Friday, December 19, 2008

New Year's Resolution?

Post more! hahahaha
Things have been wonderful down here in Kensington! Since the last post, we plowed through Thanksgiving with only minor bumps and bruises! I was blessed to have been able to work the meal that day, as Maitre'd and then have dinner with the Team. It was a very special dinner with lots of fun and laughs!
As soon as we finished cleaning up from Thanksgiving dinner, it seemed like we were getting the Christmas tree out and plunging into the annual kids' Christmas party! Nazareth Academy again sponsored the party, joined this year by Father Judge High School for Boys! We had TONS of volunteers and 13 children! Overall the party went splendidly and we celebrated after with a mystery ride to Washington DC with Fr. Michael!
This time, the FVMs hosted the mystery ride, bringing him to El Tamarindo, a Salvadorian restaurant just outside of DC. We met up with an FVM alum who actually graduated from Saint Anselm College in 2000, accompanied by her husband (another SAC alum) and their son, who is 4 months old! After dinner, we blindfolded Michael and drove to the Verizon Center in Chinatown. He walked across the street, into the arena, and up to his seat completely blindfolded and it wasn't until the event was introduced did he find out that we took him to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra! We all had a really great time and got back super late!
This past week we all wrestled with various forms of a stomach bug that has taken down more than half of the Team here! Luckily it's only a 24-hour thing so we bounced back pretty quickly.
As I write, I am killing time before we head to the Saint Francis Inn Team Christmas Party!!! We hold a Secret Santa exchange which is stunted by the loud mouths of everyone on the Team who tells everyone who they have, but is loads of fun no less! In the coming days, we are anticipating Christmas Day here at the Inn! The decorations for the chapel are being bought, volunteers are coming all the way from New Hampshire (represent!), and we are opening the door to donation after donation!
Amidst all the insanity, we were challenged this morning at mass to find a bit of peace. As Zechariah was silenced by Gabriel because of the gift of his son, John, we are called to prepare our hearts for the peace and salvation that is coming. It's not easy, but certainly necessary to maintain the integrity of such a beautiful holy-day.
So, in case I don't get to wish you a blessed Christmas, may this special time of year fill your heart with peace and love and may you and your families be abundantly blessed in the coming year!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

2 months since the last post... oops!

After MUCH harrassment from my family, here it is. An update!!!
The winter weather has hit. I spent my first night in the yard last night and was not sufficiently bundled, as Jamie had to give me her coat so I could put it on top of the button-down shirt, fleece, and jacket I already had on. But I must say that I LOVE being outside when it's cold! There is something special and sacred about being able to identify with the guests in this respect, even if for just an hour and a half. Cold weather is in full-swing and the holiday madness has begun!
But to give an update of what's been going on here for the past two months...
The end of September brought a journey by me, Michael and Jamie out to Ohio to meet Emily, Joanne and Katie to celebrate Maureen's (my housemate from last year) wedding! It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony and reception and it was wonderful to see someone I love begin her life with someone she loves! This is a picture of Emily, Maureen and I at the reception!

Early October brought the beginning of my birthday celebration! My housemates surprised me with tickets to see Jason Mraz in concert up in Scranton, Pennsylvania! The concert was absolutely AMAZING!!! It was the first birthday my dad and I did not celebrate together and we've resolved not to do that again, but it was good for both of us to learn that.
October also brought on a steady stream of guests. My mom visited the second weekend of November, worked the meal and made a delicious dinner for my housemates, Jamie and I. The following weekend, while I was at home, Tom, Amanda's boyfriend, visited for the weekend. Without getting too much flack from Michael, Tom left with the promise to return soon! The NEXT WEEKEND, Amanda's mom came for a brief visit! We also hosted the kids' Halloween party!!!

Amanda's mom also made us a delicious home-cooked meal and left us Sunday. We celebrated Noe's 29th birthday with a semi-Salvadorian feast! Amanda and I tried our hands at cooking Central American food and though it didn't quite resemble Noe's traditional cuisine, he said it was good! We plowed through the final week before retreat, all of us really looking forward to the break that would be coming.
Sr. Madonna, Myers-Briggs extraordinairre, joined us for a couple of afternoon sessions, telling us about our personality types. It was informative and a good start to our retreat.
We headed to the Mountain, as we did last year for fall retreat, Sunday afternoon after the meal. We had 3 full days of rest at the Moutain with a couple of talks by former FVMs, my housemate from last year, Emily, included! We were given much opportunity for personal prayer time and PLENTY of rest! While we were away, so much of the Team was away for other reasons, so in our absence, they worked extra hard and appreciated our return that much more!
Being back from retreat has been wonderful! We have all dove into ministry and are still doing our best to cater to our community. In upcoming weeks we will be heading down to Columbus, Georgia for the School of the Americas protest. Check out for information. It's a great resource for learning about the SOA and all that is being done to put an end to it. The following week brings Thanksgiving and the insanity that follows it and then we jump head-first into Christmas!
I am anxiously awaiting the holidays here. Last year, despite the busy-ness, I can recall having this wonderful sense of gratitude and inner peace that I had never previously felt. I'm still trying to work out travel plans for Christmas and am not quite sure when I'll be able to make it home, but am excited nonetheless!
I would like to say that I'll try to update more frequently but the truth is, I'm just not that good at it. Hopefully I'll be able to put up some stories of what is going on around here at the Inn, but no promises! Take care and God bless!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hot, hot, hot!!!

Yet another heat wave has struck Philadelphia and I'm not all that happy about it! Fortunately, relief is in sight as it is supposed to cool down tomorrow and then drop into the 70s on Tuesday! I guess a good sweat is good for the body...
In the wake of remembering the national tragedy of September 11th seven years later, I was graced with the presence of a true survivor of the attack. Chaz, a new guest to the Inn, was on the 82nd floor of the North Tower of the Twin Towers in New York City at the time of the attacks. The specific details of the day are unclear as Chaz himself cannot remember the events himself, but amidst successfully escaping the rubble, Fr. Mychal Judge (the friend of Fr. Michael Duffy and the first listed on the death toll) prayed over Chaz and he managed to get to a hospital. He had a very long road to recovery ahead of him that was persistently interrupted by other tragedies that plagued his life. Chaz's wife, mother and father all died within the year following 9/11/01 from cancer, leaving Chaz unable to fully focus his time and energy on his own recovery but into dealing with the loss of his entire family. Because of hospital bills and his inability to work, Chaz lost his job as a communications analyst in NYC and was therefore unable to afford his housing.
I'm not entirely sure how Chaz ended up in Philadelphia, but he is currently staying in a shelter in the city receiving services and thriving in the work programs designed for your stereotypical homeless person. Chaz recently got a job in his field and is slowly getting back on his feet, seven whole years later.
You hear a story like this and it really causes you to stumble. It seriously causes your heart to ache for the continued effects of the devastation that occured so long ago. For many of us, it is a distant memory, filed in there with who was at our eighth birthday party or the lyrics to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song. But Chaz's story reminds me, and hopefully you too, that those survivors and their families are still trying to overcome hurdles that were put before them on that day seven years ago.
I'm not asking you to relive that horrible day all over again because I think many of the survivors would do anything to erase that memory and move on. But I encourage you to continue to send prayers their way and to be conscious of the battle that others are fighting that we will never, ever know about. I heard a quote once that went something like this, "Be kind to everyone you meet for they're fighting a battle you'll never know about." You see, this experience, both with Chaz and on the more broad scope of working at the Inn, has really given me more insight into this idea than I could've gotten anywhere else.
The thing is, we're all carrying baggage. We're all fighting our own fights, with ourselves, with others, with God. So it is our calling to be sure that we don't throw another wrench into someone else's life. I'm not talking about changing everything about your life or to leave your baggage at the door; it's what makes you who you are. But what I am suggesting is meet everyone with the respect and love that both you and they deserve.
Chaz is an incredible example of strength and perseverance and his humble and graceful demeanor provide insight into the very love and peace God imparts on us. Of the many salutations St. Francis of Assisi gives us, the most fitting here is this: peace and all good. Be well and God bless!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Small man, Big heart

(this photo was taken in Newport, RI on our way back from Opening Retreat!)

