Thursday, November 22, 2007


So when I said in the last post that we have ushered in the holiday season, I was a little pre-emptive. Today we officially opened our arms to the joy and celebration of the holidays here at Saint Francis Inn!
We served 357 people today at our Thanksgiving meal! We made all the fix-ins at the Inn and had the turkey catered by Boston Market... apparently it is just too much to cook 20 turkeys on Thanksgiving Day! The meal seemed to go well (although I was outside on bathroom duty) and there also seemed to be a pleasantness about everyone as they entered our doors. There must just be something about the holidays that makes everyone cheerful (at least those in these parts)!
I got to spend the day outside talking to guests around the yard, which is always an interesting job, and was able to greet a lot of people and wish them a Happy Thanksgiving! I asked one particular guests how he was doing today and his response was, "I'm blessed because I woke up today". In the spirit of gratitude, this was a beautiful thing to hear. But this response wasn't atypical for this man. On a daily basis I am confronted with this response which reminds me of my own blessings and the simple gift of life. I guess when you have very little else, the least you can be grateful for is your life. You would think it would be significantly easier for those of us that are materially wealthy to be thankful for such simple things, but I'm finding that it's even harder. I have food, a house, clothes, security, family, friends, love... and I am constantly reminded by the guests that I also have life.
While I very much missed seeing my own family on Thanksgiving, I am so grateful that I got to spend it with my family here. The love and peace that I experienced today made me feel at home. In my time in the yard today, I got to talking to Rambo, a guest I've mentioned before, which always proves to be a good time. Well, recently I've had to talk Rambo out of committing suicide. I don't think he'd ever really follow through and perhaps he says it because he knows I'll talk to him more if he does, but either way, I spend a lot of time telling him that his super-human strength and his bones and muscles made of different-galaxy metal are essential to keeping us safe at the Inn. But I asked Rambo if his mother was cooking dinner and he said "Yes, but my family is here." He's right. I've learned so much about love from Rambo and now I can't end a conversation with him without saying "I love you". Family is not defined by bloodlines, but defined by love.
We had our own Thanksgiving after the big meal and it was a pot-luck where everyone brought something different! Emily and I made desserts yesterday (chocolate trifle, pecan pie and pumpkin cake) and then Emily, Maureen and I went to Michael's house last night to help him make his famous apple pie! On top of all the real Thanksgiving food, I ate way too much dessert and will be recovering for a few days!
Like I said, Thanksgiving is just not the same when it's not spent with your own family, but my definition of family is widening and am so blessed to find more family here. I have so much to be thankful for and I hope to have that attitude of gratitude long after today.
I hope you all had a wonderful day with your families! Love and peace are sent your way!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How does it get to that point?

This weekend was the pinnacle week for the FVMs, our chance to prove our competence at the Inn. The team went on retreat Thursday night after the meal, leaving Emily, Maureen and I to run the Inn Friday and Saturday... all by ourselves! Needless to say, everything went smoothly and was actually a lot of fun! Emily coordinated on Friday and I coordinated on Saturday with very few problems. It was actually quite liberating for us to be able to have the final say, to give to people without having to ask someone else first, and to not fear being undermined by the seasoned Team members. In essence, we got our own little retreat and built our own sense of confidence in our abilities to work at the Inn.
We decided that we should celebrate our successful weekend by playing games and having some drinks at our house. After a few hours, Emily and I were hungry so we walked over to where the food is plentiful (the Inn) and scarfed down some delicious donuts. We snagged some other snacks and headed out the door. As usual, there was someone laying on the steps of the Inn so, as usual, we tapped his shoulder and asked him to move. Without response from him, we started shaking him, still to no avail. Some of the guests who regularly hang out on the corner of Kensington and Hagert informed Emily and I that this guy was at the AA/NA meeting across the street at 9pm and they saw him staggering around the Avenue. Debbie, a guest, told us she saw him take a bunch of pills and then he landed himself on the steps. Debbie also told us that prior to him passing out, Mike, as we learned his name was, told her that he wanted to get into a rehab program but because of the location and the pervasive drug problem in this area, one cannot easily receive such treatment. So Mike tried cutting himself to prove mental instability with the hope that it would get him into a program. Still, with no luck, Mike took a handful of seroquel, an anti-dementia/anti-anxiety medication, and was attempting suicide to get into a program.
It took the ambulance 3 different calls and almost an hour to get to us. They aren't typically so quick to come to the Kensington area, especially on a drug-related call. Emily and I sat with Mike to make sure he continued breathing and holding him upright until the ambulance came. He was unable to talk and was unresponsive to any type of touch, even pain. The emergency response team took him away in the ambulance and we were left with Debbie who stood on the street crying.
I asked her what was wrong and she said "I don't want to end up like that". For her, it is a possibility, but for me, it is so far from the life that I lead. Emily and I walked back to our warm house and went to bed. I am left questioning why agencies, hospitals and the government is so reluctant to provide help. Clearly Mike was desperate, but what if no one had called the ambulance? What if Emily and I didn't go to the Inn to get food? Because the hospital didn't want to take the risk on Mike, he very easily could've been there when we went to mass this morning. How did it get to the point that he felt he had to try to kill himself before someone would help him? Well, I'm not entirely convinced that he's getting the help he needs. I fear that his stomach was pumped and he's back on the street left to deal with his addiction on his own.
No, my life here is nothing like my life back home. And no, that was not how I wanted to end my night of celebration. But I am so grateful that I was able to see what I did, that Emily and I went to the Inn when we did, and that for at least last night, Mike got some help and will be able to live another day. I pray that he continues to have the desire to get help and that people are more willing to help.
In just three months (yes, three months today!), my world has changed. My understanding of life, my understanding of gratitude, my understanding of love has changed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


It has been soooo long since the last time I wrote!!! In the amount of time that has passed, life has gotten crazier and busier around these parts and we're ushering in the holiday season with open arms!!!
Since the last time I wrote, I got to go to the Jersey Shore to speak at some masses at a Franciscan parish there that is one of our biggest suppliers of monetary donations! Emily and I went with Michael to extend our thanks and share some stories of our experiences here in Philadelphia. Emily and I essentially gave the homily, according to Michael, to all the Catholics on Long Beach Island in New Jersey! It was a lot of fun!!!
As soon as we returned back to Philly, we were heading off to New York for our FVM retreat! We spent the week reflecting on our Myers-Briggs personality types and figuring out how they interact with each other and impact our lives. It was really informative and I think we can all safely say that we learned a lot about ourselves and about the dynamics of our community as well! We went to a retreat house sponsored by Saint Bonaventure University that was up in the mountains! It was absolutely beautiful and such a far cry from the life we live here in Philly and Camden. We got to experience the first snow of the mountain and I was fortunate enough to take a hike around the mountain. I got a little lost and was soooo happy to find my way back! We were well taken care of by the friars that live there and we got to spend some time getting to know them and each other better! You can't ask for anything better!
And, just as soon as we got back from retreat, I headed up to New Hampshire to visit family and friends! It was an incredible weekend and was so happy to see my parents and brother and sister-in-law, along with some good friends! While I LOVE Philadelphia, it was really nice to go somewhere familiar and to be able to drive around without getting lost... I don't have that luxury here in Philly very much.
I landed in Philadelphia late Monday night and woke up to jump back into work! I really missed being here and am really excited to be back! I have a sense of home here, despite the vast difference between my life here and my life in New Hampshire... but the people that I live and work with make it so easy to feel like I belong here.
I'll leave it at that for now... I have to get some laundry done and clean up a little before heading back to work! Sorry for the delay in postings; I'll do my best to keep them updated more frequently!