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: http://www.catholicvolunteernetwork.blogspot.com/2012/08/first-impressions.html

*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.