Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chicago pics up!

Thanks to wireless and my very own laptop here at home, I could finally upload all of my Chicago pictures! Click on the "Photos" tab next to "Blog" & "About"...ta da! MercyWorks!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just Jolly

Our new simple living challenge this week is no complaining. Well, actually, we're supposed to see it as being grateful for what we do have rather than noticing things that are wrong. So even though it's rather chilly in our apartment, I'm not complaining of being cold...I'm enjoying sweaters and blankets and the fact that I have a place to live!

Last week's challege, thanks to yours truly, was to follow Michael Pollan's Food Rules. It was a challenge when there were candies sitting on our counter, or when I just wanted a box of mac & cheese, but I've been trying to get closer to that simple form of eating for some time now. (Actually, I've tried to hold true to some form of it ever since arriving back in America after studying abroad. Romans eat SO simply, and SO grandly at the same time.)

I believe that both of these challeges get at the heart of this season as well--recognizing the blessings we have, putting a positive spin on things, celebrating the stripped down basics of life. It's been good to have these thoughts in my head while at work this week as well, especially since some of the guys don't get too excited about holidays. A lot of them feel lost during this season and they need reminders of the things they can be happy about, reminders that they really are appreciated as individuals.

As for me, I'm getting excited to be back in central Wisconsin for about a week of vacation. I plan on taking full advantage of living with Mom and Dad for the week...dinner off the grill, wireless internet, fireplace...oh, and of course enjoying their company. :) I'm also stoked to see Quinn, who has been calling/texting in abundance lately (I think he misses his older, wiser sisters), not to mention I can't wait for Bailey to get back to America! Without overwhelming her (I remember what being back is like...reverse culture shock is a pain), I plan on making her spend all her free time with me.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Drive for Mercy

This week Thursday brought another public event (as a 99.7% privately funded institution, Mercy Home has to make sure it's name gets out a lot), this one at the downtown Mercedes-Benz dealership. A young professionals group, U40 (they're all under the age of 40), put on Drive for Mercy and they needed volunteers, so Britney, Shannon, and I decided to check it out. Our jobs included checking people's coats and selling raffle tickets, and we also got to enjoy the catered food and dancing. For anyone who's never hung out at a car dealership after hours, I highly recommend it. Once we did our jobs, we basically wined and dined alongside $50,000-100,000 cars in the showroom.

On Friday I had the day off, due to a Conceptual Framework training on Wednesday. I spent most of it grocery shopping for our community--14 people need a lot of food. Luckily we have a membership at Restaurant Depot so we can get bulk items (like a gallon of olive oil or a pound of raisins). With that done, Jillian, Megan, and I headed to Bourbonnais, Jillian's hometown, to see her younger brother in an improv comedy show at his high school. He's a funny kid, and reminds me of Quinn. We also got to stop at Jillian's house, putting my roommate house visit count at 3. I'm determined to go to everyone's house sometime in my's so fun to see where everyone is from!

Skating & bene!

On Wednesday, the MercyWorkers had their own Christmas celebration with Fr. Scott. We kicked off Community Night with appetizers and wine, along with a Christmas card photo shoot. (As models we are used to these.) Then we headed to Millennium Park for ice skating. The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink is surrounded by skyscrapers and the Bean, which reflects the skyline and all the lights of the city. After skating around and another photo shoot there, we walked a few blocks to Italian Village, Chicago's oldest Italian restaurant.

We spent most of the night enjoying each other's company (along with traditional and authentic Italian food) and trying to not talk about work (it's hard not to). Our exuberant waiter introduced himself first as George Clooney, but later admitted his name was Andre and that while he was born in Northern Italy, he was raised in Vienna, Austria and spoke more German than Italian. Either way, he continued to fill our glasses and ensure that we were taken care of. It was a super relaxing night.

It's really looking/sounding/tasting like Christmas!

O, Christmas Tree

How many Chicago school kids can say they've seen Mayor Daley in person, or that he's helped to light their Christmas tree? Not many, but the youth of Mercy Home can. This past Tuesday, Chicago's mayor attended Mercy Home's Christmas tree lighting ceremony for the 18th time, his last time as mayor of the city.

Youth from each program told what their program had done for community service in the past year (bake sales, clothing drives, volunteering at book drives and food pantries) and gave Mayor Daley the Book of Service, which outlines the community service Mercy Home youth participate in each year. Then everyone headed outside to light up the tree, sing, and get hot chocolate and cookies.

It's beginning to look/sound/taste a lot like Christmas!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

This is How We Do.

Saturdays in program (like earlier today) are fairly quiet. I realize this means nothing to a lot of you, since you have no idea what I mean by quiet, or just how loud it can get here. After several months on the job, allow me to give some more detail as to what I actually do and how a "normal" day looks...just understand that people work here for years without experiencing a "normal" day.

Daley Home now includes seven youth between the ages of 13-17. All of them but one (who is still in eighth grade) attend high schools throughout the Chicagoland area, and thanks to generous donations and scholarships the guys have earned, most attend private schools. This gives them greater support due to smaller class sizes and more college-focused curriculum.

A typical day for me starts at 2, when I walk downstairs to the time clock, then down the hall and over to program. My commute is literally one minute. The guys are all still in school, so I have some time to check my work email and read the communication log to see what has happened in program since I worked last. From 3-5 the guys arrive from school. I say hi and ask how their days went, if they have lots of homework, what's new and exciting in their lives. Like the teenagers they are, they answer quickly and give few details. Some of the guys will start their homework early (or we ask them to if they are struggling in classes), but most will grab something to eat first. Those waiting to do their homework during structured study time spend pre-dinner hanging out in the milieu (common gathering area of program), on the computers in the back, napping in their rooms, or down in the gym with staff.

All the guys prep for study time before we head down to the (brand new!) cafeteria for dinner at 5:15. We eat dinner with several other programs and I again ask about the guys' days. Now, with food in front of them, they talk my ear off. "Rach," they say, "do you like to play sports?" "Where did you go to school?" "What was your favorite thing to do in high school?" I guess because staff members know so much about their upbringing and lives in general, they too are curious about us. I also learn lots of new slang words in the cafeteria and I get to see how the guys interact with other youth. Some treat each other like brothers--and it might feel just that way to those who grow up at Mercy Home with each other--while others are more private about any interaction.

Back in program, study time starts. This is where things get a little tough, because it is rare that the guys actually want to study. I spend this hour to hour and a half redirecting them from listening to music or watching youtube videos, goofing around with each other, or in general dragging their heels about getting work done. When we have outside tutors this helps them to focus, otherwise the other staff and myself might sit with one youth to keep him on task and show him that he can finish his homework if he just applies himself. I really do enjoy this time, despite feeling like I'm pulling teeth. I love when they want to show me something they are working on (a paper on alternative energy, a map of Chicago streets, Spanish verb worksheets), knowing that they trust me enough for this.

After study time comes chore time, which for me seems like less fun than homework, but for the guys is less stressful than anything school related. We let them turn the stereo on loud and goof around a little, provided they aren't horseplaying and are actually getting their chore done. The chore rotation gives them practice at cleaning a little of everything--from vacuuming and dusting to sweeping and mopping. It's good for the guys to have some responsibility for keeping their living space orderly.

Once chores are done, the guys have free time for the rest of the night. Some will continue homework while others beg us to take them to the gym. Some go for walks or down the block to the 7-11 for a snack. They watch TV or play video games, use the phone to talk to their parents, and hang out with staff. Typical teenager stuff. A few might have an early bedtime as a behavior consequence, otherwise they are still up when I leave at around 10.

