Being Part of the Solution

Every day we are faced with a new challenge. It can be as simple as waking up on the wrong side of the bed knowing you have to give it your all that day. Or as bad as realizing you have lost important parts of your life.

My mom, a wise woman, who has put up a smile every single day of her life has always given me one piece of advice that never gets old. She says “Todo tiene solucion menos la muerte.” Or “Everything has a solution except death.” This advice has gotten me through hard times.

I wake up each day lucky to be going to Alexandria House, a transition home for homeless women and homeless women with children. I never know what kind of day it will be. I don’t know what will arise. I don’t know what mistake I will make or what success I will have. What I do know is that I choose to smile and stay positive. That is not to say that I always am because as an individual I face my own challenges but when I am at Alexandria House I focus on the needs there.

The individuals that go to Alexandria House come from all walks of life. They each have their stories with their own obstacles yet they are choosing to keep fighting. They are looking for a solution even when the light at the end of the tunnel seams too far. These beautiful people are some of the strongest I have ever encountered. The people at Alexandria House are fighting to find their happiness, a happiness only they can achieve and we are merely a vessel to help them get there. They say the creator will never give you more than you can handle even when it seems like it’s too much. Most people I have met can tell you that it seems like they are trusted with too much more often than not.

We each have the choice to find a solution to what we face and realize that there are people out there willing to help you find that solution. While there are people who will not help, there are twice as many who would be willing to help. I can testify to this because every day that I wake up I see my housemates, who like me through the St. Joseph Worker Program, go to jobs just as rewarding and challenging as mine. I get to work and see our office full of people working to help those we serve. I get to see and refer people to other organizations working just as hard as us to find solutions to the problems we see in society.

Yajaira-SJW 2015-2017

Renewed Hope

Turn on the news any given day and you are sure to find countless disheartening stories. Stories about war, murders, natural disasters, idiots running for president, and many other things that are sure to ruin your day. Scroll down your Facebook newsfeed and it is almost guaranteed you will see photos of a horrific car crash or an article about someone dying.

We are given constant daily reminders that the world is full of evil. Sometimes it’s hard to not be overwhelmed with despair.

I have been blessed with wonderful a family and friends who bring so much love and happiness in my life. Their loving hearts and kind souls reminded me of the good in the world. Until August, they were my main source of hope.

That was until one August morning, at 8:45 a.m. when I walked into 130 Bruno Street. Everyone gathered for morning meeting that began with a trainee reading the mission statement, “Homeboy Industries provides hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community”. I was starting a new job, in a new city, living in a new house, with five new roommates, but in that moment I knew that I was exactly where God wanted me to be.

Every day I am privileged to work alongside an incredible group of people who strive to make the world a better place. They do this by providing hope, training, and support to a population that is tragically neglected and looked down upon by society. On a daily basis I see everyone from the development team, to the case management team tirelessly work to help our client become a contributing member of our community. Their hard work and dedication prove to me that there is hope for a better tomorrow. Hope has an address, and it is 130 Bruno Street.

–Chrystalle

2015-2016 SJW

 

A Season of Growth by Sloane

As we enter into the holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving, a time to be grateful for all God has given us, most especially the people we are surrounded by, and continuing into Advent with the culmination of Christmas, the birth of our Savior, it is a wonderful time for reflection – reflection of the past, the present and the future. This is particularly important for me during my time as a St. Joseph Worker.

These past few months I have come to realize that as hard as it may have been adjusting from the life of a college student to a post-grad year of service, I have so much to be grateful for. I live in a wonderful community, and I have been blessed to be at the most perfect placement for me, so much so that I wake up excited to get to work each and every day and am sad to leave at the end of each day. In just over three and a half months, I have found a home for myself with the sisters and with my coworkers. I feel part of this greater family, and this Thanksgiving I could not be more grateful for that. In these past months, I have learned so many new skills that I did not even know I possessed, and with the support of my supervisor I was even able to find my inner artist.

