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!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tardy or Timely?

            So, I was told by the keeper of the blog (aka Lauren) that I was supposed to have a blog post finished by Christmas.  Oops, that clearly didn’t happen.  However, before you judge too quickly, this post is not extremely tardy because I was too busy or just too lazy.  I actually really was at a loss of what to write about. 
            It is around the holidays so when I offered to write the post this month I thought it would be easy; I will just talk about traditions and Christmas.  Boom. Done. Butttttt my Christmas traditions are all with my family at home in New Hampshire.  No one wants to hear about how we eat grapefruit before opening presents or that my cat always knocks over my mom’s favorite ornament from the tree resulting in some nonsense screaming.   
            My next thought was what ringing in the New Year would be like knowing how much this experience has changed me.  And while very true, this sounds much too cliché for my taste.
            So I settled on talking about time.  Please don’t stop reading even though time seems like a very boring theme compared to cats dangling from Christmas trees but just hang in there - it might get exciting soon.
            Last February when I first decided that I was going to apply for this program I had so many conversations with myself about how a year is a very long time.  All my life I have gone to school where you get these wonderful vacations that break up the year into nice little chunks.  Just when you start to get sick of going to class and learning you are rewarded with a few days or weeks of rest.  How amazing.  As I was thinking about what this year would be like I’ll admit, I was a little scared.  For my entire life I have gone to school and this year I suddenly was ready to live in the real world and never have summers off again? 
            I didn’t think that I was ready for that but just like time (or gas), this feeling has passed as I have continued on throughout this journey in Brockton.  At first time went by slow.   Every week a new adventure into adult life making memories with new lifelong friends over dinner or discovering I actually remembered something that I learned in freshman business class.  But as we are reaching ever closer to the halfway point in the year I feel that time is slipping by much too quickly.  As the holidays got closer time just kept speeding up.  Yes, I was very excited to spend some time with my family but I felt cheated out of those long nights spent with the community talking about who knows what for hours back in the beginning of the year. 
            I thought a lot about how I envisioned this next half of the year going in the past few weeks.  I want to make the most of my time here.  A saying that I have said over and over, but what does that even mean?   During the first half of the year it meant not looking ahead to June 30 and figuring out my plans for life after my year of service.  I am proud to say that I accomplished this.  I curiously thought about what I wanted to do after this year but I have yet to sit down and make any sort of defined plan.  This has let me stay present in this experience, and I am happy I made that effort. 
            But back to the time thing.  Now that we are almost halfway done I have to start thinking about my plans for after this year of service.   And I don’t want my time to start slipping by faster and faster as we get closer to the end.  My worksite, my community mates, and living in the city of Brockton are all things that I will never experience in this context again.   How do I make time go by slower so that I can soak up every last drop I can? 

            I don’t know the answer to this question and I think that searching for the answer is not an effective use of this precious time.  As I continue on this journey together with my community we will figure out ways to slow down and chill out.  I am looking forward to the rest of this year and equally scared for the end to come too quickly but that is something to figure out when the time comes.  Sick of hearing the word time yet?  Me too, so I will stop taking your time up now (sorry just one more). 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pieces of a Puzzle

Our community has just recently gotten into doing puzzles together when we have spare time. Currently, our sitting room is covered in 2000 pieces of a Boston puzzle. Some pieces are randomly strewn on the coffee table while others are placed in piles on the floor according to color. The puzzle itself is spread on the floor, waiting to be figured out. Challenging to walk through the room, but it is so much fun to work on together. There is such rush when we connect two pieces together that makes me so happy every time it happens.

