Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Gifts We Bring

With all the words like leap-day, daylight savings, and obscure holidays on the calendar, one would assume that we’re getting more time added to this year. In reality, when you take a moment - you realize the year is already moving by as fast as ever. I for one cannot believe that we are already more than halfway through our year of service. It may sound corny, but it still feels like few days ago when we all moved in and were getting to get to know each other.

…Then came the time for the mid-year retreat. We had our retreat in January on the coldest and snowiest day of the year. Despite the inclement weather, we moved on with our plans, because we were that excited to come together at a place where we could all forget the hustle bustle of life for a day to sit in the presence of one another.

The day started with a visit to a local brunch place in Brockton called JJ’s cafe. We had always wanted to try out this place but for some reason or another we never could make it to the restaurant. The food was great, but more importantly the ambiance was warm and welcoming, which we loved; definitely an apt place to start the day. The way the wait staff and chefs interacted with the customers was nothing like I have ever seen before. It was indeed a warming sight to see and a positive note to begin your day with, amidst the snowstorm.

Kris Silva (our program director) and Erica Stewart both braved the storm to be with us for our retreat. We had our retreat at Evans House - one of the residences of the Holy Cross priests in Easton. Like most of the retreats I have been to, we started out with a prayer, then reflecting on our personal life of how much we have grown living together intentionally and individually over the past year. But what is beautiful about this retreat is the small, tight-knit group: the family-like community we have become over the past months.

Our theme for the retreat was “the gifts we bring” so each one of us was given a box to represent the gift that we each bring. We got a chance to reflect upon our strengths and weaknesses both individually and as a group. And each time we had to write one a piece of paper and put it in the box, as a symbol and reminder of the gift or talent that we bring. We also had a chance to write about one another and discuss it, which was an uplifting moment for each one of us.

We also talked about the gifts that each one of us brings to the community and how do we cultivate and make use of those gifts. I think that we can all agree that the past 5-6 months has been both a challenging and wonderful experience. We have gotten to know each other better and have also learned to encourage one another and be each other's support system.

I’m sure this year of service is a time of cultivating the gifts that we each bring to the table, so that moving forward we will gladly be able to put our gifts to good use, in service of others.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The City on the Hill

            I see the red and blue lights flashing through the cracks of my blinds and I faintly hear the all too familiar sound of sirens. It has only been five months of living in Brockton and I have already become emotionless to the constant flow of sirens and lights. You open up the paper, turn on the internet, turn on the news and it seems to be a never ending flow of violence and hate. We live in a world where one can only see the darkness and the light that brings hope slowly gets snuffed out and becomes silent.

With the holiday season approaching I began to become immersed in the negative and dark aspects of the world. In a world that seemed so bleak I just couldn’t understand the reasoning behind the hassle and work My Brother’s Keeper must go through in order to prepare and accomplish the holiday season. I watched as the staff began to look more and more exhausted, as they filled up their coffee mugs and burned out their energy. I couldn’t wrap my head around the late hours, the constant moving and the stress. “Is it worth it?” was a constant question I asked myself as I saw people exhausting themselves for this cause. It just seemed with the world seemingly becoming more in the dark, more wrong than right, more hatred than love why bother trying anymore. And how is MBK the best response to those who are facing the injustice and the hate in the world. I just wasn’t sure of the purpose or result. 

As I am now half way through the year, I reflect upon these emotions and frustrations. As I reflect, a verse from Matthew comes to mind: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (5:14-17).

As a candle gives light to the darkness, My Brother’s Keeper does the same. In a world where we tend to ignore the constant flow of flashing lights that begs for our help, My Brother’s Keeper throws you into the trouble. It brings us to the sirens, to the people calling out for help and shows us what injustice looks like. There have been many deliveries where I have noticed small living spaces and many people, or homes that are spacious but completely empty of food or furniture. I see the people and I just picture by brother, father, grandmother, mother and I just think how I would want them to be living. I remember a specific family that I made a delivery to during the Christmas time and I remember walking in and being reminded of my home videos. The family had four children and two parents, and the two of the kids were running around, while one child hung back and just looked on at us from a distance and another child came up to us and tried to play with us. And it just hit me, how much they reminded me of my family when we were younger; how some of us were wild and some more solemn and just how we would all be together just as the family we were delivering to were. Then I spoke to the mother, who was so grateful for the presents, but explained just how difficult it was for her to get a hold of us, how her and her husband were both working and were still struggling to get what they needed for their families. It just didn’t seem right, I know I would never want the members in my family to go without what they need and yet this family, one that reminded me so much of my own has to go without. And this is what many people have to go through. These deliveries and experiences help bring to light some of the problems and struggles many people face and just how challenging it is to just be able to get by in life.

