Mari Anzicek

Site: West Philadelphia Catholic High School – Philadelphia, PA

College: Loyola University Chicago, Master’s Degree; North Central University, Bachelor’s Degree

What do you do?

I am the Freshman Advisor at West Catholic. I work closely with our freshman students, especially those who are struggling academically. We work together to set goals, improve grades and help the students stay in school. I also help moderate the Community Service Corps and run with students after school in a marathon and mentoring program called Students Run Philly Style.

Have you noticed any signs of success in your work? What are they?

Like every LV, I have found many challenges in my work. Most days are pretty ordinary, but occasionally I see bright spots and success that keep me motivated. I sometimes come home defeated and uncertain of my purpose. This year the biggest success for my students came in running the Philadelphia Marathon. Last year while training for the Chicago Marathon, I saw students running all over Philadelphia with shirts on that said Students Run Philly Style. Naturally I was curious and looked up the program online. I quickly learned that Students Run is a marathon training and mentoring program for students throughout the city of Philadelphia. All it takes to start a team at your school is a few Running Leaders who serve as coaches and mentors and a few interested students. With the lofty goal of running a marathon, myself and a few other Running Leaders started training in March of last year with a group of 30 students. We taught the students about running form and guided them through the completion of their first mile.

Since our first steps, we have run a few 5ks (3.1 miles), the Broad Street Run (10 miles) in May, the ING Half Marathon in September and most recently the Philadelphia Marathon in November. It was a long training season that took place chilly spring days into the summer heat and back to the cold of winter. It was an exciting journey with all of our students. Seven of the original 30 made it to the starting line of the Philadelphia Marathon. These final seven students who committed to a long training and race season are very inspiring teenagers who give me hope for the many students growing up in cities with few resources and even less support. It has truly been a life changing experience running with these students and learning with them each day. I joke that I spend more time with them than my family, community or friends and it is actually true. I would like to think I am having an influence in their lives, but truth be told they are influencing me more than I realize.

Students Run Philly Style is not my main job at West Catholic but it has been a very rewarding aspect. I have seen the most success with my students through this program. Not only did they complete a marathon but individually each student described different successes including feeling more confident, doing better academically, finding a “family” here at West Catholic, losing weight, making a commitment and sticking with it, and many other accomplishments. I could talk about these students and their successes all day. They are an incredible inspiration to me knowing what they accomplished with the many other challenges in their lives. We started our second running season a few weeks ago. Our veteran student runners have voluntarily taken leadership roles and are great motivators to our new runners. To me there is no greater success then seeing the students you trained and mentored take those skills and pass it on to their peers.

How has your involvement with the Brothers affected you?

Before applying to the LV program, I had never met or even heard of a Christian Brother. I wasn’t sure what to expect and didn’t have a clue as to what it would be like living with these men. Now I have the honor of saying I not only know many Brothers but: I live with two incredible men who served as missionaries in Africa for 17 years, served at West Catholic High School with five more Brothers, and met many of the amazing Brothers all over the East Coast who have dedicated their lives to serving the poor.

Their lives are both inspiring and honest. From them I learned everyday isn’t a brilliant experience. Most days are just plain ordinary and that is okay. But every ordinary day can be made extraordinary with the experiences and relationships you fill it with and the faith with which you approach it. Initially, I thought life with the Brothers would be all excitement, but as routine set in I realize the most important affect of the Brothers on my life is the deep relationships I formed with these men, how they helped change my perspective and world view, and the many lessons learned about life. Little did I know two years ago when applying for the program these men would become my friends and mentors. Each Brother I have met is incredible in his own way and has changed the lives of many people all over this country and world. I count myself lucky to have lived and served with these men and have been changed as a result.

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

Each of the core values are very important to me for different reasons, but the one that people tend to have the most questions about is community. Questions like, “What is it like living with the brothers?”, “Do you have a curfew?”, “Do you have to cook dinner, clean, lead prayer, etc.?” Now I am sure I had these very same questions before I joined community leading to some apprehension, fear and nervousness. Little did I know community would be one of the most life giving experiences of my life. Not many volunteer programs can offer their volunteers the opportunity to live with religious and experience the many joys of sharing a home with adults of varying ages and interests. There are definitely sacrifices one needs to make to be a full contributing member of a community, but the outcome is worth it. I treasure the conversations I had with the Brothers and other volunteers ranging from sports to politics to spirituality to the realities of the work we are doing. There is nothing quite like mixing a group of people with different backgrounds, ages, experiences, and lifestyles and saying, “Make it work” (if I may quote Tim Gunn from Project Runway).

It is hard to relate what it means to live with other volunteers and Brothers. It is different than living with friends in an apartment or a dorm and not quite like living at home with your family. Community is more than just living with 5 other people and sharing space. We share our lives, experiences, interests, and faith. I often find myself wishing I was more caring and empathic like Bud, laid back and easy going like Denis, intelligent and sensitive like Leo, extroverted and creative like Sara, servant hearted like Eddie, honest and full of laughter like Thais, and as intellectual and thought provoking as Michael. It is not to say that I lack these skills, but I recognize the beauty of individuality and sacrifice of self that comes together when people intentionally live together to create community. It is both enjoyable and difficult. Not everyday in community is wonderful. I have been frustrated and angry, but mostly I am encouraged, loved, and challenged daily by the people I live with. I am grateful to share in a small part of my community member’s lives and to know they have shared in mine.

On a side note, living with the Brothers is wonderful. Every day is different and you never know what they are going to say. No, I don’t have curfew. Yes, I cook dinner. Sometimes not too well but I give it my best shot. I do have community responsibilities such as cleaning and leading prayer, but they are not too demanding.

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

I would hope everyone would consider volunteering at some point their lifetime. Mostly because it is incredibly rewarding and challenging, but also it is the quickest way to learn about yourself and your strengths and limitations. I encourage young adults to specifically checkout the LV program because not many other volunteer programs offer the opportunity to live in community with Brothers or other religious, attend retreats throughout the year to learn more about yourself and how to serve your students and clients, and make friends with other volunteers all over the country. The LV program provides you with “A Way to Change the World.” It isn’t the only way, but I can say without a shadow of doubt I helped to change the small part of the world entrusted to my care during my two years as a LV.

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