Working on the puzzle one night last week, it got me thinking about our sites and how a lot of what we do is very similar to fitting puzzle pieces together. While we are all working at separate placements, we all take pieces of each other’s compassion and determination to serve others to our sites. We fit together our strengths and weaknesses to become the best people we can be for our organizations. When we come home, we are able to fit together our days to share experiences and help each other grow. Honestly, that is probably my favorite part of my day, coming home and hearing how everyone’s day was. Even hearing that someone did not have the best day still gives me the ability to pull nuggets of wisdom from how they acted throughout the hard parts of their days.
I serve at Community Connections of Brockton, The Family Center.  And if there is one thing I have learned in the three months of my serving there, it is that it takes more than one person to serve a community and keep an organization like The Family Center functional. Everyone has to be able to share when they learn about new resources so that others can help other clients. It takes multitudes of organizations collaborating to make a difference in people’s lives.
Community-giving Dinner!
It being so close to Thanksgiving and us having an early community-giving dinner, I’m going to have one obligatory “what I am grateful for” moment. And that would be the fact that we are a community willing to share our experiences and learn from bad days as well as good days.
               Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

We All Need Somebody to Lean On

I always knew the community would be one of the most important parts of this Stonehill Service Corps program.  This summer I had high expectations for community living involving daydreams about group grocery shopping adventures or fabulous field trips across Massachusetts. Little did I know that these visions would come true in spades—and better than I could have ever imagined!  The community has truly become a family since day one of our orientation back in August. The bonding continued further as we moved into our home in Brockton and slowly filled each of the rooms with laughs, memories and quirky furniture.


The Brockton SSC house recently went apple picking together! I was extra excited for this experience because I had never been apple picking before despite my New England heritage. At last, a life-long dream came to fruition with the company of my wonderful community. It was certainly worth the wait! We all went to C.N. Smith Farms in East Bridgewater where we enjoyed apple cider, apple cider doughnuts, and of course, apple picking! Such a blast. It was Sean’s first time too se we made sure to get plenty of photos together documenting the groundbreaking experience.


Last Saturday the house attended an event called “Created Equal” put on by Mass Humanities that took place at the Brockton War Memorial.  It was a very well run event that facilitated conversation about the social contract. The moderator used film clips regarding historical events to spark conversation about who dictates the social contract of modern day Brockton and what level of responsibility we all hold in contributing to that social contract. It was a great opportunity for our community to engage in a local forum while learning about our new neighbors and city.


We have all had our ups and downs from our site placements. What’s great about a community is that we are here for each other at the end of the day when we are too tired to even walk ourselves up to our bedrooms for the night. We love, support, and take care of each other. The ability to have someone to lean on that understands the unique lifestyle you have committed to is truly wonderful. I have been enjoying my experience at My Brother’s Keeper more than I could possibly describe, but I know I would be suffering from extreme burn-out if I did not have my community to keep me going.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Scurry, Scurry, Woah

                              Some Brockton Service Corps Member at Houghton's Pond in Milton 

Surgeon-scientist Dr. Joseph Murray once stated, “Service to society is the rent we pay for living on this planet.” This is a concept my housemates and I have discussed, and I imagine it is one that can resonate with anyone participating in service immersion programs. For myself, one of the main reasons I pursued this year of service was to use the privileges with which I grew up in order to give back to the community. I, along with my housemates, have been blessed with various advantages
and it is our turn to use these in order to serve those who may not have similar privileges. Now that we are just over one month into our program, it is becoming increasingly important to reflect on our privileges and motivations as we each scurry to fulfill our various personal and work obligations.

So, I used the term “scurry” for a particular purpose. We recently discovered that our house is now home to a few mice. It started with one sighting, and it quickly has evolved into a handful of sightings throughout our house. Not to worry, though, as an exterminator has come to the house and our additional housemates should vacate soon. Nevertheless, I cannot help but to notice a bit of a comparison between the mice scurrying about our house and each of us scurrying about our lives these past few weeks.

I already mentioned that we are just over one month into our program, and with that comes the beginning of a new phase of our service experience. During our orientation, we learned about “The Emotional Stages of a Service Experience”, put forth by the Catholic Volunteer Network volunteers and program directors, which are intended to be guidelines to explain the various feelings we will be encountering as we progress forward. For the first one or two months, it is the “Initial Fervor” stage, where everybody is enthusiastic and eager for the upcoming year. Following that, it is the “Survival Phase”, where the initial excitement has worn off and feelings of frustration may begin to develop. Included in this stage are feelings of disillusionment toward our placement sites and a new awareness of areas of growth within us.

