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Alumni Interview

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 4:47pm
Hi, my name is Nate Kittle I served with Amate House (Marjorie Kovler Center) in 2007-08.



















What inspired you to serve?Attending a Jesuit University in Creighton University I was inspired by the social mission of the Gospel.  I knew that ultimately I wanted to go to medical school, but I was taught the value of spending a year working with and learning from an organization like the Marjorie Kovler Center.  I also wanted to gain experience living in community and growing with a group of other young adults who have a similar mission in life to myself.
Where did you serve and what did a typical day at your service site look like?
Marjorie Kovler Center - As a case manager my day was varied.  I sat with clients helping them look through resources for housing, food, ESL, medical care and more importantly psychological care.  I did intake interviews which was the most heart-wrenching and eye-opening part of my job.  Most importantly I helped create a light and fun environment in a place where we were dealing with survivors of torture who were seeking a community and place to feel safe/secure.
What is one memory from your time of service that has stuck with you? Why has it stayed with you?The Kovler Cooking Group.  Once a month staff members and clients would gather to cook a meal.  The "chef" of the night was tasked with organizing the group to help them prepare a meal from their country.  I ate amazing food from Haiti, DRC, Somalia, Ethiopia and Guatemala.  The most memorable parts of the night was the socializing that took place.  These evenings were a chance to get a glimpse of the clients in a social environment away from the desk and away from the trauma they have experienced.
How has your service experience impacted your career path?Since I was a child I knew I wanted to be a physician.  My time at Amate House and at the Kovler Center taught me the value of community.  It taught me how important other viewpoints are and how to respect cultures and beliefs different from my own.  My time in service gave me an opportunity to learn how important this community work is to my life and is a big reason I have become a Family Medicine Physician.
What is your current profession and why did you choose to go into that practice?Family Medicine resident physician in Seattle, WA.  I chose to go into family medicine because I really value community and the intimate relationships that I am able to develop with patients.  My goal as a family medicine physician is to learn about my patient's values and experiences and use this knowledge to improve overall health looking beyond physiological health.
Do you have any advice for volunteers who are wrapping up their year and transitioning out of their time of service?Please please please don't feel pressure to dive into a career.  I am so thankful that I have taken time to enjoy life and have experiences like what I had at Amate House.  I actually took another year to do service during medical school because life is way too short to start work and feel the pressure of a career in your early/mid-20s.  
How do you stay connected to your program or service site?I still went to Kovler cooking groups when I was in Chicago and stayed involved in the local Amate community.  Since leaving Chicago it has been a bit difficult but I read the newsletters when they come out and most importantly I donate money when I am able!

Questions for fun:
What is your favorite color? Orange.
If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be? French Fries
Would you rather be a bird or an aquatic animal? What specifically would you be and why?Bird - An eagle, soaring and going with the wind taking in the world below is a dream, and why I love flying so much!

A Year of Miracles in Detroit

Fri, 07/31/2015 - 11:00am
By Rich Samartino, Story Contest Winner
Mercy Volunteer Corps Volunteer
Detroit, MI



I tell people all the time that miracles happen. Some unexplained force comes into a situation and changes it in ways that people never could have imagined, often with positive, inspiring or beautiful results. Though some people react skeptically to the possibility of miracles occurring, I believe that my year in Detroit with Mercy Volunteer Corps has been full of miracles from the very beginning.

