In this month’s Lasallian Volunteers “Ministry of the Month,” the Midwest District is featured. The Lasallian Volunteers are Carly Cohen, a 2017 graduate of La Salle University, and Emily Redfern, a 2017 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.
WHAT IS THE BR. DAVID DARST CENTER?
The Brother David Darst Center is a social justice education center located on the Southside of Chicago, in the Bridgeport neighborhood. Founded in 2002 as a ministry of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, the Darst Center is unique in providing opportunities for youth and young adults to see more clearly the faces pushed to the margins of our society. In addition to gaining greater awareness of others, participating youth and young adults are challenged to respond to the many needs of our world as discovered and explored through Darst Center programs. It is the hope that, through participation in Darst Center programs, young people feel inspired to respond to the many needs of the world around them.
HOW DID EMILY AND CARLY BECOME LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?
Both Emily and Carly knew during the midpoint of their college experiences that a year of service would be something they wanted to do after they graduated. With their minds set on volunteering, they focused on what type of ministry they would like to serve in. Carly says, “I wanted to stay connected to the Lasallian community and serve, and Lasallian Volunteers offered the opportunity to do a job that I loved doing when I was an undergraduate: guiding students during their growth as Lasallians, world citizens, and spreading awareness about social justice.” Emily agrees and says, “I knew in the middle of my junior year of college that long-term service or a volunteer program was what I wanted to do after graduation. Majoring in Global Studies gave me a profound appreciation and curiosity for culture, and community was something that I wanted the time and space to explore in my personal life and as a potential career path. While I was initially drawn to international long-term volunteer programs, there were two key aspects of the Lasallian Volunteer program that I felt drawn to. The first was the particular emphasis on creating an intentional community. This was not a program that just sent you off somewhere! I am constantly surrounded by various levels of community, and in turn, support! From my community at my site, my fellow LVs with whom I live, the Brothers in Chicago, other long-term volunteers in the area, the list goes on! The intentionality not only means that Chicago and my service site literally feel like a home, but it allows me to go out and create community and actively join my neighborhood communities, which leads to my second point. Being an LV means living with the community you are a part of, and that includes advocacy. Perfect example, my service! The LV program does a wonderful job in training us to be community members but also giving us the tools to advocate for ourselves and our communities. By being a part of a community I have a voice that is recognized and I can use my voice and privilege to help empower others.”
WHAT SERVICE DO CARLY AND EMILY PROVIDE AT THE DARST CENTER?
Carly is an urban immersion retreat facilitator and communications associate, and Emily is a development associate and retreat facilitator. Carly and Emily both lead immersion retreats through Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods for high school and college groups. Additionally, Carly is responsible for social media for the Darst Center, and Emily is involved in fundraising.
HOW DO THESE VOLUNTEERS TOUCH MINDS AND HEARTS AT THEIR SERVICE SITE?
The main focus for everyone who serves at the Brother David Darst Center is educating for justice. The volunteers are full cooperators in this mission and have embraced the culture of the agency. Emily says, “Here at the Darst Center, we are all about creating programs, experiences and opportunities for our students/guests to see things differently. The narrative in Chicago, particularly in the Southside, is that it’s full of dangerous people and gangs, tons of murders and gunshots flying left and right. Not only are we talking about the narrative for Chicago, but that of people experiencing homelessness, people of non-white races, the LGBTQIA+ community, and the list goes on. As a facilitator, it is my job to break down stereotypes, assumptions and dominant narratives through education and human experiences throughout our visitors’ time at Darst.” Carly agrees when she says, “When students come for a retreat, my co-facilitators and I have an idea of where we would like them to be and the knowledge that they should be walking away with when they leave our care. It is my way of contributing back to the world around me. With every story that you learn, with every person that you interact with during your service, it’s another opportunity to broaden your perspective.”
HOW HAS LIVING WITH THE DE LA SALLE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS IMPACTED CARLY AND EMILY AS LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?
Both volunteers attended Lasallian colleges which means they were familiar with the Brothers at their colleges as their teachers and advisors. Living in community has been life-giving for both young women. Carly says, “Living with the Brothers and living in community has changed a lot for me. I had never lived in a community before, and living with a community and Christian Brothers has brought many different perspectives to my attention that I didn’t know about (as a non-Catholic) and the Brothers that I live with are a hoot.” Emily gives this perspective when she says, “Living with the Brothers has become in my eyes a privilege and honor. It’s not often that someone is willing to let complete strangers into their homes and on top of that to try and build community with them. All of us are getting the briefest glimpse into what it is like to live out faith, service and community for the rest of your life. I am constantly humbled by their honesty, openness and willingness to learn from us – especially with Snapchat!”
WHAT DO THE VOLUNTEERS IN THE 2017-2018 COHORT SAY TO COLLEGE SENIORS ABOUT THE LASALLIAN VOLUNTEER PROGRAM?
Both volunteers are encouraging current college students to think about a volunteer year! Emily says, “Now is the time! People always joke about how your 20s are about self-discovery, yet ironically five months before you graduate the entire family wants to know if you have a job and dental insurance! If there is a voice in the back of your head, one that is curious about living in new places, building community, or simply trying something new, then the LV program could be a great fit. When else in your life will you have the flexibility to pack up and move somewhere new, to live in intentional community, to live out a life of service and faith?” Carly says of a year of service, “Everyone’s service experience is different of course, but you will get an understanding of the type of grit and love that you need for service such as this. Don’t hesitate. If you feel like you need to serve, serve. The feeling or need to serve is something strong that is deep inside of you as a human being and should be trusted. If not now, when? If you want to stay in the Lasallian network, stay in the Lasallian family and serve, consider serving with us because we are one big family.”