I believe our community has begun to experience this stage, now that we have settled into our placement sites and our lives outside of work. We all remain enthusiastic for the year ahead and enjoy our sites, however, it has become evident that we are a bit more tired after our work day/week is over. We each have begun to encounter various challenges at work; some were temporary while some are ongoing. Outside of work challenges, we have started to know the struggle of maintaining a work/life balance. Some days it is difficult to leave work challenges at work, and it is not always easy to make and maintain plans with friends outside of the house. Lately, it feels as if we have been scurrying around in our own lives in order to best fulfill our work obligations while maintaining our personal ones as well. With that, it has not always been easy to focus on our core values and the reasons that brought us to this program in the first place.

Last Sunday, September 21st, many of us attended the People’s Climate March in New York City. Over 400,000 passionate individuals and environmental activists gathered for what was the largest march for climate change awareness in history. We greeted Stonehill students and professors on campus at 6:15 AM, and the bus to New York City left by 6:30 AM, not to return until nearly 11:00 PM, with a four-hour ride each way. It was a long day, but most certainly a worthwhile one. Participating in this passionate event along side thousands of people demanding to be heard invigorated each of us, for while we each may not have been previously invested in issues surrounding climate change, there is something to be said about being surrounded by so many individuals fighting for justice, which is something each of us does in our own way daily. 

                                              A snapshot of the People's Climate March 

We each feel passionate about the city and population of Brockton and we go to work every day fighting for it. Whether its ensuring every child has access to education, every voter feels heard, every family has access to nutritious food, or that no one sleeps without a bed, we fight for this city and all of its people every day. Yes, we may feel tired at the end of each day and we may face different challenges in our individual battles, but let’s face it, nobody said this would be an easy year. It will, however, be a worthwhile one, and whether we can notice it now or not, we are making differences, no matter how small.

                           Some Brockton Service Corps Members at the People's Climate March

P.S.--The title references the song, “Hurry, Hurry” by Air Traffic Controller. The link to the music video can be accessed here: 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How long has it been?

It feels like just yesterday we were moving into the house, starting this incredible journey. As of Monday, we have been living in the house for a month! That is crazy to realize. We have experienced so much already and have so much more to go.

Everything has been going really well and we have already started to get into a good rhythm. Trying to manage the vans and who needs to go where has been a fun experience for work as well as for personal use. Sometimes we have had to figure out how to pick up one person from a work meeting, drop another one off somewhere else, and make sure a third person does not need to go to a different place an hour later. It is challenging, but we find it to be a good bonding experience, helping us realize how difficult it is to be limited by transportation.
As we become more and more involved with the Brockton community, we are realizing that our jobs are interconnected through this community web and play different roles in the lives of so many people. Individually, the organizations we work for have limited resources and are trying to pull support from a similar group of people in the community. Working together in different ways, there is much more we could be accomplishing. For example, sometimes during the day working at Brockton Interfaith Community I get calls into the office from individuals reaching out, looking for direct services. Though we do not provide direct services, we are able to redirect them to groups like the Family Center at Community Connections. Individuals at the HOPE House are excited to visit The Farm at Stonehill, which regularly donates food to My Brother's Keeper for their food pantry. Trinity Catholic Academy helps teach some children in Brockton, while School on Wheels helps teach others, and the YMCA helps give some a place to go after their schooling. Each plays a role in different parts of life and all are needed.

School On Wheels Gala
But as we have gotten to know our different organizations better, we ask less about what they each do, but more about how they are progressing. We have become invested in each other and each others' placements. On Friday, we all drove over to Showcase Live at Patriot Place to volunteer with the School on Wheels 10th Birthday Gala. Leading up to the amazing event, we have been doing our part to support Dan in any way we can. We want to see each other succeed at our placements, but we also want to be there to support each other with work and personal life.