I’ll start my story right there: at the beginning. I was sitting in the Chester County, Pennsylvania public library, clicking through job listings on the website idealist.org. I had just been turned down by the one job prospect I had, and my quest to work with issues related to social justice seemed to be at a dead end.
But then, like a bolt of lightning, I saw it: a job posting for someone working with people with disabilities in a poor area of Philadelphia through an organization called Mercy Volunteer Corps. I couldn’t believe it - of my two most recent volunteer jobs, one was working with adults with developmental disabilities, the other living at a community for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction in North Philadelphia. The position seemed like a perfect match, and I called for more information only to find out that the position had already been filled. “But,” said the voice on the other end, “we do have one spot left in Detroit.”
With a burning desire to work directly with issues related to social justice, I decided to read more details about the opening at Cabrini Clinic, America’s oldest free health clinic. The clinic’s small staff and history of advocating for social justice in healthcare appealed to me as an ideal place to get involved with issues related to social justice. Within days, I had been accepted to the program, and in a little over a month I was living in Detroit.
When I arrived in Detroit, I found a city full of people actively working to create a more just society. My placement at Cabrini Clinic put me in contact with one of the most connected people in the struggle for justice in Detroit, Sister Mary Ellen Howard, former Executive Director of Cabrini and a member of the Detroit People’s Water Board, among many other organizations. By the time my first month in Detroit was over, I had attended a People’s Water Board meeting and several other justice-related gatherings with Mary Ellen. Like a duck taking to water, I began to make my own connections with people involved in the struggle in Detroit.
A breakthrough that allowed me to become involved as a contributing member to the movement for justice came when I attended a meeting of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management. I graduated from Penn State with a degree in Information Sciences & Technology, so when I sat down and heard the group discussing the need for someone to update their website, I knew I had found a perfect opportunity to contribute my IT skills to the fight for justice in Detroit. I soon had administrator access to the group’s website and began posting articles that group members sent to me, something I have done several times per week for several months now. 
This seemingly simple contribution has led me places I never could have imagined. I now personally know many of the key people involved in the struggle against water shutoffs and tax foreclosures in the city, and most amazingly to me, contributing my IT skills has allowed me to be not just an admirer of these talented and dedicated people, but a co-worker and comrade as well. Most recently, I have been asked to help create a website for legendary Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs’ 100th birthday party.
I don’t know any other way that I could have become so intimately involved in a struggle so important to me in a way that allows me to contribute my greatest gift of technology skills.
Whether this is a miracle or not is open to interpretation. However, I would like to close by comparing my presence in Detroit to a seed, one that finds fertile ground and begins to grow. Eventually, it becomes so big that even birds and other animals rest on its branches and enjoy the sunlight that gives life to all beings. I feel that my work here has already touched many lives and made a positive impact in the struggle for justice in Detroit. However, like any living thing I want to keep growing and reach my full potential. Eventually all plants and animals pass away, but it is the image of each one of us resonating with the spirit within at such a frequency that the whole world hums along with us, that is the true miracle of life and highest aim of any person here. But it all starts with a little, dark seed in cold ground. Until, by an unexplained force, green shoots extend upward and hairy roots down. Why these changes at this particular time and in this way? Who can explain it? You can provide your own explanation. I call it a miracle.

Just Listen

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 10:51am
By Meghan Krueger
Bon Secours Volunteer
Baltimore, MD


Serving with Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry in Baltimore: “My Quest to B-more”.  This was my mantra as I prepared to begin my year of service, and my prior assumption of how justice is attained. I moved to West Baltimore with high hopes of affecting change in this community; an attitude that can be seen in various aspects of my day-to-day life. When faced with a new opportunity for involvement, whether that is through my work placement or my residence in the neighborhood, I leap into action asking, “What more can I do?”. This has most recently come up in response to the uprisings in Baltimore. Reflection on my reaction to this current event, as well as other experiences I have had in Baltimore, has allowed me to recognize an ever-present call to forgo my own agenda and just listen.

“Karen, do you have any ideas for something else I could do for the people we see at our monthly blood pressure screenings?” This was often a question I raised to my supervisor (and even more frequently to myself internally) during my first couple months as the assistant in a hospital disease management program. My task-oriented-self wanted something tangible, something noteworthy, to work toward; but it is by grace that I have been able to reach an acceptance and appreciation of the fact that my role this year is not so much to do, as it is to be. It was through interacting with Ms. Ellen – a native of Baltimore, cancer patient, and widow living independently in a senior building - that it was made most clear to me that taking blood pressures is merely a means of getting through to the people that I meet, and an invitation for them to talk and be heard. From “the arthritis in my knees is terrible!” to “it’s a shame what Baltimore has come to since I was growing up here”, the carrying on of Ms. Ellen and the other residents is a much needed release of tension, and a glimpse at the concerns of the impoverished members of the elderly generations. The premise of a blood pressure screening has the profound effect of creating a sacred space for conversation, fellowship, and learning.