But this light, this candle that burns at My Brother’s Keeper is not just one that shows the injustice, but the hope. It brings us back to the glory of God. In a world that seems filled with darkness, a light shines to show of the love and hope of Jesus Christ. This light guided me out of the darkness of the world, out of the bleakness and negative attitude and towards an understanding and joy. You see, what’s so amazing about this organization is how many people volunteer their time not to deliver furniture or food, but to show love. And it’s not only the people who volunteer, but also the countless people whom we deliver to. On countless occasions, I have gone to people’s homes thinking that I will uplift, and show them love and hope, but instead I’m the one receiving a hopeful and uplifting love. Many of the people I meet have a deeper and greater relationship with the Lord and His love, than I and through their guiding light I am able to grow in my relationship with Him and become more abled to express His love and hope. If it were not for My Brother’s Keeper I would have never seen the light the volunteers bring and the light that the people we serve bring. This is the light that calls for my attention, the sirens that say it’s time to show the love of Christ, to be a city on the hill and I believe My Brother’s Keeper is one of the sirens, is a city on the hill that helps bring people to God’s unending love and hope.

This experience so far has been one that makes me look deeper into myself and the world around me. It is a challenge, but the light of the world certainly outweighs the challenges.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Making Community Feel like Home

At the start of the year, one of my biggest worries was that the Brockton house would not feel like home to me. However, my favorite part of living in community with three other people is that we all get to take pieces of where we came from, share them with each other, and use them to make our community feel like home. Admittedly, it took a little while for us all to get used to living together, which was expected seeing as we all come from very different backgrounds. But now that we are a few months in, we’re more comfortable and willing to share our interests and traditions and even start making a few of our own. By sharing meals nearly every day of the week, reflecting together, and even just hanging out on the couch on weeknights, our little community is really starting to feel like home to me.
As of November 7th, three out of the four of us have celebrated our birthdays in this house. Mine was November 4th and I’m one of those people that absolutely loves their birthday. But in the couple weeks leading up to it, I was feeling very homesick and I wasn’t looking forward to birthday like I usually do. I missed my family and friends and I didn’t know what it would be like to celebrate a birthday without them. I didn’t have many expectations and just wanted to enjoy the day without getting too homesick.
On my birthday, I had a wonderful day at the House of Possibilities, complete with a few beautiful cards from some of the clients. After work, we went out to dinner at a restaurant in Brockton. When we got home, I was ordered to go upstairs and after a few minutes, I came down to Giuliana, Alphonse, and Melissa blasting Taylor Swift’s “22” from our speakers and singing happy birthday to me. I even got a delicious cake from White’s Bakery (one of the very few things we splurge our stipends on), thoughtful gifts, and decorations. I couldn’t believe how much work they put into my birthday. The moment that really made me feel grateful to be part of this community occurred when I opened my birthday card. It’s a tradition between my oldest sister, Emily and I to get each other cards with funny pictures of animals on them. So, when I opened my card from my housemates and saw laughing zebras on the front, it truly felt like home.
I can’t count the number of times I have seen Giuliana walk into our kitchen and say, “it smells like home in here.” I’ve gotten that same feeling multiple times in this house. I feel it when we all watch Chopped together (a family favorite in the Cupelo household) and when we share highs and lows at dinner, which is something my friends and I did during nearly every meal together at college. There are positives and negatives that come with being part of such a small community. But the fact that we are able to bond so well and get to know one another on a deeper level than if we had more people living with us is most certainly a positive. I am extremely thankful for my housemates and look forward to the many more traditions we are sure to make this year.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Serendipitous Encounters (Or Rather, Near-Encounters)

Well, it seems another summer has come and gone, all too quickly. As the newest members of the Stonehill Service Corps, we have officially settled into our home. After only a few weeks in this house, each one of us has realized the impact that previous members of SSC have had here. From providing small things, like a beautiful piece of fabric art hanging in the dining room, or more candy cane themed wrapping paper than we will ever need, to items that hint at the memories that were created here, like a folded picture poking out the side of the  living room door, and an angel upstairs, with a touching history. We are all very excited to begin our journey here, and to add our own memories to the character of this house. We want to collectively thank those who came before us for everything they have done. You will always have a place here.

Just as we have begun to discover all of the important nuances of this house, we are also beginning to understand each other. Myself and Caroline have known each other throughout our time at Stonehill, and Alphonse has been a constant presence in Campus Ministry. Suffice it to say that we were all relatively familiar with each other, with the exception of Giuliana. She graduated from Kings College, another school affiliated with the Congregation of Holy Cross. Initially, we thought the similarities ended there, but as we talked with each other, we realized there were a number of strange coincidences. 

