Sunday, August 28, 2011

hunkering down for a hurricane.

 photo via

I moved to Massachusetts expecting beautiful falls, mild (for me) summers, and long, snowy winters. What I did not expect, however, was hurricanes. Or rather, one particular hurricane named Irene that has been ravening the East coast for the past few days (just in case you were living under a rock).

Despite the initial predictions and all of the resulting hoopla, we survived today with only mild inconveniences. Yesterday afternoon, we stocked up on groceries, batteries, and jugs of bottled water. Our supplies and precautions were unneeded, but it was still good to have them.

The hurricane did provide us with a couple of rather windy, rainy days, which was a good chance for all of us to stay in the house and have some good community time. After going out Friday night to St. Anthony's Festival and some local bars with a few FJV's, I spent the rest of the weekend just hanging around the house. We did not go to church this morning (apparently, Boston's archbishop excused us--thanks!), and instead made a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and scrambled eggs. I spent the rest of the day working on decorating my room (finally there are pictures up on the walls!) and baking a loaf of whole wheat French bread, among other things.

The past few weeks have been a crazy blur, as we went from regional orientation to local orientation to beginning (and completing) our first week of work. Honestly, even though my original plans for the weekend included wandering around and exploring half of Boston, after being forced to spend the past two days inside our house, I'm actually really thankful. Instead of continually pushing myself, it was a good way to relax and mentally recharge. 

I guess the hurricane can been seen as another example of the differences between God's timing and my own; when I want to keep rushing, keep doing, God whispers to me to slow down, to take a moment (or a weekend) to just be exactly where I am. And that's one of things this year is about, right? Simple living and learning to appreciate what I have been given... one natural disaster at a time.

Friday, August 26, 2011

casserly house: practically speaking, what i'm doing this year & why it matters.

"People come here, and they're pretty broken. Sometimes, they walk in and their head's hanging down. But, when they leave here, they walk out with their heads held high."

(Casserly House)

I finished my first week of work at Casserly House today, and I cannot express how wonderful of a place it is. I am going to attempt to explain a little bit about the program and what I'll be doing over the next year in this post to provide people with a little bit of background, but it's really hard to put how amazing it truly is into words.

Here's a brief overview of the program and what it's about:
Casserly House was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston as a part of the congregation's 125th anniversary celebrations. Modeled after the work of the first Sisters of St. Joseph, Casserly House was created to be a ministry of presence in a culturally and ethnically mixed neighborhood populated by a large number of new immigrants. In 2000, the Sisters purchased a triple-decker house at 42 Stellman Road, in the Forest Hills section of Roslindale, and it has since provided a space for both service and residence. Three sisters live on the top two floors of the house, and neighborhood programs are run out of the first floor.

Casserly House has two main programs. Monday through Friday from 9 am to 12 pm, English language and literacy classes are provided for adults living in the neighborhood. We currently have 46 students from 16 different countries! On Monday through Thursday from 3pm-5pm, 15 neighborhood children in 2nd-5th grade come for the After-School Program, which provides homework help and tutoring. In July, we have a two-week Summer Learning Camp with a focus on reading, computers, and art. Along with these programs, we also provide a location for neighborhood gatherings, meetings, and prayer.
So, in a nutshell, that's what we goes on at Casserly House. The center has a small staff, basically just Sr. Nancy (the director), me, and Jim (an Ignatian Volunteer), as well as a lot of volunteers, so I'll have quite a bit of responsibility over the upcoming year. My main job is coordinating and overseeing the after school program, but I have also been assisting with (and teaching!) the ESOL classes, writing thank you notes, and lots of other random tasks. The after school program won't begin for a few more weeks because Boston public schools are still on summer break until after Labor Day, so I have been preparing for that as well.

That's what we do as the staff, but it's the students who come in for the programs that make Casserly House such a wonderful place. The ESOL students at Casserly House have continually amazed me with their courage, their determination, and their kindness. The diversity of the program is astounding; there are students from Haiti, Cameroon, Vietnam, Somalia, Costa Rica, Guatamala, Iraq, Albania, and even more countries. It's beautiful to see the amount of learning and sharing that goes on on a day to day basis.

This afternoon, I listened to a middle-aged woman from Haiti read who had never been to school before she came to Casserly House, who couldn't even write her own name a few years ago. These are just one example of many of the experiences I have had so far, and I know there will be many more over this upcoming year. Education is so precious, and I have never been more thankful for the opportunities that I have had in my life.

