Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A (very much simplified) Year in Review

     As much as we all hate to think about it, our year is rapidly coming to a close.  I have no words to describe this year and the special people I shared it with.  So, instead of using my own words I am going to borrow some words to look back our year.  (Click on the lyrics to hear the whole song)


     Moving into a house with eight people I knew pretty much nothing about was certainly a nerve racking experience.  Not only was I supposed to coexist with these people… I was actually supposed to be friends with them.  It turns out, this was much easier than I anticipated.  From orientation week until now our group has just clicked.  I never thought that I could enjoy sitting around with a group of people asking them random questions about their lives for hours at a time.  I am so unbelievably lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know eight such wonderful people.


     … or 10-6, or 7-3.  We all started to get settled into our jobs and work out a routine.  Each night we would come home from work and share our stories from the day.  We began to recognize names of coworkers, clients, and students and started to become more and more invested in each other’s work.  Whenever we had the opportunity we would volunteer at fundraisers for each other’s service sites.  It was fun to have the opportunity to meet people we had heard so much about and who mean so much to our community members.  


     This winter was certainly long and cold!  However, for us it was anything but lonely.  As hard as the snow was to deal with and as annoying as it was to be trapped inside for days at a time, it was much easier to go through together than if we had been living on our own.  It was definitely easier to shovel out a parking lots worth of snow in front of our van together than it would have been for one person!  We tried to make the best of our situation and have fun through it all.  We enacted our “snuggle clause” to do our best to keep our house warm and cozy.  Despite making the best of the situation, we were all happy to see the sun and warm weather coming around the corner.  


     As time went on, many of us were given more responsibilities at work.  This lead to more stress and sometimes made it more difficult to go into work ready to give it our all.  Whenever someone had trouble at work or needed to bounce ideas off of people the community was there.  We would help each other to come up with solutions to difficulties at work and if that wasn’t successful… someone was always ready to do something stupid and funny to distract us.  I think all of us became more grateful for our community when we thought about the possibility of coming home to an empty apartment at the end of our workday.  


     WE WENT TO A MUMFORD AND SONS CONCERT!!!!!  (but I promise that isn’t the only reason this song is here)  This year we committed ourselves completely to service and community.  It would have been easy for us to look at this opportunity as a first job and as nothing more.  I know that I will look back on this year as one of the greatest times of my life.  The people I have met and the opportunities I have had are invaluable.  Had we not invested all of ourselves into this year we would not have been able to receive and grow nearly as much as we did.  I think we all feel that we have friends in the Brockton community and that this city will always be a part of who we are.



     I have made eight of the most wonderful friends imaginable this year.  As we all prepare to go our separate ways I want each and every one of them to know how much they mean to me.  We have leaned on each other so much this year and I truly believe that does not stop here.  Some of us are moving home, some are moving away, and some of us are going to be staying in or around Brockton.  No matter where our journey takes us I know that I can count on any of my community members for love and support whether they are near or far.

Annie, Christina, Dan, Devin,  Lauren, Lisa, Lucas, and Sean,
thank you for the most wonderful year.  I love you all!


Saturday, May 30, 2015

One of Many: The Fight Continues

It is a little scary and a little exciting thinking about how different life is going to be when our program ends in one month. While we are all sad to leave, many of us are excited for what comes next in our journey of life: graduate school, jobs, another year of service, etc. We make sure to spend even more time together as a house, going on short day trips and going out to dinner together, and constantly comment about how moving on to the next adventure is bittersweet as it means we will also move away from the amazing Brockton community.


For myself, my biggest fear is the uncertainty of what is going to happen at my service site, Brockton Interfaith Community, once I leave. With a small staff of only three including me, how big of a hole am I going to leave? What should I be doing to make sure that the fight continues with whomever comes after me?


When I first started working at BIC, I was blessed to have been trained by last year’s service corps member, Jess Mardo. She took time out of her schedule to make sure I was completely prepared and comfortable so I could do my best to fill the shoes she left for me. Soon, we are all going to be “last year’s service corps member”, but what are we doing to make the transition easier for the amazing leaders and staff we have been standing beside for the past 9 months?