Then I make the short walk back to my apartment--all without leaving the building. Most of the guys know I live on campus, which can be funny since they sometimes think I am in program like they are, with study and chore time as well. My roommates get home around the time I do and we spend the next several hours debriefing and processing our hectic days over a hodgepodge of food. On paper things go smoothly, with schedules and structure, but in reality we work with teenagers so something is always coming up to throw things off or disrupt the flow of the day: youth not coming back from school, detentions, doctor appointments, or special events at school can effect the entire night.

Hopefully this leaves you a little less confused about what I'm actually doing down here. As a residential facility providing educational and career resources as well as therapeutic treatment and basic structure, Mercy Home does a little bit of everything (even housing 14 crazy post-grads who have snowball fights in the parking lot...).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Prairie State of Mind

Happy birthday Illinois!

It became the 21st state on December 3, 1818. Read more about it here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I'm not all bad; I'm a faithful sinner

Yesterday was Rachel Day. With snow finally falling, I set out with Dave Matthews playing on my iPod and a head full of thoughts. I've never had so many events to keep straight between work and community, and the multiple sheets of scrap paper notes covering my desk made it clear: I needed a planner. I hoofed it all the way to Target. It was cold and windy, but the time alone allowed me to breathe and think after the Thanksgiving rush and the funky sleep schedules it left in its wake.

With that done, it was time for my very first spiritual direction. Through MercyWorks, we volunteers have the chance to meet with a spiritual and/or professional mentor. I already had an informational interview with a professional development mentor a few weeks ago (she writes a whole bunch for Mercy Home), so I was excited to also have a spiritual director.

Spiritual direction has a super long history that I'll leave to you to research, but a better name for it would be spiritual conversation. Because mostly, we just talked. She asked me how I found out about Mercy Home and about my background and every now and then she would repeat what I had said and ask a clarifying question about it, or rephrase it, or somehow help me make sense of what I was saying. It was a little scary how good she was at sorting out my thoughts.

I left remembering why I came here in the first place: to do direct service. After 16+ years of school--study, theory, reflection, reading and writing--I wanted action. I chose a year of service because I specifically did not want more school (yet), I wanted practice, experience, and to dig myself into the world I'd spent so long learning about. When I took that risk (considering my comfort with theory and my discomfort with practice), I got frustrated that my spirituality felt weird. My mind and body made the leap from theory (school) to practice (full-time job), but my spirit, my faith, failed to make the switch. Of course I feel a disconnect between what I've been doing these past 3 months and my relation to God.

Because I'm no longer reading and writing as much as I used to, but instead interacting with coworkers and the guys at Mercy, I need to readjust my spirituality as well. My spiritual director called it being a "contemplative in action": recognizing God moments as I work, in the moment. That's not how I operate. I reach epiphanies with alarming delay. Still, I committed to trying it out, practicing the practice. I'll let you know how that works out for me.

(Actually, I got a chance to practice being in the moment as soon as I got home. For our Community Night, we had group yoga, which is all about letting go and focusing on breathing. It felt awesome, but I'm definitely sore today.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A MercyWorks Thanksgiving

This past week has been one of cleaning, cooking, eating, and more cleaning...followed by a continuous strain of eating leftovers.

Wednesday night everyone helped to clean up our apartment.Thursday morning we were at it again, making sure we had enough table space and chairs, going on last minute grocery runs, and full-fledged cooking: 3 turkeys, 4 varieties of potato, stuffing, broccoli salad, succotash, greens with ham hocks, baked macaroni and cheese, jello salad, green bean casserole, cornbread casserole, tofu, salad, tamales, 5 pies, brownies, cookies, pound cake....enough to induce a food coma for sure.

I love celebrating with my roommates, and as Jillian said, we are all so blessed for it to be impossible for any of us to spend Thanksgiving alone. We all went around the table to say what we are thankful for and we spent the rest of the night switching off between eating, resting on the couches, cleaning, and conversing.

On Friday I went to the Christkindlmarket downtown. It's an outdoor market featuring lots of German products (potato pancakes, etc, plus German crafts/clothing/gifts/Christmas-y things) and some things from other countries. There is also a giant Christmas tree there, made from several trees combined. The smell of roasted nuts mixed with evergreen and German accents filled the air...basically I felt like I was at the Wausau Mall.
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I also got to see the Macy's Christmas windows, which this year tell the story of Virginia. All of the decorations in the windows this year are made out of tons of paper in all colors. It's a pretty cool effect.

the Macy's trumpets on State Street
I'd call this year's Thanksgiving a success...except we still haven't gotten snow!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Tonight at work I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with all the guys and girls at Mercy. The five-star quality food and special tablecloths would have been neat by themselves, but add to that the fact that Trump Chicago served the dinner to us at our tables along with several celebrities and you have quite the evening.

Matt Forte, Greg Olsen, Israel Idonije (Bears players), Bill Rancic (former Apprentice winner), and Chris Gardner (Will Smith played him in The Pursuit of Happyness) helped the staff from Trump serve turkey and stuffing while we reaped the benefits. A lot of the guys and girls were starstruck (others were just excited that they were getting out of study time tonight), but we still all had a good time.

And now it's time for me to have a vacation. I've had to stay late at work for various reasons this week (which is sort of funny but mostly sad, because I'm already not getting paid...and I definitely don't get overtime) so I'm very ready for a little break filled with cleaning and cooking for Thanksgiving celebration at my apartment!

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

As far as I'm concerned, the rule with Christmas is that it's not allowed until after Thanksgiving. In the words of my roommate Kevin, "At least let us cut into the turkey, damn!" Still, I can understand why Chicago would light up Michigan Ave and host a parade and fireworks in mid-November: the weather tends to cooperate more.

Most of my roommates and I headed down to the end of the parade route at Michigan and Wacker this past Saturday to check out the festivity. Little did we know this event attracts thousands of people, most of them in the 1-9 year old range. Whatever, we still get excited over bright lights and Mickey Mouse.

After the parade, they set off fireworks over the river. They exploded long before reaching the tops of the surrounding buildings, which was a little weird. I've never seen fireworks go off between skyscrapers. The sound of the explosion plus the added reverberations of the sound bouncing off all the buildings made it seem like we were standing in the middle of a thunderstorm. A HUGE thunderstorm.

Fireworks over the Chicago River

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Community Night: Folks, People, and Teenagers

As of 2008, there are four to six gang members to every one law enforcement officer in the state of Illinois. California and New Mexico are the only other states with this uneven of a ratio--most fall between the 2-3 or 0-1 gang member per law officer category. In Illinois you can bet the numbers raise considerably when you look at just the city of Chicago. Gang and gang culture is a part of Chicago's history and is intertwined with it's neighborhoods (Chicago is one of the nation's most segregated cities, so the neighborhoods usually also align racially/ethnically and socioeconomically), economy, and politics.

My community learned all of this last night, and the more we learned the more questions we had. How did gangs start, how do people become involved, is there any way to leave a gang, what does this mean for our work here?

The short answer is gangs mean a lot to our work here, not just because we are working with mostly underprivileged youth, but because these youth grew up/are growing up in many neighborhoods affiliated with certain gangs and without any other outlets (supportive family, involvement at school or in sports), many kids in these neighborhoods join their local gangs. It's a way of life, and one that has thrived for so long, many don't really question it.

Sin NombreWe concluded our night by watching Sin Nombre, a film mostly about a young girl trying to reach the States with her father, but also about gang culture in Latin America. It was in Spanish with subtitles (BAILEY: will you watch this with me sometime? You'll like it, I promise.) and sparked another lengthy discussion, this time relating the story of the characters with the kids we work with.

