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.

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We Have More Strength Then We Know

I want to start off with the fact that we hit 6 months in February! Six months in the land of dreams. Six months of new adventures. Six months of self-examination. For me, this week also marks one year since I traveled across the US to check out what this St. Joseph Worker program was all about. And here I am. I had no idea that my life would look like this a year ago. No idea that I would be a case manager. Zero clue that I would have just finished my first half-marathon. Couldn’t even imagine the personal growth. My life has taken so many fabulous turns in this year, and I just want to offer up some serious gratitude for the life I live.

But what I’m really here to write about is the wonderful adventure that the St. Joseph Workers started all the way back in September.

March 9th I ran my first marathon, with the girls at my side. What once started as an outlandish idea, bloomed into this beautiful project that allowed us to work for a cause much bigger than any of us. Teaming with World Vision allowed us not to “run aimlessly” but rather run for a cause we felt deeply connected to.

First off I need to thank all of you have been there from the beginning to finish. Whether it was a donation of workout clothes (shout out to my big Sis and Bro-in-Law), our very expensive running sneakers, donations to Team World Vision, liking my status on Facebook, prayers, suggestions or enough encouragement to last me 13.1 miles, we’ve all been so blessed from the beginning. I don’t know if I ever truly realized how tangible the power of prayers and positive thinking could be. I could feel it, especially around mile 23 (I ran the LA Marathon course, but the second half of it. My partner in crime, I mean charity relay partner, Gabby ran the first 13.1 miles and Michele ran the full) when the idea of giving up briefly crossed my mind. It was brief for a few reasons: 1) because I had come too far to stop now and 2) I knew that I couldn’t give up, not with so many people counting on me and cheering me on. All my thanks goes out to YOU. Seriously, I couldn’t have done it without you. Running a marathon is like no experience I’ve ever had before. And it’s truly because of the community that surrounds you. From the streets of Hollywood to the interwebs to my fellow SJWs, there is such a powerful connection. Also, a special shout out to the Sisters of St. Joseph who supported us from day one of this crazy adventure. They support us so much, both through donations, well-wishes and prayers. We are deeply indebted to you and you amazing women were definitely part of my inspiration for finishing.

Ok, enough sap, and here’s all the juicy deets you came to this blog for 🙂

The day before the marathon was filled with all sorts of uncertainty.  Will we survive? Will KT Tape actually give us super powers? And most importantly, does that have carbs? My roommates and I headed to the LA Convention Center to pick up our bibs. It was amazing seeing all the different types of people in this room. All shapes and sizes, all fitness levels, all convened under one roof for the same crazy mission: to complete a marathon. For me, I was super unsure of myself at this point. Am I fit enough? What if I had trained a little better? What if I don’t run fast enough? What if I can’t run at all? So seeing such diversity at this event helped quiet some of my nerves.

There are most definitely carbs in this.

There are most definitely carbs in this.

The almighty bib number

The almighty bib number

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening I also dedicated quite a bit of time to remembering why we were even running the race. Sure, running a marathon for personal fitness is a great goal. However that has never been a great motivator for me. The reason why I even thought about doing the marathon was because of the charity I ran for. Team World Vision holds many events across the United States, raising money for clean water in Africa. Interestingly enough, Team World Vision is a charity I had researched last semester for a project on poverty. I was inspired by the stories of the children who walked up to 9 miles, three times a day to obtain water for their family. There is never a guarantee that the water is clean, and many times it is the female child who is forced to walk under terrible conditions. She is not only forgoing her education, but she is also at risk for being kidnapped and trafficked. Deaths due to dirty water is the #1 most preventable cause of death in the world. One of the reasons why I support Team World Vision is that they teach these villages who lack basic sanitation on how to choose the right system for them. They teach them how to keep is sustainable. They really subscribe to the “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” mentality. The girls and I have put a lot of time and effort to fundraising. We’ve held yard sales, we’ve done talks, we’ve held bake sales. We have become more aware of our own water usage. I wasn’t only running for myself. I was running for those villages, those families, those children, and those young girls. I used my KT Tape as a small reminder that this run meant much more than a finish line for me.

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Race Day:

We needed Strength to wake up this early.

We needed Strength to wake up this early.

Eventually I made it to the 13 mile marker sideline. As the time was getting close for us to make the exchange, I got a call from Gabby indicating that she injured her hip and would be walking the last mile. When she got to my point, I could see how much pain she was in, and knew how hard she worked to reach me. When I saw her I grabbed her hand and, in one of my favorite moments from the entire race, we finished the last leg together. At that point I said goodbye and kept running, leaving everyone behind and starting my own personal journey 🙂

Honestly, a lot of the race was a blur. I tried to stick to running every other traffic light, until I started tiring out. It also started getting hot quite quickly. I hit the pavement at 11am, and it was already in the 80’s. A lot of the race was spent looking for the next water station (and subsequently the next port-a-potty). An amazing part of the race is seeing all the people along the streets. They stand there simply to encourage complete strangers. Some come bearing gifts of red vines and peanut butter pretzels, while others allowed us to continue having a sense of humor while reading their signs. But all of them made sure we knew that we could do it. At times they provided the strength that I was totally lacking.

