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! :)

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