CPR & Sneaky Maneuvers

This week has been crazy busy for everyone at Mercy Home. We had an inspection in order to renew our license as a residential facility, which meant lots of extra cleaning and making sure paperwork was up to date. Then yesterday, several coworkers plus us MercyWorkers had to get CPR/First Aid certified. We spent most of the day playing victim or responder with our partners and our lovely CPR mannequins. I felt like I was back home when Dad was going through EMT training as Britney tied a sling around my arm or practiced rolling gauze around my "bleeding" arm.

Our simple living challenge of having roommates ended last night as well, to be replaced with several fines for if we curse, leave our dishes unwashed, or leave our things in the common areas overnight. These three things will definitely be a challenge for most of the house, and I think fining us for doing them is a fair way to amp up the challenge--our guys are typically fined for cursing or not doing their chores, so it's a form of solidarity with them as well.

I should also mention that while last week's challenge technically ended, I'm still going strong with the roommates. It started off as a semi-prank--Diego and Jess moved their mattresses out of Britney's room and were in the process of moving her bed frame back in when I drug my mattress into her room, blocking the bed frame and causing them to leave it in the hallway, along with her dressers. Then I decided to just stay in Brit's room for a while. It took a lot of reorganizing, plus some World War III-esque combat when Diego invited himself into my empty room, but eventually we negotiated a peace treaty between the three of us which involves turning Diego's room into a walk-in closet and utilizing my and Britney's rooms as sleeping quarters/lounge areas. Most of our roommates think we're ridiculous, though they can't really say they were surprised at our actions...they're pretty used to the antics by now.

Mom in Chicago

Yay for moms! When Mom came this past Saturday, I got the chance to feel like a local/tour guide. I showed her around our neighborhood a little, pointing out the empty lot that may become a Target someday, the now nearly finished building that started off as a concrete skeleton when I moved here, and the Walgreens featuring an extra sign in Greek due to its location in Greektown.

We also got to see the view from up inside the Sears (Willis) Tower: the lake and museums to the east, more skyscrapers to the north and south, and MY APARTMENT to the west! Then we walked further downtown so I could show her the Milennium Park area.
Me pointing out my apartment/Mercy Home for Boys & Girls from the Sears Tower

North view from the Sears Tower: the John Hancock Buiding is the tall black one with the two spires.
Mom & me reflected in the Bean
Later, we caught the L to the John Hancock Building for some drinks and another stunning view from the 96th floor Signature Lounge. Then we headed back for some traditional Chicago-style pizza at Giordano's.

Early Sunday morning we went to church a few blocks away at Old St. Pat's, then came back to the apartment to make some breakfast.

It was a quick, but packed, few days and it was nice having a piece of home right before the holiday season. I'll be spending my Thanksgiving here with my roommates, MercyWorks alumni, and any family members in the area--if you'll be around feel free to hit me up, I'm sure we'll have plenty of food!

Monday, November 15, 2010

I'm a PRO.

This probably doesn't mean much to anyone else, but I am now a real-life registered Youth Care Professional since I went through the training (four sort of long days) and passed the test (ten short minutes).

Anyways, I have to go...time for my one-on-one with Stephanieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Snuggling in the name of Simple Living

I am living in community this year, but sometimes I feel like I'm cheating since we all get our own rooms. Whenever I don't want to hang out with my roommates, I close my door. Jess caught on to that trend as well, and decided to make a simple living challenge out of it.

So for the past three nights I haven't slept in my own room; we all literally have roommates until this Wednesday. I personally like it, finally having a nighttime-falling-asleep-can't-quite-remember-the-conversation routine before actually drifting off. It's been a while since I've had to give Andrea "nuggets" from my day or since Dad has sat on the stairs, eavesdropping and waiting for Bailey and me to stop talking at night.

I've also noticed that I'm doing less journal writing this week, which isn't the worst thing in the world, since I'm taking more time to connect with my community members. Also, the wood frame where my mattress used to rest is now being used as a catchall for dirty laundry, wet towels, books, and whatever else finds its way into my room. I may have to rethink that use of available furniture in a few days when I move back.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I might get lost, but I'll be home for dinner.

The conversations in the room quieted to a hush. The small woman took her place at the front of the board room. It didn't really feel like a board room, though. Multicolored candles sat on the mantel over a gas fireplace and the far wall was actually all windows, revealing a small courtyard. The fountain in the middle was off, wooden boards protecting it from the winter that still hadn't hit in early November.

I pushed the remains of my sandwich forward and held my Diet Coke as the woman began her talk. This lunchtime speaker series happened only in the fall and spring, and I didn't want to wait until spring to hear about the dynamic duo of faith and work, so that's why I sacrificed an hour of my day off. A day when I would usually sleep in (or not, maybe I'd wake up too early and wander around the apartment waiting for someone to hang out with), wear sweatpants all day, watch TV episodes online, and just generally recuperate until work again the next day. One day weekends get me like that.

No, instead I was up and dressed like an adult with a real job (okay, fine, business casual) attending an optional talk in a place I both lived and worked. An optional talk that resonated with most of my reasons for moving to Chicago in the first place. What this woman, Karen, was saying was that there is a difference between helping and serving. Helping is when one person has more than the other. More money, more resources, more something. Serving is a meeting of equals. Of two equally imperfect people both trying to figure out something--how to maneuver through life, the meaning of life in the first place.

There was more to the talk--a handful of pretty funny stories, totally relatable too, and a short discussion on what all resonated. I mean, of course faith and work relate directly to our work here. More than that, though, they form two opposite courses of action, ways to show the world what you believe and how you find God. And little by little, with the help of things like today, I'm bringing them together in my mind. That one dichotomy has tripped me up many times, but eventually I'll get it. Until then I just have to keep doing me, doing what I do, hoping it does good in some realm of this universe.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Leo D is making a movie I might actually want to watch!

I finally finished The Devil in the White City a few weeks ago, and I just learned the movie adaptation is in preproduction. I've never been a huge fan of Leo DiCaprio, but this movie might make the cut. My initial feeling is that the movie could easily be more enjoyable than the book, just based on visuals. I loved the creepy doctor storyline, but found myself skimming through the World's Fair sections, and I think seeing that storyline play out would be far more interesting than reading about the construction of buildings and the layout of the fair.


I'm still figuring out Chicago's food culture (going out to eat isn't quite an option for volunteers), but thanks to the cafeteria here I'm well aware that Chicago does hot dogs. They've never been my favorite, and I swear we have them every Monday here.
This article talks about what the writer feels Chicago is missing as far as food goes. I can't speak to most of the items, but I heartily agree with her sentiment on needing a Culver's in city limits.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Civic Duties

Saying I voted in the city of Chicago might be a little nerdy to brag about, but considering the pretty intense political history of the city (and the state), I'm impressed with myself. What stuck out for me, reminding me just how far from home I really am, was the amount of non-traditional candidates. For nearly every position there was not only a Republican and Democrat running, but also a Green Party, Independent, and/or Libertarian candidate.

If you don't already know this, my political sentiments align for the most part with libertarian socialism. (This does not make me an anarchist, per se, though close.) Mostly I don't agree with capitalism and prefer local government over federal government...I'm not as extreme on some other issues. Anyways, I was just super excited while voting because for once I didn't have to choose between only two (broken) parties. That's another aspect of my political beliefs--I don't think a two-party system ever works for very long.

In other political news, as a community we attended a forum on ending the death penalty in Illinois. Currently, there is a moratorium on the death penalty here, which means it still exists, but there are no executions. Many hope the death penalty will be totally repealed in the very near future. The two speakers at the forum included a death row inmate who was later found innocent and exonerated (in his case a $10,000 bribe was enough for the judge to throw the trial), and the sister of a woman who was murdered by her boyfriend in 1995.