Over this last month, we will be answering those questions and that transition is going to be easier for some and very difficult for others. I cannot express my gratitude and thanks to the amazing BIC leaders, staff, members, and entire Brockton community for welcoming us and allowing us to have an unforgettable experience. The inspiring residents of Brockton have left deep scars in our hearts and minds, and we will carry those memories and stories with us for the rest of our lives.


At BIC, I have a lot of work ahead of me for the next month to make sure what I have been able to contribute will only be a part of a continuing fight; that the shoes I inherited from those who came before me will be worn by the astounding people who will come after me. While there is only so much we will be able to do make sure those shoes are filled smoothly, the fight continues. That is why we continue to share the stories and experiences we have had because the person who comes after us might be reading this very post.


You have the power to make a difference in the lives of those around you! Whether you continue to fight the good fight here in Brockton, in your current hometown, or any community you are a part of. I hope the stories we share have inspired you as much as they have inspired us. As we say at BIC, the power of people coming together, loving and caring for each other, can move mountains and change the lives of millions.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Unbreakable Bonds

      As trees bloom and winter becomes a memory pushed to the farthest reaches of our minds, I have one thing to say no matter how cliched it sounds- time moves ridiculously quickly and it appears I've been spent along with the tide of it. I'm pretty sure it was only yesterday that graduation was just around the corner and moving into the service house was only a distant thought on the horizon. It is incredibly hard to believe that an entirely new class of students is preparing for that day to happen in a week. I had no idea at that time I would make such incredible connections this year, both within our amazing community and at my placement- The Family Center.

A selfie taken during our Citizenship Clinic.
     Last month, The Family Center moved into our brand new location next to Trinity Baptist Church. The moment I stepped into the much larger space, I knew that this place was the perfect home to continue growing our organization so that we could offer the community even more wonderful programs. The process of moving an entire organization to a new location was no easy task though. In fact, there were days where I was pretty sure boxes were just magically appearing from nowhere. Thankfully, all the boxes have been emptied and are long gone to the recycling depot. And on top of that, we just had our open house two weekends to celebrate - and it was excellent! My year at The Family Center has taught me so much about myself and what I am capable of. It may be chaotic at times certainly, but at the end of the day the staff have made me realize how much I love serving others - and that a little bit of crazy is a good thing!

Unity Through Community with
Dawn, The Family Center's Coordinator at our Open House
At the forefront of my mind throughout this entire process was the juxtaposition with the Center's move in and the house's imminent move out - in just under two months we will all be going our separate ways. How is that we will be packing up boxes and bags to leave when we just got here? While many of us do have plans for next year, I still can't imagine all of us not watching Gilmore Girls tucked into the couch or just simply talking about whatever our minds can come up with as we sit on the porch watching the grass dance in the breeze. The bonds we have made as a house are something we can never lose, which I hope the next group of corps members will find. Our impending destinations cannot erase the belly laughs and grins that passed between us this year. We are family, simple as that. Goodbye does not seem as scary when I can text eight other people who have shared very similar experiences as me. I love you all more than words can say.

Community Climate March

Community Apple Picking




Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Don't Let Anybody Tell You that Prayers Don't Work

            I feel compelled to begin with an introduction as this is my very first contribution to our shared blog documenting this experience in the Brockton branch of the Stonehill Service Corps. My name is Dan Gardiner, a graduate in the class of 2014 and I was lucky enough to be placed at School on Wheels of Massachusetts (SOWMA) as the Development Coordinator. Established ten years ago by Cheryl Opper out of her home in Easton, SOWMA provides educational assistance to children impacted by homelessness in Brockton and several other surrounding communities. My job description included event planning, grant writing, stewardship and database management; all areas in which I was eager to gain experience having discovered a passion for nonprofit management during my four years at Stonehill.
           