Giuliana had actually been to Stonehill before, on a service trip that took place mostly at My Brother's Keeper, where Giuliana is now working. At the time, Caroline and I were the co-coordinators of Moreau Student Ministry, a group of students that worked to foster community  and spiritual development on campus. Our Director of Campus Ministry had invited us to have dinner with some students from Kings College. A group of Student Ministers went, however Caroline and I were both unable to attend. We had the chance to meet the person that we would be living with for the next year, and narrowly missed the opportunity. 

That night, after we discovered this, I happened to open up the notes on my iPad (it had been quite a while since I had done so), and I was surprised to find that a single note had managed to duplicate itself. As I looked at the screen, I had five different notes reminding me: Kings College. Dinner at 6. The Sem. Thursday March 5th. It was the note I had written over five months before, about the dinner where we might have met Giuliana, brought to my attention by numerous copies. 

Then in the spring, Caroline took the opportunity to travel to Notre Dame to witness the ordination of Father Tim, who had worked in Stonehill Campus Ministry as a transitional deacon during our senior year. Little did we know, Kings College sent their own group of people to Notre Dame that April weekend to support their own priest's ordination. Giuliana was on that trip. And neither had any idea that they could have met a future friend and Service Corps member.

And thinking about these almost encounters, it occurred to me that there might be so many more. Maybe Alphonse was working the desk in Campus Ministry if Giuliana had passed through, maybe Giuliana saw me walking in Boston the day that her service group ventured into the city. Maybe we saw a picture floating around Campus Ministry, or maybe she looked out the window of My Brother's keeper and saw me walking to CVS, Maybe Caroline saw her as another face in the crowd at the ordination, another person praying, clapping, filing out of the church to say their congratulations and to take more pictures that would end up in the Campus Ministry office.

It makes me wonder, whenever I see another person I don't know in a crowd or in a school, taking a walk or sitting in a coffee shop, will they one day be important to me? Will they one day have an incomparable impact on my life?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A (very much simplified) Year in Review

     As much as we all hate to think about it, our year is rapidly coming to a close.  I have no words to describe this year and the special people I shared it with.  So, instead of using my own words I am going to borrow some words to look back our year.  (Click on the lyrics to hear the whole song)

     Moving into a house with eight people I knew pretty much nothing about was certainly a nerve racking experience.  Not only was I supposed to coexist with these people… I was actually supposed to be friends with them.  It turns out, this was much easier than I anticipated.  From orientation week until now our group has just clicked.  I never thought that I could enjoy sitting around with a group of people asking them random questions about their lives for hours at a time.  I am so unbelievably lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know eight such wonderful people.

     … or 10-6, or 7-3.  We all started to get settled into our jobs and work out a routine.  Each night we would come home from work and share our stories from the day.  We began to recognize names of coworkers, clients, and students and started to become more and more invested in each other’s work.  Whenever we had the opportunity we would volunteer at fundraisers for each other’s service sites.  It was fun to have the opportunity to meet people we had heard so much about and who mean so much to our community members.  

     This winter was certainly long and cold!  However, for us it was anything but lonely.  As hard as the snow was to deal with and as annoying as it was to be trapped inside for days at a time, it was much easier to go through together than if we had been living on our own.  It was definitely easier to shovel out a parking lots worth of snow in front of our van together than it would have been for one person!  We tried to make the best of our situation and have fun through it all.  We enacted our “snuggle clause” to do our best to keep our house warm and cozy.  Despite making the best of the situation, we were all happy to see the sun and warm weather coming around the corner.  

     As time went on, many of us were given more responsibilities at work.  This lead to more stress and sometimes made it more difficult to go into work ready to give it our all.  Whenever someone had trouble at work or needed to bounce ideas off of people the community was there.  We would help each other to come up with solutions to difficulties at work and if that wasn’t successful… someone was always ready to do something stupid and funny to distract us.  I think all of us became more grateful for our community when we thought about the possibility of coming home to an empty apartment at the end of our workday.  

     WE WENT TO A MUMFORD AND SONS CONCERT!!!!!  (but I promise that isn’t the only reason this song is here)  This year we committed ourselves completely to service and community.  It would have been easy for us to look at this opportunity as a first job and as nothing more.  I know that I will look back on this year as one of the greatest times of my life.  The people I have met and the opportunities I have had are invaluable.  Had we not invested all of ourselves into this year we would not have been able to receive and grow nearly as much as we did.  I think we all feel that we have friends in the Brockton community and that this city will always be a part of who we are.

