least someone does," said Julia, and I gave her the laundry pick-up ticket.  "It is nice to be remembered," I said, and Julia nodded.  In my mind, I could picture the high-waisted khaki pants she'd had washed the last time, the long-sleeved shirt she would wear over that, despite the heat.  Julia does not own shorts, and, in the oppressive Chicago heat, this is a conversation piece.

When I first committed to serving in a soup kitchen for a year, I did not expect that laundry duty would figure so largely into my service, both literally and psychologically.  It is humbling to see the guests in this moment of vulnerability, and it is humbling to perform such an intimate act of service.  I think myself blessed to be able to connect with the guests on this level; I think it is a blessing to be able to connect so deeply with the act of serving itself."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Take A Year To Volunteer

This story was originally prepared for the Dominican University Service Fair.


Volunteers at Wicker Park Fest
What are you going to do with your life?  What career do you want?  How are you going to get there?  These questions have been chasing us ever since we were in high school and they can be very overwhelming, especially to those of us who don't know what we want in life.  My senior year at Dominican University, it seemed like a race amongst those graduating to see who would get their dream job first or who would at least have a job before they graduated.

To give you a little taste of who I am, I have never felt like I was a part of that race.  For one thing, while many others applied to jobs that they hoped would become careers one day, I still tried to figure out what I wanted to do in life.  I had no dream job or any real vision for my future.  At Dominican, I was continually challenged (by a mentor of mine) to consider doing a year of volunteering.  In my case, after a lot of prayer, I believed that I was called to do just that.  Now, whether you feel "called" or not, a year of volunteer work is a great way to transition into the work place while learning about yourself outside of school and also giving back to the community.

Shelter Interim Housing participants pictured with Case Manager
When I finally graduated, I took my newly found freedom and joined the Franciscan Outreach Volunteers (FOV).  This organization provides services to the homeless in the Chicagoland area.  Me and my eleven other roommates (also part of FOV) are divided up at two work sites: the Marquard Center soup kitchen and the Franciscan House homeless shelter.  When I started at the homeless shelter I had no idea what to expect or what I even wanted to get out of my year long experience.  But I can certainly tell you that after only two months, I have had more hands on job experience than I would have ever gotten at another job.  Franciscan House's homeless shelter houses 210 men and 40 women.  My job is to make sure that the night runs smooth and peaceful in the women's dorm.

Confrontation is definitely the biggest thing that I am learning, right now, about how to handle.  Women, in general, are dramatic, but put 40 of them together and I'm surprised that there are any quiet nights.  My duty, as dorm monitor, is to treat everyone with fairness, patience, and provide structure.  It is hard sometimes not choosing sides when an argument breaks out, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to hear each side out and make a just judgement.
Carissa on the Community Night photo scavenger hunt

I am so appreciative for this volunteer experience.  It is definitely shaping my character and building up my assertiveness, patience, and humbleness (all of which are key skills to have in the work place).  Not only do I have to have the confidence to confront people, but I also have to have the humility to admit when I am wrong.  My interactions with the guests have really made me thankful for the support of my family, my home, my education, and also for my alone time.

My question to you is this:  What are you going to do with your life?  When you graduate, ask yourself if you really want to rush into finding a job or go back to school right away.  Take a year to volunteer!  Serving others is one of the most fulfilling jobs you can ever have.  You get hands on job experience, lifelong stories, and the time to find out who you really are outside of college.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Wash and Be Washed; Feed and Be Fed


At first, most of our community thought it was strange to postpone Opening Retreat and Orientation until we'd all been here at least three weeks.  By the time it arrived, however, we agreed that it provided a welcome time to be refreshed and reminded why we are here.

Our opening retreat took place at Camp Dewan in Wisconsin. We got to see open spaces and look at stars again for the first time since moving to Chicago.  We spent time discussing and reflecting on the four key values that Franciscan Outreach Volunteers seeks to instill in us during our volunteer year:  simple living, service, community and spirituality.  It was a good opportunity for our group to get on the same page about these things and share our hearts about them.  We read from the Gospels and other Catholic figures.  Jesus and Dorothy Day echoed a lot of what I think many of us have either already been thinking or need to hear.  I was particularly struck by the passage from the latter; when talking about poverty, she said, "maybe it is a grace which [we] must pray for." To think about poverty as a state that we should seek in our own lives feels very foreign to me coming from my largely comfortable life.  Having encountered so many people in the past month, however, who live with so little every day, I'm starting to try to understand what they have that I don't without risking self-righteous presumption.  The readings started the thinking process, at least.

