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

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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