As the 2017-2018 Lasallian Volunteers begin their service year, they carry with them the experiences they had and the lessons they learned at the Brother Charles Kitson Institute for Formation of Lasallian Volunteers. Formerly Orientation, 32 LVs gathered at the Kitson Institute, which was held July 21-30 at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, to prepare for the service year ahead. The 20 first-year LVs and 12 second-year LVs are now spread across ministries.
In the reflection below, Carly Cohen, a first-year LV serving at the Brother David Darst Center in Chicago, Illinois, shares the powerful experience she had at Kitson and what she is taking with her on her journey of service.
During the balmy (albeit humid) last nine days of July, we began the journey of our 2017-2018 year of service as Lasallian Volunteers at the Kitson Institute. For nine days, LVs, Christian Brothers, LV Alums, and our wonderful staff and facilitators took a journey together that allowed us to discover a huge number of things. All in all, we accumulated about 136 hours, 8,161 minutes, or 489,672 seconds of active thinking, learning and building to reach our goal! But the time together felt all too short. After I came home, back to Pennsylvania, the most common questions that I was asked by my friends and family were, “What did you do?” and “What did you learn about while you were there?” I know: they don’t seem like very hard questions, right? After I had answered the questions a few times I came up with four (of the many) important things that I had taken away from Kitson:
- You must be patient;
- You must always have your eyes, ears and hearts open;
- You must be aware of your intentions and where your compass is leading you during your journey;
- You must, above all else, be brave and love.
First, let’s start with patience. I learned, very quickly, that every single person in the room with us during our time at Kitson wants to do good things for others. We all want to save the world. We don’t want people to go to bed hungry. We want to make sure that every child has the best quality education that they can conceivably obtain, for people to have a warm place to sleep every night and for families to live happy lives together. These are very lofty goals that we all intend to put countless hours of work into achieving for those we are serving. But we must remember to be patient, not only with the world around us, other people and policies, but with ourselves, because we as a cohort cannot fix these issues for our nation or the world. We need to have patience and change now, and in the future, whether it is for our cohort member to reach the next rock on the rock climbing wall as we cheered for them during our day at Covenant Harbor, or for someone to give you the freedom to host a diversity festival at our sites. Unfortunately, change doesn’t happen overnight.
The fact that we must always keep our eyes, ears and hearts open was reinforced during our time at Kitson. While many in the cohort are incredibly well traveled and highly learned, we will always enter new territory at one point or another. Every single person, place and thing that you interact with has something new to teach you. At Kitson, we not only learned about what we would be doing and what to expect, we learned a lot about each other and ourselves. Keeping your eyes, ears and hearts open is the gateway to learning more and being able to best serve those you are serving. It is the core of effective service. In the end, it is not about us: it is about everyone.
We were reminded that we must be aware of our intentions and where our compass is leading us. We must not only be aware of where we are going and of our actions but what is guiding us as well. We must conduct ourselves not only with the Lasallian core values (recognizing the dignity of every single individual, concern for the poor and social justice, faith, providing a quality education, and providing an inclusive community) but with compassion and love. During one session where the second-year Lasallian Volunteers spoke about the struggles that they encountered at their sites, I saw the good intentions and love that they harbored for what they do at their sites. It resembled an endless and powerful ocean … something that terrifies me due to its power and the uncertainty of what resides within it. As they spoke, the waves from their ocean of good intentions bashed against their sternums like unstoppable waves moving around a stubborn light house. The waves threatened to break through the lone lighthouse of their own limitations and more uncontrollable (systemic) obstacles that stood in its way. And it was beautiful. But I also saw the sorrowful retreat of these powerful waves receding (but by no means defeated) when they realized that the issues they sought to fix were so deeply rooted at its base. And finally, the realization that water wears down stone over time, and one day if there is no one to come to reinforce or repave the stone, it will topple over itself. The water will then run free and get to where it needs to go. There were moments where people mentioned that at times you can feel lost, but if you remember where your intentions are coming from, they will not lead you a stray.
Lastly, you must, above all else, be brave and love. It’s all about love. You must be brave, but this does not mean that you can’t be scared. Everyone fears something, but you must have the courage to push that aside and do what you can for the good of others. But you must be brave to love, whether it is a person, a place, an ideology, or something else entirely. The amount of love and support that my cohort and I had for one another was surreal at times. With that amount of love, you feel like you can do anything with a little bit of time. We had an overabundance of love at Kitson, from the staff, presenters, Brothers and our fellow cohort members. During my time at Kitson, there was not one moment where I felt alone or unsupported. Why? Because of the love that we all had for each other. I have no doubt that the people my cohort will serve will feel that way as well. It all boils down to love. We all have a whole lot of love to give, for our faith and for service and community. The flame that we hold for those things is inextinguishable and forever replenished by our innate drive to do what we can, for who we can, for as long as we can. Though we may not truly save the whole world at the end of the day, when we go out to our service sites and give even a fraction of the love that I felt during Kitson to those we serve, it will be more than enough.
I would like to thank the LV staff, as well as the facilitators, Christian Brothers and Lewis University for organizing and hosting the Kitson Institute. I can honestly say that out of all of the trainings that I have been through (and trust me, I have been through a lot) this has by far been the most valuable. I would not, at all, be as prepared to go and build community and serve others to the best of my ability without Kitson and the experiences that it has provided. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.