In my placement I am supported in not just my ministerial work, but in my life generally, as I learn skills I never expected to learn, and I am sure there will be many more over the course of the rest of the year. I have even found a wonderful parish community nearby to grow in faith and spend time in ministry, and I have discovered a passion for running after just recently retiring from my collegiate swimming career.

Now that we have transitioned into the season of Advent and we reflect on various themes, that include hope, love, joy, and peace, the one that truly speaks to me at this point in my life is hope. I cannot be more grateful for the experience I am having right now as a SJW, and while I am very happy in the present moment of that experience, I cannot forget that this experience will end all too soon, and I also need to prepare for the future. Advent is a perfect time to be knee-deep in that process.

I have felt called by God since I was young to go into healthcare and particularly nursing, and I am right now in the roller coaster process of applying to schools for next fall. I have been reminded that this process requires much hope as the dictionary defines it: “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best”. But as a Catholic, I also bring God into this process, a process that not only requires hope but discernment and prayer, especially when the path turns out to be not the expected one.

This process is much like the one that led me to the St. Joseph Worker Program, Los Angeles and the Carondelet Center in the first place. Especially since it is Advent, with its emphasis on hope, I have been reminded of the importance of my mantra, “thy will be done”, and how everything occurs in God’s time, which may not necessarily be ours. Through accepting that all will be done in God’s time even though His time and mine may not always match up helps me be more at peace, which in turn helps me better live and enjoy the present moment, taking each day and each challenge one day and one moment at a time.

I have learned that I tend to love to anticipate and plan the future, but if I strive more to trust that God’s time may not always match up with Sloane’s time, it will give me a lot more peace and help me enjoy more of what is in front of me, including my SJW, Carondelet and Visitation family here in Los Angeles!

“”The season of Advent is like springtime in nature, when everything is renewed and is fresh and healthy. Advent is also meant to do this to us: to refresh us and make us healthy, to be able to receive Christ in whatever form he may come to us.” – Blessed Mother Teresa”

Sloane

Why a Year of Service?

Whenever I tell someone that I am doing a year of service, I am met with varied responses. Most tell me how wonderful they think it is. Some ask what it means. Others astonishingly ask why I would do such a thing. So why did I embark on this yearlong journey serving the dear neighbor?

It started with being a senior in college, unsure of what I wanted to do after graduation. I wasn’t ready to begin a career or go to grad school. So I began looking into volunteer programs.

My four years of college allowed me to focus on myself. I studied only the subjects that interested me. I joined only the clubs I wanted to join. I studied abroad to quench my own desire to travel. I chose an internship that interested me. Yet at the end of it, I still had no idea who I was or where I wanted to go. I had spent the past four years pursuing the things I thought were meant for me and I was no closer to knowing what I wanted to do than when I had started. If four years focused on myself didn’t work, why not take one year to focus on someone else? Maybe that would show me more about myself than what felt like four selfish years at college ever would.

And it has. I’ve already learned more than I did throughout me entire college experience and I’m not even halfway through my service.

I settled on the St. Joseph Worker program because the pillars required me to spend my year committed not only to serving others but also to working on myself as a professional, a leader and on my spiritual life. I chose to come to LA because I was accepted to work at Immaculate Conception School and it would allow me to spend my year working with students, a ministry I have always felt passionate about. It was decided and I was relieved to have a plan before graduation.

As a volunteer, I am able to play many different roles at Immaculate Conception. My main job is being the teacher’s aide in the middle school English and Language Arts classroom, but I also spend time tutoring, teaching P.E. classes, helping with the school choir and substituting. Every day, every experience, every job I’m asked to do pushes me to become a better person, leader and professional. I am constantly challenged to learn and grow by the students that I serve every day and I know that focusing on them is making me learn more about myself than I could have ever expected.

Unlike the at the end of my collegiate career, I am expecting that at the end of my year of service, I find myself a more complete and confident leader and professional, finally ready to take on anything the world throws my way.

