College: University of Notre Dame
What do you do?
I volunteer in Kansas City, Missouri at the Holy Family Catholic Worker House. I also volunteer as a staff assistant at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School.
What is the most important “thing” you feel that your guests need from you? What do you do to try to provide this?
It is hard for me to give a clear and concise example of one “thing” that our guests would need from the Holy Family community, because there are so many things floating around in my head about what this experience has been for me. When I think of this house I think first of what it provides for our friends and guests: hospitality. I could not give you the dictionary definition for hospitality but I will share how I have come to understand what it means in my experience at this house. Some homeless guests that come through our doors may feel forgotten, neglected and unloved. I feel that a basic human need is the need to be recognized, remembered (by someone), and loved. I think we all feel the impulse to be connected with others, to be in relationship with our neighbor, a relationship that is based on trust, mutual understanding, and hope. Hospitality in its response to the human need to be known and loved is going beyond initial fears and being open to relationship. It means welcoming the stranger into your house and blurring the social boundaries that exist in our culture. Hospitality is an awareness of the needs of those around you followed by a loving response to those needs.
Each day the Holy Family Catholic Worker House stands as a place where fundamental human needs can be met and strangers can become friends. We try to meet the physical needs of our guests by serving a meal six nights a week and providing a place of rest and comfort. As part of our hospitality we are also available to offer medical, clothing and toiletry assistance. Yet Dorothy Day the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement reminds us that, “Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.” It is important for us to simply be present to our friends and guests. That presence can take on many forms whether it is passing on material necessities, extending a listening ear, or sharing a warm embrace. Being present at the house is a wonderful gift to me because it means that I have the privilege of entering into relationship and witnessing the many personalities that make the Holy House a special place. It is gratifying for the soul.
What have you discovered about poverty from your work?
I have come to know that poverty is persistent. Similar to being caught in a whirlpool it is difficult to resist the motion of the current and even when you can stand firm against the water’s force it is still a struggle to take steps forward (corny analogy….check). In a capitalistic society, it is an on-going battle for those who do not possess ‘enough’ financial resources to have options for just living conditions.
I have delighted in the great pleasure of befriending a man who comes to our house named Steven. At night, I have seen Steven settle for various resting places whether it is on the porch, on a bench, on top of a picnic table, or on the platform of an outdoor play set. I have accompanied him to a vacant lot where he could rest against the side of a building. Steven has chronic shoulder problems and there are days that he comes into the house and I can see that he is exhausted from another night of interrupted sleep outdoors or in pain from having to lay his shoulder against a hard surface. Steven is a gifted mechanic yet his shoulder ailment hampers his ability to work continuously. He cannot afford sufficient medical care so he is in the process of filing for disability benefits. However, this is a procedure will go on for at least two more years before he can actually begin to receive those benefits.
I find that I have a lot to learn from Steven. Steven’s journey against the waves of societal resistance runs deeper yet in the midst of these hardships, Steven has an unbreakable spirit. Steven is one the most joyful people I have ever met. He shows great interest and care for those people he invites into conversation and his naturally loving disposition is contagious. When his laughter fills the dining room or I hear him respond to anything with an enthusiastic, “Yes, Sir!,” I cannot help but smile. His attitude makes me wonder what it really means to be labeled as ‘poor.’ In my mind, our house is filled with wealthy people like Steven.
Steven is one of almost two hundred individuals who come into our house on a daily basis. Living in this house has also taught me to be aware and resistant to the societal structures in place that cause homelessness and cripple the poor. This involves recognizing the abundance from which we live and committing to live simply so that others can simply live. What we waste in this country could feed millions and millions. Our government disseminates what seems like endless resources for militaristic purposes. These are resources that often result in broken relationships, death, and destruction. Instead, those resources could be used not for fighting war but for fighting poverty here and abroad. They could be used to build up rather than tear down. Martin Luther King stated in his speech Beyond Vietnam, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Our efforts at the Holy House to be in relationship with our friends and guests are a response to a larger societal ailment of a non-personal approach to solving problems. A society that relies on impersonal solutions has the structural incapacity to respond justly to what ails those who lack monetary wealth.
Which of the core values (Faith, Community, Service) are most important to you? Why?
These values really attracted me to the Lasallian Volunteer Program. I hesitate to rank the core values because I think they all complement each other and are all rooted in the greatest value: love. Each of these values is important because each is fully alive at the Holy Family Catholic Worker and Cristo Rey Kansas City High School. The Cristo Rey model and the Cristo Rey in Kansas City would not be in existence without the faith of those who dared to provide a quality, Catholic, college prep education to those students in the inner city who needed it most. Cristo Rey Kansas City is staffed and sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, a community of religious sisters who first trusted that God works through their mission to provide education and hope for students with economic need. The community of faith at Cristo Rey extends from the Sisters of Charity through the faculty and staff to the students. The student population alone has put in over 10,000 hours of service this school year, a number which is indicative of Cristo Rey’s commitment to address the needs of those in the local community.
The interconnectedness of the core values is encapsulated in a typical Thursday evening at Holy Family House. When the house is open for hospitality and an evening meal I am often humbled by the response that I receive from many of our guests when I ask them how they are doing. Many times I will hear the reply, “I am blessed.” To me, this is a statement of faith, trust, and gratitude for God’s goodness. That grateful spirit extends into Thursday evening when volunteers and guests gather in our house to share Christ’s body and remember our invitation to be the Body of Christ active in the world today. A framed picture that lists the corporal works of mercy hangs on the wall above the gathered community. It is a physical reminder of Jesus’ invitation to love and serve God and neighbor, an invitation that is present in the life of the Holy Family Catholic Worker.
At the Holy Family Catholic Worker in addition to serving an evening meal we are able to provide prescription, transportation, and clothing assistance among other services. These are all highly valuable resources for our guests that could never be provided without the generosity of those who donate to the house. Monetary gifts directly enable many of our guests to receive warm clothes in the winter and medications on a monthly basis. Similarly, the Lasallian Volunteer Program could not continue to give the gift of education to those who need it without the financial support of its donors. Lasallian Volunteers positively impacts the lives of their students, clients, and guests every day. By contributing to the program donors participate in the Lasallian Volunteer mission to serve the poor through education.