As I type, Philadelphia is experiencing more rain than I've seen in the year I've lived here. Hurricane Hanna has struck and is leaving me stranded indoors so I figured what better time to update than on a day when there's nothing else I could be doing?
My community and I have spent the better part of the last week at the Philadelphia Water Ice Company enjoying more water ice than any three people should consume. But we were doing it all in an effort to beat the intense heat we've been having! In the last week, we went for water ice 5 times... not too bad, I say!
We've been quite busy around these parts this week... Monday we celebrated Labor Day by having a picnic and an intense volleyball game at Linden Park just outside of Philadelphia along the Delaware River. Who knew Franciscans would get so excited about playing a simple game?! In addition to volleyball, the sisters played frisbee, I tossed a football with Fr. Patrick, and we ate and ate and ate! Needless to say, I was a bit sore on Tuesday, but it was all in good fun!
Tuesday I got to try my hand at cooking in the kitchen! We made corned beef and cabbage with potatoes and carrots... in sort of a soup/stew form. I know, I don't really like it either but you make do with what you got. We had plenty of food and the meal overall went off without a hitch! Maybe this week they'll trust me to do it all by myself! :-)
After having two days off, during which I got LOTS of things done around the house, I jumped back into the coordinator role for the first time since I've been back! Everyone was well-behaved today and the volunteers that came were amazing so it was a very easy day!
On Wednesday we found out that one of our beloved guests, Darryl, passed away on Sunday. At age 43, his health has been fading drastically in the past year and it finally got the best of him. He had AIDS and emphysema, among many other severe and chronic illnesses that just overtook his tiny body. I was blessed to go to the funeral today with Karen and Fr. Michael. While it was very sad, remembering Darryl's smile and his generosity help me and hopefully his family during this difficult time. So, if you get a chance, please says prayers for Darryl and for his family, I think they could use all they can get!
On a happier note, Amanda, Noe and I participated in our first community fun night together last night! We went to a Camden Riversharks game (a very minor league baseball team across the river). It was Noe's first baseball game and we had a lot of fun singing and dancing to the music! We're really off to a great start here!!!
For those of you who continue to read my blog and send your love and prayers my way, thank you! I couldn't be here without your support!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Welcome home..."

These are words I heard upon my return to Kensington just over a week ago from Sr. Jude. As most of you have heard by now, I have decided to stay in Philadelphia for another year. Just as things were falling into place back home, I realized that I'm not quite ready to go home yet. I felt like I was being severed from this life and I honestly felt as if I hadn't accomplished all that I wanted to during my first year here. So, I find myself back here for another year. I have two new housemates, Amanda and Noe, who are incredibly loving and supportive and who make me laugh on a daily basis. I am definitely blessed with ANOTHER great community and a supportive family back in New Hampshire who has stood by my decision since when I first brought it up.
Before I share about what I've been up to since I've been back, I should probably tell you what I was up to while I was home for three weeks. My mom and dad came to pick me up on July 26th and we went into NYC to see a show!!! We made our way home Sunday and I spent most of that week visiting friends from home. The following weekend, my mom, dad, Emily (former housemate) and I set sail for the Caribbean! We went on a week-long cruise to the Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Maarten! It was an incredible week of relaxation that I think we were all in desperate need of! My parents were excellent benefactors of a great week!
I spent the following week packing up and saying goodbyes to friends from school and home and made my way back here on August 16th. Michael, Amanda and Noe greeted me at the airport and then we went to dinner! We served our first meal as a community Sunday morning then headed to Wareham, Massachusetts for our opening retreat!
This year the FVM program is very small; there is just my community here. It was a really intimate week with spent with each other and we got to be really comfortable really early on! It was very restful and a great way to start the year!
We jumped back into work on Friday with Amanda and I at the Inn and Noe on pickups!
I have had the warmest welcome back to this new home of mine here in Kensington. So many of the guests didn't know I was returning so they have all been happy to see me and the Team has already begun loading me with work! Yesterday I was on pickups with Amanda and we got back to the Inn after the morning pickups and Jim, one of our volunteer cooks, did not look like he was feeling well so I asked him if he wanted me to take over for him. Initially he said no but after about another hour of him being there, he decided it'd be better for him to go home. So I ended up being the head chef during the guest meal and we fed 412 people!!! Before I left in July I had made it my goal to begin being the head cook during the meals but I didn't expect it to be happening this quickly! The Team is really supportive and is going to help me prepare to do it more confidently!
We are settling in nicely to our new home... the FVMs have moved houses so the house is significantly smaller but I'm learning to adjust. I painted my room and slowly but surely we're unpacking the rest of the house. We have a beautiful enclosed porch off the back of the house along with an "office" space in the back that is surrounded by windows! We've been saying that our life isn't simple but it sure is good!
Well, I hope this update will satisfy my parents... they have been begging for updates since the middle of July! I'd like to say that I'm going to be updating more frequently but I've tried that a couple times and it hasn't worked very well. We'll see. Anyway, for those of you starting school or anything to do with school, best of luck to you and have a great year! For the rest of you, may God's peace be with you all!!!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Time flies when you're having fun...

As D-Day approaches, faster and faster it seems, our days are being filled with craziness and fun! About two and a half weeks ago, Saint Francis Inn hosted its 20-something Annual Block Party! The block party is an outdoor meal for the guests in which we close the street down, have the meal catered by Boston Market, and dance to the music of a priest-DJ all afternoon! For my first ever block party, it was incredible! I danced with guests and staff, doing the electric slide with Fr. Michael and Sr. Mary more times than I can possibly count! We served 516 people platters of roasted chicken, potato salad, corn bread, 2 cans of soda, and an ice cream sandwich! It was a great day and I'll surely be back next year!
As summer has hit, the heat is here to stay. I was hoping that heat wave from a few weeks ago was going to pass but it seems like Philadelphia holds heat better than anywhere I've ever been before! The guests are begging for deodorant and soap (soap is in great supply whereas deodorant, not so much) and I'm doing my best to accomodate their needs because when they smell, we smell them. June was a bit of a crazy month as far as numbers go, but we leveled off the last week with only one day over 400... not bad considering how long June seemed!
An update on our friend, Gary--- he seems a bit more docile these days and even managed to sweet-talk me into giving him some food at the gate. One of our favorite guests, Anibal, has gotten his hands on a recliner that he pushes all over Kensington. It has been the biggest joke of the last week or so to see Anibal with his recliner. His greeting of "Hello Miss America!" never gets old but his requests for his SSI checks each month tire us out, as no guests are allowed to receive checks at the Inn (for safety reasons for guests and staff). Despite our ongoing efforts to have his checks direct-deposited, every month we see Anibal's face and his check on the first of the month!
Emily, Maureen and I had the incredible pleasure of taking the women from the Women's Center to Clementon/Splash World Park... it's a small park in Clementon, NJ with some water rides. Sr. Xavier asked us to come along so we spent the day with some of the women from the Center. The women who go to the Women's Center are typically either active or recovering drug addicts, prostitutes, and many of which have dual diagnoses of addiction and mental illness. As I'm sure you can too, we could only imagine the trouble we were getting ourselves into with this. But the day went flawlessly and we ended up having more fun than we could've imagined with the ladies! They mostly kept their drug talk to a minimum, especially in public, and they managed to maintain somewhat civility throughout the day. It was incredible to see another aspect to these women, on a day when they have the day to enjoy themselves, to get out of the city, and to not worry about what could possibly happen to them that day.
I have begun mentoring two little girls, Bridget and Caroline (sisters, and if you've been to the Inn, you know who these girls are) for the last month or so that I am here. These girls are in desperate need of a positive female role model and for someone who doesn't succumb to their every want. I'm not really sure my efforts are fruitful yet, but I think it's going to be one of those "planting seeds" business that I heard so much in college. They are both beautiful, smart and funny little girls and I pray that their energies be used to get them out of Kensington. On all the occasions that I've spent time with the girls, they look to me and say, "Katelyn, this is the best day ever!" I just love them!
I have so much more to write, including our Six Flags adventure and some other crazy guests, but must be going now. Emily and I are heading to the shore today to soak up a day in the sun! I pray that you all are doing well! God bless!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The countdown is on...

