Site: Holy Family Catholic Worker House & St. James Parish – Kansas City, MO
College: St. Mary’s University of Minnesota
What do you do?
I live and work at the Holy Family Catholic Worker in Kansas City. We have soup kitchen that serves 150-200 people nightly and about 50-60 for breakfast. We also run a small shelter for families with children. In addition to my work at Holy Family I also work at St. James Parish as a Youth Minister.
What have you discovered about poverty from your work?
Poverty has a face, a name, and also has a unique story for every individual. People are brought to poverty for many different reasons and remain in poverty for many more reasons. Unfortunately we have seen the damaging affects of poverty in Kansas City. We have seen the lack of support and services from people in power. We have felt the immediate affects of budget cuts in public housing, transportation and schools. When these things happen more guests appear at our house for dinner. They come needing assistance with medical bills, transportation, heating, electric or rent. We each have a responsibility to respond to poverty in the best way we know how. There is also a responsibility for us collectively, through our government and our community leaders to make assistance a priority whether it’s for our guests, clients, students, friends, or family.
What is the most challenging obstacle that your guests face? How does Holy Family Catholic Worker outreach try to empower them to overcome this obstacle?
The guests at our house come for many different reasons. They come with addiction, mental illness, poverty and desire company, community, and assistance with basic needs. Our guests have needs unique to each one of them. They face problems that are often out of their control such as disease, illness, poor education, violence, low wages, unstable jobs, poor housing, lack of housing, lack of benefits for veterans, etc. Often at our house we cannot tackle these diverse and deep problems. As a community we try to advocate for our guests. We do this by attending and participating in our neighborhood association, community organizing, phone calls and letters to our local and national political leaders or through voting. We do this in addition to providing the basics that we can in our own home such as winter clothes, meals, groceries, medical prescription assistance, bus passes, etc. We are challenged, as our guests are, with the overwhelming difficulties they face and work with them, as best we can, to relieve a bit of the burden.
What would you say to one of your guests who came to you discouraged about a particularly troubling problem?
I’ve learned that there often isn’t anything to “say” to a guest when they come to me with a problem. I cannot pretend as though I relate or even understand. I don’t like offering what I think to be a solution because that’s usually not what a guest wants. The best response is most often just listening. Not saying anything at all, simply nodding, saying “yeah that is really hard”, “you’re right, that’s not fair”, etc. It’s not about trying to “fix” their problem, it’s just about being present to listen to what their needs are.
What would you say to a friend from home who questioned why you chose to live with the Brothers?
Great question, people ask all the time what it’s like living with an “old” man. Living with a Brother is a very unique experience for someone right out of college and has been one of the most powerful aspects of living in community. There’s nothing like being supported by someone who’s been at this work for over 25 years. There is so much to learn from his experiences at our house, in his faith life, and his actions.
Why would you recommend the LV program to a college senior considering volunteering?
I would recommend the LV program to seniors discerning what to do next year because it is helpful in the transition out of college. Leaving college is not easy for most people. The LV program provides a supportive living community of roommates different from you and yet similar in their effort to find meaning in the work that they do. The LV program also provides a wider network for Volunteers throughout the Lasallian world. The program helps you develop professionally in areas you may have majored in or in fields you may want to work.
Why would you recommend a contribution to the LV Program from a prospective donor?
The LV program is a wonderful place for someone to donate. Donations help volunteers gather together multiple times during the year for training, prayer and fun with other volunteers. These gatherings allow us to relate to one another, swap ideas and share stories with one another. Donations also help sites that cannot afford to have volunteers.