From the left, Tara DiPersio, Arlene Treacy-Montgomery,
myself and Cheryl Opper on the day I accepted the job!
            Entering the year with such high expectations for the work I would be doing was dangerous but I’m thrilled to report that my time at SOWMA lived up to all of them. I was brought on board two months early as my colleagues were in the final stages of preparation for a 10th Birthday Gala in September. I dove in head first and loved being part of the planning committee, helping to pull together all the loose ends right up until the last possible moment. The fundraiser was a massive success but what I loved more than anything was that my entire community came out to volunteer at the event. I am still so grateful for their support.
            Things were going remarkably well. I couldn't believe how quickly I had fallen in love with my placement and my community. After going through so much stress and uncertainty during my senior year of college, it was as if everything had simply fallen into place. My prayers had been answered and somehow, I managed to discern the right path for me and I was exactly where I needed to be.
            Sixty-three days into our formal term of service, all of that changed. On the night of October 13th, I found myself tossing and turning in bed with a stomach ache that just wouldn't quit. Having spent several hours trying every home remedy in the book, I finally called Lisa Edwards down from her room and off we went to the hospital. Once the nurses administered a strong dose of pain medication, I grabbed my phone and sent a quick e-mail to my supervisor at SOWMA. I told her I wouldn't be able to make it to work Tuesday but I assured her I would be back at my desk bright and early Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, that was one promise that I just wouldn't be able to keep.  
            I remained in the hospital in Brockton for two weeks and underwent two emergency abdominal surgeries. When my condition failed to improve, I was transferred to a hospital in Boston where I remained for another two weeks. In mid-November, I was allowed to return home with my parents, back to upstate New York, where I would continue to recover. Unfortunately, four days later I wound up back in the emergency room and was admitted to a hospital in Albany. I would undergo two more emergency abdominal surgeries and I remained in the hospital until December 22nd. Once again I returned to my parents’ home to continue my recovery and I planned to return to my community Brockton and my position at SOWMA as soon as my doctors allowed. Unfortunately, I found myself back in the hospital for a week in February and at this point, my parents, doctors and I decided it was time to take my case to the Cleveland Clinic in our continued search for a diagnosis and permanent solution.
During my hospital stay, my sister organized a pillowcase campaign
and I received dozens of pillowcases from friends and family alike.
This one came in with messages of support from my SOWMA family!