“Doorbell!...There it is again!...Now they’re knocking…it must be the kids”. I wonder what the request will be this time – the soccer ball, the nail polish, something to eat – but in doing so I am completely missing the point. They could care less about which sport they’re playing, which color nail polish I offer to them to borrow, or what we have for a snack; what they truly crave, and what they are indirectly asking for, is our time and attention. It’s taken almost a year, but I can now see it – we know these kids well, but we’ve never seen their parents; we see them dressed in their school uniforms, but hear about how they’ve had a different substitute teacher every day for the past four months; and they tell us how they love to dance, but that there is no one willing to organize any afterschool activities for them. My large-scale thinking self wonders, “what can we start in this neighborhood for the kids?”, when what I really need to start doing is listening. I will never be able to understand what it is like to grow up in West Baltimore, the way these mature-beyond-their-years children are, but the least I can do is toss the football with them, paint my nails alongside them, and simply show them that I care. Most recently, the uprisings in Baltimore City stimulated my forward-looking tendencies. Sitting in front of the TV on the day of the initial riots, I found myself already thinking, “what can I do to help rebuild, to work to achieve justice in this situation?” The guidance and insight that I have gained through my various experiences this year, allowed me to reach the understanding that the best course of action to take at this point was to fully and genuinely listen. Rather than try to come up with an explanation for the violence, it was more important to ask, “what are those running around looting and setting fires trying to tell us?” In a way, these teenagers were speaking for the larger West Baltimore community, a group of people with very little voice at all. The true injustice is failing to hear their cries for change. I will forever be an outsider in this community, but my unique opportunity to gain an inside perspective on life in West Baltimore has led me to appreciate that the critical first step toward progress and justice is to take time to listen.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “a riot is the language of the unheard”. Over the last several months, I have seen this riot come in many forms – unfiltered complaints, relentless doorbell ringing, and literal riots – each parallel experience culminating in the humbling realization that all I can and should do is listen. My mailing address may confirm my current residence in an underserved neighborhood of West Baltimore, but I know, realistically, that I will never understand what it is like to live in this community – to have grown up here and to have the expectation of never leaving it. It’s taken me a while to get there, but, contrary to my initial expectations and goals, I know that justice will be achieved, not as a consequence of my personal efforts, but as a result of my commitment to open my ears and my heart to the unheard voices all around me.

A dream come true

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 6:27am


By Addie CrossenSSJ Mission Corps volunteerSt. Mary-by-the-Sea in Cape May, NJ

When I first heard of the Summer SSJ Mission Corps Program, it sounded like a dream come true. How could it not? Spending 6 weeks in Cape May, one of the most beautiful places on earth, volunteering - one of my favorite things to do - and meeting others my age that share in some of my main interests! There was no downside to this opportunity and as the summer went on I truly did realize it was a dream come true.

Spending my summer at St.Mary’s-by-the-Sea Retreat House with the SSJ Mission Corps was the best decision I could have made last year. I had just finished my freshmen year of school and had gotten away from my volunteering roots, which I really didn’t like. Volunteering had always been a large part of my life and I knew I needed to get back to it somehow. Not only did the Summer Mission Corps Program provide me with a way back into volunteering, it also taught me so many lessons that I never expected to learn.
I learned how to live a simpler life, not only through my own actions of fasting and reflection, but through the examples of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. How they live their lives is truly beautiful and I am so grateful to have been able to take part.
I learned how to live in a community, and all of the incredibly hard work and patience it takes to be more concerned with the well-being and the needs of my community rather than my own, so that we were able to work together and grow together and learn together. The importance of communication and the ability to discuss my feelings with others will forever be a lesson that I will continue to use in my life.
The best part of living in the community was forming the bonds that were created. Being able to go from barely knowing one another to spending everyday together and becoming great friends was the greatest part. I was able to be with my friends and learn who I am as an individual with them as they were learning about themselves at the same time. It is an experience I will always cherish. 

Learning from weeds

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 9:07am
By Annemarie Barrett
Current missioners in Bolivia
with Franciscan Mission Service



At the end of the day, I am learning that Mother Earth is our greatest teacher.

When we look close at the garden, it is all there. “Greatest teacher” of what? What is “all there”?

In reconnecting with the Earth and the communities that work her land, I have been reminded of the significant challenges that lay before us.

I have known for a long time now how grave the situation is that our planet is in. But I have only recently started to share work with communities that have been and will be disproportionately affected by climate change.

And yet, for as apocalyptic as the future does look, learning from the wisdom of Mother Earth has deeply renewed my faith in the potential we have to respond to these crises.

When facing these seemingly insurmountable challenges, her wisdom grounds me and offers me a new perspective.