One concern I did forgot to mention earlier was my diabetes. Despite a few long runs under my belt, I only experienced lows after my runs. However from all the adrenaline, I started the race pretty “high.” Luckily I was able to get it down pretty quickly, but for me that meant two lows in a row. Any runner knows that glucose is imperative to continue running, and I depleted it twice. Luckily around the second low and mile 19, I was able to meet Gabby and Michele’s parents. I will never forget the look on their faces when we saw each other. I think at that moment I could have stopped, knowing all that I had accomplished at that moment. Michele also met up with us and we continued together, struggling through each other’s metaphorical “walls.”

Up until mile 22/23, I was feeling great. Exhausted, but limited pain. That was until out of no where my knee began bothering me. Much like out of scene of a movie, I told Michele to go on without me. I thought I was going to have to walk (or crawl) to the finish line, and didn’t want to slow her down. After attempting to stretch it out, I still experienced a deep pain. At this point I knew I had two choices: quit or keep going. And I knew I didn’t come ten miles to stop now. I stopped to stretch a little more and saw a text on my phone from my mom telling me to keep going. So I took out my beloved rosary beads that were given to my mother by her grandmother and prayed the last two miles of my run. I prayed for my knee, I prayed for my roommates, I prayed for all those who were praying for me, I prayed for all the other runners, I prayed for all those who will now have water because of Team World Vision’s efforts and all those who still need water.

Amazingly enough, I finished the last two miles in twenty minutes. My best time for the entire race. I was able to run to the finish line, with my roommates cheering me on to the end. Hitting that finish line was extremely emotional for me, especially as I called my mom, and we cried together on the phone. To me it still is so surreal that I actually did it. And as my sister so lovingly put it, I always have been stubborn, but even this seemed really out of the realm of possibility for me. To put my mind to something and actually achieve it, has been an incredible experience for me. I may not be the perfect body, I may not be the pinnacle of health, but how can I hate a body that allowed me to achieve the unthinkable? How can I look at my body with anything but love, knowing that it carried through 13.1 miles, barely complaining the entire time? We are so much more than we appear. We have more strength than we know. And we can achieve more than we can imagine.

Thanks for bearing with me on such a long post. And again, thank you for your continued support. You were part of my reasons for finishing.

xoPeace&Love

Kristen

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Introducing Me…Kristen Daniels

Hi everyone! Thanks for checking out this blog. We (the St. Joseph Workers) will be starting out with some posts just to introduce ourselves. Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave comments!

Like I said, I’m Kristen Daniels. I am originally an East Coast Girl (shout out to the 203!) and am now finding my way on the West Coast. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a completely different country in California, but I absolutely love it here. I love being so close to the beach and I love the atmosphere out here. Living out here is also fulfilling one of my life dreams. Since I was a wee tot, I’ve been talking about moving to California. I should preface that comment by saying that all I knew about California in the early years came from listening to the Beach Boys… so clearly everyone surfs all day, sits in the sun and then every evening steals their father’s car for a totally nifty drag race. Ok so clearly that’s not all true, we only drag race on the weekends…

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(Me and The Fam, 2006. Already knew I was meant to be a Cali Girl!)

While I’m not spending my days surfing life away (okay, truth statement: I have yet to surf. But it is on the bucket list!), I am so blessed to be at an awesome placement site for the St. Joseph Worker’s Program. I am currently serving at St. Joseph’s Center in Venice, where I’ve been placed in the Food Pantry and Senior Services. It is an absolutely fabulous placement. The staff is incredibly supportive and the people I’m serving are great. I’ve encountered amazing, life-changing stories from the first day I’ve been there and it’s just been a great environment to work in. Each day presents a new set of challenges, which I love because it keeps me on my toes.

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A question I get a lot is: how did a small town East Coast girl like you find her way out to a year long volunteer program, in the big city, on the West Coast? Kind of complicated answer, but one of the easiest responses is: God. Simple, but it’s really through His guidance and grace that I found this program. There’s no other way I would have come across this program and discovered how perfect it was for me. I found this program at a time in my life where I had no idea what I was supposed to do after college. I didn’t want to go to graduate school just yet, and I didn’t want to join the “work force” just yet. Thankfully I found that there was an option c, one which I wish I knew about much earlier. It would have saved me a lot of grief that last semester!

Ok here’s the fun part of getting to know me: ice breakers! I graduated from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT. Yes, it is a real college. Yes it is associated with the Quinnipiac Polls. Yes, we have an awesome hockey team! I majored in psychology with a minor in political science. But I also majored in Theatre for one year and I’m pretty proud of that one year. Not surprisingly, I’m a huge theatre/music nerd. I am a huge hockey fan. I love watching it and going to games. It’s hard being across the country from my teams, so I’m on a trial basis with the LA Kings (their goalie is a CT native- represent!). But we’ll see. I played soccer for a huge part of my life, and still love to play pick-up games if I get the chance. But you can catch me watching almost any sport. One of my goals in life is to travel to all 50 states, and go to each continent.  I’m incredibly close to my family (re: see above picture). My immediate family consists of my sister Karen (and later on we added my brother-in-law Jon), my younger brother Robert (just turned 21, which scares the bejesus out of me) and then my Mum (she’s a saint). I’ve been blessed beyond belief to have an amazing group of friends, which certainly helps when you’re almost 3000 miles and 3 time zones away. I’m also blessed to have a new group of friends here, namely my new roommates. We constantly make each other laugh, which is good for me because that’s my favorite pastime.

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This is my family. Aren’t we a cute bunch?

I hope this gives you a brief snapshot of where I’m coming from. I’m looking forward to updating this more, and you’ll soon be hearing from the other two St. Joseph Workers of Los Angeles!