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.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"What Do You Want Me To Do For You?"

Navigating a new workplace, a special project, or uncharted territory (whatever that may be) can be a challenge. In my first couple of months at the MBCE, I tried to figure out what the expectations for my volunteer work here were. I was able to settle in, dive into our work at the Center, and try my best to meet those expectations. As the year moves along, I continue to add to my understanding of what is expected of a Marist Volunteer. This helps foster a reflective process where I ask “Why do we do this work?” The answer becomes clearer and clearer.
Expectation is a fitting word for the season of Advent. This Sunday, a fourth candle will be lit on advent wreaths worldwide in preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. That’s who we’re expecting! Even the name of the season, advent, signals us towards an arrival. Someone is on their way. In our chapel there is a banner that reads: “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago, if I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.”
This quote from Meister Eckhart made me consider “How do I bring Jesus to other people?” In terms of expectations, part of the vision of our Center is to make Jesus known and loved, especially among young people. Our volunteer program has offered me a great opportunity to “give birth to Jesus” through our mission here at the Center. Through our ministry to youth, hospitality, manual labor, and intentional community, Christ has been present with us. A big part of our work is to help people experience that presence as well!
A lot of people have commented over the past months: “There is a lot to do up here.” or “So you and the staff work on all of this?” Yes, together as a property community we do! We also receive help from generous volunteers and the groups that join us throughout the year. It is a group effort. The work can be tough, but that is okay. After all, childbirth is not easy! We must consider that the story of Jesus’ birth is beautiful, but the actual event could not have been easy. Mary and Joseph had to travel, find a place to stay, and then Mary had to give birth to a child. It was not easy then, and it is not easy now. That is something to consider as we struggle or find our own work difficult. Through all of this, the work remains worthwhile and valuable.
In the way of Mary, we should be open to the work. When we are called to some type of work, a willingness and a desire usually accompany that work. A response is also necessary. At the Annunciation (another beautiful story that must have been at least a shock or surprise), Mary accepts God’s call saying “I am the Lord's servant, May your word to me be fulfilled." She accepts the work of carrying Christ, and raising him. I am reminded of the question Jesus asks Bartimaeus, the blind man in the Mark and Luke accounts. “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies, “Rabbi, I want to see.” This man’s desire became a reality, and it was Jesus’ response to help him. The model of a servant leader.
When we are fulfilled, blessed, struggling, desiring, what do we do with that? Do we hold on to it? Mary gave of herself, Bartimaeus shares his desire, and Jesus acts in His power. All is being given, a full effort. I think maybe that is God’s expectation this advent, and likely His desire.

This Advent season calls us to expectation, to “birthing”, to express our desires, and to serve. As Christ draws near, we need to ask “What do you want me to do for you?” and “What do you want me to do with you?” Listening, expecting an answer, with some burning desire in our hearts, we wait...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Hello all! I hope that you're doing well and enjoying Thanksgiving week. This might be my favorite holiday (or maybe it is Christmas)! One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is the intentional pause it gives to many people in our country. Time is separated to give thanks, pause, and consider what blessings exist in our lives.

To pause might be rare for many of us. Here at the MBCE, we normally have a lot going on. A streak of a few groups during a week is normal, and there is always something to do. Although I knew volunteering would be a lot of work, I never worried about having time to myself. While some of the most fun moments have been spend with our property community and groups, I have also benefited from quiet times where I can pray and be with God.

Interestingly, my mediation on a moment to pause comes at a time when I find myself saying the phrase "#Blessed" out loud a lot. Normally when someone tells me something I find really amazing or something good happens, I will say "Blessed!" to them. If it is a message, I will normally use the hashtag symbol before it. A little 21st century humor to accompany the sentiment.

There is definitely something to that hashtag symbol. It has everything to do with the notion of pausing. A hashtag is a short phrase or word used on the Internet (normally Twitter) that allows you to search what people are saying about that particular phrase. So a hashtag of the word "Blessed" will show you all of the people using that word. A hashtag is something quick...

As I said that word in a flash a few times this past month, my thoughts were geared towards a practice I began once I moved to Esopus. During a walk through the retreat house, a task out in the Courtyard, or any brief moment during the day, I try to say short prayers or have a quick conversation with God. Sometimes I will consider something that I believe is a blessing, a meditation for 30 seconds. That is what #Blessed is all about! A quick consideration, an encounter with God, an experience that is much deeper than you imagine it to be in that short span.

