Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lessons in Responsibility

This blog was supposed to be published 6 days ago. I made a mental note last Wednesday morning that it was my week to write a blog and I promised myself I would post something by the end of the day. Needless to say, that didn't happen. I remembered just now- after the rush and excitement of Easter weekend- that I had never written my post. My second thought immediately went to my housemates. I wasn't worried that they would be disappointed, or angry, or anything of that sort- I just felt I had let them down. In the subsequent scramble to brainstorm a blog topic I realized I could write about the sense of accountability and responsibility I have developed while living in community.

When I tell people about Kyle, Emily, and Madde I feel most comfortable saying they are my "community members." Sometimes this phrasing confuses people, but we are more than roommates. Like many people who live together, we take turns grocery shopping, cleaning, and taking out the trash. Unlike many people our age who live together, we earn a $500 monthly stipend, engage in weekly reflections, and do a lot of work for very little money. It's Kyle, Emily, and Madde who truly understand both the hilarity and slight panic of the familiar "I have $9 in my bank account!!!!" exclamation at the end of the month. We share more than a home with each other- we share our failures, hopes, and dreams. I've always been a fairly responsible person, but this experience has taught me how to be accountable to people other than my parents. When I say I'll schedule an oil change for the car, I have to do it because three other people are relying on me. We have never missed a weekly reflection because that is what we agreed on as a community. And when it's time for me to post my blog, I post it. Except for last week. And the fact that I feel a little guilty and disappointed in myself for not posting really speaks to the level of accountability and responsibility we've cultivated here in our house. Madde's text message sent to me at 5:41 pm yesterday is also a good representation: "Did someone forget to do her blog entry?" Whoops!

Our dedication to each other and our community is not something that magically appeared as soon as we hung our house covenant up on the wall; it has emerged over time as we have lived out our commitment to each other. Outside of my professional accomplishments at work, this has been one of the most rewarding pieces of this year. It's hard to explain, but thank you to all those who have listened to me try, and know that we all have also depended on your love, support, and understanding to get us through this year. We couldn't have done it without you, and of course, each other!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Springtime Reflection


How is it already April? I look outside and see barren trees and yellow grass. That isn't exactly what I picture when I think of spring. When I think of spring, there is green grass, a plethora of flowers, some sunshine and unfortunately, some rain. It has been hard to appreciate the season. It  may have warmed up a bit since the frigid weather we have experienced lately in the last few weeks, but who says this will last. There is too much that depends on Spring's good weather. Spring is the time of weddings, picnics, field days, and of course, graduations. It seems surreal to think that in less than two months, Stonehill's Class of 2014 will be graduating. Wasn't that just me? Didn't I just graduate? 10 months later and I am still missing Stonehill like crazy. Living in such close proximity, there are times where it feels as if I didn’t graduate.  If I want to go to mass at Stonehill, I can. If I want to go to a sports event, I can. Come June however,  I will no longer be so accessible to those things.  I was reluctant that living so close to Stonehill would be a good thing,  but I think I needed it. The memories I have from it are more vivid this way.  

      I look at the past 10 months and often wonder if I have accomplished much in that period of time.  Almost a whole year has gone by, and what do I have to show for it?  What have I accomplished? Have I made steps forward, or I have stepped backward? I often have a difficult time with recognizing my achievements, and I know that I have had some over the past 10 months. It just has taken me a while to actually believe it. In the past 10 months, I have became a better cook. Before this year, there wasn't much I  could make without messing it up completely. Today, I can say I can cook a mean scrimp scampi and pot roast. I have started paying my student loans, which is very terrifying but is a good feeling at the same time.  I have made new friends,  strengthened current friendships and reconnected with old friends that I haven't  interacted with in 10 + years. I  have survived  and enjoyed 10 months of teaching despite the stress and difficulties that come along the way.  I have learned so much about myself and learned more about others. Lastly, I have figured out things I want, and things I don't. I have decided that I will do whatever it takes to travel in the next few years. My happiness depends on it.There is so much that has happened this year that has made me reminisce on all the amazing  places  that I have been in my lifetime, but I still feel incomplete and want more.  I have realized that I don't think I could ever survive an office job. I enjoy being on my feet too much and the constant interaction of the school environment. 