And as for the kids: well, I haven't really worked with them that much yet, but some of them have come by to check me out and see if I'm nice enough (I think I passed the test). One asked how old I was, and when I asked what they thought, I was mildly horrified by the answer: "Thirty." Not that there's anything wrong with being thirty, but when you're actually twenty-two, it's a bit of a low blow! Anyway, they seem like an energetic, enthusiastic bunch to say the least, so I'm sure they'll keep me busy this year and that we'll have a lot of fun together.

In conclusion, the quote from the top of this post is something Sr. Nancy said earlier today, and I feel like it really hits the nail on the head of why Casserly House is such an life-giving, wonderful place. Unsurprisingly to those who know me, I got really emotional earlier this afternoon when hearing some of the ESOL students talk about what Casserly House means to them (I even teared up, not gonna lie). As one of them simply put, "Casserly House is my home."

It is such a privilege to spend the next year of my life working here.

P.S. We have the internet now, so expect more frequent updates! :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

bean town beginnings.

Well, orientation’s over, and we’ve begun the process of getting settled in our new home in Boston.

Orientation was a blur of trying to remember everyone’s names, talks about the four values of JVC, and beginning the process of getting to know my four housemates. It was pretty inspiring to meet all of the other people who, like myself, will be spending the next year dedicating themselves to this program on the East coast. Although we came from all different areas of the country, went to a wide variety of universities, and had varied academic interests, we all bonded pretty quickly over our shared desire to serve this coming year. Orientation also included our housemates rewriting and singing a version of Rebecca Black’s song “Friday” at the JVC talent show (appropriately retitled “Boston”... yeah, that happened).

While two of our housemates drove to Boston following orientation, the other three of us (myself included) flew here on Tuesday. We were picked up at the airport by two FJVs (Former Jesuit Volunteers) who drove us to our home for the next year.

Once arriving, we were greeted with a basket of goodies from the ’10-’11 JV Boston Community, a binder about my job about Casserly House, and our landlord, Maria (more about her at a later time – she’s quite the character). The house is full of quirks, partly from the fact that it’s over 100 years old and partly because it’s been lived in by JVs for so long. We were then greeted by two other FJVs who came over with pizza and Sam Adams to begin our year. There’s a wonderful FJV community in the Boston area, and it sounds like we’ve only had a small taste of it so far.

I slept in my bed for the next year for the first time two nights ago. This house doesn’t quite feel like our home yet, but it does certainly feel like a home. I guess that comes with the territory considering that JVs have lived here for around 15 years. After some cleaning, unpacking, and rearranging, this place has begun to feel more like ours.

As part of local orientation, other FJVs have been giving us tours of our neighborhood (Jamaica Plain) and downtown Boston. There’s a potluck dinner at our house tonight, and tomorrow we are all traveling as a group to visit our placements for the first time, which will be another long, but exciting day. And on Monday, I have my first day of work!

After months of planning, I’m finally here. I’m not going to lie: this is pretty surreal. Amazing, exhausting, and (soon to be) really challenging, but also surreal. I can’t believe I just left Missouri a week ago; I can’t believe I just meet my housemates a week ago. It already feels like it’s been much, much longer.

Right now, we don’t have internet at our house (I’m actually at the local library right now), so my posts might be kind of sporadic for the time being, but I will try to keep you all as updated as I can in the coming weeks/months!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

a new beginning.

photo via pinterest

Well, friends, this is it.

After months of discernment/doubts, a lengthy application and interview process, some big news, and then more months of waiting, I leave tomorrow morning for JVC orientation.

I've spent the past few days fluctuating between being really, really excited and wondering what I've gotten myself into. Mostly though, I've leaned towards the excited side, as I'm pretty thrilled to finally begin this new adventure and next chapter in my life.

I have a lot of hopes and dreams for the next year (which I am sure I will discuss more later), but right now I will be brief, as I'm looking at a 4AM wake up call to make my 6AM flight to Baltimore. I don't know what my internet access will be like over the next couple of weeks, but I will try to check in again soon!

Monday, August 1, 2011

i ♥ stl: my favorite places.

I went up to St. Louis last week and finished packing up and cleaning my apartment, essentially severing my last ties with the Lou for the time being. However, that doesn't mean I haven't greatly enjoyed my time in St. Louis; it was the first city I ever called home, and I am hopeful that I will someday again.
In honor of my past four years in St. Louis, here's a quick roundup of a few of my favorite places in the city, broken up by category. (Yelp pages linked because I'm obsessed.) Man, I'm gonna miss this place...