Hand washing at the Opening Retreat
Part of the retreat included a sort of ritual that helped connect us as a community.  Our Community Assistant/"house mom" brought a basin, towel, and a bar of soap to the table in the middle of our circle and called all of us to approach one by one, each having our hands washed and washing someone else's in turn.  I've had my feet washed twice before and cherish those moments as very sacred experiences, but  I wasn't prepared for what it would be like to have the same thing done to my hands.  They've grown a little tougher these days, and with the perils of working in the kitchen every day, they now bear a few more marks and bruises.  One of my German housemates took my hands after lathering up his own and proceeded to massage the foam into them--palms, fingers and all.  He wouldn't let me help but rinsed and dried them off himself.  And then I got to do the same to one of my fellow soup-kitchen workers.  Each handwashing concluded with a hug between the washed and the washer.  I arose from the table feeling cleansed in more ways than one.

The retreat also provided many lighter times to simply enjoy being together as a group.  We went to a Cub's game, thanks to a generous donation (and they won!), and later took part in a volunteer gathering with several other programs from around the city.  It was a good opportunity to find out about the work other people our age are doing in Chicago and start making connections outside Franciscan Outreach.
Cub's Game

Orientation was very informative and gave our community a broader perspective on realities that our homeless population has to face on a regular basis.  We heard from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, St. Leonard's Ministries, and the Br. David Darst Center.  Each of these groups shared stories from men who were formerly homeless or presented situations that often apply to the people we serve, whether they involve mental illness, addictions, or incarceration.  It made me see many of our guests in a different light as I thought about what I've heard of their experiences.

Father Chuck Faso also came to teach us about St. Francis and how Franciscans continue to embody his spirit in the modern world.  We talked of peace and how we can show it to our guests in our own home every day.  Father Chuck also led us in Mass at the end of the day.  We passed the peace together with hugs and blessings, and read from John about how Jesus is our very food and drink.  Fr. Chuck's homily echoed for me an important sentiment from a Walker Percy novel about how the main character had to "eat Christ" to inhabit his own flesh and love the people around him.  I think that sharing the Presence together was a good reminder for us that we embody Christ in ourselves inasmuch as we feed His sheep with meals and grace.

Banner near the entrance of the Marquard Center
In that sense, Mass and our commissioning service served as sort of bookends for me with the handwashing ritual a few days earlier.  The next day, Kendall ended orientation by commissioning us with more words from Dorothy Day: "We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.  We know Him in the breaking of bread and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore."  Each of us also received the sign of the Tau around our necks, a physical reminder of the grace and peace we have been given and should now give to our guests each day.  Our kitchen crew served dinner that night wearing our necklaces, eager to continue the work we've been called to do in our new home.

I'm thankful that we had some time to dive into volunteer life and settle into the Marquard Center before officially kicking things off, because instead of just getting more information about "the homeless problem," I was learning how to understand the guests I've been getting to know for the past month.  I wasn't being commissioned with some amorphous, self-righteous goal to evangelize the lost, but rather receiving grace that I can now give to my new brothers and sisters as they come and go through my door.  It seems like a pretty good way to start my year as a Franciscan.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer Transitions: Meet our New Volunteers


2011-12 outgoing volunteers
Each summer our volunteer program undergoes a transition from one community to the next. We had to say goodbye to a great group of volunteers from 2011-12.  Many have gone off to continue their educations, some to volunteer again and one to join the Franciscans!  Thanks to all of you for the sacrifices you've made to accompany those who are homeless and marginalized.  Your presence can not be measured.  Thank you Mario, Gelavije, Vinzenz, Marko, Nik, Nassim, Jon, Mike, Felix, Kaytee and Brian, you will be missed! 

We've also gotten to welcome a great group of 2012-13 Franciscan Outreach Volunteers. Meet our new volunteers:
New 2012-13 Volunteers on their Opening Retreat
Back row, Left to Right: Molly, Justin, Maiko, Jonas, Patrick, Gillian and Chris
Front row, Left to Right: Casie, Emily, Molly Anne, Carissa, Kara and Holly

Molly serves as our Community Assistant.  She’s pursuing her MA in Public Health at UIC.  She formerly volunteered for 2 years in Malawi with the Marianists and founded a non-profit, CROSO, to support the education of street children in Uganda.

Justin is originally from New Mexico, but has come to us from Texas where he just completed is Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at University of Texas-San Antonio.  He has an infectious smile that the community loves to imitate. Justin is serving at the Franciscan House as a CVN AmeriCorps member.

Maiko is from Mannheim, Germany and serves at the Franciscan House shelter.  He keeps himself busy navigating the music scene in Chicago and mixing beats.