45 days until departure. As much as my two housemates would rather not talk about it, for me it's a lot easier to prepare to leave my life here if it's not sprung upon me. I've been forcing them to talk about it for months but now that the time is actually getting to be a lot closer, it's getting easier to push the thoughts aside and really try to live in the moment. Either way, we have a very busy 6 weeks ahead of us and are making every effort to spend time together.
Summer has finally hit here in Philadelphia. We had a heat wave with 5 straight days over 95 degrees. Now I recognize that all you up in New England have experienced such heat but this heat among many people who cannot shower and who seem to be on edge even when it's a beautiful day just makes for a nutty couple of days. I've recently decided to embrace the sweat because there's no use trying to avoid it and that complaining about the heat is futile. These dang Franciscans have this idea that simplicity is the best way to go... FYI, air conditioners are NOT simple.
Just after my last post, I had two friends from school come down to visit. Marcus was my co-leader last year here in Philadelphia for Spring Break Alternative and Mike was on my SBA trip to Lawrence, MA 4 years ago. It was absolutely wonderful to have some friends from home down here to visit and to share in my ministry. I know I've said it a hundred times but I really can't express how much I appreciate when friends and family come down to share in my ministry!
Just after Marcus and Mike left I went to Atlantic City with Jamie, one of the women on the Team, and Joanne. We stayed 2 nights at Harrah's!!! Indoor pool, beautiful boardwalk, two delicious buffets, and a big flat panel tv in our room? Recipe for fun and relaxation!!! It was really nice to get away and relax although I've decided that I do not like gambling, especially when I lose money. But overall, it was a great time!
Just after Atlantic City, I went to 6 Flags in New Jersey with Beckah, my sister-in-law and her co-workers! It was a really fun day away and then she came back to Philly with me to work the meal on Sunday! It was incredible to have her come down... the next and last family member due down here is my illustrious brother. Hopefully he'll make it down before I venture back to NH.
I'm not sure if I mentioned in the last post that we had an intern here for a month from Florida, Will. Well, he was a great addition to our community, as he just fell into place. We spent a lot of time with him and we miss him as he returned to Florida to take classes and stuff.
So with all this fun, you're probably asking yourself if I ever work. Well, if you asked Fr. Michael, he would probably say no but we've actually been pretty busy around here. We had another meal of 485 the last Sunday of May but were really cranking out lots of food by the end of the month! Our efforts to be more vigilant about getting people off our street have been mostly ineffective but at least it's been relatively quiet around here. I might regret saying that later tonight when I'm trying to get to sleep but all will be well.
One of our "favorite" guests, Gary, has turned crazy. Legitimately crazy. He has been off his psych meds lately and has become particularly volatile especially within the past couple of weeks. He's usually pretty even-tempered and mild, just one of those odd ghost-like presences around here, but lately simple things have been setting him off into crazy threatening rages where he pulls whatever sharp metal object is nearby on whomever seems to cross his path. Scissors have been pulled on Fr. Michael, Judy, and Karen and just last night I saw him with a barbecue fork. Now to paint the picture a bit, Gary is homeless and sleeps on our steps here so he has absolutely no need for a barbecue fork, except to harm us or others. So in an effort to get the crazy man off our steps we called the Mobile Mental Health Unit to come examine him with the hopes of taking him away. Of course when they examined him, he did not show any signs of his true nature and they told us that he was fine. So needless to say, our friend Gary is still sleeping outside but he is indefinitely banned from the Inn until he can get treatment for his issues.
Apart from that, things are going really well! The Team is going on another retreat Thursday-Saturday so we'll be left to hold down the fort until they return and next weekend is the annual Block Party!!! I'm really excited about it and can't wait to see how it goes down! We are in the midst of planning a 6 Flags trip for some of the families that come to the Inn. I can't wait to spend the day with the kiddos at such a fun place!
Well, I guess that's all for now. I've written a lot and have to get some lunch! I hope all is well with you! Take care and God bless!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Free chocolate chip pancakes for all!"

In a recent conversation with one of my favorite guests, Frank (not the guy who had the heart attack), we were discussing the presidential primary election that was to be taking place the next day in Pennsylvania. As was expected, Frank told me he was voting for Obama but then proceeded to tell me that he was going to write himself in on the ballot. After a bit of discussion, he told me that he'd invite me over to the White House for a big brunch with "Free chocolate chip pancakes for all"... this was Frank's way to resolve all the problems the United States currently faces. How can you not love this guy?! Oh if only it were that simple.
Since we have experienced rain for 4 days straight, both the Team and the guests were getting antsy. With high numbers so early in the month, we were waiting for the breaking point... and it came last night. Mondays never prove to be an easy day. They are long and exhausting and it seems as if all the craziness occurs on Mondays. I started the day at Benny's (the thrift store). Due to the pouring rain, it was so slow! I only made $34, a personal all-time low for me! After my shift at Benny's ended I went back to the Inn to begin making dinner for the Team as it was the FVMs' turn to cook. We chose to make burgers and fries with strawberry shortcake, a nice summer meal! I was upstairs cutting potatoes when Brother Fred came up and said Jen, one of our guests, had been stabbed and was downstairs. Jen, as you may recall from past posts, got married a year ago in Las Vegas and returned to Philadelphia with a drug habit... at least that's what I was lead to believe until yesterday. She had a large cut across her neck and on her arm and had literally been stabbed in the back with a knife. There was blood everywhere and as I held the cloth on her back to stop the bleeding, she wouldn't look me in the eyes. I held her and and sat with her until the ambulance got there. All the while her husband, Dorian, was no where to be found when she was stabbed.
Apparently Jen and Dorian had gotten into a fight earlier that afternoon because Jen was looking to "turn tricks" so she could make some money to support her habit and Dorian got upset and left. When Dorian came to the meal just about an hour later, I told him what happened to Jen... the look on his face shocked me. He seemed upset but not nearly as upset as I'd expected him to be. He told me that the reason why they were fighting was because he was sick of living on the streets and standing by Jen as he watched her slowly killing herself. He was angry, of course, but not only at the man that attacked Jen but also at Jen for putting herself at risk yet again. Jen just got out of rehab last Thursday and was back in her addiction by Monday. The last I saw Dorian, he was heading to Temple Hospital to visit Jen but I told him to get out of Kensington.
Right at the beginning of the meal, Jose, a guest who was recently banned for stealing from the Inn, came to me for a ticket to eat. As I began to explain that he was banned, Fred and Renee came to my assistance but this only aggravated Jose more. This may have been one of the few times I felt intimidated by a guest only because Jose is very mentally unstable and is capable of seriously hurting himself or any of one us. Eventually he let up on us but stood close by screaming profanities at me, Renee and basically anyone who represented charitable organizations. We attempted to call Mobile Mental Health but they didn't show up.
In conjunction with Jose's outburst, Jorge, one of our beloved, perpetually drunk guests began his own tirade in a mix of Spanish and English. It took Barbara and Sister Leslie to get him to at least get off our corner. When Jorge drinks, he typically gets violent so in an effort to avoid such a situation, we just tried to get him to leave. It worked but I fear for anyone who has crossed Jorge's path since last night.
Okay, so we have Jen, Jorge and Jose. Next up, we had a fight in the yard. Over bread. Yes, bread. I'm not entirely sure what happened but there was a lot of yelling and as I ran over to break it up, Barb and Renee came flying over and the altercation was soon dissolved. Let me just remind you that all the while, it was raining buckets and I was standing in it.
I used to find it hard to believe that all the guests would be in the same rhythm... everyone has their own beat and follows that but it seems as if there are a few days out of the year that everyone starts stepping in time and things just break down. Without hopping on my soapbox too much, I would like to point out that there were plenty of witnesses to Jen's stabbing but absolutely no one jumped to her aid. My housemates and I have been talking about this a lot lately, how the guests just don't look out for each other as I would expect them to. There are so many people here that are "friends" but would turn around and steal from their so-called friends just the same. The camaraderie is simply not there as many of our guests would probably need. I'm not sure if this is a symptom or a cause for their situations but either way, it needs to change.
And as far as the whole Jose situation goes, he tried really hard to make us feel guilty for denying a homeless man a blanket, especially on the Sabbath. Jose is not the first person to try to guilt me into helping them and as hard as it is to be strong, one of the many things I've learned this year is that we must be consistent in our assistance otherwise we get walked all over. In recent conversations with a specific guest, Richie, I have told him that if he simply respected me, I would respect him and be more inclined to work with him rather than "keeping a homeless guy down". We're taking small steps daily, Richie and I, with the hopes that we can be on the same page some day.
As the last week went on, I kept making mental notes of things to update in my blog so that's why there's such a jumble, but I wanted to be sure to give you a fair account of what's been happening down here. Thank you all for bearing with me! Love and peace to you all!!!

Saturday, May 3, 2008


It has been almost a month since my last post and I think that should be indicative of the kind of month we've had! Just after that last post our reign of visitors ended with my friend Tara coming down from Boston. The following weekend Emily went to Baltimore to visit her brothers and run her first road race while Maureen and I welcomed the quiet weekend with wide open arms!
Since that weekend, the entire Team had been anticipating the first of the month... the guests seemed particularly on guard, the numbers were astronomically high, and we were all getting ready for Volunteer Appreciation Day which was to be the following Sunday. That week, for the first time since any of the Team can remember, we had three straight days of numbers over 400... that means that at our evening meal we had over 400 people walk through our doors to eat! None of the cooks were prepared for such hoards of people and none of the staff could have possibly been ready for such chaos to ensue. As crazy as it was, however, it was a time when I could look to my co-workers and know that despite all the insanity, these people had my back in whatever decisions were made. I'm beginning to think that it's not often that people find that kind of comfort and security in their workplace so I am constantly grateful for this incredible blessing!
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening the Team, and anyone who wants to come, goes up to the chapel for evening prayer. It is lead by different Team members each night but is really just a time to relax and unwind from the craziness of the day. When I came to Philly last year with SBA, my trip went to evening prayer but were definitely not mature enough to handle it. I didn't really like it in the beginning of the year either but have really come to appreciate how it is a time when we can all be together in our exhaustion within the presence of God. So last week at evening prayer each person that walked in slumped down in their chair, put their head back and looked completely defeated. It is days like these where you feel like you've gotten beat up... certainly not physically but definitely emotionally.
Luckily after that short stint of craziness, things died back down to normal-ish numbers for the rest of the month (somewhere around 350-375 each night). Last weekend I got to escape the crazy for a bit by going home to visit family and to accompany Marcus (a friend from school) to his senior formal. I had a wonderful time at home, my first time really being "at home" without having to see other friends in the area. The formal was lots of fun!!!
Early Sunday I went to the airport and jumped on a plane to come back to Philly just in time for Volunteer Appreciation Day! We pulled in 5 minutes before mass started and had a beautiful celebration with all those volunteers that make our ministry possible.
This past week, as school is ending for many colleges, our volunteer numbers have been really low. Since we have no groups coming, that leaves the Team to serve and bus the tables. Believe me, it's soooo much fun! In one day, I served and bussed tables and was Maitre'd. The next day I was just a server, and the following day I was on line-up (outside), Maitre'd, and busser... all in one day! As difficult as it may seem to function without volunteers, it's actually kind of fun to be on the floor with all team members. I keep explaining the meal as a big choreographed dance. Each knows their steps and their role and executes it beautifully without much confusion or mess.
As the week ends, I've been blessed with two days off in a row! I am taking advantage of the opportunity to rest and recuperate from the week and gearing up for what is to come! May brings some busy weeks/weekends but I'm really excited for all the coming activity!
God bless you all as Summer comes your way!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Just an update...