All this voting and learning about local issues is making me feel like I really do live here. I remember feeling this way in Rome after my history class, or after reading the local newspapers. What sealed the deal in Rome, though, was when tourists would ask me for directions...and that actually happened here the other day while I was walking around downtown. So yes, I'm feeling like a Chicagoan these days.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Most Interesting Show in the World

Today started off fairly normal with a dentist appointment, and my work retreat with my program's staff at our manager's house was routine as well, but after that the day got far more interesting.

Megan and I walked the few blocks to our voting place at an elementary school, where I saw one of the guys who lives in my program. Turns out he was chosen to work there during Election Day, helping people with their ballots. It's still strange to see the guys not in program.

Then Becca, Diego, and I headed downtown for The Most Interesting Show in the World, sponsored by Dos Equis/their "Most Interesting Man in the World." It was at the House of Blues; even better, it was free.

Luckily we got there an hour early, but the line was already pretty long. While we waited, a man on stilts entertained everyone. At one point he made like he was about to fall, then came near us saying, "I better make sure I'm near a pretty girl if I fall." Becca and Diego pushed me closer to him and I held my arms out, as if to catch him. He then took my hand, introduced himself, and started dancing with me. It's a little weird dancing with a man on stilts, but the best part was when he had me dance through his legs.

Inside, we saw more people dancing and walking around on stilts. It felt like we were at a circus. Slowly we inched our way to the stage and the super sweet DJs. We danced for a while until the show got started.

It really was an interesting show, starting off with the man who held his breath in a water-filled tank for over 15 minutes. There were also lots of songs/dances mixed in with the acts--contortionists, a man who balanced on his head on a basketball and an illusionist who turned his microphone and several cans of spray paint into birds. Not to mention the guy who lit a bowling ball on fire, put steak knives in the finger holes (blade out), kicked it up from the floor and caught it on the side of his head. Also, at this time he had a live scorpion down his pants.

I love impromptu fun.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ringside 2010

One of the perks of volunteering a year one's life to a nonprofit agency is the opportunity to volunteer for their fundraisers throughout said year. This past Saturday, my roommates and I got all dolled up and headed downtown to the Mariott, where we served as table captains for the high rollers of Chicago for Ringside for Mercy's Sake.

While we were serving wine, vodka and tonics, and harvest ale to our tables, the top dogs of Chicago's financial institutions were duking it out in the boxing ring at the center of the ballroom. The night also included silent and live auctions, a raffle for a 2011 Jaguar, and dancing after all the boxing was done.

We only had to serve drinks during the dinner and boxing, and once that finished we were free to enjoy the live band and dancing as well. That was clearly my favorite part, but I enjoyed the rest of the night too. Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini was the special guest, along with Bobby Rahal, and while I have no idea who most of the boxers were, it was still exciting to watch them box.

The most exciting part? Getting all dressed up and hanging out with grown ups for once...not to mention the free dinner at the hotel before we started to work.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Ew. After two days off to rest up from retreat, I'm now sick and scheduled to work in 40 minutes. Hopefully the Emergen-C/herbal tea I took this morning kicks in soon.

Kate & I carved a Wisconsin pride pumpkin!
Last night my roommates and I carved pumpkins for Community Night. We also did our weekly check-ins, where we tell everyone how we are feeling, if we are struggling with anything, etc. My check-in is usually positive, whether it be that I'm finally understanding my job or that I had a good week exploring Chicago. This week, though, I felt more confused about my feelings.

It started with all the crazy dreams I'd had over retreat and since returning. Stressful, almost hallucinatory dreams involving snakes, broken roller coasters, and people not listening to me. Then I tried rearranging my room, thinking that might help me feel more refreshed, and I ended up boxing my bed in with my dressers and desk. I trapped myself in to a cubicle-thing.

I haven't been to work since last Tuesday and I've been rushing around getting retreat stuff ready, then coming back and unpacking and sorting out things for this week (getting dentist appointments in order, preparing for Ringside this weekend), so it made sense that I'm a little jumbled inside and out.

With some help from my roommates, I moved some of my furniture out into the hallway to clear my room out. I did wake to find it blocking my door (thanks to Britney & Diego), but I also had an epiphany about how to arrange the furniture. Now that area of my life is straightened out and I just have to work on those dreams. I have a feeling getting back to work and into my usual routine will help that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A little Wisconsin did me good.

My roommates and I made it back to Chicago just in time for a cyclone! For all the hype (it's being called the most powerful storm in 70 years), it's fairly calm today. As in, it's not even raining anymore and the skies are blue.

I'm happy to be back, sleeping in my own bed and only sharing my bathroom with 11 other women instead of all 13 roommates plus our 2 directors, as was the situation on retreat. We were at Camp Dewan, near Burlington, but the day before seven of us were able to leave early to go to Kate's house in Brodhead. There we got to play with her barn kittens (we named them Captain, Crybaby, & Rafie...short for Rafters, which is where we found her), jump on her trampoline, help combine, and go to her brother's high school football game. I loved being in Wisconsin and staying at an actual house.

Retreat was a great way to reconnect with my roommates, because even though I live and work with them, it's hard to have quality time everyday. Camp Dewan is basically a renovated barn with an indoor basketball court/lounge area and loft for sleeping plus a lodge with more sleeping areas. Between sessions we canoed in the pond, played basketball, took nature walks, and had quiet time (aka, napped).

Our sessions focused on building community: trust, working through conflict, getting to know each other, setting ground rules for how our community should operate, etc. Some of the topics we briefly explored during our Orientation retreat, but it was much easier to talk concretely about community after living with each other for two months.

We also had guest speakers (the director of the boys' campus, the vice president of residential programs...some pretty important people), who are all awesome and so open to our questions and suggestions. That's probably one of my favorite things about Mercy Home/the MercyWorks program--people want to hear our suggestions and we know that office doors are always open, whether it's for advice or just to chat. I've been blessed with approachable supervisors in most of my previous jobs as well, and it's really one of the make or break aspects of a job, I think.

Today and tomorrow are my weekend for this week (retreat counts as work), then it's back to homework and chores in Daley Home...I feel like I've been gone from program forever and I'm starting to miss the guys and their antics!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sex Trafficking in Chicago

I'm heading up to Wisconsin this weekend! Our fall retreat for MercyWorks is in Burlington. I think what I might be most excited about is watching the Packer-Viking game on Sunday.

Last Wednesday we all went to a lecture on sex trafficking and prostitution in Chicago. It was led in part by an ex-prostitute and the discussion focused on pimps/madams. Lots of people assume pimps aren't as common as they used to be, but they are still prevalent. The leaders of the lecture did a study on 25 ex-pimps to learn about their backgrounds, motives, etc, and their results were pretty enlightening. Every person they talked to had a history of domestic violence in their homes and most experienced physical or sexual abuse as a child.

There was a lot of information to take in, but what got me most was the fact that what my coworkers and I do at Mercy linked directly to the talk. Many of our youth come from abusive backgrounds, backgrounds that would put them at greater risk for getting into the business, as it were. Which just added one more thing for me to think about at work.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I planned on waking up early this morning--at least by nine--but I didn't factor in the noise of the Chicago Marathon, which woke me up a tad earlier. I guess 45,000 people are a little noisy.

marathoners on Adams
Mercy Home sits smack dab in between miles 15 and 17, so our apartment was literally surrounded by runners for the better part of the morning. Along with the runners come all of the spectators, squad cars, and for Mercy Home, a drumline. That's right, to cheer on the marathoners we had food, balloons, drums, and lots of people.

marathon supporters outside of Mercy Home
There were so many people to watch and to cheer on (lots of people have their names written on their shirts/arms so anyone can cheer for them), and I loved seeing the crazy costumes some runners wore (a banana suit and giant Eiffel Tower being the goofiest). The weather was perfect for spectating, though I'm sure the marathoners wished it was a little cooler. Unfortunately we had our Sunday house meeting at 11, so I didn't get to see the end of the marathon, but having banana pancakes, eggs, bacon, and crazy bread after the meeting in celebration of Jillian's birthday made it all okay.