Jonas is our resident hipster this year and has recently acquired a passion for baseball.  He joins us from Bad Neustadt, Germany and is serving at the Marquard Center.

Patrick joins us from Bielefeld, Germany and is serving at the Franciscan House shelter.  Patrick easily has the most contagious laugh in the group.

Gillian recently graduated from the University of Virginia where she studied English & Linguistics and Media Studies.  She’s from The Plains, Virginia and is serving as a CVN AmeriCorps Member the Marquard Center. She’s the only one in the community who knows how to use a circular loom.

Chris joins us from Munster, Germany and is serving at the Franciscan House shelter. He’s happy to be living in a place that appreciates basketball as much as he does.

Casie hails from Owasso, Oklahoma and serves as a CVN AmeriCorps Member at the Marquard Center.  She recently graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University where she studied Philosophy and minored in Psychology and English. Casie’s been to 48 of the 50 states.

Emily recently graduated from Trinity University where she studied International Studies and French. Emily spent a semester studying abroad with a host family in France.  She  is serving at the Franciscan House as a CVN AmeriCorps Member.

Molly Anne joins us from Hickory, North Carolina where she just graduated from University of NC-Asheville with degrees in Psychology & Sociology.  Molly came straight from a summer with Catholic Heart WorkCamp and is serving as a CVN AmeriCorps Member at the Marquard Center.

Carissa recently graduated from Dominican University where she studied Communication and Photography.  Carissa’s had many international volunteer experiences , she’s from the Chicago area and serving as a CVN AmeriCorps member at the Franciscan House.

Kara originally from Michigan, Kara joins us from Ohio where she completed a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving as a Community Organizer.  She’s  from Michigan and graduated in ‘09 from Trine University where she studied Health Promotions and Recreational Programming/Athletic Training.   Kara is serving as a CVN AmeriCorps Member at the Marquard Center.

Holly recently graduated (early) from Lamar University where she studied Biology.  She’s a gifted artist and the official community doctor.  Holly hails from Orange, Texas and serves as a CVN AmeriCorps Member at the Marquard Center.

Welcome to Holly, Patrick, Jonas, Carissa, Maiko, Gillian, Chris, Justin, Kara Emily, Casie and Molly! Thank you for joining us this year! 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sun Sea Day on the Lake

Special thanks to Captain Ted and SunSea Yacht Charters for donating an afternoon on Lake Michigan to our volunteer community!  We enjoyed our time relaxing on the water and seeing great views of the city from both Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.  More pictures on facebook!

Felix steering with Captain Ted

Enjoying the top deck
Volunteer community with Executive Director Diana Faust and Captain Ted

Chicago Skyline

End of Year Retreat

We've had a great year with the 2011-12 volunteers!  We spent May 30-31 at LaSalle Manor Retreat Center reflecting on the past year together and how we'll take our volunteer experience with us in the future. 

More retreat photos can be found on our facebook page!

Getting ready to go
Opening Reflection
Much of free time was spent in the pool

2011-12 Volunteers
LaSalle Manor   

Friday, May 25, 2012

Building Relationships


Since I've been at Franciscan Outreach I've met a lot of different people.  I see new faces almost everyday coming into the Marquard Center soup kitchen.  Building relationships with the guests has really changed the way I think and feel about homelessness and people who are homeless.  By hearing how they got into these challenging situations, I've come to understand them and issues surrounding homelessness a lot better.  I've found the guests to be creative and inspiring.

There is Michael*, who shakes my hand and greets me with a friendly smile every time he walks in the door. His situation in life would give him every right to be depressed.  He comes to our soup kitchen to get a hot meal each day but still he has one of the most alive and happy spirits I've ever seen.  Sometimes Michael helps us out with cleaning the dining room after he's eaten and he's always grateful for whatever meal is served.  His spirit has inspired me to be more thankful for the gifts I have.  I'm thankful that I can help provide these services for those that need them.  And in some small way try to help brighten people like Michael's day.  If there's one thing that makes Michael really's friend chicken!  Michael loves fried chicken more than anyone else I know.

Another guest is Tony*, his life has put him in situations no one wants to be in.  He was raised by his Uncle and had no other family members to rely on.  His uncle passed away when he was thirteen years old and from them on he was on the street.  When I met him he was in his 40's and still came to our soup kitchen to eat almost every day.  A few weeks ago I noticed he wasn't coming any more and asked other guests if they knew what happened to him.  They told me he's doing well and living with his girlfriend now.  Although we miss seeing Tony around, it's been wonderful to hear that he's been able to get off the street after such a long time.  It's encouraged me to work even harder to continue to help people in need.