It was also in this moment that we decided I could no longer realistically plan to return to work or my community in Brockton. This was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make and even with this past year filled with hospitalizations and complications, the day I notified my community members and co-workers of my decision not to return was one of the hardest days I've had. Sixty-three days, nine full weeks, that’s all it took for me to fall head over heels in love with what I was doing and the people with whom I was living. Giving up on the idea that I would be going back to that life I had so quickly come to love was devastating.
However, this post isn't about my experience leaving the service corps, this is about my unique experience as a long-distance participant. The reason it was so difficult to step away from my position in this program was largely rooted in the outpouring of compassion, love and support from everyone involved during my ordeal. From the very first moment, when Lisa stayed by my side in the ER until six-thirty in the morning when my parents arrived, to this very day nearly six months later, I have been impressed beyond words by the manner in which this massive web of people tied to the Stonehill Service Corps went out of their way to be sources of strength and sympathy for me and my family. As much as I wanted to feel betrayed by fate for allowing this to happen when everything had been going so well; I soon came to understand that there could not have been a better time for everything to fall apart. It was truly a blessing. Had this happened just a few months prior, I may not have been able to graduate with my class. Or if it had happened just a year later, a six month departure from a brand new job would have been an absolute disaster. But more than anything, I cannot imagine getting through this trying time without the help of my fellow service corps members, a network of supporters at Stonehill and my deeply caring and compassionate co-workers at SOWMA.
During my hospitalizations, I was blown away by the manner in which this broader community truly came together and rallied around me and my family. I will always be grateful to Stonehill College and especially the Mission Division for the manner in which they took my parents in, fulfilling their every possible need. This ordeal was one of our darkest moments but it was against this backdrop that my family and I truly saw the value of being tied to a small, Catholic college. At a time when so many questions were unanswered, I cannot tell you what a gift it was to see Fr. John Denning or Fr. Jim Lies walk through my hospital room door to say a prayer and offer their support. As President and Vice President for Mission respectively, Fr. John and Fr. Jim truly led by example and as a result, we were given the opportunity to see the very best of the community that they have fostered at Stonehill. We never knew who would come through the door next, from the former Provost, Katie Conboy, to the Farm Manager, Bridget Meigs. From members of the advancement team like Fran Dillon and Marie Kelly to outstanding faculty like Chris Wetzel and John Lanci. I saw Kevin Piskadlo from Student Affairs, Sarah Varadian from the Center for Nonprofit Management and Craig Almeida, the Dean of Academic Advancement. Kris Silva, the Director of the Stonehill Service Corps, was a tireless source of support for my parents especially. She received daily updates from my Mom and disseminated this information to all those who needed to know. We would have been lost without her. On top of all the visits, there were well wishes and prayers, cards, flowers and balloons coming in from so many others including the history department and the provost’s office. I wish I could list everyone who reached out in some way but this post is far too long as it is.
I truly believe that this incredible outpouring of care, compassion and concern from my alma mater is not a unique phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps my particular circumstances as a very recent graduate, a participant in our Brockton service corps and my serious medical condition magnified its intensity but I feel that at its core, this response is simply a reflection of the character instilled in all those who are tied to this institution. Whether you are a current student or alum or part of the faculty, staff or administration, I feel there is an inherent sense of empathy and respect for all those who are part of the Stonehill family. While many institutions may boast a similar phenomenon, I would argue that Stonehill’s size and our foundation in the tradition of the Congregation of Holy Cross, allow these bonds of empathy and respect to reach each individual with a unique strength and intensity. As a result, I believe there is a certain sense of grace that permeates our campus and our community. I was lucky enough to be touched by this grace and I have felt its remarkable power. For that, I am eternally grateful.
My community played a unique role in my support system because they were able to give me one thing that no one else could during my illness and recovery: a glimpse of normalcy. When everything else in my life was thrown so far out of whack, when my plans for the year derailed and when everything fell apart, life simply went on back at the house. My fellow community members continued to go to work, share meals, hold reflection and enjoy each other’s company. As much as it was killing me to be away from that for so long, it made the moments when I was included that much sweeter. Whether it was a visit in the hospital, a text about something funny that happened at the house or a video of the shenanigans that went on over the weekends, it was so wonderful to still be included, to still be thought of, to still be a member of the community. Even when I made the decision not to return for the rest of the year, I was immediately reassured by Fr. Jim, Kris and all my fellow service corps members that I would always be a member of the service corps and this was one of the greatest gifts they could have given me. My community members had so quickly become an extension of my family and having these eight incredible people supporting me every step of the way really was a blessing. They helped me remain true to myself, to not get lost in the sadness and despair but to hold on to even the smallest scrap of positivity. After spending several days in the hospital, hardly leaving my side, my Mom decided it might be a good idea to get out on a Sunday morning and go for a walk. And when the invitation was extended to my community to accompany her that morning, I was so touched to hear they readily accepted. It may not seem like a big deal but knowing that my friends were so willing to extend this kindness to my Mom meant a great deal to me. That same sense of grace that permeates the campus of Stonehill College so clearly resonates within the walls of our house in Brockton as well. Once again I find myself indebted to them and to their families for the kindness and love they so willingly shared with me and my parents.


