Sophia V. Cartagena

Site: Tides Family Services – Pawtucket, Rhode Island

College: Lewis University

Why did you choose to become a Lasallian Volunteer? Have your hopes about the Program been realized?

I chose to become a Lasallian Volunteer because that is what I felt I was being called to do. Not only that, but there was always something at Lewis University that would point me in the direction of the LV program. Whether it was a poster on the way to the cafeteria or all of the information in the Ministry Center. I also felt that since I had been blessed my whole life by being able to go to school and having a supportive family that it was also a responsibility of mine to dedicate time to being a supportive person to children who need it. The hopes I had for this program have gone above and beyond. The community I live in is such a blessing. The minute I moved in I felt right at home and it just continues to get better. The people I work with are so compassionate and committed to the children. Everybody I come in contact with teaches me something, offers support/advice, or just makes me smile. I let people know all of the time that this was the perfect fit for me.

Throughout my service so far, I have gotten all that I hoped to get out of the program and more. I am still amazed that even though I am attempting to serve others, I so often am getting so much back myself. I am constantly learning more about what I am doing and the world around me. My work with the people at La Salle, students and staff, has been enjoyable and very rewarding. Honestly, I cannot think of a better way to have spent the last two years.

What is the most important “thing,” do you think, that your students/clients/guests need from you? What do you do to try to provide this?

I think the most important thing we offer the children at Tides Family Services is consistency. The children have been through their own set of life experiences at such young ages and consistency has not been a part of their lives. We try to offer consistency simply by caring and just being present. One would think that there is a lot to do in offering consistency, but to me the foundation is a caring heart and presence. Some of the more tangible things we do are bringing children to and from school, helping them with homework and job applications, and bringing them on recreational activities on the weekends. I believe as long is the foundation is there, everything else will fall into place.

For example, while working with the populations and in the areas that we serve, it is a common trend to not see the fruits of our labor immediately. One has to have faith that their work is not in vain and continue with the daily grind. Only through pushing past the hard days are we able to see the benefits and rewards of our work. Within those hard days, community life offers support and escape from frustrating times.

Which of the core values (Faith, Community, Service) are most important to you? Why?

I would have to say faith, even though community and service are very important to me as well. If I did not have my faith, I would not have the strength to get through everyday. For me to say this is a big accomplishment because I have struggled a lot with my faith in the past few years. I’ve realized that my faith is incorporated into everything I do. Sometimes I turn to God when I’m dealing with a hard case and just ask for the courage and the strength to keep serving our children at Tides. Don’t get me wrong, there are great days when I can turn to God and thank Him for those days too. It is comforting to know I can count on my faith to get me through the good and bad times. It is even better knowing that I can do it with my community.

What would you say to one of your students/mothers/clients/guests who came to you discouraged about a particularly troubling problem?

I always try to offer support and options for the client. Listening is key and knowing who your resources are can help a lot. There are so many great people in Tides that are so experienced and you just have to take advantage of that. We are all one team trying to help all of our children and families.

What might you say to your supervisor who appeared negative about the recent behavior of the person just above who had recently confided in you?

I would just remind him/her why we are involved in these families’ lives. We are there to be their rock and to be the consistency they need to get through the problems they are going through. I would also ask my supervisors why they feel a certain way about the situation and work from there on how we can help.

What would you say to a friend from home who questioned why you chose to live with the Brothers?

I would invite them to spend a weekend in our community and see how great it is. The Brothers, I’ve learned, are just like everyone else. They like to play jokes, love to laugh, enjoy going out to dinner and shows, and they offer us life experiences and advice I could not get from anyone else. Living with the brothers is definitely an experience, but it is one I’ve grown to love and thank God for.

Why would you recommend the LV program to a college senior considering volunteering?

Volunteering is a good follow-up to graduating. It is an experience that will not only be with you, but will teach you about the different cultures here in the United States. The chance to work with those who need it is such a gift from God. Even with some of our children, who are 13 years old, I’ve learned so much about life that I probably would not have ever realized. The LV program has done so much for so many communities as well as for me. It was been a growing experience and an eye opener and I appreciate that so much. The core values of the program, faith, service, and community, are three great words to live by. The three core values become part of everything you do, which is amazing. There is always a support system, whether it is your coworkers, roommate, Brothers, or the volunteers on the other side of the country.

Why would you recommend a contribution to the LV Program from a prospective donor?

Like I previously stated, the LV program has done so much for so many communities. With generous donations the program can do all those great things for even more communities. We may not see how our work has affected these children, but other volunteers may have the chance to see and continue to help as long as generous and great people fund the program. The LV program continues to amaze me and I hope that it can do the same for others, whether they are volunteers or the families we are helping.

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