Sunday, August 30, 2009

I’ve been trying to write this entry for days, but I can’t get very far without stopping. I can’t quite find the words to describe my feelings about Laurence, nor do I think anything I say can give him justice.

It breaks my heart every time I hear bad news about Laurence’s health. Last night I was on the phone with my parents and they informed me that the entire right side of his body is numb and he has taken a pretty rough turn. My heart aches for him; I can’t imagine what he is going through.

Laurence is one of the most amazing people I have ever known. I hate using the word amazing because it almost doesn’t seem to give him justice. I find the way his heart shows in everything that he does and his passion and motivation for helping others breathtaking. If you’ve read the couple news articles that have been written about him, I know you agree with me. If you’ve met him personally, you’d know with your whole mind and heart that this kid is truly a blessing.

My little cousin Laurence has always held a special place in my heart. He was adopted from Korea as an infant by my cousin Patrick and his wife (they are now divorced) Lisa. I’ve always admired Patrick; he is my dad’s nephew and one of my many first cousins on the Carolin side. His father, my Uncle Jim, was a wonderful man who I barely knew because he passed away from lung cancer when I was just six years old. So, the whole “great guy” view runs in that family. I’ve always felt very close to Laurence and knew early on that he was a special kid. My family used to vacation to Florida every Easter, one year I drove down with Pat, Laurence, and my aunt Ellen. Laurence was young and still struggling with the English language; it pained me every time he would get frustrated with himself. We had a wonderful time and I looked out for him as if he was my little brother. Since then we’ve had a few more family vacations and events, and every time I am more amazed by his spirit and kindness.

Last summer I worked with kids who were suffering from life threatening diseases, many of them cancer. Each one touched me in a different way, with their encouraging smiles and words of wisdom. I’ll never know the pain and suffering that those kids, Amanda, or Laurence have faced, but I know that they inspire me and touch my heart.
I hope that Laurence continues to fight and that he continues to motivate others on the charity causes which he is so passionate about. I pray that he teaches all those around him to appreciate life and to love and accept everyone.

My prayers go out to you my buddy and hero, Laurence.

Friday, August 28, 2009

peer mediation and new music

So our internet is out again. It only works if we directly connect the modem to each computer….which we can deal with for now, but soon there will come a time when we all need to be on the internet. It’s just one of those frustrating situations. We tried two different routers and neither one worked, so it’s the modem, except not because the modem works when you hardwire it into a computer. It just won’t connect to a dang router. Hopefully we’ll figure something out soon because it could potentially be a huge tension problem.

Anyways, today was a wonderful day. I spent some time reflecting on how happy have been and am these past few weeks and honestly I can’t remember the last time I was this content with life. Sure there may be struggles and sacrifices but at the end of each day I feel so fulfilled with love and support not only from others but the love that I have gained for myself.

Cristo Rey is becoming more and more my home. I feel it when I walk in the front doors every morning right up until I leave. Today I spent the morning working on my peer mediation binder and setting up for snack. In the afternoon I was able to teach two classes on peer mediation. One of our presenters had to back down so I stepped up and created a 40 minute curriculum within very short notice. I talked a little bit about the basics of peer mediation, including types of conflict that arise in school, characteristics of a peer mediator, and the importance of positive communication skills. Then I had the kids do a listening exercise. I sent two volunteers out into the hall and told them each to prepare a one minute presentation on their favorite TV show. While they were preparing I told the class that when the first volunteer came back they should demonstrate positive listening skills (looking them in the eye, nodding along, sitting up straight) and with the second one they should be poor listeners (doodle, head down, look at the clock, whisper to their neighbor). With each class, the volunteer who tried to tell their report to the bad listeners got so frustrated VERY quickly. We discussed the importance of being able to listen well and absorb information so that conflict does not get out of control sooner that it should.

Next I asked for four volunteers for role play. Two were the part of peer mediators; two were acting out a conflict. In both classes the groups did really well for never having seen or involved in peer mediation. The ones acting out the conflict got really into it, the ones acting as peer mediators would sometimes laugh instead of mediating, but for the most part, they did really well.

Finally, I closed the classes by having everyone in the class write their name on the top of a paper. Then they passed the papers around the classroom and their classmates wrote positive words about that person. The first class was a little more difficult to quiet down and they didn’t get to as many people. The second class, though, was late for the end of the day assembly because they wanted to write on so many. They even asked me to make one so they could write positive words about me. I got: cool, (lots of those…I guess that’s good, right?) funny, smart, nice, amazing, great teacher, inspiring.

I have some little minions picked out to be my peer mediators. I want six from each grade, three girls and three boys. I’m writing a letter to all the faculty and staff of the school explaining my peer mediation ideas and asking for them to keep referral forms in their classrooms. Basically, when there is a conflict between students that does not need immediate attention, I would like them to fill out a form with basic information so I can properly match two peer mediators to assist in the situation.

I also made it quite clear to these kiddos that I, along with all other members of the staff, care about the students and are here for them through everything we do.
Did anyone download any new music on Tuesday? I think Tuesday may be my favorite day of the week because it’s new release day. Shut up, I know that’s lame. There were actually four albums that I was really looking forward to and not one of them disappointed me.