Here's a clip of some of the runners...including the Eiffel Tower man:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

City Year Recruitment

I never thought I'd feel like an expert on MercyWorks, but recruiting at a post-service fair proved me wrong. After discussing the particulars of my year of service to more than several of the 150 City Year members at Malcolm X College yesterday, I feel like a MercyWorks spokesperson.

City Year is a year of service much like MercyWorks, except there are tons of volunteers all over the country and they find their own housing in the cities they are serving. They usually end up being placed in schools as mentors and tutors and after their year they might either want to pursue another volunteer year, attend grad school, or go into full time employment. Hence the post-service fair.

Since all of the City Year members know what a year of service is, I didn't have to do a lot of explaining. I mostly got to talk about what makes MercyWorks different from other volunteer programs--namely, that all 14 MercyWorkers work for the same agency for the year and they have the option of signing on for full-time employment once their year is complete. Many volunteer programs place you in outside agencies (schools, hospitals, shelters, nonprofits) and function only as the home base for volunteers.

The City Year members also had a lot of questions about what we actually do. After describing Mercy Home to them (or to anyone), it can still be confusing as to what our job descriptions actually are. My answer to the "So what do you do?" question is usually "I'm still figuring that out." All job titles within Mercy Home tend to be flexible and inclusive, so "Youth Care Worker" encompasses a multitude of responsibilities. I summed it up by saying I provide basic structure (dinner, homework, chores, gym) for the youth as well as act as an advocate for their personal, educational, and social needs (along with giving some concrete examples).

The funny part was, when they asked how long I'd been at Mercy Home and I said two months, they seemed surprised. I was surprised too, at all the random information I knew about Mercy Home and how normal it felt to talk about it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Regaining Confidence & Energy

I can't believe it's October--not only because I can't believe I've been here almost two months, but also because it's been so warm these past few days! Luckily I've been able to take advantage of the sun with long walks and outdoor activities.

On Monday we had Oklahoma Training (named so because it was developed at the University of Oklahoma), which basically amounted to a discussion of leadership styles, how to alleviate stress, and other practical things about working in a residential facility. It's a very useful training, and once I've completed all the sessions I will be a licensed youth care professional, so it's also resume-building.

I spent my day off on Wednesday boosting my confidence by making a dentist appointment, figuring out public transportation to get myself to the Museum of Science and Industry (two transfers for a total of three different L lines), and popping in to program to find out that the morning checklist I made for my advocatee the night before did indeed help get him out the door on time. Okay, so none of these things were really that challenging, but I'd been feeling a little incompetent at work so these little things helped.

There were tons of school groups at the Museum since it was a free day, and they reminded me just how different my childhood/education is from the youth I work with. I've been to the Museum before, on a family vacation when I was in third grade, but Chicago schoolkids go there for field trips (depending on what schools they attend). Sometimes at work I marvel at the opportunities the guys have--even just the opportunity to attend good schools.

I know I probably didn't appreciate my education while I was in school, but after learning about the education system in general in my different classes, I feel like a part of my job is pointing out the blessing of a basic education to the guys. In so many ways they tend to think day-to-day--homework, reading, assignments--instead of seeing the bigger picture--high school diploma, college, living independently. I know they have a lot on their plates besides school (past traumas, behavioral issues, family stressors), but because of where they are now, the hope is that they have the support and resources to better handle these things. At least that's how I understand it.

Processing all this stuff is overwhelming sometimes. That's why they preach self-care at all the's hard to help someone else if you aren't taking care of yourself. That being said, I will feel no shame for watching Tremors and taking a nap on the couch today.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chicago Volunteers in the News

MercyWorkers got a shout out from Claire Noonan, director of the St. Catherine of Siena Center at DominicanUniversity! Check her article out here:

Community Bowls Me Over

There's nothing better than a day off right after a day off. Thursdays are to me what Sundays are to people who work regular hours and I take full advantage of mine. I've got a date planned with one of my roommates, I'll probably nap at some point, and I'm even doing a load of laundry.

Yesterday, my Saturday, I woke up early to do yoga at the dance studio across the street. Their fall session is "Pay What You Can," which is a pretty good deal. When I came back, Diego, Britney, and I made an egg scramble for breakfast before heading to the beach. The weather was perfect, and because it was a Wednesday afternoon in September, we had the beach pretty much to ourselves.

When we got back it was about time to start Community Night. First, Kevin and Megan fed us one of the best meals I've had since I got here. Our activity for the night was bowling (the Wisconsinites rocked this activity), but first we had a discussion about any concerns or props we had about community. The usual things--chores not being done, things being messy--were hashed again, but it was also good to hear that some people have been feeling left out or have been having troubles getting into community. We can guess these things, but no one really knows until it's actually talked about. Everyone in the community also gave props to each other for being honest, respecting each other, and being way fun.

Finally, we got our new simple living challenge. First we had to write down one thing we do to prepare ourselves for the day or destress after a long day, then we each got someone else's de-stresser. Diego got mine, which is to booty dance to loud music, and I got Megan's, which is to listen to this song everyday (generally before work). I'll leave you with my favorite version so far:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It ain't easy being cheesy.

It's going to be a tough day at work today, considering all my smack talk last night. I really thought the Packers would win. Who knew we'd run out of time just as the Bears took the lead. We started watching the game at the end of the second quarter, when the guys finally finished their chores for the night. (If I had a dollar for every time the guys give me an excuse for why they can't or won't do their chores, it'd be like I actually had a paying job.)  My shift was over before the game was, so I let them know as I left that I'd see them the next day, with my team as the winners.

On the plus side, I can use this as a teaching moment to show them what a gracious loser looks like.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lights & Shoes & Concept

With Wednesday came the return of our electricity in the apartment. How crazy to be able to see while showering at night! We used the extra money from not grocery shopping the previous week to buy fixings for a bunch of sandwiches, which we handed out in the Loop to the hungry/homeless gathered near train stations and in other high traffic areas.

Our new simple living challenge? Pick one pair of shoes. Wear only those for the week. We're lucky to even have a choice here, since for many people around the world their only option is to go shoeless or fashion shoes out of whatever can be found. My choice is my Toms, short for Tomorrows. When you buy a pair of shoes from this company, they send another pair to a child in a developing nation. They're super comfy and look super classy, so those are other pluses.

Yesterday and today we had Conceptual Framework training, which basically means sitting in a board room for 7 hours each day learning a lot of theory as far as therapy in residential goes. Besides sitting for so long, I really enjoyed it. I'm a theory person for sure, so concepts are pretty awesome to me. I won't discuss them all here, because I know not many people go for that stuff...besides, dinner is ready since we are celebrating Megan's birthday!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bumming at 'Bucks.


A lot has happened since last Friday. On the work front, I've definitely gotten more confident working with the guys. Developing relationships with them is my number one priority at this point, and this takes time since most of them are not trusting of people in authority/new people/white girls from rural neighborhoods. They're getting used to having me around, though, and now when I see them in the cafeteria on my days off (I can eat in my apartment or go downstairs to the caf that all the boys/staff eat in) they are like "Hi Rach! When do you work next?" Most of them know I just live upstairs, which is okay with me. Some of the guys here don't know where us vols live, but my guys are mature enough about having us so close.

I haven't had the same days off each week, but it looks like my "weekend" will be Wednesday/Thursday. It's fun because a lot of my roommates have these days off, but it kind of stinks since we have to be here Wednesday nights for Community Night, meaning I can't really take off for a weekend. (For those of you in the 9-5 M-F workforce, this is like always having to be home Saturday night.)