Until the next time,

Abby

Second Chances by Gladis Romero

When I first started at Homeboy Industries, I had this empowering feeling that I was going to make a difference in the lives of the homeboys and homegirls. I was going to help them change their lives around, achieve goals they never thought possible and so forth. I was somehow going to be an influential vessel in their transformation. But never did I imagine that the trainees would impact my life in powerful ways. These young women and men have shown me the meaning of true kinship, unconditional love, and faith. Through their healing stories and desire to change, they embrace that second, third, and even tenth chance to rebuild their lives. That has been my most valuable experience here at Homeboy Industries, the beauty of second chances.

I was blessed to witness this reality manifested during the Live Free Town Hall Meeting last night. As the nation’s largest re-entry program, Homeboy Industries made a remarkable appearance at this meeting to advocate the importance of expanding and funding community based services for formerly incarcerated men and women. Two of our trainees, Deborah and Miguel, shared their own stories of transformation and explained why programs like Homeboy Industries are powerful instruments at re-integrating ex-convicts back into the community. In the words of Miguel, “This is a life that I only dreamed of, and my dreams had a way of never coming true before. But here I am living out my dream.” As I sat there listening to these powerful testimonies, the passion and tears flowing through Deborah and Miguel touched me. These two brave individuals as well as the rest of the homegirls and homeboys are living proof that second chances do lead to genuine transformations and continued healing. That a person with a history of gang violence and drugs can indeed turn their lives around for the better and make their dreams a reality in positive ways.

Second chances do exist and they do matter. I was never a believer in second chances, that once a person screwed up they deserved to live with their consequences for the rest of their lives. But Homeboy Industries has been there to show me the beauty of second chances. That no human being is perfect at life. Men and women who used to gang bang and shoot up drugs are now attending college, learning to become better parents, participating in community efforts for change, sharing their healing stories with thousands of people and most importantly, finding and embracing their true selves, the self that God intended them to be. By witnessing these transformations every single day, I have shifted my perspective on second chances because I am seeing that passion for change in people who I extremely admire. Because of that second chance Father G extended to them, I have the pleasure of calling these homegirls and homeboys my dear family. I would not have known them otherwise without that second chance. I was meant to be at Homeboy Industries not only to serve my dear neighbor, but to be changed and given a second chance at looking at life differently.

Servant Leadership

In the tradition of the Sisters of Saint Joseph the motto “serve the dear neighbor” is the way by which they live their lives as servant leaders and what drives their passion and desire to help the community through their ministry. Being part of the St. Joseph Worker volunteer program, I learned that phrase and have come to use it more often as I label my work and life during my year of service. I learned about the lifestyle of serving the dear neighbor, and realized that I have already been doing this kind of work throughout my years of involvement in my community, at home, and school. The only difference is that I now see my social justice work through the spiritual lens that comes with the phrase “dear neighbor.” I label this type of work  “Servant Leadership:” where one puts the needs of others first whilst empowering them to develop their own talents and skills through education and encouragement. In 1970 Robert K. Greenleaf coined this idea of “The Servant as Leader” in his essay stating “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead….A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.” I have always seen myself as a servant leader for the empowerment and betterment of my own life, my family, community, and people. The work I have done to help those less fortunate and empower them to have their own voice and advocate for issues that affect them not only has changed their lives, but has also influenced my life and deepened my passion for working for the rights and dignity of human beings and the option for the poor. This philosophy of servant leadership is found in scripture

“42 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Mark 10:42-45

Doing a year of service in the community through SJW, I have been able to further my passion for social justice through my work and my spirituality. I am able to align my desire for a better world with my religious beliefs and get rewarded everyday with the kind and gracious words of thank you and appreciation for my help from the tenants I see and speak to every day. Although their words of gratitude are great to receive, I am humbled every day by their desire and willingness to persevere and not allow themselves to be trampled on by slumlords who take advantage of their vulnerable state. My tenants are people who left everything behind: material possessions, loved ones, and beloved country in order to seek a better life for themselves and their families. They are brave and courages people, and it is my pleasure to lend an ear and a hand in their process of bettering their living situations. I am grateful to have found a motto that fits my idea of being a servant leader and see those I help through an endearing lens as my equals because as Mahatma Gandhi stated “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Helping the Next Generation

One of the biggest compliments I have received working at Immaculate Conception School in downtown Los Angeles is how I am exposing these students to social justice issues. Expanding on my Salesian and Jesuit roots, I pass down what I have learned to the 6th graders in my religion class.