Collective Soul released their first new album in years. I haven’t had a chance to really listen to it but they are such a talented group and make beautiful music. Lots of great soft rock songs. It’s hard to pin them down into a genre, they actually kind of remind me of the Back Alley Saints. Download “Understanding”.

Colbie Caillat is best known for her hit summer single “Bubbly”. She is in tough competition with all the other female singer-songwriters that have emerged in the music industry, but I love her voice and style. Her 17 song album is packed full of beautiful, heartfelt songs. I can’t decide which one is my favorite, but I’d suggest downloading “I Never Told You”.

I first heard about MuteMath when Chris Sligh talked about them often during Season 6 of American Idol. They are super creative and talented, actually a lot like Collective Soul. Download “Lost Year”.

Of the four, Phil Stacey’s is my favorite. I am so ecstatic that he went the Christian music route. Phil is a very talented vocalist, one of those idol contestants that is forgotten to easily. I didn’t think his first country album showcased his strong, beautiful voice but this one connects the listener to the music. It’s inspiring, it’s strong, and it’s beautiful. I am so proud of him and hope he will continue to succeed! Download “Into the Light”, “You’re Not Shaken”, or “Old Glory”.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Hold Onto Your Faith, There Will Come A Day"

When I tell people that I am spending a year doing volunteer service at an inner city high school, I get one of two reactions. I either get "that's so wonderful, we need more pepole like you" or I get "why are you taking a job where you aren't getting paid? You're crazy. I could never do that". Let me make something nice and clear for you. It's not about the money. I am rather enjoying living off of 200 dollars (for food and personal) a month. It really makes me understand what's important. A large part of this experience of being a Mercy Volunteer focuses on spiritual growth. Each of my community members and me has had discussions about this and all of us are looking to grow spiritually during the year. We have set aside a special night to discuss spirituality, and we also attend Mass with one another and are looking to start a Bible Study. Since I will be talking about my growth and knowledge this next year, I thought it may be a good idea to give a background on my faith life thus far.

I was born and raised Catholic and still actively practice Catholicism, although I could probably describe myself as a “liberal Catholic” because I disagree with some of the beliefs. For example, the Catholic Church is traditionally against gay marriage, while I fully support it and cannot grasp the concept of the inequality toward gay couples. Anyways, back to my roots. My family used to attend Mass every Sunday; I went to a Catholic elementary school where I had a “religion” class every year. I was baptized, received my First Communion, had my first Reconciliation, and was confirmed all from birth until I was thirteen. I can remember always being very interested in my religion classes, depending on the teacher that was usually my favorite class. I loved learning about Jesus and the Catholic faith. When those close to me passed away, I understood that they went to Heaven and were now looking out for us. I remember feeling it was unfair, but never questioned God’s love for me or my family. I know that I can thank my parents and teachers for this strong belief.
I understood the “textbook” aspect of faith; I knew that God loved me and that I could talk to him, and that we had to attend Mass every week. However, I don’t think I got a real grasp of spirituality and faith until the later part of high school.

During my first two years, I strived to get involved in athletics and clubs. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year when I discovered pastoral ministry. I knew some friends who were involved but had never thought of joining. While I felt I was close with God, I didn’t think I needed to be a part of retreats or planning the masses. I will never forget the day I was walking through the halls and Miss Buckley was standing outside the pastoral team door, recruiting students to come join. I’m not quite sure what made me walk in, but I did, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. There were a few other students in the room who were helping to plan an upcoming prayer service. I took a seat and joined them, within moments that room was my home at Mercy. The next year I became more involved, especially after attending my fall junior retreat. At the retreat we watched Simon Birch and then discussed God’s plan for us. I felt that I was needed in pastoral ministry and that I could help other girls find their faith, as I had. In the spring, I signed up for KAIROS, which is a senior retreat that happens four times a year with a different group of about 40-60 girls. The spring retreat is open for 10 juniors who think that they may be interested in leading a Kairos retreat for their class the next year. Each retreat has six leaders, so after the very first one in the fall, those retreatants can then apply to be a leader for one of the next retreats. Does that make sense? Anyways, I had always wanted to be a Kairos leader. You hear about Kairos and how “amazing” and “life changing” it is from the day you step foot at Mercy. Here’s the thing. It was amazing, I learned a lot, but when I attended as a junior, it was not life changing. I thought that there might be something wrong with me, until I had a chat with Mrs. Mac, who set me straight. She really encouraged me to apply to be a Kairos leader; she said that it would be an excellent way for me to be a servant of God. That concept was beautiful to me. I had never looked at faith that way. I wanted so badly to serve God, and thankfully, so did He. I was chosen to be a leader for the fall Kairos retreat, and guess what? It was life changing. I had to give a talk on my life (obstacles, accomplishments, people who inspire me) to my class, and I have never been so scared in my life. I remember sitting in the big room before everyone filed in, praying for the Holy Spirit to come through me during my talk. The Holy Spirit came, alright. I felt so moved and strong.

Throughout the year, many girls would write me letters or privately talk to me about how I brought faith into their lives. ME. Megan Carolin, student council VP, theatre dork, pastoral team member. I was friends with everyone in high school and always had a smile on my face and a hug to give out, but never did I think that I could change people. I was on a roll! I had a close relationship with God that was not defined by my knowledge of scripture or the workings of Mass, but by filling my heart with his love and then pouring that love to others.