One of the many pictures that were sent my way from my
community to keep my spirits high!
I know that I was incredibly lucky to have the Stonehill community and my community within the service corps as part of my network of support during these past six months. I know that I am even luckier to have these supporters in addition to the family and close friends that rallied for me as well. My parents, sisters, girlfriend, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins have shown tremendous poise and throughout what could often have been described as chaos. I cannot thank them enough. And I have really enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with many of my friends from high school while I’m back in New York recovering with my parents. Coming from a small town, word traveled pretty fast and as a result, my family has been touched by the kindness shown by all our friends and neighbors.
One of the most frustrating aspects of spending more than two months in the hospital is a feeling of complete and utter helplessness and I know this was a frustration shared by me, my family and nearly everyone else who knew about the situation. But the most common sentiment to grow out of this frustration was propensity toward prayer. I cannot even begin to tell you how many people told me that they were praying for me. Especially during those hours in which my condition drastically worsened, this was the only thing my parents asked of everyone around me, “Just say a prayer for Dan”. Well, as I sit here at my computer, writing this post, I’m thrilled to be able to say, the prayers worked. Even if you are not a person of faith who could ever buy into the idea of some sort of intervention from above, please understand that the prayers worked on another level entirely. Every time I would hear about someone else who said a prayer for me, whether it be my friend and confidant Nancy Dunsing at Stonehill, the parish priest at Christ the King in Brockton or my cousin’s Facebook friends out in California, with every person that was added to this virtual list, my resolve to remain positive strengthened. A prayer is not something I have ever taken lightly because as a person of faith, I do understand what it means to ask something of our Lord. And for all of these people, strangers and friends alike, to take the time to ask God for my healing among all the other things that one might pray for in this world? That carried tremendous weight in my mind and there was never a moment, no matter how dire my circumstances, that I allowed the negativity surrounding me to eclipse the power and strength of those prayers. I was recently visiting my grandparents and upon leaving, their neighbor approached me and asked how I was doing. When I explained how well things had been going recently he smiled, hugged me and said, “Don’t let anybody tell you that prayers don’t work.” Don’t worry, I won’t.
Today, I am continuing to recover at home with my parents in upstate New York. I've traveled to the Cleveland Clinic a few times and will be visiting at least once more for further testing. My surgeon is hoping that the next round of testing will allow him to determine a definitive diagnosis and at that point, he’ll schedule one final surgery to hopefully put my problems behind me permanently. I still receive IV nutrition every night in an effort to help me gain as much strength as possible prior to my next trip to the operating room. Two weeks ago, I felt strong enough to make the trip back to Brockton to visit my community and pack up my belongings at the house. I cannot even express how amazing it was to be sitting around our dining room table once again, laughing and enjoying everyone’s company. Somehow, six months later, it was as if I never left. 
My colleagues at School on Wheels have been incredible throughout this entire ordeal and they have graciously provided me with a few projects to work on from home to help occupy my time during this recovery. I cannot thank Arlene, Tara and Cheryl enough for their unending kindness and compassion. I must also mention Carol Marcus, a member of SOWMA’s Board of Directors, and her husband Stephen for their gracious and enduring support. I received enough cards from my School on Wheels family to “wallpaper a room” as one colleague put it and I have truly felt their encouragement every step of the way. I mentioned what a disaster it might have been had I been working full time somewhere else when all of this happened and that is because I cannot imagine trying to manage this situation without this incredible team from such an outstanding organization by my side. From day one I was incorporated as a member of this family and I’ll always be grateful for the experience, sympathy and love they shared with me.
            When I sat down to write this post, I never intended it to become the world’s longest thank you note but somehow that seems to be where we've ended up. And perhaps that’s what I've learned above all else during my year with the Stonehill Service Corps: gratitude. I’m grateful for the experience I gained, for the relationships I've built and the kindness that was offered to me and my family. And even though this was not the path I thought I would be traveling, I’m so incredibly grateful to have taken this route. It has shown me some of the most beautiful things I've ever known, the grace of God, the fellowship of my community and the true power of prayer. So, all I can say is thank you. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Striving for Strength



When we last received our stipend, some of our Corps Members made an observation that we have just three more stipends to go before our service year reaches its end. Once that was stated, the room we were all in suddenly quieted down, and we were speechless for a few moments. This served as a stark reminder to us all that our time together is coming to a close, far sooner than any of us expected. That realization almost immediately brought with it increased thoughts about our individual “next steps.” Where will life take us after June 30th? How will our experiences this year influence our life trajectories?

