October 2014: Katie Christensen

Service Site: Fordham-Bedford Housing Corporation: Serviam, Bronx, NY

Katie Christensen
Katie Christensen

College: University of Colorado Boulder

What do you do?

I am the Program Coordinator. I plan events for the tenants and assist with any social services they may need such as applying for food stamps.

What has been your biggest disappointment in your volunteer service? 

The biggest disappointment I have had in my volunteer service is not being able to communicate with all of the tenants I work with.  A majority of the population here at Serviam speak Spanish or Korean.   Not many residents speak English fluently.  I can speak/understand very little Spanish and absolutely zero Korean.  This means I am not capable of helping everyone that comes to me effectively because we cannot communicate.  Usually I piece together what they are trying to say to me, but getting them to understand what I am trying to tell them is a process.  I usually resort to asking someone who speaks 394Spanish to translate for me, or we have to use creative sign language to understand each other.  There are many positives that come with being surrounded by people who speak different languages then I do.  It has forced me to step out of my comfort zone and start using the little Spanish I do know.  My Spanish skills have improved vastly since I started living in the Bronx and working at Serviam.  I have also learned so much about their cultures, and I love every minute of it.  They teach me something new every day, and for that I am so grateful and extremely blessed.

What is a way you have been challenged by a relationship or an interaction you’ve had in your volunteer experience?

When I first began working at Serviam one of my coworkers told me that the tenants, who challenge and frustrate you the most, are the ones that you will grow the closest to.  There are a few residents with whom most interactions that I have are extremely exasperating.  These are the people who test my patience the most, yet they always come to me for help.  For some reason they trust me and want me to be the one aiding them.  Usually after I have had an interaction with them, I need to take a breather, and it takes me a minute to get my composure back.  I can never stay frustrated with them for long though because they let me know how grateful they are for my helping them.  I know I do not know their entire story and why they are the way they are, but I have come to realize that is how they are always going to be.  They are going to test me and frustrate me to the point where I want to pull my hair out, but they will also let me know how much they care about me and are thankful for what I do for them.  They call me their friend, and it is very much a reward having them in my life.             I have learned that everyone has a story.  You cannot assume or make guesses about the people you work with, and if you ask, they love to tell you about their lives.  The tenants that I work with on a daily basis, even though they do not have much, would give you the shirt off of their back.  They are also very spiritual people.  They see every day as a blessing and constantly thank God for what they have despite the circumstances they have been given.  One women in particular told me once that in her country (Dominican Republic) instead of just one day that every day is your birthday.  She says that every day you wake up is like a gift from God because God is giving you another day to live.  The tenants that I work with have changed me in so many ways and all for the better.  I in no way, shape, or form can relate to the struggles that they have had to face, and in all honesty I hope I never have to.  As much as they tell me they are grateful and thankful for what I do for them, I feel the same gratitude for them.  I gain so much insight, inspiration, and joy by being around them.  This experience has transformed me, and I will be incredibly sad to leave.

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

Katie with some of her community members.
Katie with some of her community members.

volunteering?

Being an LV was probably the best decision I have ever made.  It has changed me in so many ways, and I can truly say this is the happiest I have ever been.  I have been exposed to a completely new world, my eyes have been opened, and I have learned a lot of new things.  I absolutely love living with the Brothers.  They are a source of inspiration, a shoulder to lean on, and a listening ear when you need really need someone to talk to.  They are also a blast to be around.  Community would not be the same without them; my community is my second family.  The LVs are some of the best people I know, and I have gained a ton of new friends and have met a lot of amazing people along this journey.  When my two years are done and it is time for me to move on to the next stage of my life, I will be nervous and very excited.  At the same time I will be heartbroken to have to leave my community, my coworkers and the Bronx.  I can never thank my family who supported me along the way, my new LV family for all of the love they have shown me, and those who I work with for helping me grow enough.  I am eternally grateful.

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