Kat Merry: A Little Victory and a Side of Chili

Kat Merry (left) with fellow community member Katie Worsdale (right), 13-14, De La Salle North Catholic, Portland, OR

Kat Merry (left) with fellow community member Katie Worsdale (right), 13-14, De La Salle North Catholic, Portland, OR

One thing all my fellow LVs working in a school can agree on is that we are starting to finally empathize with our old teachers. Discipline in a high school is never easy and it is always exhausting. Whether it’s tackling the under-the-desk-texter in class, correcting the dress-code-violator, or addressing the curse-word-abuser in the hallway – the struggle is real and I have learned that one of the biggest challenges is having faith in students who keep misbehaving, rejecting your efforts, and ignoring your guidance. My time as an LV has been sprinkled with, what I like to call “little victories-”moments when all of my efforts finally pay off and I finally see a breakthrough in a student. This is a story of one of my little victories:

This past weekend, Katie Worsdale (Lasallian Volunteer) and I had the opportunity to chaperone a group of 8 students on a JOIN Immersion trip. JOIN is a program that invites students to spend 24 hours exploring the homeless community of Portland while providing a fully immersed experience: sleeping on the floor in a shelter, finding a meal given only one dollar, and participating in discussions and walk-abouts with Portland’s own homeless residents. I was naïve and convinced that each of the 8 students would be so enthralled and blown away by seeing the way the homeless live that they wouldn’t even think to pull out their cell phones and they wouldn’t complain about the cold or the fact that they were eating on a dollar. I thought, “wow they are really going to appreciate the simple things in life when they see how the homeless live.” I would say the majority of the students were in fact quite engaged in the activities and although the unusually cold and wet weather can encourage crankiness, they remained enthusiastic throughout the trip. Unfortunately, every rose has its thorn and let’s call this thorn, for student anonymity purposes…Michelle.

I don’t know how this particular student found so many things to complain about on the trip, but if I could list them all my head would start spinning.

kat merry“It’s too cold,” “I need to brush my hair,”  “why can’t we have a real lunch,” “why can’t we sleep in real beds?” “I don’t want to be here,” “why can’t I have my cell phone,” etc. Now, I am normally a very patient person but considering the content of the complaints mixed with the subject matter of our trip – I was starting to lose it a bit. I kept trying to remind Michelle WHY we were here, WHY it is important to learn about the struggles of the homeless. All I managed to get out of her were slight nods and more eye rolling and after an exhausting 7 hour battle of “Michelle, put your phone away,” “Michelle this isn’t the time to be brushing your hair,” and “Michelle please consider your tone when you ask someone why they are homeless,” I was finally ready to give up- ready to throw my hands in the air and just hand over the reins to her for the remainder of the trip. In our last group discussion after a day of touring and talking to the homeless, we prepared to have dinner with two guests of the JOIN shelter. I made a general announcement to my group reminding them to be respectful and mindful of their words at dinner when speaking with the men who call or called the shelter a home. My announcement could not have been more clear, and although most students nodded with sincerity, I couldn’t help but notice the rolling eyes and intentionally loud exhale combination coming from the back of the group- I concluded that Michelle was officially checked out of this entire experience.

“I was brushing my hair.” An exasperated Michelle said as she sat down late to dinner. All my frustrations with this student had me about ready to faceplant in my bowl of chili- until she quietly asked me, “Miss Merry, can I read my reflection on the weekend to the group?” To be honest, I think I blacked out for a second. I was shocked to hear that she even took the time to write a reaction on paper. I announced to the dinner table that she wanted to read her thoughts and before I knew it, Michelle was sitting on the counter in front of the group waiting for everyone to quiet down so she could begin. What happened next was incredible. Her words were powerful, honest, and so deeply reflective. She reflected on how appreciative this trip made her for what she has and she described her empathy for the homeless in such a mature and thoughtful way. She described her guilt for complaining about being cold, when there are people who aren’t able to come home to a warm house and bed. Michelle concluded her essay, to our amazement, by stating her plan of action- to make a bunch of PB&J sandwiches each week and deliver them to the homeless people in her area. At this point, Katie and I were choking back tears – we probably blamed it on the extra hot sauce in the chili, but we both knew that some kind of miracle came out of the battle we had both been fighting with Michelle that weekend. Something struck her about her experience, so much so that she wanted to share with the entire group her thoughts and feelings. I was convinced that the JOIN Immersion had been wasted on this one student- but after listening to Michelle read her reflection I realized that the comments, rolling eyes, and complaints that she threw at me since we hopped on the bus, were not indicative of the kind of heart she has and her behavior did not represent the way she absorbed the experience in her head. When she finished speaking, everyone clapped. This was one of my prouder moments as a Lasallian Volunteer this year. Michelle sat down, and I told her how wonderful her essay was. She smiled and said “thank you, I really like to write.” Then without even taking a second breath she announced “This chili is kind of gross do I have to eat it?” I smiled…I guess I’ll take what I can get!

Kat Merry is a 1st year LV serving at De La Salle North Catholic in Portland, Oregon and is a 2013 graduate of Manhattan College.

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