     I have made eight of the most wonderful friends imaginable this year.  As we all prepare to go our separate ways I want each and every one of them to know how much they mean to me.  We have leaned on each other so much this year and I truly believe that does not stop here.  Some of us are moving home, some are moving away, and some of us are going to be staying in or around Brockton.  No matter where our journey takes us I know that I can count on any of my community members for love and support whether they are near or far.

Annie, Christina, Dan, Devin,  Lauren, Lisa, Lucas, and Sean,
thank you for the most wonderful year.  I love you all!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

One of Many: The Fight Continues

It is a little scary and a little exciting thinking about how different life is going to be when our program ends in one month. While we are all sad to leave, many of us are excited for what comes next in our journey of life: graduate school, jobs, another year of service, etc. We make sure to spend even more time together as a house, going on short day trips and going out to dinner together, and constantly comment about how moving on to the next adventure is bittersweet as it means we will also move away from the amazing Brockton community.

For myself, my biggest fear is the uncertainty of what is going to happen at my service site, Brockton Interfaith Community, once I leave. With a small staff of only three including me, how big of a hole am I going to leave? What should I be doing to make sure that the fight continues with whomever comes after me?

When I first started working at BIC, I was blessed to have been trained by last year’s service corps member, Jess Mardo. She took time out of her schedule to make sure I was completely prepared and comfortable so I could do my best to fill the shoes she left for me. Soon, we are all going to be “last year’s service corps member”, but what are we doing to make the transition easier for the amazing leaders and staff we have been standing beside for the past 9 months?

Over this last month, we will be answering those questions and that transition is going to be easier for some and very difficult for others. I cannot express my gratitude and thanks to the amazing BIC leaders, staff, members, and entire Brockton community for welcoming us and allowing us to have an unforgettable experience. The inspiring residents of Brockton have left deep scars in our hearts and minds, and we will carry those memories and stories with us for the rest of our lives.

At BIC, I have a lot of work ahead of me for the next month to make sure what I have been able to contribute will only be a part of a continuing fight; that the shoes I inherited from those who came before me will be worn by the astounding people who will come after me. While there is only so much we will be able to do make sure those shoes are filled smoothly, the fight continues. That is why we continue to share the stories and experiences we have had because the person who comes after us might be reading this very post.

You have the power to make a difference in the lives of those around you! Whether you continue to fight the good fight here in Brockton, in your current hometown, or any community you are a part of. I hope the stories we share have inspired you as much as they have inspired us. As we say at BIC, the power of people coming together, loving and caring for each other, can move mountains and change the lives of millions.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Unbreakable Bonds

      As trees bloom and winter becomes a memory pushed to the farthest reaches of our minds, I have one thing to say no matter how cliched it sounds- time moves ridiculously quickly and it appears I've been spent along with the tide of it. I'm pretty sure it was only yesterday that graduation was just around the corner and moving into the service house was only a distant thought on the horizon. It is incredibly hard to believe that an entirely new class of students is preparing for that day to happen in a week. I had no idea at that time I would make such incredible connections this year, both within our amazing community and at my placement- The Family Center.

A selfie taken during our Citizenship Clinic.
     Last month, The Family Center moved into our brand new location next to Trinity Baptist Church. The moment I stepped into the much larger space, I knew that this place was the perfect home to continue growing our organization so that we could offer the community even more wonderful programs. The process of moving an entire organization to a new location was no easy task though. In fact, there were days where I was pretty sure boxes were just magically appearing from nowhere. Thankfully, all the boxes have been emptied and are long gone to the recycling depot. And on top of that, we just had our open house two weekends to celebrate - and it was excellent! My year at The Family Center has taught me so much about myself and what I am capable of. It may be chaotic at times certainly, but at the end of the day the staff have made me realize how much I love serving others - and that a little bit of crazy is a good thing!

Unity Through Community with
Dawn, The Family Center's Coordinator at our Open House
At the forefront of my mind throughout this entire process was the juxtaposition with the Center's move in and the house's imminent move out - in just under two months we will all be going our separate ways. How is that we will be packing up boxes and bags to leave when we just got here? While many of us do have plans for next year, I still can't imagine all of us not watching Gilmore Girls tucked into the couch or just simply talking about whatever our minds can come up with as we sit on the porch watching the grass dance in the breeze. The bonds we have made as a house are something we can never lose, which I hope the next group of corps members will find. Our impending destinations cannot erase the belly laughs and grins that passed between us this year. We are family, simple as that. Goodbye does not seem as scary when I can text eight other people who have shared very similar experiences as me. I love you all more than words can say.

Community Climate March

Community Apple Picking