Jess Kaluzny: LV Lessons Through a Community Car Lens

When I first arrived in Memphis I got the task of naming our community car. Now, this car was nothing to get too excited over, it was just a provided car that got my community members and I where we needed to go, so nothing came to me quickly. In fact, it took me a whole year to name it Red! Once it was named, I realized just how much I appreciated having Red. We had a connection; in many ways I felt like my experiences with Red represented the greatest lessons I learned as a Lasallian Volunteer.

Red became infamous very quickly for being unreliable. A broken alternator, multiple flat tires, and wonky door handles were all dealt with throughout my time with Red. One Brother even made a remark that it would be best to drive Red into the Mississippi River, and leave it there for good. I knew Red had quirks, but I had trust in what it was capable of. My community member, Sheyenne, and I pushed Red to the limits and took it on many adventures. With Red, we got to experience the top of the Smoky Mountains, the music of Nashville, family time in Kentucky, and the rolling hills of Arkansas. If we would have just sank to Red’s label of being unreliable, this never would have been possible. I, too, had a label coming into Lasallian Volunteers. I was a double major in theology and psychology, and was given the opportunity to teach religion and art to students at De La Salle Elementary in Memphis, Tennessee. I knew my students deserved the best and I feared that because I didn’t have an education background, I was not equipped to teach them. I got caught up in this spiral because I had two community members who had graduated with degrees in education, and they seemed to have all of the answers I was seeking. I eventually came to my senses and realized I had gifts of my own that were huge assets to my teaching toolbox, and if I kept limiting myself I would never know how to use them. I learned, with the help of Red, that if we are limited to the labels placed on ourselves we will never unlock the freedom of adventure and discovery.

Sure, Red had some faults, but was not the only one to blame. Sometimes it was me, like the time I ran Red out of gas. It was a seemingly normal Walmart run when I realized Red’s inconsistent gas gauge and my procrastination of filling up do not mix. We were pulling off of the main road to Walmart when my wheel locked up and we slowed down. We came to a stop, but were still many feet away from a parking spot. Sheyenne and I jumped out to push, and thankfully the people behind us came to join as I steered and ran alongside the car, channeling my inner Fred Flintstone. Those people helped save the day, and we were able to fill Red with gas. I also felt like I ran out of gas throughout my two years of service. We opened and closed our school which meant the other LVs and I worked 10-12 hours a day. When Friday came, all I wanted to do was unwind from the week and rest. I was exhausted. One of my first community members, Rachel, knew just the trick; we would implement a weekly prayer night. Rachel, Ivette and I would gather on the couch every Friday to discuss the week, and share whatever was on our hearts and lift it up in prayer. It was so filling, freeing, and was what each of us needed each time. Both Red and I were filled, during times of emptiness, by the communities that surrounded us.

In addition to running Red out of gas, I also lost Red’s keys. To this day I have no idea how this happened, but it did. I searched high and low, and said many prayers to Saint Anthony, yet I still couldn’t find them. It was when my hope was almost completely lost when Brother Tom, my community director, swooped in with a locksmith. A new pair of keys was made and before I knew it my crisis was averted. It was so simple, for he was just doing his job, but I never would have thought to seek a locksmith on my own. Throughout my time as an LV I also felt lost at times. I couldn’t seem to get a grasp on classroom management, and I was doubting my students were learning from me. When our associate director, Maggie, came on our site visit she noticed the unrest and addressed it in a small yet profound way, “Jess, are you showing your students that you love them?” I wasn’t, but sure wanted to be. I knew I just needed to show them that they mattered to me, God, and each other, and am so thankful I got a second chance to show them that. This conversation still sticks with me today for I feel like it was the key that unlocked my mission as a Lasallian educator. I wanted to show love. The keys to mysteries can be found in the simplest ways, but can have the greatest impact.

Lasallian Volunteers is a formation program; these lessons, and the many others I have learned, have helped form me as a person over these two years. As I exit the program, I am so excited to put them into practice in my next stage of life.

Jess Kaluzny recently completed her second-year of service at De La Salle Elementary School in Memphis, Tennessee. She is a 2017 graduate of Lewis Universityin Romeoville, Illinois.

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