Learning from the task of weeding in the garden offers some great examples.

Lettuce combined with fava beans in the parish garden.Since joining the Plataforma Regional de Protección de Suelos, a regional organization of NGOs that practice sustainable agriculture here in Bolivia, our Pastoral de la Madre Tierra has attended various workshops they offer.

In these workshops we have learned to study Mother Nature in order to transform the challenges we experience in our work.

In the garden, we constantly deal with weeds.

Instead of spraying the weeds with chemicals we are learning about companion planting. We are learning which seeds to plant together so that they mutually benefit one another, a practice that can significantly reduce weeds as well as pests.

In these workshops we have learned that the values at the root of companion planting are collaboration and coexistence, not competition.

When growing plants are faced with weeds that threaten their growth and even their existence, they can move towards collaboration, to learn how to live together instead of compete.

Great production of lettuce harvested from 
the combination with fava beans.These lessons are learned from the relationships that naturally occur in our environment. If we look at any ecosystem, we see the ways the different species coexist and even collaborate.

When confronting harsh realities like that of climate change, what would it look like to take a step towards humility as a human race? Instead of relying on competition to save us, could we take time to learn from the wisdom Mother Earth? Could we invest in collaboration and commit to coexistence?

In these workshops we have also learned that not all weeds are bad, not all need to be removed. Instead of fearing weeds, we learn to work with them. We let them grow and stay around the seeds we have planted until they enter into competition, because we trust that those weeds, when small, can also maintain the life in the soil.

Many times while weeding I have found myself meditating on the process of weeding as a spiritual practice. What are the weeds, or weaknesses, or shadow sides in me that keep me from God and others? How can I coexist with those weeds instead of denying they exist, so that I might grow?

In reconnecting with the Earth, I am learning to focus less on scarcity and more on the abundance of wisdom we have available to us through our relationship with the Earth.

In the midst of great challenges of an ever industrializing, globalizing and isolating society, returning to the wisdom in our natural interconnectedness, I am learning that our connection to the Earth it is not only essential to our physical survival but also a deep source of spiritual revival.

The community of Santa Rosa with the Santa Vera Cruz parish community.

Connecting to the land

Tue, 06/09/2015 - 9:55am
By Annemarie Barrett
Current missioner in Bolivia
with Franciscan Mission Service


Living in the city, shopping at grocery stores, and watching a lot of TV, I never had to think much about how my food arrived at my table. I could answer that easily, “From the grocery store.”
But how did it get to the grocery store?

In high school I was blessed with the opportunity to attend POWER Summit, a small youth summit in Saint Paul, Minnesota, hosted by Celeste’s Dream a youth ministry sponsored by the Sisters of Saint Joseph. It was the first time that I was invited to think about where my food came from and the first time I met people growing their own food.

But it was not until living as a Franciscan lay missioner here in Cochabamba that I really started to share daily life with people and whole communities who came from farming families, to work side by side with people who have grown up connected to the land.

It was then that I realized that my television never got around to teaching me about plant recognition.

I had never seen a turnip in real life.

I did not know the difference between an apple tree and a peach tree. I did not know the first steps in planting a seed.

A woman in Santa Rosa with the tomatoes she
produced in her home garden.
Living disconnected from the land, it was easy to laugh at tree huggers and other stereotypes, really because I had no idea what it might feel like to care enough about a tree to hug it. Why would you do that? My cell phone cares for me, sure, but a tree? I did not get it. I am exaggerating, but you get the point.

Then I met Casta, my Bolivian boss in the garden who was raised in a farming family. I listened to her talk about caring for the garden in her home. She spoke about each plant with affection, like it was her own child or friend.

She invited me to work with her, caring for the plants in the parish garden. I spent many days weeding and digging and watering. And little by little, I started to understand.

Through contact with the land, I woke up to the mutuality; the relationship one can form with the plants, as they live and breath just like us, as they nourish us while we nourish them.

Meal prepared in one of the homes in Santa Rosa.In connecting to the land as a mother, it became harder and harder to imagine using chemicals in our work. The more I learned about how plants and trees are both delicate and resilient, just like us, I became more careful of where I walked in the garden, aware that I was walking through a space filled with living beings, not products to be consumed and thrown away.