The students and guests that pass through our doors, the smiles and greetings they bring, and the work that goes on here contributes greatly to my development as a volunteer, a Christian, and a Marist. Marcellin Champagnat often practiced recognition of the presence of God in his daily life. Jesus is so present that he asks the blind man (Mark 10) "What do you want me to do?", and I think that the question is extended to us as well with many variations. These moments are a time to chat with Christ and let Him know what that might be. A time to say "Thanks".

Whatever your routine or schedule is, take advantage of a few seconds to center your thoughts and your heart on whatever blessings are present in your life. Those quick moments are refreshment for the mind and soul. It is not just some quick pick me up. It is a true practice of prayer, and a worthwhile way to spend the time that we don't realize we lose. A walk to the car in the parking lot, food shopping, or cleaning the house. All that time that we are normally silent or maybe just preoccupied with what we are about in that moment. Use that time! Be blessed my friends...



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Out of the Ordinary

I am not just any ordinary college student. I am a volunteer at the Marist Brothers Center at Esopus. During the week I attend classes and complete assignments like every other person on campus, however, my home life is very different.

Some days are easier than others in the sense that I can do more for myself and the property that I live on. You see, I love finding an area that needs love and letting myself be completely engulfed by the project. At first it started small. I would rake leaves and mow small areas with a push mower. I love smelling the grass and seeing how much better this place looks after simply giving the ground a haircut. I then learned how to drive a riding mower. This new skill allowed me to make larger areas of the property more beautiful. And yet my most impressive task happened during Lavalla Service Weekend.

I was entrusted with the job of leading various groups of Marist students to help clean out the ice house. The ice house had a simple purpose when it was originally built. It was the building where all of the ice was stored for the property, hence its’ name. This beautiful stone building is a staple of many gorgeous photos with our pond and fountain. It was a building that served such a great purpose for the people that lived on this property before freezers were invented. We no longer store ice in the ice house because technology has allowed for our lives to be simple and convenient. For many years it has been used as a large storage unit. It became the house for bed frames, wood couches, pool materials, and so many other forgotten treasures.

Over the years however it had become a little neglected, messy and crowded. So during the Lavalla weekend I made it a mission to show this historic building some good old fashioned love. We removed every single item that had been placed inside that house. We then sorted the items and cleaned the items that we decided to donate to an amazing woman that needed furniture more than we did. We discarded some of the items that were simply too old and dirty to be loved any longer. Before placing any items that we wanted to keep inside the house we cleaned every inch of the furniture. The end result was truly breathtaking.

I love manual labor. I love the way that my muscles feel after a long day of work. I enjoy the satisfaction of making an area look so much more beautiful and welcoming. I am not an average college student. I have chosen to live in a community that will allow my mind, heart and soul to grow in ways that I never thought possible. 

Friday, October 16, 2015


I’ve been trying for some time to focus on the little things.

Which can be difficult at times, because it’s not always what the world wants of us. Society expects big things… tasks accomplished, lists checked off, goals achieved as fast as possible - which can be good! But I wonder, when the focus is on making big things happen quickly, what do we let slip through the cracks?

I am a full time volunteer at the Marist Brothers Center at Esopus (MBCE), just starting my second year of service. Presence is one element of our charism, and I have found that practicing presence is both easier and more meaningful when I focus on small gestures that show my care and respect for those around me.

A large part of my work here is hospitality. And the little things are exceptionally important when it comes to making someone feel welcome. Some might question if it really matters whether the bed is perfectly straight against the wall. If a lamp isn’t exactly in the middle of the bedside table, will anyone even notice? If I don’t look someone in the eye while I’m serving them dinner, will they really care? Yes. In my past year here, I’ve come to learn that these small touches really do matter.

You see, if we make sure that the beds and lamps look their best, we’re more likely to remember to include everything a guest might need in their room. If we take care of a guest like this before he or she even arrives, we are much more likely to look them in the eyes when they come through the door and truly mean “Welcome home” when we say it. And if we do this, and treat each person with kindness from the beginning, we are not only meeting their human needs… we are also honoring the God within them.

For me, there’s no better way to practice being truly present. A knowing smile across the room, a surprise bag of favorite chips, a handwritten thank you note instead of a text… A shared prayer when I am worried, giving me a reason to go for a drive when I have something to process...  These things stand out in my memories of people who really know what it means to be where your feet are, and sometimes I even remember them better than big displays of affection. I think this is because they involve someone with a dedication to getting things done right, and the attention to know exactly the small gesture that will make me smile, or put my heart at ease. These actions say, “I’m here, and I want you to know that.”

Presence is a trait of someone who is Marist, and it can be practiced every day. So I challenge you to do the little things, and to be more aware of what is being done for you - it could make all the difference!