All of us in different ways have begun to plan, mainly through intensive job/graduate program searching, and submitting applications for some. One of our community night reflections even revolved around planning ahead, for the facilitator recognized our collective stress about the future. Therefore, part of the reflection entailed dedicating a half hour to doing something constructive as it pertained to the future, whether that be job searching, crafting a personal statement, making a to-do list, whatever you needed to make that time count, basically. That half hour did count for all of us, in various ways.

On the other hand, our collective emphasis on the future can, in some ways, detract from focusing on the present. Presence, arguably, might be one of the most challenging aspects of this year. Life provides everyone with several distractions, making it difficult to focus on any one item for an extensive amount of time. This certainly has been the case throughout our service year, with each of us experiencing a variety of challenges, both personally and professionally. It also has been challenging at times to focus on our year, knowing from the beginning it was meant to be a transient experience. Nonetheless, presence has been an ongoing discussion of ours, and will continue to be as our year begins to draw to a close.


The gang's all here!


One way in which we have remained present is by volunteering at different events hosted by our service sites. One such event was Big Sister Big Brother’s Annual Bowl-A-Thon, a fundraiser put on by the Old Colony YMCA’s chapter of Big Sister Big Brother. All proceeds from this event, with money raised by teams of bowlers and local business sponsors, directly benefit the various mentoring programs within Big Sister Big Brother. It was a wonderful day filled with lots of bowling, food, and perhaps most importantly, laughter.  All who attended seemed to enjoy themselves as they supported youth mentoring programs. It was gratifying for me to witness the day’s success, seeing as I assisted in the planning of it. I have seen firsthand the impact of Big Sister Big Brother’s mentoring programs through my role at the YMCA, and it was so meaningful to share a glimpse of what I do with my fellow Corps Members. The day served as an outing for us, seeing as we bowled together for the first time, while supporting a phenomenal organization that contributes so much to the local community, which is what we, as Stonehill Service Corps Members, strive to do every day.


Additionally, we volunteered our time at the South Shore Leadership Conference, an event hosted by Community Connections of Brockton: The Family Center, which was filled with motivating speakers and workshops aimed to empower Brockton residents to make positive change in their community. We contributed to the day in a few different ways, including registration, child care, or simply acting as “go-to” people for random tasks that arose throughout the day. The day, amidst its many moving pieces, served as a strong reminder for why we do what we do. It truly was enlightening to see such motivated individuals coming together to spark transformation in their community, and even more so to know our collective passion for inciting change is not a solitary effort. There have been points throughout the year where we each have become discouraged with our positions, so being part of an event that validated our collective purpose for serving Brockton and its residents strengthened our beliefs in what we do and why we are here. This strengthening is perhaps what we all needed, in different ways.




  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Middle of the Road.. Now What?


                Well, it’s no secret that the trillions of miniscule white dots falling from the sky are at the forefront of everyone’s minds lately.  Between shoveling, traffic, and cabin fever, I think it’s safe to say we’re all dreaming of summer.  While I am one with the crowd in wishing I could be soaking up the sun, I can’t say I am particularly rushing the arrival of this mid-year season; because that just means an incredible year of service with a remarkable community has drawn to a close.

            Now, I could get all mushy and cry about the fact that there are only four months left of this service term…OR I could choose to use these next four months to grow, share, improve, and absorb the beauty of the extraordinary community I have been fortunate enough to find a home in-both at my work site and with my fellow service corps members.

            On Friday, January 30th, our community nestled into the warmth and comfort of Evan’s House, which is a part of a collection of retreat houses on Stonehill’s campus, for our midyear retreat.  We began the day by kicking off our snow-covered boots, reclining on some couches and chairs, and accompanying our impending mental reflection with some physical relief as well.  The morning portion of our retreat primarily consisted of turning inward for some spiritual contemplation and examining how we’ve grown and what we’ve learned through our service thus far.  The afternoon segment, however, allowed us to turn this examination of our strengths and weaknesses into a productive and tangible method of growth. 