   I often have to remind myself of my achievements, that no matter how small they are, they are significant. I may not know where I will be come September, but it is okay. I am prepared to attack these next two months. I know that when the next Stonehill graduation arrives, I can say “ I truly have accomplished a lot in the past year”.   I know that as each year goes by, I will have more things to be proud of.  If anything, this past year has allowed me to see the strength in myself, and has given me confidence and that is an achievement I can be proud of. That is all I can really ask for.  It is a better feeling knowing I feel this way outside of Stonehill.

This spring, I am going to take more time to reflect on what I have done  and what I want to do in the future. For now, I am just going to wait patiently for the flowers to grow and appreciate the spring that is evolving.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Walk through the Wood

A few weekends ago, when spring was just beginning to peak its way through our glum and dreary winter, I went for a walk.  Usually when my housemates and I went on a walk, we would cut through the field behind the facilities buildings and make our way into the sheep pasture.  However, now that Stonehill has built its rather impressive solar field, our cut-through no longer exists.  That afternoon, I tried to maneuver my way around the large fenced-in area, but my feet kept getting stuck in the mud.  Disappointed, I started to walk back towards the house when I had an epiphany:  I went to one of the nation's most beautiful colleges, and I still live right across the street from it.  Why not go for a walk around Stonehill?

I somehow managed to cross Route 138 and not get hit by a car, and I walked down the sidewalk towards the grotto.  I stopped in front of the stone structure, admiring its peacefulness and reminding myself to stop there on my way back to the house.  As I turned toward the heart of campus, a sign caught my eye:  Stonehill College Nature Trail.  I almost remembered hearing something about a nature trail my freshman year at Stonehill, but I never bothered to commit its existence to memory.  I stared at the sign for a brief moment, wondering if it would be worth it to get lost in the woods or follow the familiar path I walked for four years.  Curiosity got the best of me, and I made my way towards the opening in the woods.

In typical Emily fashion, I got lost as soon as I started.  There was a map at the beginning of the trail that outlined the path.  The trail started to the left of the sign and followed fifteen stopping points marked by small signs.  Obviously unable to read a map, I started to the right and soon found myself staring at Station 15.  I tried to follow the trail backwards, making my way from 15 to 14 and all the way down to 11.  At that point, the trail seemed to disappear.  Fallen trees, decaying leaves, and slippy snow stood in the way.  I went left, I went right, I went straight, but the trail escaped me.  I decided to walk back the way I came and go back to my original plan to walk campus.  But back at the beginning/end of the nature trail, I couldn't bring myself to leave.  I started this adventure, and I wanted to finish it.  I found the map that marked the beginning of the trail and this time turned right.

I found Station 1 with ease and stopped to admire a large collection of boulders not far from the trail's first post.  I climbed on top of the smallest rock and carefully tip-toed my way onto the largest.  Lady GaGa's "The Edge of Glory" echoed through my headphones and into my brain:  "I'm on the edge of glory, and I'm hanging on a moment of truth..."  Maybe I wasn't on the edge of glory, but I was having a moment of truth:  Nothing felt as peaceful as that moment standing on a glacial rock deposited on my alma mater's campus thousands of years ago.  Something about being in those woods on a bright, spring day felt right.  I paused my music, took out my headphones, and decided that I would let this experience swallow me whole.  I didn't want to be distracted.  I wanted to breathe in the air and notice every animal, every branch, every carving in the trees.  I felt a connection to nature and to the world that I hadn't felt in a very long time...In fact, I cannot remember the last time I felt so at peace.

My walk through the wood was not very long; the trail was only a quarter of a mile, and once I started at the beginning I finished the entire thing in about 20 minutes.  But I've learned over the years that it's not always about the quantity.  It doesn't matter that my experience was a brief one.  Once I finished the nature trail I did walk around campus for another 30 or so minutes before I went back home.  But the quality of my adventure in the woods was something I will never forget.  My walk gave me clarity that I had so longed for and desperately needed.  It was a breath of fresh air after I had been drowning in stress and frustration.  And as cliche as it sounds, it was an experience I will never forget.  I found peace in those woods.

