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.