The relationships I've built with Tony and Michael make me realize that our work is making an impact.  I'm grateful to have the opportunity this year to learn more about myself and those we work with.

*Name changed

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Easter: A Time to Come Together


Easter serves as the first big holiday in the spring and my favorite holiday of the year.  Everyone comes together to celebrate and we continued that tradition as a community.

During Holy Week many community members attended various services throughout Chicago including the East Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses.  On Sunday we had a big brunch together in the community kitchen.  It was great sitting around our table together and sharing in a meal that each person helped to prepare.  We had a lot of food!  From potatoes to eggs, donuts to fruit salad.  This time together was especially great because it's unusual that we are all eating breakfast together.  Our different work schedules don't usually allow us to have breakfast with everyone in the community at the same time.  Holidays and special occasions are my favorite time with the community because you have the opportunity to share traditions that you usually wouldn't get to.  Community brunch served as the perfect start to the day.

I serve at the House of Mary and Joseph Shelter this year.  The Shelter has a special spirit on holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.  The guests are usually very happy on those days and Easter was no exception.  Everyone was smiling, some of them were dancing or joking around with us.  When I walk through the mens dorm I usually say 'goodnight' to each of the guys.  As I was doing this on Easter the answer wasn't the usual 'goodnight'.  Instead everyone was giving me high fives on my way through the dorm.  This was really funny and an awesome feeling. It made me realize the great relationships I'm building with the guys. Moments like these remind me that this was the best choice I could have made for myself this year.  These guys are some of the most grateful people I ever met.

There was certainly a spirit of hope and resurrection in the air this Easter.  God continues to bring us closer together as a community and renews my commitment to serve the guests as best I can.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

40 Days...Adding Something


For 40 days we intentionally give something up-so, why not add something, too?

In the period of Lent, it's very common for Christians to give something up.  But why do we abstain from certain things?

There are certainly a lot of different reasons for this.  From my point of view, we try to make our daily life simpler and focus ourselves through reflection and contemplation.  We do this to remind us of Jesus, who suffered from deprivation and withstood temptation while in the desert for 40 days.  While He was there, He took the time to pray and reflect on what His Father expected Him to do and what His life should finally amount to.  This idea of reflection is relevant for us today as well.  We obviously don't go off to a desert, but there is a strong desire in each of us to think about our past behavior and where our future should lead us.  We do this as an intentional reminder to live according to Jesus' example. 

I really appreciate that we, at Franciscan Outreach Volunteers, are not just giving up things that prevent us from hearing Jesus' message but we're also trying to add something to our daily routine.  Once a day we gather, listen to the readings of the day and try to put them into perspective for our daily lives.  We share our different views on the readings and enhance everyone's understanding by talking about personal experiences and feelings relating to the lesson from the readings.  I really enjoy this quiet and contemplative space for two main reasons.  One of these is to reflect and find out more about my own faith, and the other is that I enjoy the interaction and conversation that opens up new points of view, giving me the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other community members.

I have really enjoyed this intentional, prayerful time as a community.  I would suggest that each of us try to add something positive in our daily lives during this liturgical time of Lent.  Granted, Lent is halfway over-but it is never too late to start adding something positive to your lifestyle.  So, add something!  Find some time for yourself amidst a busy day.  Take a few minutes to reflect on your life, your faith, and (if possible) find someone you can share these thoughts with.  Broaden your horizon by learning from others while at the same time also learning more about your own faith then Lenten season.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mid-Year Retreat


I Still need a picture of Mike. Does anyone have one left?  A bunch of pictures were put in the middle of the table where all of us were sitting.  There were pictures from the first half of the year for us to choose from to make individual collages from our time at Franciscan Outreach so far.  I felt encouraged to reflect on the past six months since my arrival in Chicago and all the experiences that are still waiting for me in the next six months.  You could already see how people changed and developed in just the first half of the year. It was obvious that we are living out the Franciscan Outreach mission statement; transformation of ourselves.

This was our first reflection session after our 45 minute drive from Chicago to the Franciscan Sister's retreat center in Frankfort, IL.  It might sound strange, but getting away a little from Chicago and taking a break from our work, is something I really enjoyed.  Frankfort's scenic nature and calmness is almost the opposite of our everyday life in Chicago and was a perfect way to refresh and focus on our community and ourselves.  The work, as much as I love it, makes it somewhat difficult to spend time with every single person in the community.  By getting the distance, geographically and mentally, you could have more intentional time with all members of the community and reflect better on the way you're living and the experiences you're having.  This enabled us to strengthen the bond of our group and made us aware of the unforgettable experience we're having this year at Franciscan Outreach.