Until my next cheesy story,
Emily

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reflection

Before you continue, I want you all to consider this quote: "Reading (or serving) without reflecting is like eating without digesting."

    This quote is fairly straight-forward but it really gets you thinking about everything you have done recently and provides you a chance to truly get something out of your actions or experiences. Since this program started in August, my community and I have committed ourselves to reflecting every Wednesday night. Take a moment now to reflect on my last sentence. I didn't say that every Wednesday I sit and have dinner with my housemates and we chat about our days. No, I said something much more. My community and I have committed ourselves to reflecting every Wednesday night. At the beginning of this program, four people signed up to serve and live together in a house for a year. Seven months later I cannot express how proud I am to say that these four people have shaped a community together where we feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable in front of each other.

    Building this community together was no easy task. We are all very much different people in this community. We have experienced several highs together as well as a few lows, but through our commitment to the program, to reflection, and to each other we have been able to face everything together. Reflections can be as simple as you wish to make them. One day I had my community listen to a song about injustices and help me analyze the song lyrics. Other days we reflect on who we think we are as people and discuss or create a way to demonstrate what we value most. Today's reflection was very simple and pretty fun. I searched around for some quotes that I had never before heard so that we could all drink in a new perspective. The first quote we discussed was the quote I had you reflect on before you started getting into this blog. This quote was a good opener for us because it got our head into the discussion and focused us on the importance of the reflections that we do. We talked about how much we have been through together and how reflection has opened our eyes and given us incredible experiences that we would have undoubtedly missed out on had we not reflected.

    I want to share with you the rest of quotes now so that you may be included in our community and I encourage you to comment on any of the quotes I provide or even suggest your own. Help to grow this community and share your insights, and if you would rather not share here, then feel free to reflect with your own thoughts - the point is, reflect on your experiences so that you can develop a hunger for more. Don't just get a taste of your experiences, sit down with them and allow yourself to get the most out of life.


"We didn't inherit the land from our fathers. We are borrowing it from our children." --Amish belief

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." --George Bernard Shaw

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." --Anais Nin

"It's better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness." --Confucious

“Whenever you are in doubt, apply the following test: recall the face of the poorest and weakest person you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to them.”--Mahatma Ghandi

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"What's Next?"

With only three months left in this program, the questions I faced this time a year ago have begun again. "Have you thought about what you'll do next?" "What's the next big adventure?" "What direction would you like to go next?" No matter how the question is phrased, the word "next" is always included. As a Type A personality, this has always suited me just fine. Of course I've made a plan well in advance. Of course I can tell you what comes next.

Recently though, work has provided me with perspective once again. BIC leaders have been engaged with public safety work for some time. This has largely focused around substance abuse and advocating for a drug court in Brockton so that offenders can get the treatment that is really needed to combat addiction as opposed to immediate incarceration. Last night our organization hosted a presentation with folks from EPOCA (Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement) who are working on a variety of issues related to mass incarceration. As organizers from EPOCA and other individuals from our organization shared their testimony about their experiences with addiction and incarceration, I was awakened to another privilege I owned.

I don't have a record. If someone asks me to fill out a CORI, it's no big deal. I don't have to check the box on job applications that disqualifies so many individuals from simply being looked at because employers don't want to hire someone who has ever been convicted of a crime of any proportion even if that individual has served time and paid the debt back to society. I'm learning a lot about the injustices found in our criminal justice system and the prison that ex-offenders enter when they leave jail- often coming back to a home where they unable to vote, or serve on juries, find employment, housing, or qualify for any government programs. Why do we commit men and women to serving time their entire lives?

I believe that these offenders are my brothers and sisters- made in God's image just like me. I am ashamed that there are people in my own country, heck, in my own state, that are willing to contribute positively to society after being incarcerated and are unable to do so.

Last night I learned that I'm privileged to HAVE a next step, to have the opportunity to pursue anything I want, to have the audacity to dream big, and far, and wide. Anybody can be asked, "What's next?" but to answer, and answer confidently, happily, and easily, is a privilege indeed.