And the women in Santa Rosa taught me as well. They pointed out all the little seedlings in their home gardens. They invited me to meals made with the fresh vegetables they produced. And they still make fun of me for not being able to adequately plant potatoes.

Did you know that in the campo you need to know how to plant potatoes well before you can think about getting married? Because in the campo you produce food and income for your family, so you need to know how to produce to be able to start a family. I did not know, but these women have taught me.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Harvesting potatoes in the parish garden.If we live connected to the Earth, we realize that we depend on her just like she depends on us. When our food depends on our harvest and not the supermarket, we learn to respect the cycles of the soil, the seasons and the production. We learn to live in relationship to our Mother Earth and the people that work her land.

And as a Franciscan lay missioner, I have learned that solidarity in practice here means sharing work with these marginalized farming communities, valuing their culture and their wisdom, choosing to learn from them and their connection with the Earth. Recognizing that my reliance on imported food, corporate controlled food systems, and contamination producing large city living is unhealthy for both me and my community, local and global.

5 Things 5 Year-Olds Teach You

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 10:18am
By Grace Yi
Current volunteer in Philadelphia with Mercy Volunteer Corps



[Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.(Mark 10:14-16)
I’m sure many of you have heard of this passage before, and how Jesus especially loves children. Since August 2014, I have been surrounded by little humans age 2 to 5 (“5 Things 5 Year-Olds Teach You” rolled better than “5 things 2 to 5 Year-Olds Teach You”). I serve as an assistant teacher for a preschool classroom at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries in Philadelphia, and I wonder if Jesus knows…
I wonder if Jesus knows the horror my troublemaker places in my heart as I yell at him from across the classroom to stop swinging between the chairs, only to watch him in slow motion – first ignoring me with a wide grin as he looks straight in my eyes, then slipping and falling face first onto the tile floor. A second of cold silence hangs in the air for him to fill up his little lungs, then the loudest wail ever snaps everything back to life as he looks up at me with tears and bloody lips.
Or how they test my patience every day with their sassy “No!”s, and doing the exact opposite of what I ask them to do.
Or what little germ sacs they are, touching everythingand anything, and putting their bacteria culture hands straight on me (I must say, my hand-washing habits have improved significantly since I started working with them). 
So exactly why does Jesus love these disastrous little humans so much?
Well, they are so irresistibly cute that it’s easy to forget about their mischief. On a more serious note, they somehow shine God out of their little bodies and bring His desires alive to the present, to the now in my life. So here are five things I learned through my kids.
*Names of the students have been replaced with a pseudonym for confidentiality.
1. Eyes for the “small things”  “Miss Graaaaace, I have a booboo on my finger.” “Oh no, let me see. Where is it?”“Right here.”“Where??”“Right hereeee.”
And there it is, an itsy bitsy red dot you could barely see with naked eyes.
“Can I have a band-aid please?” “Oh, I don’t think you need a band-aid for that.” “BUT IT HUUURTSSSS. PLEASEEEEEEEE.”
I’ll be honest. When this happens – several times a day – I get a bit annoyed, and I give them a band-aid more for my sake than theirs.
But their little eyes that notice their little booboo’s are also the first to notice little cuts or scratches on me that I didn’t even know about. They stare at my tiny wound for a good while, and ask in a soft voice filled with concern, “Are you okay, Miss Grace? Does that hurt a lot?” In that moment, I could not feel any more cared for. And I think God intended for everyone to feel that way.
2. Life is full of little cheering things!  One day, we passed out tiles of various colors and shapes to each student for a lesson on patterns and shapes. As I was walking past Cole, I casually asked him what color was his tile. It took him a second to realize that it was “ORANGEEEE!! MY FAVORITE COLOR!!!”. He was so joyous that he literally couldn’t contain it in himself and jumped out of his chair.