Unfortunately, there was a time in my life where I lost all of that. As soon as I got to college, I found the Catholic Church on campus. I was excited and ready to get involved. Do you know how many times I attended mass during my first two and ½-three years? Not many. Prayer? Rarely. I only prayed when I needed something, not a loving relationship with God. Instead, I filled my life with my sorority, school, food, anxiety, and drinking. God was not on my list of priorities. Funny thing is, most of my friends still considered me the “religious one”. Little did they know I had put God so far back in my mind I wasn’t even sure He loved me, or if I loved Him? It was easy to say, but tough to act on. I know this happens to so many; I don’t feel bad about it nor am I ashamed. Those three years of my life taught me many lessons. I think one of the hardest parts was that I had very few friends who were Catholic, and those who were did not practice. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my faith, so I just forgot about it.

Most of you know what happened next. Melinda came around. You’ve probably heard the story so I’ll spark notes it. I had been very depressed my sophomore year of college and barely came out of my room. One time I was in class and my teacher said “sometimes all it takes is one person to bring you out of your darkest time of your life”. I think that was one of the darkest times I’ll ever go through (I’ll never quite know for sure). I came home and for the first time in years I just sat on my bed, crying and praying to God to bring me that person. Cue American Idol. Cue this woman who was singing “There Will Come a Day” so beautifully that she made me believe it and want to change. I know that happened for a reason, I know that Melinda is my person. After that things changed…they were not perfect, but I was a changed person. My faith opened back up (ha!); I was holding God highest in my heart and mind once again.

For the next year or so, I found myself slowly coming back to the person I once was, but I never felt completely fulfilled. There always seemed to be something missing. It turns out it was my high anxiety that was holding me back from many wonderful opportunities to grow in faith. I was determined to make my senior year different, to become more involved and to continue to grow. I saw Melinda the day before I started classes, and she hugged me so tight and told me to be myself, not be afraid, and go after every opportunity. That was quite a blessing and I know the Holy Spirit was working through her to share those words with me. During that fall I was able to connect with Mandisa and ask for her advice on faith and food addiction. Her words of wisdom have helped me in more ways than I could possibly imagine, she particularly encouraged me to attend a retreat for my local Church. Although I was terrified, I went to get over my anxiety. It was a big step for me and I had several people praying for me over the weekend, including Mandisa. The next few months I continued to foster a stronger, loving relationship with God by recognizing my struggles with anxiety and food. Once I could grasp that I had been filling holes in my life with items other than God, I could learn to grow from that.

Toward the end of my senior year, I was at a total loss of what I wanted to accomplish once I graduated from Western. I knew that it would be something where I could help people, as that has always been my passion. Mercy Volunteer Corps landed in my lap and it is the greatest decision- it is going to allow for me to grow spiritually and mentally while serving the poor and marginalized.
So that’s my faith story. A long and winding road that has lead me to be a stronger person who cares compassionately for others and loves God. I speak openly with God and thirst for more knowledge.

I know this is already long (let’s count how many times I’ve ever said that) but before I end I want to share some pieces of advice/words of wisdom I have received from others on faith.

“You are a result of God’s friendship. Affirm God’s presence in you by loving yourself!”- Monica

“You should be confident of your abilities, but a little afraid so that you want to learn. You should be independent, but not alone. You should have faith in God, but also faith in yourself that you can affect change. You should be cautious, but you should love”-Dad

“Open your heart to receive the tremendous blessings that the Lord would like to bestow on you, and right now at this moment think of one blessing that you offer the world”.- Miss Buckley

“Seek God in yourself and when you do, you can find Him in others”. - Kristin

“I think that God has paved a journey for us and we make the decision to follow it…but He’ll always steer us in the right direction”- Alicia

-Anything and everything that Mandisa and Melinda have ever told me about God. If I were to start quoting I would not stop.

Cookie if you read that :-)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not to worry, friends! Even though I haven’t had internet since Thursday, I’ve been jotting down things I wanted to share with you since then.

Thursday was my first experience working in the classroom. It was quite a strange feeling to have thirty 14 year olds staring at you. My job for the day was to have the students fill out their I-9 forms. In each session, we got them completed rather quickly, so I moved into introduction and discussion on Cristo Rey. I had some students ask me why I chose to volunteer there, I had others who came up to me in private to share that they wanted to help with peer mediation. I even had one student wait after class and then show me her poetry notebook, because I had mentioned that I was going to start a creative writing extracurricular. It was cool that she already trusted me and wanted to share something so intimate with me.
Friday was the retreat for all new students, freshmen and sophomore transfers. We had Mass in the morning, and Fr. Jose gave a beautiful homily about God’s ability to bring each of us through obstacles we face, and that each of us were still standing here together for a reason. I think that was a message that everyone, including the adults (so weird that I’m considered an ‘adult’ now) in the room, needed to hear. The group was then split into two separate groups. I went with Mr. Lacross and Mr. Dixon with a group of students outside to the ropes course. It was a serious of obstacles that required team work and communication in order for the entire group to accomplish the task. There was a group of girls in our group that were very stand-offish and scared, but I would have been (and probably still am to this day) the same way. I made sure to take extra time and encourage them through the tasks. I turned two of the four around, they started volunteering first and being more active. In a conversation with Mr. Dixon later, I had another revelation about myself. He said “It’s too bad that some kids are too afraid of what others think or of hurting others to put themselves out there.” That is exactly my issue. I fear hurting other’s feelings or what they will think so much that it puts restrictions on what I push myself to do. However, I can honestly and proudly say that during these past three weeks, I have pushed myself out there more than I have in years.

