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.)