It seems as if there are many triggers around here that set people into a frenzy... nice weather, bad weather, full moons, crescent moons, the beginning of the month, the end of the month (and every other day in between), a delicious dinner at the Inn, a not-so-delicious dinner at the Inn... you get the idea. As it turns out, there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the ebb and flow of the moods and dispositions of the guests. While we can anticipate smaller numbers at the beginning of the month, a yard of 225 people can feel the same as when the yard is full of people if you have just one or two "crazy" people in it.
We've been revisited by "Head Phones Rodney," a man who doesn't really believe he is part of this world, nor really part of any world. He likes to "listen" to headphones that I'm not entirely sure play music. He speaks in a very deep almost robot-like voice that is very difficult to understand. He seems pretty harmless but when you get him excited, it's hard to control him.
Since Monday I've had to call 911 twice. Monday a woman came into the yard whom no one recognized and plopped herself against the fence. She was not really responding to Emily and wouldn't give us any information. Just 30 minutes ago, a regular guest of ours was laying on the front steps of one of the houses the Inn owns. She looked gray-ish (definitely not a good sign) and wasn't responding to Fred. Fortunately in both instances the ambulance came quickly but that is not always the case around these parts.
Saturday afternoon my friend Jen and I went down to the Inn to pick something up and we were met by Anna Mae, a beloved non-guest at the Inn (she doesn't ever eat at the Inn, she just hangs out in front) who was expressing concern for a man in a motorized wheelchair. Anna Mae, although can be hard to work with at times, is actually really sweet and caring and looks out for people around the block. This man just appeared on our front steps Saturday morning with four suitcases and very little English-speaking ability. Anna Mae asked me to call for help because she was afraid that he was going to get hurt. After talking with him, I was able to put together that he was looking for a shelter. I called Outreach Services, a Philadelphia agency that comes to pick up at-risk people and brings them to shelters in the area. Well Outreach told me that they could bring the man but could not transport his wheelchair. I was ordered to call the police, have them meet Outreach at the Inn so that they could simply pick the chair up and put it in Outreach's vehicle. Sounds a little crazy, doesn't it? So I called the police, they agreed to come help, then I called Outreach back but they had already dispatched their team to another issue.
After about 15 minutes, Outreach arrived, angry with me that the police were not there and angry with our wheelchair-bound friend because he couldn't speak English. We ended up getting a man from The Last Stop (the recovery house across the street) to come over and translate for us. The man's story didn't really make much sense, even to the man who could speak Spanish (which made me feel better about my Spanish-speaking skills), but he still needed some place to sleep. Finally, a transport service agency came and brought the man to a shelter that many of our guests stay at and we haven't heard from him since. The police never showed up to help. I try not to get discouraged and continually tell myself that they are very busy, especially around these parts, but if they are here to "protect and serve," they need to be doing a better job.
In other news, we've been blessed with some beautiful weather! My housemates and I are planning to plant a garden in the back yard to supply us with some fresh veggies for the summer and I can't wait to get out there and get to work, the hard part is finding the time to do so. My friend Tara is visiting this weekend from Boston and I'm really excited!!!
No further developments as far as what the plan is for next year yet. I have put the issue on the back burner for awhile in hopes that suddenly it will all become clear but I think that's wishful thinking. I am going to seriously start exploring my options within the coming weeks and will hopefully be able to pin down something soon. Keep my community and the discernment process in your prayers, we all need it!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Easter at Saint Francis Inn was definitely a new experience for me but also for the Team. With 483 guests in attendance at the meal on Sunday, everyone was surprised by the number, everyone was scrambling to put meals together, and everyone was rejoicing in the resurrection! I was on deliveries during the meal but each time I returned to the Inn the yard seemed more crowded and as we let the last guests in to eat at 1:20 (twenty minutes after the gate closed), I was able to enjoy the busy-ness of the meal and really make the connection between the Easter season and the work I am doing.
During the Easter Vigil homily, Fr. Pat (an import from Camden) shed new light on the resurrection of Jesus and how it is THE source of our hope. We have hope in our daily lives because Jesus wasn't in the tomb that Sunday morning two thousand years ago. As I thought more about this, I realized how intrinsic hope is in all humans and I firmly believe that our guests still possess hope. I find hope reflected in their unending determination to continue to live by simply seeking food and nourishment. My thought is that if their hope was lost they would not continue to do activities that would keep them alive. And honestly, I believe that each smile, each hug, each tear even, is a sign of hope, a sign that they still find joy or even that they're being affected by their surroundings and know that it's not the only thing out there.
This new twist on Easter has really enabled me to translate that hope to others, to see the light at the end of their darkness, and to continue to hope myself that things will get better and that hopefully one day Saint Francis Inn will no longer need to be open.
In other news, things have been really busy around here. Since Easter, we've had a lot going on between community activities and visitors! My aunt and uncle from Massachusetts came down Thursday night to work at the Inn! The same night they arrived, the Team went on retreat! We've been working like dogs around here but it's been really fun! After the meal on Friday my aunt, uncle and I went downtown to do some touristy things like the Liberty Bell, City Hall, LOVE Park and just to see the area. It was a great afternoon out! We returned and had Chinese food and played games with my housemates!
Saturday was great! I coordinated the meal with 337 guests and no problems! I think the guests know when the Team is gone and therefore behave for us. My wonderful aunt and uncle took Emily and I out for dinner, ice cream, and a movie (21, highly recommended)! And today I had the day off so we went downtown again to do some shopping and some more historical site-seeing! We came back and rested for awhile then went for cheesesteaks and water ice, two Philadelphia classics! It's been so incredible having them here to share in my life and ministry like few others have, it'll be really sad to see them go!
In other exciting news, Fred and Flo (the retired couple) returned to us for a couple weeks while their house in Prince Edward Island thaws out from the vicious winter the northeast experienced!!! It's been so great having them back!!!
Okay, I think that should be all for now. I hope everything is going well for you all! God bless!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Some pictures...

I said I'd post some pictures a long time ago and never did it so here are some from the wedding and a couple to give you an idea of the beauty that was at the Flower Show!

The Bridal Party!!!

Me, my brother and my cousin, Kim!

At the ceremony!

This is INSIDE at the Flower Show!!!

I remind you, INSIDE!!!


Much like my experience with Advent and the Christmas season, Lent has taken on a lot more meaning for me. Actually participating in mass (planning, etc) and in such an intimate setting really doesn't permit one to escape into their own world during the celebrations.
Previously, Lent has meant a time of sacrifice and suffering. It does parallel Jesus' walk to Calvary, which was not full of fun and good times, but the reasoning for His walk to Calvary is far more than just to suffer on the cross. The more I think about Lent and how God created Jesus as the human person, the more I realize the all-encompassing power and love of God. And for the first time, this Lent I saw that God reaches out to us, wants us to love Him, and to at least try to understand His love for us, and so by sacrificing His only Son so that we may know His love, I can't help but be overwhelmed and feel unworthy. Okay, I know this was not His intent, but it's just one of those things that, thankfully, I'll never be able to fully grasp.
So, do I think I could've prayed more, fasted more, given more? Absolutely. But the way I see this Lent was for me to be made aware of the true meaning of Lent, not just my previously naive perception of this incredibly beautiful and powerful season. The revelations I had during this Lent will allow me to better understand and live out future Lenten seasons but also to incorporate this humility and grace in my daily life, an effort to live my life more intentionally and graciously than I previously have.
It has been really good to finally get into the swing of things back at the Inn since our retreat! It's really hard to venture back into "reality" after having such a peaceful break but I think we were all ready to jump back in! I was at the thrift store on Monday with very few issues, well, none, actually. I had physical therapy Tuesday morning and then again Thursday morning. During my Thursday appointment between Kim (my physical therapist) and I, we decided that my knee has gotten way better! I don't know that this means running is anywhere in my future, but I'm really excited that it doesn't hurt to walk down the stairs anymore! Next week will be my last week of PT and then I'll go back to the doctor for a check-up.
The meals have been going fairly smoothly recently, except for a couple isolated incidents of crazy men, one of which was threatening Karen, the other that urinated on a door of the Inn and was claiming that he wasn't given juice when he was holding 2 empty juice boxes in his hands. But really, it's those people and events that make each meal a bit more exciting and cause us to take a step back and laugh.
And one final thing before I sign off for today, my mom sent me a link to a website It is a resource of all the local farms in your area. It has a Community Share Program where you pay a share each week and you get fresh, local-grown fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, dairy, etc. Not only do you get fresh food handed to you, but you are also supporting the local farmers in your area!!! My community is working out a way to get involved and the local one in Philadelphia actually donates all their extra produce to Saint Francis Inn! It's very exciting, I suggest that you at least take a look!
Happy Easter to you and your families! May the death and resurrection of Jesus be a reminder to you of God's incredible love for all of us! God bless!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Back in the saddle again