That night, the four of us went to Sr. Cecilia’s house for Bible Study night which she hosts every month with friends from her church. She was ecstatic that we attended, as were her friends. First we did contemplation, and then we read the readings for mass this Sunday and discussed them. It was a great experience to hear views and thoughts from many different backgrounds. The one thing I pulled from the discussion was that “God is Love”. So simple, yet so complex at the same time. Dave and I had a nice little conversation after the Bible Study about putting God first and having love in our hearts. The four of us then had dinner together, which Nate and Katie cooked. I love our community meals, sharing conversation and ideas with one another.

Saturday we headed over to Eastern Market with our fabulous, one of a kind neighbor, Frank. We didn’t do much shopping but looked around and got a feel for prices and selection. It was great seeing so many people involved in the city. Later we took a trip out to Dearborn for Dave to get a tux for his friend’s wedding and to get a few small items at Wal-Mart. We’ve still spent very little of our personal money. I even denied Starbucks because I don’t want to waste my money on expensive coffee. That night we decided to treat ourselves to eating out for dinner. We went to one of the local Corktown bars, actually one that is quite famous for game days. We wanted to go somewhere local to meet people, but ended up being the only ones in there. It was still nice to get out of the house though. We came home and watched Dogma and SNL together.

Sunday we visited our second stop of our “Church Crawl”, St. Aloysius. We loved it! The congregation was very diverse, we knew people, and the priest was awesome. We met up with three of the seven Jesuit Volunteers. Sr. Cecilia was there and made us feel very welcomed. After Mass, Katie and Dave went to the grocery store while Nate and I just hung out at home. I went over to Sr. Mary Kelly and Renee’s house down the block to do my laundry (we don’t have a dryer, so they let us use their’s) and had a nice chat with Renee. Came home for dinner and was in the middle of typing this when Dave knocked on my door and said Robert (former MVC) invited us to a free concert downtown. I knew I had to wake up early and that I should go to sleep early, but I also knew I should take advantage of the opportunity. So the four of us met up with Robert, had a beer, and got a sense of the local Detroit music scene. Even though I’ve lived here all my life I’ve never been to a local band concert. It was cool to see different people from the city gathering. We just dropped in and it’s almost midnight so I should be getting to bed.

That's the entry I wrote for up until Sunday night. I'll write more about this week later :-)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Light One Candle

I wanted to write something tonight that was away from the general "this is what I did today" posts I've been doing....but speaking of at our faculty meeting we each suggested two different extracurricular's we can "teach" or "advise". I'm going to be doing a creative writing one! I'm (here it comes again) so excited! I'm also going to incorporate drama into it, because they don't have a drama department and I think it's really important for kids to have that outlet. I know when I was that age, I was dealing with my own issues and once I was writing or acting (yes, I could act..believe it!) I felt so much better. I'm not sure what my other one will be yet, possibly something to do with using the internet effectivley, possibly a community service one. We shall see.

I know it seems like I'm doing so many different things at the school...and that's because I am. With it being so new and small, all of us are wearing several different hats. While it may be overwhelming, I already discussed with my supervisor when to say no to things (if it's getting in the way of spending time with my community) and honestly I'm just so happy to be at this school that they could ask me to clean the toilets and I'd do it in a heartbeat. I wish all of you could spend a day there and see how awesome it is.

Tomorrow the freshmen come and I'm (once again) so excited to meet them! It's a little intimidating but I'm going to walk in ther confident and ready to learn from them as well as teach them.

Okay, so back to what I was originally saying. I wanted to write something different tonight. I looked at my list of potential blog topics (yes, I have one) and decided on "admiring people younger than me".

I have very few friends who are exactly my age. I have many friends older than me, and many friends younger than me. I haven't quite figured out how I balance this, I mean it really doesn't make much sense. Yes, I am young for my class, so that's why I befriend those younger, but it's not as though I am immature, otherwise I wouldn't be such good friends with people older than me. Anyways, it's easy to admire those older. They set example for me, I follow their footsteps. Something I've found though, is the deep admiration and respect I have for certain people who are younger.

I could give you a million and one examples, the one that has been on my heart the past year is Laurence. He's a 14 year old kid battling brain cancer, yet has more wisdom and strength than people twice his age can ever imagine having. His ideas and motivation to help the poor in third world countries are outstanding. The smartest people running our country could never think of what he does. I don't mean that to offend anyone but rather to encourage you that if there are more young people out there like Laurence, we're in good hands.

Another example is my wittle Alyssa. She's such a sweetheart but I know things haven't always been easy for her. She reminds me so much of myself at her age. Her compassion for her family and willingness to care for others at an instant is something I admire and that keeps me inspired. She's one of those people who doesn't realize how great she is, she just continues doing wonderful acts anyways. Love that.