Love and next steps,
Jess

P.S. If you're looking for some more information on this topic, I'd encourage you to read:
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
and visit http://jobsnotjails.org/jnj/




Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Our Dreams Are Valid

As many of you know, the Oscars were this past Sunday.  Besides reading, one of my main passions is watching movies. Naturally, one of my favorite nights of the year is Oscar night. Each year, I try to watch all the movies that are nominated for Best Picture. I have such fond memories of watching the Oscars with family and friends over the years. I look forward to what the nominees will wear on the red carpet, what jokes the host will make, who will win and what the winners will say in their speeches.

 Each year, there are many different kinds of speechs. There are the speeches in which the winner names off every possible person they can think of. There are the speeches that get cut off by the music. Then, there are always the speeches that top them all and almost( or does) bring us to tears.  Each year, there are usually one or two speeches that stick to me.  However,the chances of me remembering me the next week is very slim. This year was different however. There were so many inspiring words said by a number of people. Words were spoken that I will remember forever.

 Jared Leto gave a very touching speech which paid tribiute to his mother, brother, those who have lost their life to AIDS and those who face injustice in their lives. Cate Blanchett inspired us when she spoke off the power and prominence of women in the industry these days and those are foolish to recognize it.  However, by a long shot,  my favorite speech was by Best Supporting Actress winner, Lupita Nyong'o. Lupita, who was raised in Kenya and is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, recieved her Oscar off her debut performance in 12 Years a Slave. She began by giving a dedication to the people whose story she helped portray on screen, and stated the usual thank yous to her family, cast and director. It was the closing line, however, that was the most memorable. She stated " When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid."

This speech spoke to me more than any other speech the entire night. I believe that Lupita is one of the many woman in this world who embody the term role model.  I may admire the work of many actors and actresses , but I do not  necessarily admire the people they are. There are too many that are engulfed in their fame that they can't see the whole picture.  Lupita, however, is an exception. As I heard the words she spoke, I immediately thought of my students. I thought of myself as a child. We were all children at one point and we all held such big dreams. Some of us pursued them while others wrote them out. When we are children, there is so much that happens that convinces us that our dreams are not valid, that they can't be achieved.  I think of my students, who are at the mere ages of 7 and 8,  and often worry about things I never worried about as a child. Some have experienced things I have never or will never have to experience. They may have dreams to be a professional athelete, a teacher, a doctor, or even an actress like Lupita. I hope that while they are still young, that they believe that these dreams are vaild. Nothing should stand in the way of them achieving these dreams, whether it's their family's financial situation,  their grades or  any person in their lives who discourage them from being themselves.

As a child, I had the typical dreams of getting married, having children, going to college, and traveling to unknown places. I never had big dreams for my future career but I always kept being a teacher back in my mind. However, I never really shared it with others. I may have been scared that I was too young to be thinking of a life that seemed a million years away at the time. I wish I could go back to my 7 or 8 year old self and tell myself not too be afraid of what people may think. You are never to young to think about your future. We can achieve anything if we put our minds to it. In the end, we can all win ourselves a " golden statue", we just need to believe in ourselves.

If you haven't seen already, please watch the speech below. You will not regret it.

Lupita's Oscar Speech

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Halfway There

Believe it or not, it's already the beginning of March.  When did this happen?!  I recently completed the Mid-Year Evaluation for the inaugural year of the Stonehill Service Corps: Brockton Edition (as I like to call it).  One question on the evaluation really peaked my interest:

What are the top 5 tips that you would give to a new Corps Member? (cultural, interpersonal, travel, etc.)

Usually these types of questions give me anxiety; I either have too much to say or not enough, and I am always nervous that I am going to give the "wrong" answer.  But for some reason, the answer to this question was as clear as day.  I was able to really reflect on my experience so far this year, and use what I've learned to (hopefully) help out a future Corps member.

So, here it is, my advice to next year's Corps Members:

1.  Recognize your good qualities, but also recognize your not-so good.  Be prepared to be honest about who you are with the people in your community.