I made the most of this awkward weekend this week, taking in free hot yoga yesterday and Wednesday (yoga in a 97 degree with humidity room = awesome and super cleansing) and a free day at the Field Museum on Wednesday.

This week for Community Night we joined with all three houses of Amate House for dinner & training. We also heard our new Simple Living Challenge for the week. These can range from no texting to writing thank you notes and are meant to make us think about simpler things in all areas of our lives. The focus this weekis on homelessness, so first we turned the electricity off in our apartment (except fridge/freezer, stove [it's gas], and one light for fire safety reasons). Those who are homeless have to work with the natural rising and setting of the sun and most of the time can only find shelter from dusk to dawn, if at all. We now have to burn candles at night and find ourselves hanging out with each other more rather than retreating to our rooms or to a TV or computer at night. I had to do laundry in our shower yesterday and even though we have a skylight in our bathroom, it was a little cloudy so the lighting wasn't the greatest. Cell phone use has to be kept to a minimum since we can't charge them at home, and listening to the radio is out. Right now I'm at the local Starbucks to charge my phone, check my email and post on here (I also got to Skype Bailey & Quinn!).

The second part of the challege is even though we have a budget of $250 each week for apartment food, we are not going grocery shopping until next Wednesday. This wouldn't be bad, except we already hadn't gone grocery shopping for a while and we are down to the bare minimums (aka, rice and beans). Like I said before, we can eat three meals a day in the cafeteria M-F, so that helps, but it also means getting up super early to make breakfast and being around for the rest of the meals. We had to rearrange our schedules to make it back for lunch and dinner serving. Since I chose to come to Starbucks, I missed the lunch serving and will have to eat the food in the apartment or wait until dinner. We're trying not to eat up all the food in our apartment, though, since the caf isn't open on the weekends and we'll need the food then. It's really making us think about what a large part of the population deals with on a daily basis and it's interesting how much of our day now revolves around planning out meals, more specifically, where we will find our next one. Some people have complained, but the thing is, after this week we get our electricity and food many people in Chicago and around the world don't have that luxury.

Today I only work 5-10 since I work an 11 hour shift on Tuesdays and Fridays are pretty chill in program--most of my guys will go home on pass so we do an activity (movies, mall, park) with the ones who stay. Tomorrow I work during the day, which leaves my evening open for more hot yoga and seeing my roommates. We may live together, but with all of our varied schedules I have to intentionally find time to actually see some of them!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's Official: I'm a Sox Fan.

Yesterday, Jillian, Kate and I had had enough. We pulled everything off the shelves in our pantry, cleaned, resorted everything, and put things back in their proper places. We didn't stop with the pantry, though. Both freezers and fridges got a deep clean too. Things in mysterious packaging got thrown out to make room for the large donation of food the kitchen sent to us--turns out they over-ordered for programs. One call from reception and ta-da! our apartment is bequeathed with excess bread, bakery items, and cereal.

Another call from reception made Kate and I the lucky owners of tickets for the Sox game last night. She literally called us twenty minutes before the game started, so Kate and I quickly got ready and hopped on the L. Eight stops later, we joined the crowds of people still entering U.S. Cellular Field as fireworks exploded overhead (we got there late, just as Morel hit his homerun in the third inning).

Now that I've been to both a Cubs and a Sox game, I think it's okay for me to officially be a Sox fan. The Sox game was far more interesting and the fans actually cheered for their team, who in turn actually won.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaWhen Kate and I got back from the game, organizational inspirations struck again and I (with the help of Britney, Diego, and Kevin) rearranged our computer room. Now I am enjoying the positive feng shui in here and debating over whether I should take a walk outside in the rainy grayness or stay in to finish the awesome book I'm reading (The Devil in the White City, Erik's about Chicago).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Good Eats.

If I have learned anything from traveling, it's to never underestimate the differences and power of food in cultures. During the weekends at Mercy, the youth eat in program instead of the cafeteria. Most of my guys cook for themselves (or at least make PB & Js), but since they were all coming back from pass for the holiday my coworker and I decided to cook. This meant an assortment of deep fried foods, oven baked turkey tetrazzini, and tomato soup. Then on Tuesday, there was an event in the kitchen so pizza was delivered to each program, where the guys plus a few staff polished off four giant pizzas from Marcello's. (Remember, these guys are in high school...they'll eat a lot of pretty much anything.)

Cooking in our apartment amounts to similar feasts of random food items--bowls of cereal followed by leftover turkey burgers and washed down with cheese or a clementine or a handful of almonds--except on Community Night. Each Wednesday, we can expect a full-fledged meal cooked by two of our roommates and featuring their favorite recipes and family classics. A week ago Amanda and Britney made chicken and rice with beans and corn on tortillas, and last night Kate and Becca treated us to marinaded drumsticks, asparagus, and scalloped corn (similar to cornbread).

My turn to cook isn't until October, but I'm already paging through my recipes in search of something awesome. Ideas?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Taking Care of Business

I'm in the office at work right now, and the view out my window is absolutely gorgeous. I'm facing east, and all I can see is the reflection of the sun setting on the Chicago skyline. The Willis/Sears Tower stands tallest, flanked by the AT&T Corporate Center and the 311 S. Wacker Building (yep, it's really named that). The rest of the skyline extends to the north in a row of mirrored windows and heaven-reaching spires.

Program is pretty quiet tonight, with all but one of our guys home on pass. A usual Saturday afternoon/evening might include an activity (park, movies, beach), but the only youth here is in bed, not feeling well. Instead he sleeps while I read, continue to familiarize myself with policies, and make rounds every so often. The rest of my roommates either have the day off or are already done with work for the day, but I'm here until ten. Then I can join them for Becca's (one of my roommates) birthday bash (one day late, since she worked all day yesterday).

I spent my weekend (Thursday & Friday) exploring the Loop (Chicago's downtown) and catching some free jazz for Jazz Fest in Milennium Park. It's safe to say walking around Chicago is tons easier that finding my way around Rome was. For starters, the majority of streets run straight and they are all clearly labeled with street signs. I've heard that "the grid" is super important when figuring out where things are, but I'm still learning how that works. All I know is Madison and State are the origin points (0 NS/ & 0 W/E) and from there you work your way out, counting blocks up and down (ie, Jackson is at 300 S, meaning 3 blocks south of Madison, and runs from 88 E to 6000 W).

Time for another walk around program...ciao!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The only things worth paying for are free.

The life of a volunteer youth care worker is a little hectic, turns out. Also, when I told them in my interview that I am an easygoing/flexible person, I never realized how much that would come into play. What I mean is, I've been here two going on three weeks and my schedule has already changed several times.

For example, tonight I was supposed to leave at 8, but a program manager from another home came in at about 6 and asked if anyone wanted extra Cubs tickets. For tonight's game. There were four youth care workers on and we now have six youth (one move in today!), but one guy is on grounds restriction, one had lots of homework, and two really wanted gym time tonight, so only two wanted to go and another youth care worker and I got to take them.

Yep, I went to work thinking I'd be enforcing chores and watching the kids shoot hoops until bedtime and instead I ended up watching the Cubs lose horribly. It was still fun and I'm not going to complaing about free tickets or getting to finally see Wrigley!

Speaking of free things, I also found a coffee shop with free coffee on Mondays and today was Free Gyros Day, so I have the half I didn't eat for lunch waiting for me in the fridge. A MercyWorker from last year got new sunglasses and donated her old ones to me, which was fortunate because I just lost mine at the park this weekend. There's also a few free concerts in the park this weekend for Jazz Fest that I totally plan on soaking in. Such is the life of a volunteer.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What's College?