Okay, I had another paragraph written about Lexi and it totally didnt/copy paste. Sorry Lexi! Here it is! Lexi is yet another example of someone stronger than I thought was possible at that age. She, like Laurence, has ideas to help bring compassion and justice to the world. She truly cares about making a difference and I believe that one day we'll all know her name and read about something fantastic that she accomplished. Lexi and Alyssa are both like little sister's to me, and I feel so proud to know all the wonderful things that they do.

I could keep going but I'll just close with this: We don't always know the impact we're making on people...but it's important to sit back and reflect on our family and friends and how much they appreciate us. It's okay to remember that, it's not selfish to recognize your strengths. Just remember to smile at a stranger and hug a loved one. I say that often but it goes such a long way, I pinky promise.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Yesterday was my sister and Dave's one year anniversary. It's weird to say that, since they've been "together" for ten years- I think they should get credit for all ten! I had a project in college when I had to look at the relationships of my parents, siblings, etc to determine their influence on me. I'm lucky to be surrounded by people who have been in strong, loving, selfless, continual relationships. It makes me feel more confident that when I do find someone in my life, our relationship will be the same way. Sometimes it's tough being the only single one in the family, but a very wise friend of mine once said:

"I think when God makes a person as good as you He takes a very long time to choose just the right person for them, and then He waits for just the right circumstances to bring the two people together. I think maybe He thinks you can never take too much care in such an important thing. That's why it takes so long."

I hold onto that quote dear to my heart. Another wise friend of mine told me this right before I left for orientation:

"Don't fall in love too quickly".

Another quote of advice that I greatly appreciate. There's so much pressure about "who are you dating" or "hey, you're next to get married". I'm perfectly content by myself right now, thank you. Sure, it would be nice to have someone, but I'm not about to settle or force anything. This is my time to discover what I want out of life, right? Right. For the two people who told me these things, know that I treasure your advice :-)

Today we had a faculty meeting at Cristo Rey. It was great, as everything has been these past few weeks. We went over the handbook, peer mediation, dress code, counselor, academics, introductions, etc. I also had a meeting about the lunch program. Basically, I'll be at the school in the morning to feed the kids who may not be getting fed at home. I'll be working closely with a group of students with that, and also checking students in at lunch to make sure everyone is eating. It's just a lot of paperwork on Friday's, basically.

I left the meeting in such a wonderful mood. I'm SO excited for the year and to be a part of the school in it's crucial initial stages. The administration and staff are all so VERY supportive of each other, which I think is so important. There's a great mixture in age, gender, and background, as well, which will balance everything out so well.

I guess that's it for now. My schedule is kind of odd these first few weeks. Tomorrow is more faculty meetings, then the rest of the week is 1/2 days for freshmen. Next week is 1/2 days for freshmen AND sophomores, for orientation and training for their work study programs. After labor day, school officially begins. I'm glad that we'll get some time to transition into the school year and meet all the kids.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

If this was any normal mid August day within the past few years, I'd currently be packing my room into boxes and having regular anxiety attacks about going back to school. I'd be going through every possible thing that could go wrong and taking bets on if I'd make it through the year.

This year is different. While it's terrifying, challenging, and unknown, it feels right, it feels like this is what I'm supposed to be doing. I've been getting little reminders of reassurance throughout the past few weeks, and tonight came another one.

This morning we headed to Belle Isle to work for the Walk for the Uninsured. Nate is working at Cabrini Clinic this year, and his supervisor is simply amazing. We keep hearing over and over that she is a Detroit legend, and that it wouldn't be a surprised if a statue went up in her honor. She introduced us to so many people and made us feel welcome and comfortable. The walk was fun, we each stood at different marks on the course as support people, at my station I handed out cold water. It reminded me of the Country Music Marathon- except I wasn't wearing my giant banana costume.

We headed home for lunch and a break and then were off to the Sisters of Mercy to witness Renee, a former Mercy Volunteer, enter into the Sisters of Mercy. Renee was an MVC in Detroit two years ago and has since felt the call to become a sister. It was so cool to witness this event. As soon as we walked in we were greeted with hugs from the sisters we've met this past week and some new faces. Everyone knew who we were- Katie from Flordia, Megan who went to Mercy, Nate working with Sr. Mary Ellen, and Dave, working part time shifts at Cristo Rey and Cabrini. They had that down! The service was beautiful and at the reception afterwards we met more sisters....

I was standing with Katie when I spotted Sr. Regina at the refreshment table. She was the president of Mercy High School during my four years there. I never saw her much but when I did she always had a huge smile on her face. She's a sweetheart. I only worked with her during a few student council meetings. Tonight, though, she introduced me to everyone as "Megan Carolin, who graduated in 2005". She also mentioned that I led KAIROS, was on student council, and several other things that I had no idea she even knew about, much less could remember four years later. She said several times how happy she was to see me and that she would LOVE for me to come spend a day at Mercy if I can work it out with Criso Rey to get a day off. I really couldn't imagine anything better :-) Her welcoming spirit and genuine attitude about me made me even more comfortable with this new beginning and reminded me of my LOVE for Mercy High School. Now I feel like I have such a bigger connection to the Circle of Mercy.