During our orientation, we participated in a variety of activities and reflections where we had to describe ourselves, both the good and the bad.  I came right out and told my future housemates and community that people sometimes think of me as, excuse my language, a bitch.  I am straightforward and honest, and I don't have a problem speaking my mind.  And I think that can be a good thing.  But I have spent my whole life trying to figure out when the best times are to put that quality to use.  And although I knew that's how I was (and still am) before starting this program, it's something that I've had to remind myself and my community about.  It's something that I am still working on, especially because I seem to sometimes be the most outspoken one in the house.  But don't be afraid to admit your faults; being honest with your community--and yourself--is only going to help you learn and grow throughout this year.

2. Push yourself out of your comfort zone.  During this program in itself is a giant leap, but continue to push yourself throughout the journey.

I went from teaching 11th grade English to 6th grade everything, sans Science.  Needless to say, I was not entirely prepared to teach students and subjects out of my comfort zone.  Living with three other people I kind of knew or knew about from college was also a little unnerving.  This program in itself is a transformative experience, but I challenge next year's Corps Members to try new things outside of your own site.  Get involved in the work your community is doing.  For example, I've gone to rallies and forums with Jess, both to support her work with BIC but also because I wanted to learn more about the issues our community-at-large faces.  Our community has also gone out and served at other sites in Brockton, such as Fr. Bill's and My Brother's Keeper.  Don't let your reservations hold you back.  You've brought yourself this far.  Continue to push yourself.  You'll thank yourself later.

3.  Try not to let the small things get to you.  Be focused and realize that you won't win every battle.

This is sometimes the hardest thing for me to do, especially when it comes to my kids.  I want them to understand everything I teach them, and I want them to participate and perform well on every assessment and be on their best behavior and this and that and then some.  Some days I can't help but feel defeated.  I can't help but feel like I've poured my heart and soul into my work, and I don't always get  to see the results.  And then I'll have days when my life outside of this program catches up to me, and the feeling of defeat is exacerbated.  But you can't forget that this is all part of the journey.  These are all small roadblocks put in your way to test you and make the journey more memorable.  Because how much do you really learn if everything is simply handed to you?  Work hard and remain focused on your goals.  If anything, embrace those small frustrations and let them motivate you towards what you really want to achieve.

4.  Be open to learning--about yourself, your community, your site, your coworkers, your values...

This piece of advice is really linked with my second, so I'm not sure why I didn't follow up with this one!  As a teacher, I obviously place a very high value on learning, and this is something I am trying to instill upon my students.  Learning doesn't always happen inside of a classroom; I can actually and very truthfully say that much of what I have learned has been outside of school entirely.  Be open to learning in any shape or form it takes.  Learn about the issues your community-at-large faces.  Learn about the people you serve or the students you teach.  Learn about your site and the people who work alongside you.  But especially learn about yourselves.  Let these crazy, uncomfortable experiences help you figure out who you are and what kind of mark you want to leave on the world.

5. Do take time to reflect on what spirituality means to you.  Just because it's a Catholic program doesn't mean you need to be a born-again Christian, but really explore what this word means to you.

This is a tricky one, for me and for many.  I have always been jealous of the people who have strong faith, whatever that means for them.  I was raised Roman Catholic, went to CCD, got confirmed, and even went to mass every now and then on my own accord.  But I have never really known what spirituality truly meant to me, only what the Church teaches and my family follows.  Before starting this program, I made a promise to myself that I would take this time to figure out what it is exactly I believe in.  I teach Religion every morning to my sixth graders, and I've surprised myself with what I actually know.  But it's also been very helpful for me to learn more about my own religion.  I go to mass when I can and try to take time out of my day to pray.  I even bought a book of devotionals that I (try to) read everyday.  I don't always have the time, but it's nice especially on a bad day to sit and reflect for ten or fifteen minutes on my spiritual journey.  I haven't exactly figured out what "spirituality" means to me, and I don't expect that I'll have much more of a concrete idea come June.  But this is definitely a start to something that I find really fulfilling. 

That's it!  Perhaps these may change at the end of my service year, perhaps they will stay the same.  But it's safe to say that even at this halfway point, I've already made some really incredible realizations and self-discoveries, and I can't wait to see what the next few months bring.

Until next time,
Emily