Since I haven't written since last week (such a long time!), I guess I have much to catch up on!
Karen took Maureen and I to the Flower Show in Philadelphia Thursday night. Now before you say anything, let me say that I didn't think it was going to be my cup of tea either but it was absolutely beautiful! Dinner with the Michaelson's was wonderful! We went out to a restaurant by Villanova and had a delicious dinner! Saturday was a busy day because we worked the meal then I had to get some last minute things for the Steward's Ball we went to Saturday night... mainly a dress. One of our volunteers, Jim, worked for a union and they host a ball every year to celebrate their work and achievements and every year Jim invites the FVMs! We had so much fun and were able to dance and eat delicious food! (there was a chocolate fountain involved!)
Sunday we worked the meal and left right after to head north for retreat! It was such an amazing week of relaxation and ...sleep. The beauty of Mount Irenaeus (the retreat house) is that it's just so far from civilization that the only thing that seemed to bother us were the millions of ladybugs that plagued the house... although they weren't too harmful. We had a couple of speakers on Catholic Social Teaching as well as simplicity and were able to just spend the rest of the time as we chose. Mostly we all chose sleep... which was much-needed by all of us! We spent lots of time with Fr. Michael as well which is just recipe for a good time! The girls and I think that he's finally comfortable with us and so all the way up and all the way back we were all singing and dancing in the car, so much fun!
So now I'm back in Philadelphia. I was on pickups today with some students from Eastern Illinois State College so I still haven't really gotten the chance to "be back to work" but was definitely grateful for the ease at which I've been able to re-acclimate to the hustle-and-bustle. While I don't feel entirely ready to embark again on another 4 months of ministry, I'm excited to be back and am happy to be back with my Philadelphia family!
I hope and pray that all is going well with you! Have a great weekend and Happy Palm Sunday! (okay, maybe happy isn't the right word, but celebrate!)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Home sweet home...

As I told you, I went home last weekend to visit my mom and dad as well as to catch up with college friends! I landed in Manchester at 4:45pm, ate a quick dinner at home, then went to the Spring Break Alternative mass at Saint Anselm College... Little did I know that so many of my friends from college were going to be at the mass! As I looked around the lower church, I saw familiar faces and it felt like the old days! It's so hard to believe that a year ago I was sitting in those pews, anxious for my own trip to... Philly!!! It's kind of funny how life turns out, isn't it?
When I think back to almost two years ago when I was awaiting the verdict of if and where I was going to be leading Spring Break Alternative for my final year at Saint A's. The fateful night when I went into the office and was told that I was going to Philadelphia, I must admit I was a bit disappointed. I was hoping to head to Honduras or South Dakota, after all, I'd already been to Philly on an Urban Immersion (a weekend service trip) and was hoping for a completely different experience. As the year progressed, I got more and more excited about going to Philadelphia all the while wishing deep down that I was going to Central America. When I got into the van to head down here last year, I finally became excited. As my week progressed, I fell in love with the work I was doing here. I talked to the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry program director and she gave me an application and strongly encouraged me to apply.
The more I thought about it while I was here and after I got home, the more I saw myself spending a year in Philadelphia. One of the funny things about SBA is that after we return from a trip, most everyone wants to return to their site so I made a valiant attempt to give myself some time removed from the site to better make a decision regarding the next year in my life. But as time passed, I wanted nothing more than to return. I felt as if God was calling me to serve in Philadelphia, or at the very least, with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry!
You might be asking why I am talking about this now, almost 7 months after I began my year in Philly. When I was at home, surrounded by the insanity of SBA at Saint A's, I couldn't help but feel so grateful for the program and for all it has done for me. Had I not come to Philadelphia last year for Spring Break Alternative, I'm not entirely sure that I'd be where I am today and that is so hard for me to imagine.
I often question God and His path for me; I wonder why I'm doing what I am or why things don't always work out exactly how I wanted them to, but reflecting on the past year, my faith in God has increased and it challenges me to trust Him more and surrender to His will more. It's not easy by any means, but it's a work in progress.
My time at home was wonderful!!! I got to spend a lot of time with my family and some time with friends, which is exactly what I wanted! Although I didn't want to leave home, I was rested enough to return to the grind back here in Philly, at least until we go on retreat on Sunday! This week we said goodbye to Karen and Mike, a couple from New Zealand that arrived in the States around the same time we did to work with us for 6 months. It was so sad to see them go, but we all recognize how much of a blessing they were to us. Tonight my dad is taking the three of us out for dinner, and Friday night, the Michaelsons will be treating us to dinner!!! We have a very busy and exciting week ahead of us, but we're keeping our eyes on Sunday afternoon!
I pray that you all have faith in God's journey for you and that you are able to trust that He will lead you where you need to go. God bless!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Too much crazy in one place!

After my last post, I was convinced that things would get easier. I had just bought my plane ticket to go home (I leave Thursday afternoon) and was hopeful that it might be smooth sailing until then. Boy was I ever wrong!
Sunday was a great day! After the meal, Emily, Maureen and I went ice skating in Center City and then had a great dinner and watched the Academy Awards over at Barb and Karen's house! It was really fun and relaxing!
Well then Monday happened. I was "trouble-shooter," which basically means that I stayed at the Inn from about 10:30am until 1pm when the coordinator showed up. Ordinarily this is a really laid-back time where that person can catch up on things that need to get done (like order paper goods) or do a little bit of cleaning around the Inn. This Monday, however, a guest came in and from then on, my entire afternoon was shot. Carlos, a regular guest that comes to the Inn, informed me that his wife Diana died the day before. We've been hearing stories about her and have seen pictures, but the three of us have never met her. She had a stroke awhile back and has been in a nursing home since. Carlos spends his days riding his bike from one side of the city to the other to see her and take care of her, often not leaving the nursing home until 11pm. Just within the past week, Diana's condition worsened and I think the rest of us knew her time was coming, but Carlos didn't want to accept it. When he walked through the doors on Monday, I knew something was wrong. I went up to him and, as usual, said, "Carlos, how's Diana doing today?" And all he could do was cry. I spent over an hour and a half with him, trying to console him and then figure out what the next steps would be. It was almost no use talking to him as his words were not making sense. Over the course of the afternoon, each of us took turns talking with Carlos and as the day progressed, Carlos began to deteriorate. His sentences weren't making sense, his emotions were manic and there was no use talking to him. He finally left, leaving us feeling drained.
At one o'clock, when Emily showed up to take over, I was able to slip out and come home and take a shower. I was certain that by the time I returned, Carlos would be gone and I would be able to plan mass and go about my day. Carlos was still there when I got back but Michael was talking to him so I was able to slip upstairs.
As I got to the top of the stairs, I saw Brandy (the young mom with the two little girls) sitting at the dining room table. She had been crying and the two little girls were running around. Come to find out, her situation had worsened as well and her drug-addict boyfriend (she'd previously said husband) got out of jail and went to their house. He cut up all her identification to prevent her from leaving and then left. She came to us asking us for help. After spending the day with Raven and Iana (her daughters), we managed to get her a train ticket to get back to Chicago to move back in with her mom. Jamie and I brought her and the girls to the train station very early this morning and saw her off as she departed for home.
It seems that, around these parts, once things start to get weird, there's just no turning back. It was one heart-breaking event after another that really wrenched my heart on Monday. I was fortunate to have Maureen looking after me so I didn't have to work the meal that evening, but came home feeling defeated. I am grateful that I was able to see Brandy off today, giving me hope for the possibility of happy endings.
I am exhausted today but think that I can hold out until tomorrow afternoon when I board the plane to go home. It was my intent to surprise my mom but with a little bit of miscommunication, she found out! Oops! Either way, it doesn't matter, because I'll get to be with my mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law tomorrow night!
In happier news, Emily, Maureen and I are looking forward to retreat! Less than two weeks and we could not be more excited to get away! It is really nice to be away with each other but not have Kensington as our background music and not having the obligation of work for a few days. We all desperately need the break and when next Sunday comes, we'll welcome even the 8 hour drive up to Mount Irenaeus with the assurance of rest and reflection! Oh yeah, and my aunt and uncle just made their reservations to come and visit at the end of March! I can't wait to see them and for them to see what I've been up to all this time!
Thank you all for bearing with me! I hope this doesn't bum you out as much as it took me down! Have a great weekend!!!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The tunnel months have struck...