After the service and light recepetion we went to dinner with some Sister's, past volunteers, etc. I can't tell you how many times we heard for people that they're going to have us over for dinner soon or that we are welcome over anytime. Everyone is just SO welcoming. I can't get over that. When it comes time for the year to be over we're going to have to throw a huge thank you bbq and invite everyone who's been so nice to us.

Tomorrow we're going to mass at St. Anne's, the oldest church in Detroit. We're going to try to go to several different churches in the Detroit area until we find one that fits. I'm also going to take my community to my two favorite churches in my area, St. Hugo (my church, my elementry school) and Shrine.

I started off this entry talking about where I'd be if this was a normal year. I'll close by saying...I can't believe how much I've changed. In a year I have grown so much. It's still hard for me to step out of my comfort zone at times, but the amount of things that have changed in my life is outstanding. I'm very proud of myself.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm only two weeks into this new beginning of mine and I'm already feeling the pressure of what's the next step. I get daily questions on what I want to do after this, where I see myself in a few years, etc. How the heck do I know? Maybe I want to go to grad school, maybe find a job around here, maybe move somewhere else. Yeah, I can sit here and say I'm waiting to see where this year takes me, but when July rolls around and I'm finished with my year of service and moving out of this amazing house, what do I do then? In reality, in a few months I've really got to start working toward something.

I've met so many spectacular people this week, almost every single one of them has made a huge positive impact on me in just the few moments that we talked. One of those people I met today, and her name is Sr. Catherine. She works in the campus ministry office at University of Detroit Mercy, where we went today to get college id's in order to use their facilities. She was the sweetest and reminded me so much of Mrs. MacLennan at Mercy- so welcoming and willing to help, a great support person to have. It was obvious that everyone at UDM held her in high respect. What a wonderful person, I hope we see lots more of her this year.

We also met our support people- Mike and Amy. They were both Jesuit Volunteer's, so they understand our situation, excitement, nervousness. They were wonderful, Mike gave us a tour of Southwest Detroit and they both took us to dinner. They said they are here for us whenever, mentioned that the hardest part of community life is being open and honest with everyone, and offered to meet with us once a month to make sure everything is going smoothly. I tell ya, MVC Staff really takes care of us.

Right before I fell asleep last night I thought of awesome lyrics but I was in that zone where I was too tired to get up and write them down. I HATE when that happens, because now I can't remember what they were. Hopefully they will come to me another time :)

Please remember to pray for Laurence. Things aren't looking too good right now, but you wouldn't know it with his positive attitude. He's such an inspiration!

I'm off to read and then get some sleep- but I am looking for new book suggestions, so let me know if you have any good ones. We have a huge used book store by our house and are pretty close to the library.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My one challenge for the year will be keeping up this enthusiasm and excitement that I have now. I'm so ready and eager to jump in and get started now, so let's all hope that it sticks through. I know at times it will be tough, but I really believe this experience is going to be one of the most worthwhile I will ever have.

Today Dave and I both headed over to Cristo Rey for a 1/2 day. We were first introduced to Hannah, who is a Jesuit Volunteer doing her service at Cristo Rey. She is going to be helping with some college counseling and a few other tasks. It was great to meet her, she is living with six other Jesuit volunteers whose house is not too far away from ours. It's good to know that there is a house full of people our age nearby. The three of us helped organize textbooks and I administered a high school placement test for a student, which brought back horrible memories of scantron testing from my younger days. I had a nice quick chat with the director of admisssions, who is also the mother of a girl I went through high school with.

Our site director/principal of Cristo Rey had us fill out some paperwork and then took us to lunch to talk business. We went to a great Mexican restauraunt within walking distance to the school, along the way she pointed out some good stores and other places to eat. At lunch, we discussed hours, job duties, etc. We learned that the first few weeks are going to be more quiet, because it's just a 1/2 day for the students starting next Wednesday while they have job training. For those who don't know much about the Cristo Rey system, the students go to work in the community one day each week. It's a really cool program and I encourage you to learn more about it! She also told us to not be afraid to say no to certain jobs, because she knows we have outside commitments to our community members. The school has a small faculty/staff, so they are going to want to use us whenever and whereever they can, but they don't want to overuse us.

During the first week of classes, we're each going to get two students who need a little extra attention to mentor throughout the year. We're also going to be teamed up with a teacher or faculty member to help do an "advisor" group type thing and help with uniform checks, attendance, etc.

My hours are going to be from 7:00 AM to between 2-4:15 pm. I'm helping in the mornings to distribute breakfast to the kids who qualify and to pack lunches for the groups going to work that day. Since I have to be there earlier, I can leave earlier than most if needed. I'm going to feel it out and see how it goes the first few weeks. I'll definatley need to be going to sleep earlier than I'm used to :-)

Oh, random fun fact of the day: On September 16th, we have an event at St. Hugo where we're going to be giving a presentation on the school. Guess who works at St. Hugo? My mommy. Guess when her birthday is? September 16th. So excited!

As for the community life of the experience, everything is going great so far. We definatley want to become friends with the JVC's so we can step outside the circle of the four of us and meet some new people.

