Service & Justice Trips Reflections Archive

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Taking on the Rockies

1912378_10152208827572870_834156329_nI pushed open the doors, stepped foot inside the St. Francis Center in Denver, Colorado, and took a gasping breath. I turned my head up and was greeted by the sight of around 700 people staring at me. I could only think of one word to describe how I felt: intimidated. Feeling that many eyes on me, I decided to turn right and walk up to the desk that was labeled “Intake.” As I reached the desk, I was greeted with a smile and a few words, “Is this your first time here?” It hit me, then, that you never realize who you are until you are mistaken for someone else. It didn’t matter where I was from, what ethnicity I was, how old I was, ANYONE could be homeless, because it could happen to ANYONE. Make no mistake about it, I was not offended. I gained insight. I knew then how much I was about to discover.

The St. Francis Center is a homeless day shelter that provides mail services, a clothing room, access to a phone, storage, and other basic necessities like showers and laundry. All of the Denver group got split into pairs for the first two days and were assigned a location. My partner, Eric Stanek, and I were a bit disoriented as we walked into the staff break room, awaiting a coordinator to tell us further directions. After about twenty minutes we were equipped with name tags, and given our first job, the clothing room.

This was a more one-on-one interaction with the guests. Our job was to stand behind one of the counters and get t-shirts, underwear, and pants from the shelves according to what size the customers wanted. Of course being a girl, when a man is saying size 36 x 32 you are absolutely distraught over what this means. I tried to make small talk with them, smile and tell a joke. Relating to the guests was a way I could give back, let them know I wanted to be their friend, not just give them things. Like a mutually beneficial relationship, I slowly let myself gain knowledge from these people who were, in many ways, probably wiser than me. You don’t expect them to offer you anything, you are there to serve, but you acquire understanding from real events, from real people and their experience.

Our next work site for the day was at mail services. It was chaotic but worthwhile. One of my most distinct recollections was of a man named Thomas. Like every other person that came up to the window, Thomas told me his full name and asked politely if I could check his mail. I examined his I.D. to verify his name and went to search. Three minutes went by before I returned with his mail. I handed him his envelopes and wished him a nice day with a smile. He took the letters from me and said with sincerity, “Thank you Gwen. Heaven must really be missing their angel.”

He walked away while I was still in bit of a state of disbelief. I have reflected on that moment dozens of times since then, each time realizing something new. He wasn’t trying to be cliché; he was stating his gratitude for my aid. I learned that something as small as having an address to have your items mailed to, something that we might take for granted, could mean so much for someone. I found that the power of a smile might be enough to shine a light on how one person cares for you. Most importantly, I grasped how going on my service trip might not change the world, but I could make an impact, even a small one, even on just a single person.

Reflecting on your trip is a great method to experience it through the past of what happened, the present of what you learned, and the future of how you want to take that and let it change you. Being intimidated is a scary thing. No one ever really wants to be put in a situation where they don’t have full control. Sometimes you just need to let go and experience. St. Francis Center did intimidate me when I first entered, but the wisdom it has given me will continue to assist me in my future endeavors, especially service.


Gwen McElhattan
Class of 2017
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Participant

 

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Sharing Humanity

Bridget Su CasaBelow is a dialogue-reflection Bridget Battafarano shared from her Service & Justice Trip to Albuquerque, NM.

Scene: Albuquerque, NM; St. Martin’s Hospitality Center (Day shelter for people experiencing homelessness)

