March 2014: Whitney Wozniak

Service Site: Br. David Darst Center, Chicago

Whitney as "Rosie the Riveter" for Women's History Month at the Darst Center

Whitney as “Rosie the Riveter” for a Women’s History Month project at the Darst Center

College: Loyola Marymount University

What do you do?

I serve as a Retreat Facilitator. At the Darst Center, we lead urban immersion retreats for high school and college students. Groups come and stay with us at the Center, and we spend a week or a weekend visiting a number of different agencies in the Chicagoland area and explore issues of social justice through experiential learning and in-house discussions/reflections. I am also the Outreach Coordinator, keeping in touch with all students who pass through our doors and staying connected with them after they leave the retreat experience.

What is the most important “thing,” do you think, that your students need from you?  

La Salle High School- Cincinnati, Ohio

La Salle High School- Cincinnati, Ohio


My work is all about relationships. When students come to the Darst Center, some of them have never heard the term social justice before or haven’t yet begun to consider the reality of issues such as homelessness, generational poverty, racism, etc. The most important thing that students need from me is a safe and welcoming environment in which to explore the tough issues that we witness while on retreat. This means meeting people where they’re at and creating a space where students feel they have an opportunity to reflect and share their opinions and experiences comfortably. We walk with students as they witness and experience injustice in an urban setting, sometimes for the first time. To provide this kind of environment, it requires me as a facilitator to be vulnerable, open, authentic, and warm. It’s also really important to have a sense of humor and laugh when things don’t always go according to plan, because they almost never do. Students respond really well if you’re able to laugh at yourself.

Loras College- Dubuque, Iowa

Loras College- Dubuque, Iowa

I don’t need to look too far ahead in the future to know that my experiences have changed me. I can already tell! In a few years I will be in graduate school, pursuing my dreams of becoming a psychologist, and I anticipate that all the skills and tools that I have gained as a full-time volunteer and an intentional community member will be able to help me and have prepared me well in so many ways. These skills include but are nowhere limited to flexibility, sacrifice, empathy, patience, understanding, advocacy, a great knowledge of self, being able to know when to ask for help, and the list goes on. (Of course if you include what I have gained specifically from working at a small, non-profit retreat center, that list of skills expands to gardening, speed dishwashing, neatly folding sheets, expert in Costco floor plans to shop most effectively and swiftly, and that list goes even further.)

Give an example of a time when you knew you were making a difference.

Darst Center Staff

Darst Center Staff

When I’m not facilitating retreats, my day-to-day job allows me to send emails, send justice updates, work on our eNewsletter, and find various ways to keep in touch with our students after they leave the center. It is very rare that I get direct responses to these emails right away or even at all, but when I do, I see that as a sign of success. On our retreats, we talk about the harm that our language can do to others and we are intentional about speaking about others in a compassionate, respectful way, which is something we try to encourage our students to do, as well. I got a message recently from one of my students who was on retreat with us last summer and he said that his school textbook referred to undocumented citizens as ‘illegal aliens’ and how upset it made it him and how it reminded him of his time here. When our students leave our space, we don’t expect them to drop everything and go change the world because that’s unrealistic. However, we encourage them to start to see things a little differently so that maybe one day they can make impact in their own unique way, and this message from this student allows me to see that. His response gives me a lot of pride in what I do.

What would you say to a friend from home who questioned why you chose to live with the Brothers?

What better way is there to emulate the ideals and mission of a program than to live with those who have dedicated their lives to that same mission? Living with the Brothers seemed like a no-brainer! It’s the ultimate learning experience.

Why would you recommend a contribution to the LV Program from a prospective donor?

The LV program isn’t just a program. It’s a life-changing experience that allows us to reflect, learn, grow, make mistakes, and explore our paths and vocations in life. It has been my LV experience that has directly influenced my decision to pursue graduate school and to use my degree to create social change using my own unique gifts, which I wouldn’t have been able to explore as in depth as I would have without my volunteer years.

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