Today marks the first day of college classes for most students, but I feel so far removed from the college world that it's hard to think that my friends are actually walking around campus, having classes in Boyle and wandering around the Mulva. My route to the post office does take me through the UIC campus, though, so that was my taste of college for today. Happy first day of school my friends!
In other news, here is the community covenant we wrote and signed into effect last Wednesday:

Through the graces of God from our heart of hearts, we, the MercyWorks Community of 2010-2011, strive to wholly embrace the five program values of community, social justice, professional development, spirituality, and simple living.
We wish to intentionally bring our full presence to the spaces we enter and encourage each other to open doors and see things from a variety of perspectives, while respecting and supporting one another through the challenges ahead.
We promise to recognize the potential each person has to change the world, empower them to do so, and take responsibility for our part in that change.

(We also wrote a condensed version, which is more of an inside joke on the AmeriCorps pledge. It consists of five words: "Get things done for Amurrrica.")

Sunday, August 29, 2010

overwhelmed & completely appreciated

If it feels like I've been throwing a lot of random information at you these past few weeks, know that I feel the same way--orientation, training, and starting work has been a whirlwind of information overload. I have a feeling it will stay like this for most of the year, but hopefully my brain will figure out how to process it all and I won't feel so overwhelmed all the time.

It makes me wonder how the kids who move here handle all the transitions and new information, and that leads me to the conclusion that all of our programs here are not so different from MercyWorks. This isn't a new theory, as Katie told us at Wednesday Community Night that plenty of people have called MercyWorks the highest functioning home at Mercy (sometimes, though, we act like the lowest functioning).

Wednesday Community Nights are our weekly time to reconnect, have dinner together and reflect on one of the program values or on a relevant topic. This past Wednesday we got pizza and ice cream as a reward from our Orientation Retreat, when we won the gold at "Orientation Olympics" to build community. Our reflection was the reading and signing of the community covenant that we wrote during orientation followed by an affirmation circle. An affirmation circle is simply everyone taping a piece of paper to their backs so that everyone can write an affirmation on it without anyone knowing who wrote what. I loved reading what people wrote on mine afterwards, knowing what they enjoy about me.

Today, Sunday, means another house meeting (less fun than Community Night, and more on the business side of things). Because I went to the Daley Home staff retreat on Friday, I have today off and don't work until 2 on Monday. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Swagger Wagon

You know those commercials for the new Toyota Sienna? The ones that brag how super cool they are and how they are not mom vans, but "Swagger Wagons"? That's totally the vehicle we use at Mercy Home. MercyWorks has one, along with a few cars, and each of the programs (from now on Daley Home = my program) has its own Sienna as well.

These past few days I have spent a considerable amount of time in the Swagger Wagon. Yesterday I went with another youth care worker (YCW) to pick up groceries for Daley's community night. They have one every Wednesday, much like MercyWorks, which means I'll never be there for it, but I did get to pick out some of the food they ate! (I checked today and my shopping was a success--they finished off all the nachos they made.) 

Today, since I worked during the day with my Supervisor and the Day Coordinator, I got to ride in the Swagger Wagon during supply trips to Staples and Target and later I went with our DC to pick up two youth from school. The guys live in different programs, but since they aren't in high school yet, they get dropped off and picked up from school and with so many of them it takes lots of staff to get everyone.  When we pulled up, they were super excited to see the Swagger Wagon...until they realized I was sitting up front. These guys love riding shotgun.

Tonight I have a one-on-one "date" with one of my 13 roommates (the plan is Italian ice in Little Italy) and tomorrow I have a staff retreat for my program.....but the weekend is almost here!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Preventing Crises & Meeting Vols

You should all be pleased to know that after eight hours of lecture/practice, I am currently (mostly) CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute) trained. What does that mean? If any of the guys or girls (in any program) grabs me, bites me, or pulls my hair, I can successfully maneuver my way out of that situation. Furthermore, if any of the youth are bringing damage to themselves or another person, I know how to safely and nonviolently restrain them until they calm down.

The thought of actually restraining on of the Daley guys is a little scary, but luckily restraints rarely if ever happen in my program--it's just better for everyone to know what to do in any situation.

Tomorrow we will finish our training and get fingerprinted and the remainder of my day I'll continue to be in program, getting to know the guys.

Tonight we are having volunteers from the Amate House over for some dinner and to compare volunteer years so far. Having other volunteers in the city is nice, since we can share useful hints about where to find bargains and how to cope with stipend-living!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Intro to Daley Home

After one day on the job, I'm not about to make any grand conclusions concerning how I feel about working in Daley Home. I will say, though, that if the rest of this year looks anything like today, I will definitely survive and most likely thrive.

What I'm saying is, I had a good first day of work.

A big component of today was Wingspan training. Wingspan is the computer program we use to log the goals and transition plans for each of the youths. Some parts are updated and filled in quarterly while other parts need to be filled in on a daily or weekly basis, so it's important for us to know our way around the database.

The rest of my day was spent in program, where I did actually get to meet the guys briefly. There are five guys in Daley Home right now, but most likely a few more will move in as the school year starts (we have five open beds). They range in age from 14-16 now, but technically Daley Home is open to 11-18 year olds. If you are wondering, yes, Daley Home IS named after former Chicago mayor Richard Daley (and his wife, Eleanor "Sis" Daley), though it is a little strange since their son is the current Chicago mayor.

Today was the first day of school for several of them, one starts school tomorrow, and another doesn't begin until after Labor Day since he attends public school, so right now their daily schedule is flexible. When I got there, the two not in school were playing basketball in the gym. Then we all went to lunch together, where I got to see some of my roommates with their Homes. In the afternoon the other guys got home from school; one of them left to go to work (Daley youth 16 and over are required to have jobs) and the others scrounged around the kitchen for food even though it would be supper time soon. (Don't worry, they were all hungry again, like typical high school boys.) After supper came homework/study/reading time and when I left at seven they were finishing so they could start evening chores. Each night is a little different, but they usually have some combination of chores/homework time/gym time/free time/community meeting before bedtime and lights out between 10 & 11.

I'm excited to get to know the guys, since from what I can already see they are a fun group. I know it will take some time for them to open up to me and not treat me like a newbie, but I'm sure I will win them over eventually. :)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ciao, Summer

Since training starts tomorrow and I'll finally have to wear grown up clothes, today is essentially my last day of summer. Last night most of my housemates and I went downtown and I finally saw Cloud Gate (aka The Bean) and the Crown Fountain. This morning we went to a local church service, which I really enjoyed due to the diversity. When we got back from church, we had our first official house meeting and figured out the chore rotation (with 14 people in one apartment, things get REAL messy) and our one-on-one rotation (we get to meet with a different roommate each week one-on-one to have some real face time instead of only interacting within the group).

The rest of today is free for us, so I took the El downtown to meet up with Kate & Lara from school. I got to see The Bean in daylight as well as eat some more deep dish pizza. It was my first time taking public transportation in Chicago by myself, and all I've done before was get on the blue line and transfer to the red line to head north. I got on the blue line (we have a stop about two blocks away) to head downtown and basically guessed where to get off based on which stops sounded like downtown streets. It worked, though because when I got off I was only a few blocks from Millennium Park. I think I'll be able to do this!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Licensed to Drive

I'm officially a licensed driver in the state of Illinois. At the expense of my Wisconsin license, which they made me surrender at the DMV, and after taking a written exam, which I aced, I stood in line and got my photo taken for my brand new license. Add that to me driving in vehicles with Illinois plates downtown and in all sorts of traffic, and you have an Chicagoan.

It feels like there are so many steps to moving somewhere new and starting a new job. I've been filling out paperwork for weeks, signing tons of documents, learning how to punch in, going over job expectations and dress codes, attending daily community meetings and info sessions---and I have yet to actually meet the guys I'm working with. I have gotten a tour of my placement, Daley Home, but none of the guys were there at that time. This coming week is more training (CPR, crisis prevention, computer systems, etc) and finally on Sunday I will get to meet the guys.