Replace this orange tile with just about anything at any given moment. I recently saw an article that said preschoolers laugh about 300 to 400 times a day, while adults only laugh an average of 17.5 times.
Catherine McAuley, the founder of Sisters of Mercy, wrote in one of her many letters, “I would like to tell you all the little cheering things that God permits to fall in our way”.
It is often easy to fall into a trap of finding daily routine repetitive and fatiguing. To combat this, I began to look out for little cheering things throughout my day to find more joy and gratitude. My goal is to get as good as my kids. 
3. Transformation is possible  “Repeat after me, okay? Es, aitch,” I say as I point at the letters on his paper with the tip of a pencil. “Es, aitch.” “Ey, double yoo, en.” “Ey, double yoo, en.”“Good. Now can you spell your name by yourself?” I anxiously ask Shawn. “Deeeee…”“No, no, no, which letter does your name start with?” “I don’t know,” answers squirmy Shawn with a half-embarrassed, half-playful smile.
It is beyond my understanding. We just went over how to spell his name about thirty times, if not more. And every single time, he fails to remember these five letters. What is more frustrating is that we have been doing this every day for several weeks now. With my hopes crushed and patience stretched thin, I wonder if I can ever help Shawn learn how to spell his name.
Then one day, I hear Shawn spelling his name all by himself. Surprised, I walk over to his table and I ask him to repeat it. With his eyes full of smile, he proudly recites his name out loud. In the next few weeks, he starts writing his name with backward S’s and a couple of letters missing, and in another few weeks, he can write his whole name by himself.  
Shawn is not the only one who has shown me that transformation is possible. LayLay, who has given me the opportunity to change diapers for the first time ever in my life, is now completely potty-trained and Pampers free. My little two-year olds who started off the school year unable to speak anything are now calling me “Mitt Gwayth” and defiantly yelling “NO!” when I ask them to do something that doesn’t suit them. Sometimes I miss the good old days when they just sat quietly, but whenever I watch them talk to each other, I am in awe.
My kids assure me that slowly, but surely, transformation takes place. I have no doubt that every one of my students has the potential to transform and do what they dream of, and become whoever they want to be. It is so easy to believe that.
So why is it so hard for so many of us to believe in ourselves and in each other? Because I’m sure God feels the same way about us as I do about my kids.
4. How well God knows us  I have come to know my students by more than just their name. I know their parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunty, uncle, and godparents. I know what backpack, folder, jacket, shoes, sweater, hat, gloves, and scarf each of them have. I decipher their little whispering voices and call them out by name with my back turned toward them. I can tell which crooked handwriting belongs to which kid. Each child gets the same blanket to sleep with every day. I know who has asthma, who is lactose-intolerant, and who simply doesn’t like to drink milk. The list goes on and on.
Now, just imagine how much better God must know us if I got to know my students this well in just a few months. 
5. How to welcomeHands down, my favorite time of the work day is walking into the dining hall in the early morning when the kids are eating breakfast. They greet me by flying out of nowhere to give me (or my leg) a tight hug and looking up at me with a wide smile as if my appearance is the best thing that had happened to them so far in the day. Every morning, no exceptions. 
From the very first day, my kids had no inhibition in expressing this kind of welcome towards me. Here I am, a complete stranger, not to mention the only Asian in the whole day center, and my kids either don’t notice it or don’t care.
Caring less about creating barriers between us and them with external differences – socioeconomic status, age, religion, sexual orientation, race, and whatever else – and caring more about welcoming others into my life with mercy is what I’m aiming to grow in during this year of service and beyond. 
We may not be able to stop grey hair from sprouting out (which is increasingly becoming my problem), or be blessed with turbo speed metabolism and unending supply of energy. But we can all still be a kid at heart, right?