So far, I have had the privilege to take theses 28 sixth graders to Homeboy Industries to support the runners of the Homeboy 5k and, recently, had them walk in support to end human trafficking in a Walk for Freedom.

While teaching them about human rights, one student so keenly asked me, “If every human has human rights, why are these things like human trafficking still happening?” That is the questions we all have! To have a 12 year-old wide-eyed student so bothered by these injustices, it gives me hope for the future. Attending the Walk for Freedom really helped them learn there is always something for them to do for those in need. These students were not only chanting, but leading the large group saying, “We are not for sale!” Becoming an example of who is being sold around the world, and in our own backyard, really made the entire event full of passion.

These are great opportunities that I never received when I was a kid, and I hope this early exposure really points them in the right direction to do some good in the world, and stand firm in their beliefs.

That is what I want to teach my students: One, if they have a cause that they really firmly believe in, to educate themselves in all that there is to know. They should research and understand where an issue originated from, and what they can do to make it better. Two, through this education, they will always stand their ground and know what the next step is for them to make the world a better place, one person at a time.

Through teaching religion and catechism classes, I see their general love and care for the people around the neighborhood they are growing up in. Living in Pico Union, a low socio-economic area, these students see many homeless people. They see the gang violence. They live with parents who are barely making enough money to support them, and still making the sacrifice to send them to a private Catholic school. There are so many issues in their environment that they experience, and see where they can make a difference. Whether it’s holding a blanket drive for the homeless, or taking a trip to the local convalescent center, these students at Immaculate Conception are learning to be involved, caring citizens of Los Angeles. I am just there to lead them in the right direction, and I am loving every minute of being a St. Joseph Worker!

-Monica Rosales, St. Joseph Worker

Home Is…

I’ve always had a difficult time trying to explain where my home is, or where I’m from when I’m asked those questions. You see, unlike many people I know, I’ve moved around the country quite a bit. I started off in California, then made my way back and forth across the country for a grand total of seven moves. For those of you who struggle with math, that’s an average of 1 move every 3 years. Now you can see where the identity crisis comes into play. I’ve never stayed in a place long enough to say “I’m from [blank]”. The best I can come up with at this point is “I’m from the midwest”. I lived in Chicago 3 different times, I went to school in Cincinnati, and my parents recently moved to Cleveland. So that has been my go to answer lately. Nowadays, when I tell my story to Californians, they always tell me that I’ve come home, since this is where I was born. I only lived in San Juan Capistrano for the first 2 years of my life, so that’s a little hard for me to justify.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve been asked this question, “Where are you from?” for my entire life, and I have a feeling it’s not going to stop any time soon. Once I came to this realization, I started thinking of “home” as less of a physical entity and as more of an abstract idea. Some of the first images that pop into my head when I think of home are my friends at Xavier. I had the time of my life those four years in Cincinnati, and one of the most significant reasons for that is because of the family I made there. I don’t want to turn this post into a sob story about how much I miss college life, but it’s true. I loved every minute of it, the good and bad, because of the people who were with me along the way.

Another thing I think of when I hear the word home are my parents and dog, Max. Even though the place where they live changes frequently, they are always my family, and they will always be my home. Ironically, I’m writing this as I sit on an airplane enroute to my “home” in Cleveland.

And finally, I’ve recently started to discover my home here in Los Angeles, amongst the palm trees and the Pacific. I’ve found a home at Visitation parish. It’s a church right up the street from my house and from the first time I stepped through the doors, I felt a sense of comfort; I felt like I belonged. As soon as I registered as a new member, the pastor Fr. Jim wanted to set up a meeting just so he could meet me. He was so impressed with my year of service with the St. Joseph Worker program and my willingness to move to a new city where I didn’t know anybody. He even asked for my parents’ phone number so he could call them and tell them how impressed he was with me! So that is one place I now call my home.

