Site: Highbridge Community Life Center – Bronx, NY
College: Loyola Marymount University
What do you do?
I work with parents who are in danger of having their children removed. I assist these parents with meeting the mandates of family court, fulfilling their service plan requirements and ensuring visits with their children are both frequent and productive. This includes building personal and family skills that will help them become employed, assist their children to be more successful in school, manage their finances, and know where to look for help when it is needed.
What is the most important “thing,” do you think, that is needed in your job? What do you do to provide this?
It has often been said, “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you.” Similar to a friendship, I feel the basis of a working relationship should be trust. The most important thing that my clients need is to be able to trust me. They must trust that I sincerely want to help them; that I care about their individual situation, that they are not just another case or family coming through, but most importantly, that I believe in them. Often times clients come in feeling disconnected from their social service providers and as if they are just another number, blamed or marked as unfit to sustain or provide for their family. They are constantly reminded of the wrong(s) that they have done, which forms the belief that everyone is against them. It’s through listening that I am able to gain their trust and empower them with the awareness that they are not alone and I am there to help them.
Have you noticed any signs of success in your work? What are they?
This past year has taught me that success is not measured by how families are ultimately reunited but rather by the steps one takes to move forward, even if it means not being reunited. Success is the parent who was willing to speak, trust and confide in me. It’s the bipolar parent who, despite being angry with her lawyers and social workers after spending all morning in court waiting for her case to be called, was able to maintain her composure. It is the frustrated parent who is continually there for her child despite the confused child wanting and not wanting to come home for the past four years. It is the parent whose housing papers have finally gone through and as a result can have visits with their child in the home. It means working with each individual at their own capacity.
What would you say to a friend from home who asked how your involvement with the Brothers affected you?
Prior to becoming an LV, I did not know anything about the Christian Brothers and their mission. When I was told that part of the LV experience was living in community with the Brothers, I did not know what to expect. I envisioned a big disconnect between the volunteers and the Brothers; however living and working with them has proved otherwise. I’ve learned that the Brothers are personable and love interacting with the volunteers forty years younger than them. The volunteers and the brothers each have something to offer the other.
We all enter the program wanting to serve and make a difference not thinking about those moments of confusion and frustration that we will encounter throughout the year. The greatest thing about the Brothers is that they are there to help make sense of what is happening and bring balance to the experience. They understand what you are going through because they have been there before and because they have dedicated their lives to living the mission.
Living with Brothers Michael, Ed, Bill, and Joe has been one of the greatest experiences of this entire year and a major reason for my decision to return. The wisdom, experience and stories that they share are one of a kind, and I couldn’t imagine living in community without them. I live with a man who taught in Ethiopia for twenty years and lived a very adventurous life that included climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, something most people can only dream of. Another who has always been ahead of his time, a forward thinker who sees the potential for greatness in everyone, assuring others that the impossible is possible. A third is an avid Red Sox fan who brings an intense amount of energy and passion to the classroom. The last is a local history expert who tirelessly and unselfishly gives of himself by traveling a great distance to fulfill his commitment to his job and community.
Why would you recommend a contribution to the LV Program from a prospective donor?
As is the case in many volunteer programs, the LVs have offered me a chance to really make a difference in someone’s life and be transformed in the process. I get an authentic satisfaction from work because even though I had no prior experience in social work, my clients trusted me and kept coming back to me with a myriad of issues.
What makes the LVs different from other volunteer programs is the community and support offered by the LV program and the close ties with the Brothers. I know fifty-five other volunteers around the country who are also on a journey of faith and self-discovery through a simple lifestyle of service. I have the unequivocal support of the brothers both in my work and my home. The network of LV alums everywhere offers me opportunities to continue in this Lasallian mission that I have grown to love after my two years as a volunteer end.