Service Site: Serviam Gardens, a Bronx apartment complex for middle- and low-income senior citizens.
University: Christian Brothers University, Memphis, Tennessee.
What do you do?
Serviam Gardens is an apartment complex for middle- and low-income senior citizens. I am the Program Coordinator so I am responsible for organizing and overseeing programs and events for the tenants, both at and away from Serviam.
What have you discovered about poverty from your work?
In the movie The Prince of Egypt, there is a song, “Through Heaven’s Eyes” in which Moses learns that true happiness comes from spiritual and familial, rather than material wealth. One verse in particular states “…that’s why we share all we have with you, though there’s little to be found; when all you’ve got is nothing, there’s a lot to go around.” Though economically many of my clients are poor, they are incredibly rich in love and compassion for each other. They visit me in my office all throughout the day just to make conversation and make me feel welcome. There are several who bring me fruit or yogurt, and there is even one woman who every morning brings the staff coffee and cookies. It is incredibly humbling to know that even though some of my tenants are struggling to make ends meet, they still go out of their way to share what they have simply to make others feel welcome and appreciated. In the two months I have been working, it is as though I have found dozens of long lost grandparents who are less interested in what I can do for them than what they can do for me. Coming from a society which values and segregates people based upon their material possessions, working at Serviam has made me distinguish “poverty” from “financial hardship”. I believe poverty is a lack of anything which enables a person to be human. Sometimes poverty is economic struggle, but it can also be social and spiritual deprivation. In many ways people who have everything can be the poorest of all because they become so full of attachment to their possessions that they lose room to appreciate and connect with people.
How has your involvement with the Brothers affected you?
The Brothers have had a profound effect on my life. Both in my current community and previously at CBU, the Brothers continually provide me with support and encouragement as I try to discover God’s plan for my life. They help me to push myself beyond my comfort zones while simultaneously creating a nurturing safe haven so I never feel overwhelmed. Their genuine dedication to improving the lives of everyone they encounter is inspirational, and has served to confirm my desire to dedicate myself to a similar commitment.
If you could project ahead a few years and look back to now, how do you think your experiences with those you serve and with the Brothers will have changed you?
I have always wanted to practice law. Over the years, that interest has been concentrated into a desire to aid and protect disadvantaged populations like children and immigrants. However, I believe that before I can truly assist someone, I must first understand their personal experience, from their perspective, for each person’s circumstances are unique. The LV program has provided an invaluable opportunity for me to acquire a firsthand appreciation for the particular hardships facing many immigrants in the US, an opportunity which I believe will make me a more effective advocate. Also, I intend to maintain the Brothers’ dedication to uplifting the communities they serve, and my determination to invest myself entirely in my clients’ success will be due a great deal in part to the example the Brothers have provided. Years from now, I am sure the conflict over immigration will still be strong and biases in both directions will rage as powerfully as they do now. However, my close personal interaction with the majority immigrant population of Serviam will help me better put arguments in perspective, not only for myself, but for the United States legal system.
What would you say to a friend from home who questioned why you chose to live with the Brothers?
I love every minute of living with the Brothers! I have heard our house described as “The Real World: Bedford Park” minus what my father calls “nonsense and foolishness.” Amusingly enough, this is a fairly accurate description. Eight very distinct personalities have been brought together in this huge house in the middle of New York-one of the biggest cities in the world- and we are learning how to interact with each other as we learn how to interact in our different ministries. Not only is this great training on community building, appreciating others’ uniqueness and incorporating those differences (both positive and not-so-positive) into making a productive and cohesive group, but we volunteers have wise, experienced mentors available to us whenever we need them. The brothers help us mature in our work and faith every day, and they are such amazing, entertaining and creative individuals, I cannot think of a better transition into the working world.
Why would you recommend a contribution to the LV program?
I do not even know where to begin. There are so many great things coming out of the LV program. By supporting Lasallian Volunteers you are affording post-graduates a rare opportunity to explore their interest in social service, broaden their horizons, and continue to flourish in the protective and nurturing atmosphere of the Lasallian tradition. At the same time, you are helping send out fresh eager minds into society, each of which has the desire to improve the human experience for all and the potential to change the world. Also, you are helping support the hands and feet of Jesus. Everyone involved in this program is dedicated to Christ’s message of loving and serving everyone, regardless of social status. A donation to the LVs is truly a “gift that keeps on giving”… forever.