For some reason, I thought I'd be immune to the effects that winter has... after all, I'm totally in love with the work I am doing, I'm obsessed with my housemates and our community, and I love who I'm working with. But, as it turns out, I've found myself wanting to be home and wanting some type of familiarity.
Last week was a particularly difficult week... I think a combination of the weather and the gravity of the situations we all dealt with here at the Inn have been weighing me down. Come to find out, I need sunshine. Big time. In addition, I thought I was the "tough one" in my house. The work that we've been doing seems to have been affecting Emily and Maureen moreso than myself. In one of my previous entries I talked about Angela and her baby Bianca as well as her son Jeremy. (If you don't remember, feel free to go take a look) It seemed as though things started to look up for this family. Monday afternoon I was working at the Inn, basically killing time until the meal started and Angela walked in. She had two black eyes and a severe gash with stitches on her face that stretched from the left side of her nose through her ear. She told us that she was walking to the corner store to get cigarettes around midnight last Saturday. A man stopped and, convinced she was a prostitute, tried getting her into his car. Because she refused, he attacked her and tried to rape her. He cut her face with a bottle and the slice ended up cutting her ear in two. She has stitches that go across her face and it is swollen and bruised.
Naturally everyone on the Team was shocked. When we said, "We're so sorry" she simply said "Oh, it happens to the best of us". For the first time since I've been here, I felt overwhelmed. I had to turn away because I had tears in my eyes. It was not an easy day after that.
Luckily I had Tuesday off. I welcomed it because I was in desperate need of a break. I had a doctor's appointment because in my endeavor to begin marathon training, both my feet have been giving me a hard time. After talking to the expert runners on the Team, I was advised to go to the doctor. So, just in time for my doctor's appointment, my left knee began to give me problems as well. I was told that running and even walking is off the docket for right now, at least until I go to physical therapy twice a week for a month. Not only does this not leave me enough time to train for the Broad Street Run, something the three of us were planning to do, but it's also not looking good for marathon training. I'm really bummed but have decided that it's more important not to mess my knees up at 23 years old than to do this marathon thing. And I have hopes that I will make a recovery and maybe will be able to do the Philadelphia marathon in November.
Wednesday and Thursday were basically the same day as I was the "gopher" for the coordinator and Friday I coordinated on a snowy/rainy day. It seemed as if everyone had a catastrophe that they asked me to avert. Brandy, a 22-year-old mother of 3-year-old and 18-month-old little girls told me that her husband was just involved in a big drug bust and is now in jail. She just moved here from Chicago so her welfare hasn't transferred yet. She doesn't even know her way around the city and is feeling lost. She asked me for some food and for a ride home because she didn't want to walk with her little girls all the way to her house. I ended up putting together a big bag of food for Brandy and her young family and asked Renee to bring them home. I am so grateful to have such an incredibly supportive Team that enables me to help these families in the best way possible. Brandy's story is just one example of the dire need of our guests.
Yesterday I was blessed with another day off! I was able to get to the gym as well as relax around the house. Kathy, our outside contact, brought us out for a night on the city! We went to dinner then to a choir concert that her husband was in. It was wonderful to do something "normal" for a little while!
I'm feeling a little re-energized but cannot wait to go on retreat in a couple weeks! Keep my community in your prayers as we plow through the "tunnel months" (appropriately named by Michael). Thank you all for your support!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Peace and ...too quiet

One of my favorite jobs at the Inn is working in the office during the meal. I'm sure I've talked about it before but it's basically answering the phone, answering the door, and checking guest mail. I love it because the office person doesn't need to get caught up in the insane pace of the meal, but works at their own pace. I love the opportunity to sit and talk with guests while they're waiting for their insurance agency or the social security office to pick up their call. Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to be in the office. In between checking mail and answering the phone, I was able to check my email and play games on the computer. With about half an hour left in the meal, a woman who I'd seen before but never really talked to came in to ask for some information about getting an ID. After talking to her, I found out that she lost her ID back in December when her husband died. He had been clean for 7 1/2 years and one day decided to "do a bag" (of what, I'm not sure- my guess is heroin) to see if it still worked (I'm also not sure what this means but I let her continue her story). She told me that she went into the bedroom to after being out for the day and after seeing him doing the drugs (she has now been clean for 4 1/2 years), she turned around and walked out. No sooner was she half way down the stairs did she hear a thud and realized that he had overdosed. Between all the stress of rushing him to the hospital and dealing with all that happens when someone dies, she left her purse in the lobby of the hospital. I asked her how she was dealing with his death and she seems to be doing okay. I asked if it has made her want to use again (dealing with the stress and depression of the loss) and she told me that it was all the more reason why she didn't want to use ever again. I am inspired by her resilience. She continued to tell me more about her life and the struggles that she faced. I told her she should be proud of herself for being as strong as she is in spite of all that has happened and she replied, "I'm not doing anything great." Sometimes I think even in these situations, just getting by is the biggest accomplishment.
Many drug users lose their teeth (I'm not sure why, but it just seems like everyone has at least one tooth missing) and so when I saw Kelly's mouth full of rotting teeth, I attributed it to the drugs. She explained to me that she was in an accident awhile ago and all her teeth got smashed out. She had beautiful dentures that looked like her own teeth. But she attempted suicide by drinking bleach and so in order to keep her alive they had to put her on a respirator. They took her dentures out and her husband was so concerned about being with her and focusing on her that he didn't think to take the dentures. Apparently with insurance agencies, they only allow you to get one set of dentures every 5-7 years and we are still within this time frame. Kelly said that it's so hard to walk around the street with her mouth looking as it does. I gave her the hours to the clinic because there is a dentist there that I hope can help her.
I really enjoyed talking to Kelly. As our conversation was winding down (because it was the end of the meal), Kelly thanked me for asking her how she was doing. She said that no one ever cares or asks... My question is why do people enter the social service field if they don't care? Who is that going to help? Anyway, enough of that, I feel blessed to have been able to talk to Kelly yesterday. Her resilience and strength help me to find strength and courage in my own life.
For the first time since August 18th, I had the house entirely to myself last night! Emily left for Siena College to recruit yesterday afternoon and Maureen headed out to Pittsburgh with Ryan to visit some college friends. I came home from work, napped, then went into Center City with Joanne. We found a really cute little Tea Bar (yep, tea bar- only tea, lots of tea) on a side street and just talked and sipped tea. I came back to a big empty house where I read a little bit and then took advantage of the quiet and did some praying. It was really peaceful until I decided to go to bed when I could hear every creak the house made. And for some reason, I was convinced someone was going to break into the house last night. Luckily for everyone involved, there was no such occurrence and I woke up this morning well-rested and ready to begin my Sunday!
I worked in the yard today, doing lineup. February has been such a weird month as far as our numbers go. They've been particularly low and the pace of the meal is different. We seem to have all our guests come at the beginning and by the end of the meal, we've closed tables because no one is coming and we shut the doors with very few people still in the dining room. It's been a welcomed change, but eerie at the same time.
Thanks for reading! God bless!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Last Thursday evening my housemates and I were cleaning the house so I brought my computer down to listen to some jams, as is customary for our house. Somehow between cleaning and bringing my laptop to my ...lap... on the couch, the screen on my wonderful computer decided it just wasn't going to work anymore. So since last Thursday, I have been computer-less. Luckily, Maureen's fiance fixes computers so he's taken my poor little Compaq under his wing until it gets up and running again.
I must say that it has been a big blessing in disguise that my computer has not been in use. Since one of my Lenten goals is to pray more, not having my computer to distract me has afforded me ample time to read some Henri Nouwen (great, great spiritual writer) and work on some "Praying in Color". As it turns out, my understanding of prayer has broadened and the narrow scope I once thought prayer to be has made room for little old me and my inability to focus or be strapped into tradition. I'm trying new and exciting ways to reach God in my own life and really trying to deepen my own relationship with God so I can better serve others.
This weekend was full of excitement! Saturday Sister Madonna, who gave us retreat in November on Myers-Briggs, graced us with her presence again and gave us a presentation on how the different personality types of the writers of the Gospels impacted their story-telling and thus our perceptions of Jesus. It was very interesting and it was really great see Sr. Madonna again!
During the meal on Sunday I was on deliveries, one of my favorite jobs! Sister Leslie and I delivered 12 boxes of food to families around North Philadelphia. The newest family added to the delivery list, Angela and her boyfriend (or husband) and their 2 kids Bianca and Jeremy, who are regular guests at the Inn. Angela just had Bianca in December so we finally met her for the first time just a couple weeks ago! She is such a beautiful little girl and whenever Angela comes in, I immediately go over and, as I like to think, take the baby off her hands for awhile. I really just love to hold her so I steal her for a little bit! I was really excited to be going to their house this weekend so that I could see the lives they lead outside of the 30 minutes we see them at the Inn. I recently found out that Angela just started methadone treatments (for those of you who don't know, it is a substance replacement for those who suffer from heroin addiction; users will substitute heroin for methadone with the goal to eventually be weaned off methadone). I don't really agree with methadone but I am hopeful and excited that Angela has taken steps towards recovery, especially given the young children she has at home! I was greeted with big smiles from Jeremy and Angela's significant other, who I think was relieved to have someone he knows coming to his home for the first time.
After the meal on Sunday, Patrick, one of the regular volunteers (he comes on Tuesday nights) cooked us a wonderful Peruvian feast! He spent some time in Peru and wanted to "give back" to us all that we do for him. I don't think Patrick realizes how much he really does for us, but we took the delicious meal anyway! It was great to have a relaxing meal with the Team and with Patrick! After our feast, Emily, Maureen and I began preparations for Michael's birthday!
His birthday was on Monday and we had the crazy idea to make t-shirts for ourselves and hats for the rest of the team. We put a picture of Michael on our shirts and wrote in puff paint "I LOVE ...(then his picture)". On the hats for the team, we just wrote "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MICHAEL" on all of them and passed them out to the team before morning prayer on Monday. We had a lot of fun making them and the entire team was on board! He seemed delighted that we put so much time into the hats and shirts, although he said we had too much time on our hands. :-)
When I was here last year for SBA, one of the things we did while here was we went to Saint David's parish, a church that is about 40 minutes away, to help bring donations back to the Inn. Every year, Saint David's does a big clothing and canned food drive to benefit the Inn and so the Team goes to the church for a mass and reception, then loads up all the donations and brings them back. Now it's not just a van-load... we brought all the Inn's cars so that we would have enough room to fit all the donations. That's 8 cars (2 of which are mini-vans and one of which is a big 15 passenger van)!!! It's quite the event and last year I was able to be part of it! Well, this year was round 2!!! At the mass, generally the FVMs speak, telling stories of the Inn and tugging at the heart strings of the parishoners so this year, Emily, Maureen and I spoke at Saint David's! It was such a change of events from last year when I was sitting in the pews listening to Matt and Jay (two of the FVMs from last year)! The talk went well, in fact, Emily and Maureen did a great job as well, and the whole excursion was a big success!
And so that brings me to last night... when Philadelphia gets a threat of snow, the entire city shuts down in fear. Well, last night, as it was sleeting and raining, all of the schools that we normally have volunteer cancelled on us (before 1pm, I might add). This left us with basically just team members to work the meal. For the first time in a long time I got to serve tables! It was so much fun to be able to really serve the guests again, something I love so much but have simply forgotten. It is nice, once in awhile, to do a job that doesn't require me to say "no," or to have to figure out if guests are lying, and to really just have fun with the guests. Although it seemed like we were going to be strapped for help last night, I really think it was good for all of us who got to serve to be able to do such work.
And finally, a Lenten observance for our community is to do a brown-out once a week after the meal. We won't be turning off the heat (we think it's counter-productive), but we will be turning off lights and alarm clocks and hot water for the evening. We had our first mini-brown-out last night so we had our community meeting and community fun night in the dark! It's nice to be aware of these things and we think that this will be a constant reminder to us of the many blessings we've been given.
So, I hope that Lent has gotten off to a good start for you all! I pray that you use this time to deepen your own relationship with God and are given the strength to stand by your Lenten observances! God bless!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