Another home I have been adopted into is at my placement site, St. Joseph Center. From the day I started working there in the food pantry, I felt welcomed into the family. We had our annual staff retreat yesterday, and as I participated throughout the day, I got to observe this loving family in action. People from completely different programs and departments come together to form this family where everyone cares about each other. I never could have imagined working at a place like this amazing, but now that I’m here, I never want to leave. Every day I get to interact with clients from all walks of life, my clients come from Mexico, Russia, as well as the streets of Venice. I feel more and more at home at St. Joseph Center every day.

There’s a pretty famous quote you’ve more than likely heard before, “home is where the heart is”. I agree with that, but I like to add a little to it. My heart can be anywhere in the world, but if I’m not at peace wherever I’m at, that’s not home in my opinion. “Home is where the heart is at peace” is a little more close to reality. I’ve found peace in many corners of the world, and I’m happy to say one of those corners is Los Angeles.

Changing the World- Beginning With Me

We had our inaugural fundraiser for the St. Joseph Worker Program this past weekend. It was a great success, and I feel blessed to be apart of the “pioneer” group. As part of the fundraiser, each of the workers were asked to give a short speech about how the program has impacted us. Here is the speech I shared:

When I first arrived to LA ten months ago, I came here to change the world. Instead, I got the biggest surprise of my life. This program, LA, SJC, my clients, and the very people you see around me have transformed every single part of me. I still look back at the unsure girl who left behind everything familiar to chase her Californian Dreams, and think, you have no idea what you’re in for.

From almost day one, nothing went as planned. I sought this program because I had wanted to work in the medical field. However when that didn’t work out, I had no plan B. There was no second choice on my application. As luck, fate or God-incidences would have it, there was still one position open at the time. And this one position fulfilled all the criteria of exactly what I did not want to do while I was out here serving. But I had been granted a second chance and I decided I would make the best of it.

Thankfully, they decided to give me a chance. And I mean thankfully, because I never imagined a life where I would wake up in the morning excited to go to work. Yet every day I am thrilled by the prospects of what another day might bring. Another day where I get a small glimpse into people’s journeys and hopefully lighten some of their burdens. Another day where I am challenged to be a little more patient, a little more compassionate, a little more creative. This was the job I never knew I needed, until it found me.

And maybe, just maybe while I was becoming a stronger, more confident version of myself, I was able to help others in the process. I can only hope that I was able to mirror the selflessness I experienced, like the single mom of 3 teenagers who swallowed her pride & sought social services for the first time so her kids wouldn’t go hungry. My biggest desire was to instill hope, similar to that of one of our volunteers who never lost faith while she was homeless, and finally became housed 3 months ago. And I always want to offer my strength to those who need it, like another volunteer who unexpectedly passed away, but taught me countless lessons about standing up for those who have no voice and that we all have more strength than we know.

No this year was nothing like I had planned. It far exceeded every dream I could have ever created. I could have never imagined finding a job where I was able to watch my heart expand with compassion. No one could have ever imagined I would complete my first half-marathon. And I certainly never intended to change the world- beginning with me. Marianne Williamson said, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” This program has helped me uncover my own light, so that I can help others do the same.

Hearts Make a Home

“It takes body’s to make a house, but it takes your generous hearts to make a home!” 

The director of our house build for Corazon, Julissa, said that quote through the day when building the home for the young family, Roberto, Cynthia, and their son, Jose. I (Michele) went to build help build a home with my friend, Christina, our program director’s assistant, Aimee, yesterday. This program day will be next to my heart, as it was a beautiful experience from start to finish.

