Monday, February 15, 2016

New Transitions

During the weekdays I am a fourth grade teacher but on the weekends I am Rosie the Riveter. Living in Esopus has created a new sense of determination and strength inside myself. This semester I experienced a new transition in my life which has brought me so many challenges and opportunities. During the week I teach a classroom of 25 students, I dress professionally and really have a lot of new responsibilities. However, on the weekends I am still the same manual labor loving girl. This past weekend I was able to paint the stairs that lead to the choir loft in the main retreat house. As tired as I may have been from a long week of school I still had that amazing feeling of taking a step back and admiring the hard work that went into making a space more beautiful. I truly feel more like myself when I am able to do work and make a space more inviting. All you need sometimes is a little hard work and determination. Esopus is the one place where I am willing to push myself in order to achieve a goal that may seem out of reach.
Right now at this moment in my life I feel incredibly blessed and loved. I know that I am not the same person that started this volunteer program back in August. I am a better and stronger person. I have become more comfortable with waking up early every morning and getting ready and excited to step into that classroom everyday. I have learned how to bring the hospitality side of community into my classroom and share my love with my students. I have gotten pretty good at preparing my own lunch and snacks for school. I also learned so many new things and checked some big things off my goal list. I learned how to drive stick shift and tackle the riding mower. I also met so many new incredible people from Marist schools all over the country. I have been able to form bonds with these people that I may have never encountered before if I hadn’t been a part of this community. After all this when I look back at the crazy blur that is my life I feel so grateful and honored to see amazing and happy memories that come flooding into my head. I'm really lucky to be able to come home to such a beautiful place and have such an incredible Marist family supporting me.

So as crazy as my life may be right now I know with all of my heart that this is where I am supposed to be. Right here, right now with these people in this place having these experiences and letting them molded me into the person I am today. I am forever grateful.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Family Spirit

There’s always been something about family dinners for me.

When I was growing up, my family had dinner together as often as possible, despite our busy schedules full of sports, extra-curriculars,  errands, or appointments. Sometimes this meant we were eating at 5, and sometimes we had to wait until 8 when the last person got home. But it was a priority, and if it was possible we were sitting together and sharing a meal.

I was not surprised to find that same goes for my community here on property. We are always busy at the MBCE, and there are many conflicting schedules in play, but we also make it a priority to share meals with one another. Some of my favorite moments as a volunteer in the past year and a half have been with my Esopus community, gathered around the table to share stories and food and laughter with one another. The best meals are those that include everyone on property, from each of the three houses, and any guests that are visiting as well. And recently, my parents were able to join us for a home cooked meal - by me and Luis!

The tradition of coming together for meals is only a small part of the Marist approach to family spirit. It's about creating a welcoming and safe environment for your community, trusting one another, and forgiving each other when something doesn't go as well as it could. Family spirit is a way of living, a way that makes anyone and everyone feel welcome.

In my community, I love that it allows us to simultaneously keep each other accountable when we make a mistake and help each other to move forward and make things better. I love that we put thought into our Christmas presents, that we share our favorite movies and shows with one another, and always check in that things are going well.

In the end, family spirit is practiced in relationships. I see God in all of my communities. I feel God's love when I feel this sense of welcome and acceptance and friendship. And I spread God's love by approaching my communities with care and honesty.

So I challenge you to think about what family spirit means to you, and to practice that... Maybe even with a community dinner!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Why Volunteer Anyway?

Hello everyone!

The volunteers had a photoshoot... we think we're soooo cool!
January is bringing some of our coldest weather this season, even though it has not been a typical winter. As I consider how wacky the weather patterns have been, I find myself feeling extremely grateful for safety and warmth. Just because it is not the typical winter weather doesn't mean its not cold!

Speaking of typical, I also find myself wondering about what a "typical" year for me would have looked like. Late 2015-2016 could have very well been the beginning of graduate school or a job. This year I find myself as a volunteer at the MBCE. Not "typical" to most folks, but something I feel is important.

Often enough, I answer questions from friends or family who ask me why I have decided to volunteer at the MBCE for a period of 1 year. A pet peeve of mine is when someone calls it "a year off"! I must pause, however, and answer graciously. "Why volunteer anyway?"

My first experience with the Center was in 2008 on a sophomore retreat. I was a student at Mount Saint Michael Academy in the Bronx. One of my first impressions was that this location was HUGE! A path to the river, outdoor elements, a big main retreat house (with a gym, rec hall, and chapel), and a whole lot more. Suffice it to say, I was stunned. The change of pace from city life, and the content of the retreat programs kept me coming back.

As I went off to college, I maintained a connection to the Marist world and the Center through the Marist Young Adult Program. Service days, gatherings, retreats and other programs that happened here allowed me to connect with the Center in a different way: as a leader. Throughout my junior and senior years of college, I started to think seriously about what the future might hold for me. Did I want to possibly continue studies and become a teacher? Maybe I could study something completely different after undergrad. What about volunteering?

As time went on, I continued to pray and research. By the beginning of senior year, I felt a strong call to become a volunteer at the MBCE. The idea of giving time, energy, and sharing of what God has given me excited me! It also presented a few challenges. Living in community for the first time, cooking in the house, and learning about the property in ways I had never known before. There was a lot to learn and get used to.

Being a part of the mission of the MBCE allows me to be in contact with a diverse group of people. You would be amazed who you meet here, and at the variety of programs that come to the Center. It is an experience of learning, and an experience of growth. As many volunteer experiences do, it will stretch you! Everything is not easy, but things do get easier. I still have a lot to learn! For example, I have never experienced a summer camp program. That is something that I am very much looking forward to. Another example would be learning to start a leaf blower or  an engine on a power tool. Our facilities director Michael Trainor taught me by telling me how engines work, then demonstrating with a leaf blower. Did I think I'd learn about engines when I signed up? No. Did I? YES! And it was awesome.

With all the responsibility and work that comes with being a resident volunteer (for any amount of time), you might also be surprised at how much time there is for you to learn about yourself as an individual and in relation to others. I still get to visit friends and family, enjoy events,go explore the Hudson Valley, and spend time with the people who live here on property.

Meeting people is a huge part of my life as a volunteer. On a weekly basis I could potentially meet 50-100 new people depending on what groups pass through the Center. Not only does this help me build relationships and learn from others, but it can be really good networking! I get to ask people about their careers, education, and how they have navigated life after college.

On the spiritual level, the program I am in is very beneficial. We are offered the opportunity to meet with a spiritual director, someone who accompanies you on your journey of faith and facilitates a session of sharing and examination what is going on in your life with God. Youth ministry is also part of our work here, as we lead and support different retreat programs geared towards high school and sometimes college aged students. The opportunities to grow in community (prayer, worship, shared work) and as an individual (prayer, meditation, journaling, spiritual direction) are abundant.

So why volunteer? Because it gives me life! This is just one step on the journey of my own life. Coming to the MBCE means contributing to and living out the mission of the Center. It is not a job, it is not a career, it is not a year off. It is a call, a joy, and exactly where I need to be this year.

What people asked me during my later years of college is exactly what I would pose to anyone wondering what comes next in their life: What do you feel called to? Where should your energy and talent go? What does God say? If volunteering is possibly a part of that, look into it! See what is out there.

I will say, I highly recommend the Marist Volunteer Community! Not exactly an impartial opinion, but an informed one! Could this maybe be you soon? Peace.