Before I sign off for now, I want to wish my sister's husband Dave a very happy birthday. I love him as if he is my own brother and wish him all the best on this day and always.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

MVC Site Tour

So I'll probably be using words like "amazing", "awesome", "unbelievable" a lot over the next few months, especially these first few weeks.

Today was one of those days. Yet another day of complete reassurance that this is where I need to be and what I should be doing. We spent the day visiting each other's sites to learn a little bit more about what we will be doing and the role each organization plays in Detroit itself. After visiting each site, it was obvious that the staff at MVC worked very hard to place each of us at sites that would be perfect for our expectations and our skills.

The first stop on the site tour was Detroit Cristo Rey High School, where I will be working full time and Dave part time. We took a tour of the school and met the staff who were all awesome and very welcoming. I will be starting a peer mediation group, helping organize the student council, and working other smaller but important jobs like the morning and lunch programs. Dave is going to help start a school newspaper, perfect for him as he ran his own newspaper in PA for two years. We will both be helping kids start blogs and learning to use the Internet more effectively. I'm super excited to get started and meet all the students.

Second stop was St. Frances Cabrini Clinic, where Nate will be working. Absolutely a perfect match, Nate is considering going to med school once he finishes his year of service. He will be doing administrative type work, as well as shadowing doctors, and he will be playing a large role in advocacy and education. I'm really excited for him, Sr. Mary Ellen who is the executive director at the clinic is an incredible woman who has great ideas for him. In fact, she will be part of an online panel tomorrow night with President Obama on health care.

Sr. Mary Ellen took us to lunch at an amazing deli with massive, fancy sandwiches. It was delicious, but I don't think we'll be going there often with our stipend...unless we save up :-)

Next we visited Mercy Education Project, where Katie will be serving. She is going to be helping tutor girls from grades 1-8 and also helping with their program of classes for older women to get their GED's. Everyone there was very nice and offered help if we needed it, they told us where to get groceries which is something we're going to need to do soon.

Finally we went to the Matrix Theatre, where Dave will be working the other part time shifts. He's going to be helping with marketing and development as well as with the shows. Everyone there was very laid back and welcoming, I think Dave will love his time there.

I can't tell you how many times we heard "if you ever need anything, let us know" or "whenever you want to stop by and visit we'd love to have you" from various staff members at our sites. This experience is already giving me such a better appreciation and knowledge for the city of Detroit. Living in the 'burbs my whole life has sheltered me from what goes on, and many of the things I've heard or "known" were negative. In reality, this is a city of positive change. We have crazy horrible things going on with our politics but the number of people and organizations working to solve the problems we have is amazing to me. I think one of the coolest aspects to myself and Dave working at Cristo Rey is that it's only in it's second year, so we are going to be part of the major movement for the school. I'm so ready to dive in!

Monday, August 10, 2009

MVC 09-10 Here we go!

I'm sitting here on my new bed in Detroit complelty at a loss of words...well actually that's quite a lie...I have 30 pages in my journal from the past week FILLED with quotes, stories, reflections, fears, and prayers. I honestly am not quite sure how to describe the past week, nor do I think my words can give it justice. Please forgive me if my thoughts are all over the place.

I went into orientation comepletly terrified. Even after the first night, I had doubts and questions. I had a long conversation with God about them and that I needed to know that this was for me, that this was exaclty where I needed to be. I eventually got the answer I was looking for...but you have to hear the whole story before I give you the answer.

Before you start:
-This is long...don't be too surprised about that.
-There is probably "lingo" you won't understand, but please ask me questions about MVC, orientation, our house, anything.
-The other volunteers that I met at orientation are amazing. We heard several times throughout the week that we are the best group they have ever seen, and all of them promised and swore that they have never said that to another group.
-My "roomates" are called community members.

I arrived in Philly via the tiniest airplane ever on Friday morning last week. The door to the airplane got stuck, which apparently is something that actually does happen in real life. They had to pound it with a hammer in order to get it open. Once I managed to get through the very confusing Philly airport, I met up with Katie and Nate, two of my community members for the year, and Kat, who was placed in Savannah. Eventually we met up with a bigger crowd and were driven to Gwenydd-Mercy College where we were greeted by the MVC Staff with open arms and huge smiles. I was directed to my room, living in a suite with (I'll put the cities where they were placed) Erin (Baltimore), Mary (Savannah), and Colene (St. Michaels, AZ). Went down to the lounge and met my third and final community member, Dave. That night was very relaxed, we basically ate dinner, learned the overview for the week, lots of introductions, and hung out in the lounge playing games. I went to sleep anxious and a little intimidated, but excited to learn more.

Saturday was a little busier, we had a ritual where we shared a symbol that we felt would represent us in a community- I shared my Kairos cross. We also had an introduction to Mercy and to the Sisters of Mercy. Since I went to Mercy High School in Michigan, this was very cool to be reconnected with that. I am VERY excited about bieng back in this community and atmosphere. I missed it so much during college. The best part of the night was when Sr. Megan Brown dressed up as Catherine Mccauley (founder of Sisters of Mercy) and told us all about the history. I loved it!

