Tuesday, November 25, 2014

People Serving People

This post was originally featured in the November 2014 issue of The English Aggie, a newsletter at Texas A&M University, and was written by 2013-14 Franciscan Outreach Volunteer alum Sara Salazar-Ramirez.  The original post can be found here.

Sara (left) & Kristen making dinner
From July 26th, 2013 to July 25, 2014 I lived on the third floor of the Marquard Center, located in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, IL.  I lived with twelve other young adults in something called an intentional community, which, admittedly, sounds a bit commune-y.  It really means exactly as it sounds: we were a group of individuals with the shared interest of service and we deliberately chose to live with each other.  "What I did" is not a very simple question to answer, nor is it one I wish to give a generic response.  The answer I give most often goes a little like, "Franciscan Outreach is a non-profit organization that provides services for the homeless and otherwise marginalized of the Chicago area.  On a weekly basis at the Marquard Center we have case managers to meet one on one with individuals, twice a week we offer shower and lunch services, and four times a week we offer laundry services.  We serve dinner 365 days of the year, holidays and snow storms included.  I, along with 5 others, plan and prepare meals for anywhere between 70 to 150 guests per night."  The really real answer I want to give is more like, "I spent a year of my life devoting time and energy and attention to cooking, cleaning, talking, supervising, learning, fumbling, laughing, crying, and being for/to/from/with many homeless, some struggling, all humans."

Although the program prefers volunteers to have Bachelor's degrees, it does not require or specify the need for any particular field of study.  One might think I did not use my writing skills during my year in the kitchen, but that individual would be mistaken.  A few of my community members worked on applications to graduate schools and medical schools, so I, being the token paper-fixer-upper, helped out where I could.  I also had the opportunity to edit papers and scholarship essays for a particular guest earning his Master's degree.  That aside, I can honestly say my ability to interact with individuals had been significantly enhanced due to my discussion based English classes.  Investing my time with my classmates by listening, learning, digesting, and discussing an array of topics, I had great practice in putting time into people and in hearing them first.

I'd really like to scream "EVERY PERSON SHOULD DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS!!!" but social norms don't receive this type of approach well.  So, this, my fellow English majors and eager individuals embarking on society's fringes, is my scream and shout: I encourage you to seek a similar experience.  Every opportunity you have, every job, every relationship, every everything you do will involve other humans, each making up the world in which we live.  No matter what your religious background or spirituality level, this type of experience is a deeply spiritual one simply because of the relational level in which you meet others.  I challenge you to experience humanity in a way that allows you to see beyond the scope of the superficial tiers of our culture.  I challenge you to see humanity.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Growing Family

Cara Ugolino

My plane took off from New York at 6:50 PM, and I had 2 hours and 10 minutes left to try and process the changes that were about to take place in my life. To be honest, I couldn't help but wonder if I had completely lost my mind in deciding to move to the Midwest. July 11th was the day that I moved to Chicago to become a Franciscan Outreach Volunteer, and also the first day I had ever been to Chicago. I was so overwhelmed, that when Kristen, our Community Assistant picked me up at the airport, and asked me about a book that was just made into a movie filmed in Chicago, I said I had never read it, and I had actually read it the week prior. 

While I was scared about my move to the Marquard Center, I was also excited to be surrounded by a community of people with a common purpose to provide shelter, food and help in building a better life for our guests. While I expected to fully immerse myself into the relationships with the other twelve community members that I live with on the third floor of the soup kitchen, I did not expect to feel such strong connections with the guests that we serve on the first floor. I quickly realized that I am living among a community of way more than thirteen people.

When leaving NY, I thought I would no longer hear reminders about being safe and cautious of my surroundings, like I had listened to numerous times from my grandmother. However, I quickly realized that at the Marquard Center, I gained about 100 grandpas who continuously warn me about which neighborhoods to stay away from at night, and to have my guard up, even if I feel comfortable walking under bridges. While I often get frustrated with arguments that happen at dinner in the soup kitchen over who got the milk first, or when some of the ladies yell at me for not having enough shower time, it’s the smiles and conversations exchanged that make me feel at home here. It’s having a guest have tears in his eyes, while asking me if my coworker was okay because she seemed sad that day, and that same guest holding his heart while saying, “When you start talking to people, and get to know them, you start to feel it here (pointing at his heart) and you begin to notice when they are upset or not feeling like themselves.” Or having a guest sing to you, “You’ve got a friend in me.” Or seeing a guest tell her friend that she found a place to stay and a job, and seeing her friend’s reaction with the purest joy I have ever seen. Or simply talking to a guest about our mutual love for biscuits and gravy.

On my flight to Chicago, I never could have imagined how much my family would expand here at Franciscan Outreach.