Embracing God's plan

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 9:24am
By Amanda Ceraldi
Current volunteer in Guatemala
with Franciscan Mission Service

I have been a planner my whole life. I rely on my color-coded calendar, countless to-do lists, and multiple email tabs everyday to keep myself organized and structured. I generally don’t enjoy being spontaneous or going with the flow. When I committed to FMS I liked knowing that I had a plan and a goal for the next two years, but I quickly started trying to figure out what I would be doing in 2017.

As much as I try to deny these things about myself, I know it’s my personality. However, these traits are not always conducive to mission. During formation we often talked about the importance of flexibility on mission and how to adapt to situations. For me that flexibility can be stress-inducing, anxiety filled, and difficult to deal with, but stepping outside of my comfort zone has helped me embrace the adaptability of mission life.

That said, I couldn’t have been prepared for the curveball that was thrown at me when I arrived at Valley of the Angels.

Ever since I found out that I would be working at a boarding school everyone has asked if I would be teaching. Every time my response was the same—“No.” When I was younger I liked to play school in my basement with the overhead projector my sister received for Christmas one year, but I got bored easily and would give up after a few minutes.

I would get anxious in college when my friends majoring in education would talk about lesson plans and classroom management. My whole life I have had incredible teachers who have inspired me and whose value I recognize, but teaching was never a path I wished to pursue.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Some might translate this loosely to “we make plans and God laughs.” I made plans to do anything but teach on mission, but God determined through an outbreak of chicken pox and a pregnant English teacher that I would be teaching English to second and fifth graders.

 This endeavor has not come easy. I fumble through Spanish in order to teach my students English. I struggle to explain the concepts I’m teaching. And the most difficult part is recognizing the struggles these students face based on systematic problems they have no control over.

Amidst these struggles I find a sense of joy within me. Joy at the ability to embrace my fears of flexibility. Joy in the challenge to do something I never thought I would be capable of doing. And most of all joy in the smiles and hugs I receive from my students every time I walk into the classroom, or every time they see me around Valley. While the plans I made seemed like the best path for me, I am glad that God opened my heart to His plans.

Why do teachers keep doing what they do?

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:45am
By Kate Ulfers
Current volunteer in Detroit with Mercy Volunteers


Teaching is hard. As a student I took my teachers for granted; I complained about the tactless and unpassionate ones, and mildly sassed the effective but boring ones. As a student I had zero appreciation for the time and energy my teachers spent on incorporating benchmarks into their lesson plans, on creating tests and assignments, or on the never-ending grading.  
 Now that I have served as a high school teacher for the last 7 months, I have a whole new sense of awe for what teachers and educators do. But one aspect of teaching has still eluded me… why do teachers keep doing what they do? 
I personally want to be a teacher when I grow up, but I don’t know if I will be able to continue the momentum of teaching for the next 35 years or so. Essentially, I am at a loss as to why veteran teachers continue to persevere in the classroom, long after the glamor and new-car smell has worn off. It’s not for the great pay or flexible hours. It’s not for the prestige or celebrity status. 
So why?
I gained a small insight into this recently on a particularly grey and dull Monday.  It was a Monday after a long weekend and I was anticipating untamed and uninterested students whose behavior would range from barely able to stay in their seat to barely able to stay awake. I told myself the night before to give up on trying to predict how horrible this Monday would be… how uncontrollable and talkative the kids would be, how unprepared and incomplete my lesson plan was, how over the long weekend I had probably lost my classroom confidence. On evenings when all of these insecurities are invading my mind, I chant to myself:
“KT, there is zero point spending a whole evening stressing over just two hours of classroom time. You need to prioritize your time and energy, and dreading the unknown is not a priority.”
Remarkably, I felt pretty good when I got to work that morning and classes (as always) were fine. Sure, some kids were a little bit chatty, some a little antsy, but after the first 15 minutes, everyone was relatively calm. My lesson plan was also fine. Considering I made the kids do most of the work, it landed on them to be productive (or not). And my confidence trickled back throughout the class. Good day, all in all.
I was content with this. I survived and now the next 3 hours was to be spent preparing for the next day. Golden.
At lunch time I headed downstairs to carbo-load and I ran into one of my favorite students. He has the lowest grade in both of my classes, and is at risk of not being able to graduate if he doesn‘t pass my class. Thing is, his attitude in class (and out) is funny, sweet and genuine, and he really does try hard in my class. This year he was diagnosed with a learning disorder which might explain a large portion of his academic struggle, but unfortunately he is under the impression that the reason he is struggling is because he’s stupid. 
This drives me CRAZY because intelligence cannot be reflected in a grade; some random letter or percentage does not dictate anyone’s IQ. But in a system where grades are given such emphasis, it is very frustrating that all his hard work does not reflect in his grade… is it any wonder that he is discouraged?
Anyway, when I bumped into him I congratulated him on his last test. He looked confused because he hadn’t checked his test grade online yet. When I told him he scored a 72% (highest grade he has received on a test or quiz so far) he looked shocked, and then he just BEAMED. He thanked me (I am not sure why) and I told him that I didn’t have anything to do with his grade, that the 72% was all him and his hard work. He beamed all over again.
That look on his face, oh man, THAT is why teachers continue to do what they do. THAT is why they still work even though they are paid next to nothing and work hours and hours at home. THAT is why they go into so much debt in order to get that stinking Teaching degree. THAT is possibly one of the most rewarding reactions/looks that a student can gift a teacher with. THAT made my day.