Sunday we began learning about the four tenants of MVC. We had a presentation from a sister on compassionate service and justice. My favorite story she shared was about a young boy who asked his grandpa to face him while they were sleeping during a storm so he could see his face- to have that human contact, and that we need that when doing our year of service. We also had a presentation on the challeneges of ministry, given by a former Mercy Volunteer, who actually did her year in Detroit. She gave us care packages and the advice to "dance every evening", which was also a motto of Catherine McCauley. Loved when she said "we are companions on the journey of the people whom we are serving".

The next day we started getting into the expectations of the year, learned about what it means to live in a community, having meals together, guest policies, community meetings, and all that fun techincal stuff. We also had an ennegram presentation- I am a number six, a fear based person. I know, shocking. We set up fundraising pages for MVC, had a hilarious presentation on conflicts in community living from Sr. Marie. That night I spent some alone time in the prayer and meditation room they had set up for us in the dorms, read a lot of prayers by Catherine McCauley. Something about it really hit home and made me feel lucky and blessed to be in the position I am now. Also at this point in the week I was getting more comfortable with everyone and feeling so refreshed and interested in their insight.

Wednesday focused on spirituality. The morning was very quiet because we spent most of it in prayer/meditiation. The coolest part of the day was lunch time, when we picked up a boxed lunch and then took a nature walk around campus- in complete silence. We were allowed to go wherever and encouraged to use our five senses to appreciate God and nature. I found some really special things I never would have if I had been talking with someone or preoccupied with something else. That night we had the opporunity to cook a meal together as a community for Sr. Kati, who works on the campus. We were given ingrediants and worked together to make minnestrone soup. It was a great bonding experience and I loved being able to talk with Sr. Kati. That night I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and played a game with the larger group of the volunteers. Woo!

Thursday we kicked off the day with Tai Chi and then headed over to a mansion on campus to learn more about simple living- how to incorporate meditation into our lives, how to eat healthier and better for you, and how to try to give up or substitute our time- instead of spending hours on a computer, spending it with our community members. Later we had an amazing cross-culturual presentation that was very interesting and insightful. I also literally was pushed out of my comfort zone when Ann (St Michaels) and Tenille (Sacramento) forced me to volunteer for an activity in front of everyone. I am proud of myself for doing it though, and thankful to them for pushing me. That night we had a meet and greet with alum, support people, site supervisors, etc in a house on campus. Met some more amazing Sisters. Stayed up waaay too late sharing ghost stories with some other volunteers.

Friday was painfully boring. The exciting part was that we met our rep for the week from Detroit, Amy. She works at the site where Katie will be working, and drove out to Philly to get us and also to explain some things about our house and other technical details. Other than that, the day consisted of going over rules and regulations and filling out paperwork for Americorps...until nighttime, which meant TALENT SHOW...I have to say, I freaked out when I read that there was a Talent Show. Every community had to come up with something...luckily I am living with very creative and talented people for the year, so together we wrote a song about MVC. Since I can't sing, I rapped my part. Oh front of 20 some other people. The Sacramento volunteers did something really cool- they painted rocks for each community with a "center word" on them and then a haiku on the back. Guess what our word happened to be? HOPE. Proof that Amanda is watching over all of us :)

So Saturday was our last full day. It was pretty emotional yet laid back at the same time. We had a closing ritual where we revealed who our prayer partners were and shared something we learned from the week. Then we had our commissiong mass to officially welcome us to MVC. It was a lovely experience and what made it even more special were each of the sisters who stopped to say that we are their hope and inspiration. A bunch of the group went out to Philly Saturday night, others went out with their parents who came in for the mass...Tenille and I stayed in, had pizza, packed, chatted, and relaxed. I waited with some others who had come back early for the big crowd, and then stayed up late talking and laughing with my roomates for the week.

Sunday was the day we left Philly and headed for Detroit. We had to say several goodbyes, it was really quite sad. This week allowed for the group as a whole to bond and share so many things with each other, and now we will not see any of them until our transition retreat in June. I hugged everyone extra tight and made sure I said a special thank you to those who really took care of me and pushed me. We drove to Detroit and made great time, arrived there around 5 pm. There were local Sister's of Mercy here to greet us. Our house is MUCH bigger than I expected. We each have our own bedroom and there's a great piano room, family room, and dining room. Our kitchen is small but great, and we have a 1/2 finished creepy basement. We are living in a wonderful area of Detroit, I am so excited to be here. The neighbors are great, there is SO much history. I am just so happy to be here!

Today we spent the day at the Sister's of Mercy offices and center right behind where I attended high school. We also went on a very long walk to downtown Detroit, near the river. Tomorrow we are visiting each other's sites to see where we need to go and what each other will be doing. Wednesday we have a 1/2 day of work, Thursday we're getting a tour and also being taken to University of Detroit Mercy College to get college ID's to use their facilities.

So what is my reason for being here? I have two:

1) To be reconnected with Mercy and to serve in an amazing school where I will be able to use my skills to make a difference and learn from others.
2) Because there was a reason my life crossed paths with the lives of the other volunteers, the staff, the Sisters, etc.

Okay, I have got to get to sleep now. I apologize for yet another super long entry. I'm excited to report back tomorrow when we visit sites!