            We used this time to review the House Covenant we made for ourselves at the beginning of our service term back in August.  I think this was an enlightening experience for each of us in different ways.  Personally, I was struck by how well we had upheld the items in our House Covenant, even without the conscious realization that we had placed them in such a formal document at the beginning of our term.  For example, recycling and composting, notifying community members of our plans to have guests over in a timely manner, and setting aside a portion of our stipend for grocery shopping all became second nature to us within just a few weeks of living in the house. 

            However, there were some components of the Covenant that we could improve upon for our concluding months of our service term, both individually and as a community.  We took the time to make lists of what we have been doing well, what we can improve upon, and how we can improve upon it.  Just some of the things we have come up with are an updated chore chart and limiting ourselves to only purchasing 1 or 2 new items per month.

            While the latter portion of our retreat was highly constructive and focused on what could use a little bit of improvement, I think what I took away most from that day was just how much I have grown from this year already.  I have learned how to put together a decent meal (most of the time…) for nine people, how to budget and allocate money throughout the month, and how to thrive in a full-time job while making strong professional relationships at my service site.  I walked away from Evan’s house with an immense sense of gratitude for the personal growth I owe to my community, my service site, and my Stonehill family.  The rest of the year will fly by, but we have committed ourselves to try not to dwell on how much time we have left or what lies next, but to strive to make each day better than the one before it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cupcakes and Community

     We began our year of service with a week long orientation at Stonehill.  During this orientation we learned about the city of Brockton, our new home, our service, and each other.  We were able to take some time to learn each others personalities and bond before we were thrown into living together for a year.  Last week, the India cohort of the Stonehill Service Corps began their journey with an orientation at Stonehill.  Although Agartala, India and Brockton, Massachusetts are sure to provide very different service experiences, a lot of our orientation experience was similar.  Living in community, no matter where in the world you are can be very challenging and very rewarding.

     Last week we had the members of SSC India over to discuss living in community (and to eat delicious funfetti cupcakes!).  It was interesting to take a step back and look at the way our community runs and try to explain to others what makes our group work so well.  We tried our best to give advice and to share as much as we could about our first few weeks together in community.  We have all been so wrapped up in our placements and living together has become such second nature that it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes things run so smoothly.

     We told the India group about our chore chart and how we each have a job that we are responsible for within the house (vans, money, cleaning, house fun, social media, etc.).  We gave them lots of little tips that I am sure they had heard many times before.  I think our only real piece of advice was that they should have a question bag.  This is something we started very early on.  We took a small gift bag and everyone could write anonymous questions on slips of paper and put them in the bag.  The questions could be anything.  We had everything from “What is your favorite movie?” to “What is your biggest regret?”.  We all agreed that any question was okay to go in the bag.  At the beginning of the year, every night after dinner we would pick out questions from the bag and go around and have everyone answer them.  We got to know things about each other that wouldn’t necessarily come up in conversation naturally.  This really helped us all to bond quickly and although we were just doing it for fun, it really helped us to learn more about each other and therefore live more harmoniously in community.

     We are now at the point where we don’t need the question bag anymore.  There are two reasons why the question bag no longer exists in our house.  The first is that we can’t come up with anything that we don’t already know about each other.  The second is that when we do think of something there is no need for anonymity.  We are all comfortable enough with each other now that direct questions are not awkward and uncomfortable.

     At the end of this week we are going to spend a day at Stonehill for our midyear retreat.  It seems crazy that it is already time for this.  Talking with the India group brought us back to that first week when we were all just getting to know each other at Stonehill.  We remembered that during one of our first community moments together Lauren broke the news to us that Robin Williams (RIP) had passed away.  I think back to the first night in O’hara when Lisa and I were being awkward and overly polite about turning off lights and running fans in our room.  That all seems so silly now that we are such close friends.  The India group, though very different than us, was us five months ago.  It was great to be able to talk to them, to see their excitement, to share our ‘wisdom’ with them, and to reflect on where we were such a short time ago. 


Good luck SSC India!  Looks like you are already having a wonderful time! 


P.S.  My students still need penpals!