If you can't tell by the randomness of these posts, I'm a mess right now. I can't remember what day it is most of the time, thanks to being gone on retreat, and I feel like I'm in an alternate universe. Having 13 roommates is awesome so far (we're still in the "Honeymoon" phase where we like each other), but because we are still getting to know each other, etc, we tend to stay up quite late to hang out. We've had so much information thrown at us in the past week that in order to stay sane I have to just take it one day at a time. Thinking ahead makes me anxious.

On Thursday, when we got back from retreat, Fr. Scott came to our apartment and cooked us a wonderful meal of pasta with pesto. He also said mass right in our living room, along with telling us a bunch of stories about the creation of Mercy Home. You can tell Mercy Home is his passion and that he puts a lot into making sure the boys and girls who live here are safe and taken care of.

Friday was our last offical day of retreat, even though we were back in the city. We went to Mary Bartelme park (a few blocks away) to go over our handbook and have a picnic lunch. It was extremely hot, so we only lasted halfway through the handbook before breaking out lunch and heading back to the apartment for the rest of it. We also decided on house jobs for the year (a coordinator for each of the program values, vehicle coordinators, hospitality coordinators, etc) and I am the MercyWorks Petty Cash Officer along with Diego. Math is not my strong suit, but I figure I can add and subtract and sort receipts. Since Mercy Home is a nonprofit, we are not taxed on our purchases (a great thing since the rate is something like 10%).

Last night we stayed in to play pictionary and study for our written driving exam today, and tomorrow we have our first house meeting to decide chores and put into effect community rules. Now I'm thinking it's time I head to the beach and enjoy the humidity. :)


Friday, August 20, 2010

Orientation Retreat Overview

I only have fifteen minutes before the last day of our Orientation Retreat begins, but quickly:

We are back in Chicago after four days in Culver, IN. Actually, we were in the middle of nowhere; Culver was a good drive into town. Our retreat house was something straight out of the 70s--we're talking modular furniture and wood paneling here--but the outdoor pool complete with slide and diving board was appreciated in the midday heat.

Our retreat focused on MercyWorks' five program values: Professional Development, Community, Simple Living, Social Justice, and Spirituality. Each day we delved into a value with our program coordinators and other coworkers from Mercy Home and then we got community time to discuss how we would like to incorporate each value into our year. (For example: on the topic of Simple Living we decided to try out Meatless Mondays for a bit.)

It was a great retreat as far as getting to know my community memebers better, mostly because we were so secluded. The retreat felt like a time warp and I have to keep reminding myself today is Friday. When we didn't have offical retreat activities to do, the fourteen of us would play Mafia (a storytelling card game? it's hard to describe), go swimming, take naps, or just hang out and talk/be goofy. A couple of us gained new nicknames thanks to late night discussions and we overall got a lot closer.

Today we are tying up any loose ends, going over our MercyWorks handbook, and celebrating the end of retreat with a picnic lunch in the park a few blocks from our apartment. We have this weekend mostly off (with the exception of taking a written drivers' test to get our Illinois licenses) and then training starts on Monday!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

First Impressions of the Second City

This place is magical! It's surreal being here, finally starting this adventure when I've been waiting for it for so long. Last night we had dinner on the beach (amazing in itself), but the drive back through the city was jaw-dropping. For some reason the song "Whatever You Imagine" from The Pagemaster popped in my head. I would post a link to it here, but media streaming sites are blocked on Mercy Home computers.

Besides unpacking, rearranging furniture (in my room that I have all to myself), and getting to know the 13 other volunteers (from England, California, Minnesota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin & Illinois), I've also been filling out stacks of paperwork for HR and the AmeriCorps, eating traditional Chicago food like deep dish pizza, and interviewing for my specific placement here at Mercy Home (I'll find out later today if I am working in AfterCare or Daley Home).

One of the most unexpected feelings I've had so far is my amazement at all the people. Mercy Home is IN Chicago, basically downtown, center city, so anytime we go anywhere there are people all over the streets. I knew there would be, Chicago's population is about 3 million--similar to Rome--but unlike in Rome, all of these people speak English and look like me. I think that's what's most...I don't know the word...unsettling? shocking? It's strange, I know.

Today is our Welcome Mass & Ceremony, so we'll be meeting more staff (including Fr. Scott, the top dog) and getting more introductory information. Then we have tonight and most of tomorrow off until we need to leave for our Orientation Retreat in Indiana. I'll blog more then, and hopefully have some pictures!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Can I Vacuum Pack My Bags With a Dyson?

The Summer Before the Summer of Love: Stories byNeed a book to help you take a break from packing your life due to the fact that you move to Chicago in 36 hours and you still have to find a way to fit all your clothes in a hiking backpack? Try The Summer Before The Summer of Love by Marly Swick.

Soon after I arrive in Chicago, I'll have my placement interview to figure out which specific job I will have at Mercy Home. On Saturday we'll have a welcome banquet/ceremony/mass and on Sunday we are headed to Indiana for our orientation retreat, so I'm not sure how much you'll hear from me until next week Friday.

Today I was (finally) reading through my volunteer handbook and came across my address:

Rachel Kaiser
MercyWorks Volunteer Program
Mercy Home for Boys & Girls
1140 W. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60607

It's a mouthful (or envelope-full) to be sure. Want a postcard from the Windy City? Send me your address and I'll think about it. :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Green Thumb, Red Tomatoes

I think Grandma Amanda would be pretty proud of these tomatoes--ripe before Grandpa Andy's birthday.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Starbucks & Service

It's funny that I spent most of the summer reading and contemplating nonfiction books more on the theory side of things, ie they strictly talked about one or more of the five program values of MercyWorks (service, spirituality, simple lifestyle, community, professional development). Funny because I both started and ended the summer with books on my own to-read list that fell under the practice side of things, ie they followed one person's journey of some sort and how they lived out one or more of the five program values.

How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone ElseThe book I started with was Eat, Pray, Love, but I've talked about that one enough on here. The book I just finished, How Starbucks Saved My Life, showcased almost all of the values, with the exception of spirituality (though an argument could be made that it had hints of spirituality).

When Michael Gates Gill finds himself out of a job, he is knocked pretty far down the social ladder. A job at a busy Starbucks in New York City allows him to refocus his priorities. Instead of demanding services from others, he serves all types of people ("Guests") without prejudice. Instead of treating himself to all-you-can-eat dinners, he cuts his spending and enjoys things like evening walks or sampling coffees. No longer a part of the cutthroat world of corporate America, he embraces his fellow Starbucks workers ("Partners") and forms a sort of community with them. And even though he had been at the top of the professional world as an advertising executive, his professional development at Starbucks puts his old life to shame.

As I read this book, I wondered why it hadn't been made into a movie yet. A simple Google search proved that one is in the making, though. It also really made me want to work at a coffee shop. Maybe that's what I'll do after my year of service in Chicago.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I'm ready, almost

The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian SpiritualityTwo weeks until I leave, and the last recommended book I'm reading is really hitting home. Ronald Rolheiser uses honest, simple language in The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality to ask and answer what spirituality is and how to apply it. He makes no apologies for the claims he makes and I can't help but agree with his logic.

As I read it, a not-so-subtle voice in the back of my mind screams: "Embrace Chicago!" and I just know this coming year is going to be full of stretching and challenges. Then I just want to get there and it's like these last two weeks are a sort of limbo, a nothing time before the next chapter of my life starts. I guess maybe I should stop looking at this summer as a roadblock and realize it's been a great three months of contemplation and physically/spiritually/mentally readying myself.