I'm going to start by re-capping our brown-out. I don't think there's any way to describe our brown-out except cold and eye-opening. We decided to turn our heat down to 50 degrees (just warm enough to prevent the pipes from freezing), so we minimized our movement around the house because coming out from under the blankets that kept us warm just seemed like unnecessary torture. In that, our house was a mess by Saturday afternoon. Since we were not using hot water, dishes did not get done; and since we were not moving around so much, all the things that we'd used during the day (books, cups, shoes, candles, etc) were left around the house.
As the two days passed, we became more and more aware of the little things that we took for granted- warm water to wash our hands, showers, turning the light on when you enter a room, alarm clocks, having use of the van to leave Kensington, a hot cup of tea/coffee, calling home to say thank you for a package or checking email... anyway, you get the idea. Upon the conclusion of the brown-out, Emily, Maureen and I huddled together on the couch in the living room and spent approximately 15 minutes sharing things we were grateful for and resolutions of how to be more mindful of our energy consumption in the future. Last night we were talking about the brown-out and how it was an attempt at being simple but it certainly was not easy- two words I'd previously thought synonymous that now take on two entirely different meanings. Needless to say, we were elated when we turned the heat back on, took hot showers, and went to Camden to see a movie.
Our Team returned Saturday evening and we all were able to work together Sunday morning. It was so great to have them back despite how much we LOVE when they're gone! (There is a certain freedom that is felt when the sisters leave). We all watched the Super Bowl at Jamie and Renee's (which we're just not going to talk about since it was a very sad time in my life). It was fun to see everyone and hang out outside of work, even though much of the Team was sick.
So, I guess that brings us to today. Today is Ash Wednesday- the start of Lent. I am excited for this new liturgical season!!! I am excited because my eyes were opened differently to the Advent season and my guess is it was because of the community which I am involved. I cannot wait to see how I grow and learn during this Lenten season!
My previous conceptions of what Lent entailed involved me being upset because I gave up candy... the entire 40 days were tainted simply because I couldn't eat something I loved so much! This year, I've come to learn that Lent is a three-part season including prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Instead of simply giving up something (which is valuable, don't get me wrong), I have also taken on the challenge of diving deeper into my own spirituality and relationship with God. It is something that I have been thinking about for quite some time but had yet found the avenue to pursue this goal. Just recently Joanne gave me a book she found at her library called "Praying in Color", a wonderful book that instructs those pray-ers that have previously found difficulty in the discipline of solemn and quiet prayer to express their prayers through coloring. I just had my first attempt at praying in color and am very excited to see where it will take me! If you're interested, look it up at your local library!
Anyway, the coming season is now approached with hope and anticipation of the journey and change that can occur. With any luck, the changes that I make for Lent will be carried over into ordinary time, or life beyond Easter.
Apart from all of that, things around the Inn have been really good! We've been warned by Fr. Michael that January, February and March are "the tunnel months" as many volunteers begin to feel the effects of their experience, maybe experience homesickness, and get caught up in the bleakness of winter. Well, perhaps it's the very mild winter we've been having or my wonderful community, or the true joy I feel here, but so far I've managed to bypass the tunnel months!
I am looking forward to what next year will bring (as many asked me while I was home for Michael's wedding what I'm doing next year), exploring my options and saying lots and lots of prayers trying to figure out what's in store for me.
Thank you for all your prayers! (I just tried posting pictures from Michael's wedding and it didn't work... so in a future post, it'll be entirely wedding pics so stay tuned!)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Too much to update...

Because my dad yelled at me to update my blog, I will give you the briefest update yet.
-My dad's visit was incredible! I think he really enjoyed spending time with me and seeing what I do... just what I wanted!
-My trip home was incredible! The wedding was absolutely beautiful and perfect and my family can throw a GREAT party!!! I'm so blessed to have been part of such a beautiful and wonderful celebration! Congratulations Michael and Beckah!

We are beginning a brown-out in my community for the next couple of days. A brown out is where we will use no electricity (aside from leaving the refrigerator on and keeping the heat at around 55 so as not to freeze the pipes). The team is going on retreat (they've actually already left) so we figured this would be a good time for us to try our whole "no electricity" business. We are not pretending to be like our guests, many of whom do not have electricity or heat, but we are using it as an educational tool for ourselves- to gain awareness of the limitations that living in substandard housing or no housing at all can present. We will not be showering (no heat = no hot water = no shower) and we will be playing games and spending time together by candle-light.
We will return to the world of electricity when the team returns from their retreat Saturday afternoon/evening so please pray for us as we embark on our brown-out!
For all of you who I saw this weekend at the wedding, it was wonderful to see you and catch up with you! Thank you all for your support and love!

...and we're off (hahaha, literally, well, the lights anyway :-) )

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Waking up to gunshots...

I was woken up Tuesday morning by men screaming outside my house. I got out of bed to see what was going on but because the guys were too far down the street I couldn't see anything so I returned to my bed. Just as I got settled in and had almost fallen back asleep (as it was just about 5am and didn't have to be up for another 3 hours), I heard our work supervisor, Karen, yelling outside. She's one of those people that has to have her hand in every matter than occurs within a mile radius of SFI, so naturally she was outside.

I was fairly confident that by her going outside, things would get resolved quickly and the street would rest again. Not long after hearing Karen outside, I heard two gunshots. Two. I panicked, underneath my blankets in my bed. Now, I wasn't about to go outside to see what happened... you see, guns scare me more than anything else and I didn't think there was too much I could contribute to whatever situation was occurring outside so I just assumed stay in bed and, in my head, run through every possible scenario of what was going on.

Just over 3 hours later, I got to mass and Fred told me all that had happened. Apparently there were two very large dogs, one being a pitbull, the other a mastif, that had attacked the two men that were outside. Bob, one of our visitors for the past couple of weeks, went outside to try to help the men and was attacked himself and was sent to the emergency room to get rabies shots and make sure his bites weren't too severe. The men were on top of cars trying to get away from the dogs when the police showed up. The gunshots I heard were aimed at the bigger of the two dogs while the smaller dog ran back to its home on the next street over.

We don't know the whole story, but much of the Team is lead to believe that it was a drug-related ordeal, where perhaps the two men owed money to a dealer and the dealer sent the dogs to take care of business. Fortunately, Bob was able to divert the dogs from the two men long enough for the men to break away, ultimately saving their lives. Bob is okay; he has a few bite marks but is still in good spirits!