We had surprisingly beautiful weather for the beginning of February and during our afternoon free time we were invited to take a walk outside to enjoy the fresh air and nature around us.  Free time allowed us to share our different service experiences, thoughts and ideas about community life in a very casual way while we were all on a walk together.  On our walk we visited an old Franciscan chapel and a labyrinth.  Kendall and Matt explained that finding out way to the center of the labyrinth can be a metaphor for getting closer to God but can also provide an opportunity to reflect on anything else that's important to us.  While walking the labyrinth, I could really see that everyone was deep in thoughts and appreciated this opportunity for reflection.  We also spent some of our free time throwing footballs and frisbees which gave our exhausted brains some time to rest and of course have fun.

After free time we had opportunities for individual and partner reflection focusing on the core values of the program and our goals for the rest of the year.  The final session was a great way to finish the retreat and the perfect way to lead us into the next six months.  A basin of water was put in the middle of our circle where everyone was invited to light a candle and place a stone.  Those items represented the things we want to "float" and keep up and the ones we want to "sink" or let go of.  The respectful atmosphere made me focus on my resolution for the future and what I wanted to "float" during the next half of my time at Franciscan Outreach.

The Mid-Year retreat was an opportunity to reflect on our experiences at the halfway point and also to grow closer together as a community.  The retreat really added to the value of my volunteer year by allowing me to take some time away to reflect more intensely on the year.  I'm looking forward to the End-of-Year Retreat!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My Ladies


My name is Kaytee and I have been working at FOA for a little over six months.  When I became a Franciscan Outreach Volunteer, I had various expectations and I knew this year would be a huge learning experience for me.  I work in the shelter, watching over 40 women...many of which are old enough to be my parents or grandparents.  They are quite a crowd, women that make me laugh until my sides hurt, exhaust me, force me to be a referee when they argue, but people I always look forward to seeing every day that I work.  I am going to share with you some stories that might give you an insight on how my ladies are seen by others and myself, and give you an idea of how their lives are.
Interim Housing Christmas Party

The first few weeks of being here, a supervisor complimented the fact that I had quickly learned all of my ladies names, and he had seen how happy they were to see me.  And he said something that I doubt I'll ever forget:  he explained that our guests are rarely noticed outside of the shelter- that very few people would take the time to learn their names, let alone take the time to have a conversation with them.  Typically, they are looked over in the crowd; others would sidestep them on the sidewalk while avoiding eye contact.  So the fact I could call them by name, be there with a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with...that is something our guests are rarely privileged with.  It challenged me to get to know the ladies better, learn their stories and remember details, such as this woman loves plaid scarves or this lady had 13 grandchildren.
Felix and Kaytee ringing the dinner bell on retreat

Once a woman told me a story of how she had been sitting in the park, and a teenager began to throw stones at her.  When the woman asked why this kid would do that, the reply was that it was because she was homeless and that was 'disgusting'.  The woman shook her head and replied, "You know, when I was 14 I wasn't homless.  I was just like you."  That's the biggest thing to me: anyone can become homeless.  I have ladies who are educated, humorous, feisty, hard-headed, and very loving- just like me.  I see myself in them every day.  The only difference is that I am fortunate enough to have people in my life that would pick me up and lead me in the right direction if needed.

I also have women who have tragic backgrounds.  Some who abuse drugs and alcohol, and some that deal with various mental problems.  I have one woman who does not usually talk, lives in a world of delusion because it's easier than to remember the terrible past she had to experience.  But let me tell you- when she does talk she has an infectious smile, always expresses her thanks and you can tell that she has a heart of gold.

Bed in women's dorm
These ladies love fiercely, and look out for one another.  Once I had a 71 year old lady come in, and she was assigned to have a cot, which is low to the ground and not very comfortable.  I had another woman, who was no spring chicken (so to speak), offer up her comfortable bed for the night so this 71 year old could sleep a good night's rest.  They care for one another, celebrate their achievements together and treat each other as a makeshift family.

Sometimes, I do get frustrated.  I tire of having to break up arguments, of having to be in the voice of reason to someone who won't listen.  But the good outweigh the bad every time.  It's those moments when the 60 year old woman hugs you bye and tells you not to be gone for too long, or the pregnant woman who shares with pride the news that she and her little bundle of joy received housing, or the lady who is attending college comes and shows you the paper she made an A on.  They love to tease at me for always saying "ma'am" or "critter," calling me their southern belle.  These ladies fuel me, they make me laugh, give me amazing and sometimes heartbreaking stories to share, but they never cease to amaze me.  They've taught me more about humility, patience, love and compassion than I ever believed possible.