We arrived in San Diego on Friday evening to enjoy the evening together and get some much needed rest for our journey in Tijuana, Mexico. On Saturday morning, we woke up before the sun to head to meet the church we were joining for the day. The church we joined was Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Santa Barbara, California. This church has been involved with Corazon for over twenty years. Each year, they send a group of an amazing volunteers with Sister Kathleen, CSJ, to change the life of a blessed family. A Priest, from another parish, helping build a separate home for another family said a beautiful to prepare us for the day. After that, we gathered on the bus and headed to Mexico.

{Be mindful that this all took place on the same day.}

After an hour trip, (including the time we had to get off the bus at the border) we arrived at the site where we were going to build a house. It was a bit overwhelming to look at the area where we were going to build a house. This area was the bad area of town, in other words, the dump. You know what, the house owners were ecstatic about being able to actually own a home and did not look at the area. The property that they own was next to the young dad’s mothers house. When the home is finished, they won’t have to live under the same roof as their parent’s, they could grow their family in a home of their own. We started with a slab and plenty of hands to transform their property. Before we started the construction of the house, we needed to move all of the materials from one house to the other. As a team, as one huge heart working together, we moved the materials. Oh, and a part of the team was the family’s cousins, friends, and other people in the community.

{We started to create a home!}

 

We broke into teams, carpentry, building, and painting, each part essential to build a great home. After barely meeting the ones we were working along side, it felt as if we were family. Which we were a family and will always be a family because of the work we did together. We worked as a team, making sure everything was getting done, people were taking breaks, and of course, if people needed help. Little by little, walls were created. Wow- who would of thought in less than 3 hours that we could have built walls for the home? IT WAS AWESOME TO WATCH!!!! After the walls went up, the roof was created. A ROOF!!! People working together to put the roof securely on the house. SO WONDERFUL!!! Then the home started to come together, piece by piece. SO AMAZING!!! The amount of hard work everyone put into the home was paying off in a fantastic way. The goal from the beginning of the day was to build this family a home, and a home we built.

Through out the day, I worked on the painting team, I also helped create the kitchen counter. I was able to converse with many people and learn about them. One thing, I have been learning is to listen to the stories of other’s with all of your heart. By that you learn so much. Even, if I wasn’t able to fully understand the women who were a part of the community in Mexico, I learned a lot from them. I learned that even if you have little and live in terrible situations, you can be the happiest person alive. The family and community in Mexico, who were so hospitable to us, had so much joy to them and were happy to serve us as we were serving them. They blessed us with their presence. I will always remember when I spoke with the young mom, who owned their house, and her huge smile on her face. I asked her, ” Te gusta tu casa?” She replied, “Si, Mi gusta mi casa. Muchas Gracias para todo!!” She earned her house, and I was so blessed to be a part of making her dream come true. Her family will grow up in that house, and I will have been a part of making that possible.

{A dream come true.}

Near the end of the day, the closer and close we were to finishing the home, the family was more and more ecstatic. All of our hard work was worth it and so much more. We finished their home. We gave them a place to sleep of their own. The church we came with had donated a lot of house supplies and food for them to have in their very own home. When everything was finished, we gathered in front of the house to listen to Julissa, thank all of us for giving our time and recapping the day. Remember, this was in a day. After a few words, Christina told the story of the family. She was asked by Julissa earlier in the day to interview the family in order for the entire group to understand their story. What an incredible blessing for not just Christina but for all of us. We were able to hear from the hearts of Cynthia and Roberto about their life together, their plans, their future, and their family. They were so thankful for what we did for them.

As Roberto and Cynthia were thankful for us, we were thankful for them. They are an inspiration to all. They inspire me to keep going against the wind, never give up on my dreams, and to always thank God along the way. Also, to do everything with love, put your heart into something and it will be more than you ever expected. I was a part of something, something huge, something that will change Roberto’s and Cynthia’s lives forever. I am so blessed that I able to do that for a deserving family like them.

{God Bless you Roberto, Cynthia, and little Jose, may your dreams always come true!}

Welcome HOME Roberto, Cynthia and Jose!!!

May our hearts be with you in your beautiful home!