In addition to this craziness, Katie, our program director, came to do a site visit with us this week! She moved in Wednesday morning and conducted more one-on-ones with us. She spent time with each of us individually, Emily and I on Wednesday and Maureen on Thursday. She slept over Wednesday night and Thursday night, participating in our community activities (dinner and general shenanigans) and tried to experience what our community is really like. Her visit ended with a 10 hour meeting with the three of us. It was such incredible time spent with my housemates in such a loving and prayerful setting. We were able to discuss a variety of things ranging from our own individual issues as well as community issues.

One of the wonderful things about my community here is that we all tend to be on the same page about a lot of things and it was made even more evident by the community meeting with Katie. Given that we've spent 5 months here (as of yesterday!), we realized the need to re-group with each other and to check in with how everyone is doing. Katie left us late last night, as we tried to convince her to sleep over one more night to no avail. She promises to return :-). I firmly believe that as a community, the three of us will now be able to go into the next 6ish months with open minds and loving hearts because of the time Katie has spent with us.

Thursday evening I was on line-up during the meal. The snow was falling, creating a really nice layer of slush all over the yard and the guests trickled in, as they normally do when the weather is fair. Fred was outside with me doing tickets when a guest, whose name I've come to learn is Alex, went up to him. Alex has a severe alcohol problem and I've only ever seen him very, very intoxicated. At the Inn, we generally let people in when they are under the influence, unless we foresee them being a danger to themselves or someone else. Alex was not really able to stand up straight and had wet himself prior to his arrival at the Inn so Fred used his better judgment to give Alex a side-door meal to go. Alex doesn't really speak a whole lot of English so when I saw him starting to follow Fred, I intervened and told him that he needed to wait at the gate for Fred to return with his food, all in Spanish. He began to cry and made his way to one of the exterior walls of the Inn and basically crumbled to the ground in a sobbing mess. Between Fred and I, we took turns being with Alex in his weakness and trying to convince him that he wasn't going to die, despite what he may have wanted, and that he just needed to get to a hospital or shelter for the night.

Alex lives on the street and both Fred and I were concerned that merely getting him to stand up and walk out of the yard was not going to be enough, but that we had to find some place for him to go so that he could be warm and safe. Fortunately, the police had pulled a car over right in front of the Inn for a traffic violation so Fred went over to get the cops to figure out what the best solution was for Alex. They ended up taking him to a hospital with our prayers and a bag of food.
Since that time, I've been thinking a lot about how Alex, likely an illegal immigrant, came to the United States for the hope of a better life. I don't know what Alex's situation was before coming to the US, but I highly doubt this is the life he was hoping for. It pains me to think what he gave up back home and the sacrifice he made to be here, and the loneliness and depression he feels here.

Monday morning my dad arrives from NH to visit for a couple days before him, Emily and I head back to NH for my brother's wedding!!! I'm looking forward to spending some time with my dad and for him to get to experience more fully what it is I'm doing here!
Thank you all so much for taking the time to read my stories. God bless you all!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

So my effort to post on my blog has fallen short... I was hopeful that after the holidays things would slow down around here but I have yet to experience a slow-down. And as it appears, there's no end in sight! All good things are coming, but they are things that are keeping me away from my adoring fans (hahaha, that's you).
Let me try to recap the past week and a half for you. In preparation for a site visit from our program director, Katie, we are each having one-on-ones with her. These mostly involve Katie taking us out for food, sometimes two meals, depending on how long we take, and her checking in with us. I had mine last Saturday and it took 4 1/2 hours!!! I was absolutely exhausted afterward and was able to relax at home afterward while Emily had hers. Sunday, a group of students from Siena College (Emily's alma mater) began a week of service at the Inn. They were such a blessing to us all week!!! Sadly, they left us today to return to school!
Between our Fun Night, our community dinner, and our prayer night, each night this week was consumed by community-type activities! Thursday night Father Michael took Emily, Jamie and I to see Sweeney Todd... I'm not sure what you've heard of it, but it's certainly not my typical movie! I actually really enjoyed it! Aside from all the blood and darkness, I thought it was incredibly artistic and oddly beautiful. I would recommend it except I think that most people wouldn't have the stomach to endure all the gore.
Remember back to November when I wrote about going to Beachhaven (down the Jersey shore) to speak at masses with Fr. Michael and Emily?! Well, recently one of the women from the parish called the Inn and asked for Emily or I. She got Emily on the phone and said that she was so inspired from our talks that she wanted us to come talk to her retirement community about how they could get involved with the Inn. We were invited for a "tea" (which I didn't even know was an event until Emily told me) at the woman's house. The tea was yesterday and we showed up to this woman's beautiful home and were met by about 25 women over the age of about 55 who were eager to hear our stories and get involved!
It was absolutely incredible to hear how interested people are in what we're doing!!! We spent about 2 1/2 hours there schmoozing with the ladies and ended up coming back with $615 and a car full of donations!
You see, it is things like this that reinforce how much I LOVE being here! It is the generosity of everyone that inspires me to continue what I do and it is because of their generosity that we are able to do it! I am fulfilled by the guests and benefactors alike, inspired and humbled by both! These women were so loving and accepting and their kind words to us demonstrated their love for others.
I have many stories to update about the Inn but feel like I've rambled on enough for this entry. It is my hope that I'll be able to update again soon, although with the impending wedding (that's right, exactly 2 weeks from today my big brother will be getting married!), the site visit from Katie, and the Team retreat (which is the weekend following Michael's wedding), they may be fewer and farther between. But please continue to send your prayers and love our way! We definitely need them!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

I have resolved to update this blog more frequently... I have heard from everyone that I am a slacker so I will attempt to write more. I've also resolved to get back into my healthy lifestyle. I was doing so well for awhile but then the holidays came and it was all downhill from there. I ahave to be healthy so I can serve so it's about time to get myself back on track. Emily and I are going to Holy Family University tomorrow morning to meet with the Athletic Director to have a gym orientation, then hopefully we'll figure out some kind of regular schedule. I'm really excited!!!

But enough of that boring stuff--- I hope that you all found a fun and safe way to usher in 2008!!!
Last Saturday evening Kathy, our outside contact person, took us to Longwood Gardens, a big consevatory filled with flowers and plants. During Christmas time, they decorate inside and outside with Christmas lights and poinsettias. We had been hearing about it and looking it up online and then Kathy offered to take us so we all went! It was so beautiful and a really great way to spend the evening! Afterwards we were taken to dinner and had such a great time just spending time with Kathy! She's such a blessing to our community!

Since last week, Michael was talking about our Christmas dinner and where he was taking us. Well, Thursday of last week he had this wonderful idea that he wouldn't tell us, which was yet another way to celebrate Christmas with his "Honey-bunnies" as he calls us (such an improvement from hussies :-) ). He requested that we made ourselves available Monday night (we had previously planned for our dinner to be on Tuesday night) as well, so because we basically do whatever he tells us, we cleared our schedules and at 8pm, we were ready for an adventure downtown!!! We walked down Broad Street in Center City (which is the Arts district) and he cut us off and went into a theater!!! We had no idea what we were in for until we got inside the theater and saw signs for STOMP! We had incredible seats and had the absolute best time!!! It was such a phenomenal show, so high-energy and we were all so impressed by the talent of the performers! For those of you not familiar with the show, there are about 7 percussionists that create music using various household items including trash cans, sinks, pipes, fire extinguishers and other stuff to make an incredible beat! It was so loud but one of those shows that you just get sucked in to!
Emily, Michael and I went back to Kensington while Maureen went up to Allentown with Ryan, her fiance. Emily and I went over to Jamie and Renee's to watch the ball drop and ring in the new year with some friends! It was so much fun and the perfect way to celebrate the New Year!
New Year's Day we had an early meal (11:30am-1:00pm) and then most of the Team went over to the Women's Center because they had an open house. It is the only time throughout the whole year when men are allowed inside. We had some small snacks before coming back here to nap. Because the three of us had been up late the night before celebrating, we decided we should get some rest before going out to dinner with Michael (yep, in addition to taking us to Stomp, he also brought us out for dinner!).
On another mystery ride, Michael took us over to New Jersey to a restaurant called Bahama Breeze (it's a chain so you may have heard of it before). It was a Carribbean restaurant with lots of delicious food! We ate lots but brought a lot back with us. When we got home, Michael gave us our presents to open which were animal slippers!!! (the ones with the dogs are my feet!) We got him "lounge pants" and a picture frame with pictures of us! He seemed to enjoy both, although he seemed slightly weirded out by the lounge pants... which was our goal!

So now that our Christmas celebrations are finally over, I am able to reflect on how incredibly blessed I am. Not only did I feel the love from my family back home, but when I returned to Philly, I was showered with it all over again. Between Michael and Kathy, we have been so spoiled by everyone here and I'm not quite sure what I did to deserve it, but I sure am grateful for all that I have been blessed with!
I am looking forward to the New Year! A lot will happen and a lot will change so I'm excited to see what's in store for me! I hope that you're all looking forward with hopeful hearts!!! Happy New Year!!!