As the shelter was about to close one day, a man was walking out with his backpack. The strap suddenly ripped and he looked up and let out a frustrated breath. Seeing him, I said ,“Hey, you know the shower station is closed now, but there are sewing supplies in there and if you come back tomorrow, you can use them to fix that strap. Or I could sew it for you if you want.”
“Really?”
“Yeah.”
“Thanks.”
I thought that maybe this man would return and fix his strap. I was proud of myself for offering my services, for offering a helping hand. I did not think much more of it. What I was not expecting was that this man would come back the next day and search for me in the incredibly crowded shelter because his backpack really was in dire need of some stitches. So, stopping my project of the moment, I went with this man – whose name I learned is Randy – retrieved the necessary supplies, and sat down with him to sew. As we sat, Randy told me a bit about himself and we shared conversation with those sitting around us. I sewed the first strap on his backpack and realized the loop at the top was only half attached.
“Do you want me to reattach this?”
“No, I’ll never use it. You can keep it. You can stitch my initials in it. To remember me.”
At first, I found this suggestion odd, but only very briefly. Randy had become, in my eyes, a man who was not to be pitied but admired and befriended. When I went to sew his backpack straps, I think I was, unconsciously, thinking of this as something I could do for someone else. It turned out that what I was doing was simply being with Randy and the others. We were sharing in our common humanity, we were being with one another as human beings. None of us were “getting on the other’s level” or changing ourselves to try to relate better. I felt a sense of utter equality and peace in knowing that this was not about solving anyone’s problems or leveling the playing field because there were no differences that mattered between us in those moments. We share the same air and growing space, the same world, and that is enough to tie us in ways that we cannot sever.
I had run out of thread on the first strap and the remaining thread options were dark blue and pink.
“So, you want the pink, right?” I said with a smile.
“Ah, no. The other – actually, yeah. Sew it in pink, so I remember.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yeah.”
And there it was. An exchange of remembrances so simple that it may not mean anything to anyone else. But my backpack loop with the initials “R. J.” crudely embroidered, is a constant reminder of this man, what he taught me, and the humanity we all share.”

Bridget Battafarano
Class of 2015
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Participant

 

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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The Ultimate Urban Plunge

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
Did I think my Spring Break would involve feeding pretzels to strangers in some public library in Indiana? How about asking the neighbor for a toilet plunger because we had some issues plunging? Or even having a brilliant man who had no home write me a poem about my smile?

Nope. Not a single one of these thoughts had crossed my mind. I was super excited, but I had no clue what to expect. Now, after just getting back from Cleveland, Ohio, I can confidently say this was the best spring break I have ever had.

Before I went on my Spring Break Service & Justice Trip, I learned about seven different pillars, all of which were clearly present during my trip. However, one that especially stuck out to me was community. Not only did my group form an awesome little community, but we also made connections with the people we met in Cleveland.

I did not know anyone in my group before going on the trip, and it’s so cool to think that now after spending a week with them 24/7, we formed into a little family. We cooked, slept, drove, ate, laughed, and even (some of us) shed a few tears together. We now share numerous inside jokes, experiences, and memories that I can only hope mean as much to my group as they do to me.

The community in Cleveland was awesome! The Catholic Worker House volunteers, our hosts, were enthusiastic and passionate about what they do. They put together an awesome schedule for us for the week, took the time to get to know us, and even invited us over for dinner on Wednesday night. The people we met in Cleveland were amazing as well. On the last night, I was sitting and talking with two younger gentlemen who, despite everything they had been through, still understood their purpose in life and the positive direction they were heading towards. They were SO talented too. One wrote me a poem, and the other was free-styling poems about what he saw around him. The conversations I had with the people I met in Cleveland taught me so much about life, and they have definitely changed my perspective on the world. The man who was free-styling, L-Train was his name, asked me to write on his hand just one word to describe my week in Cleveland. The word came to mind right away, and I wrote on his hand: “eye-opening.”

I hope to be involved with Service & Justice trips for the remainder of my time at Creighton, because after going on this one, I can’t think of a better way to spend my Fall and Spring breaks.

Cassie Weck
Class of 2017
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Paricipant

 

 

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Who, What, Where, When, Why?

Iwa Chanthavong Photo
Upon arriving in Minneapolis for my first Service trip experience, I was overwhelmed with thoughts, emotions, and most of all – QUESTIONS. Who am I going to meet? What will our host site look like? And, I have to confess, how am I going to survive without my phone and makeup?! Throughout the week these questions were slowly answered, but what I did not initially realize was that the questions that truly mattered were the ones that could not be so easily solved. They were the ones that stemmed from the people I met, the conversations I had, and the amazing stories I heard.

One evening in particular brought these important questions to mind. Immigration was the focus of the evening, and I honestly did not think that immigration would be a part of our trip. However, it ended up being one of the most impactful topics I encountered during the service trip. On that evening, a few brave women opened their hearts to us and shared their immigration stories. These women immigrated to the US in hopes for better job opportunities and decent living conditions. As immigrants in the US they work hard, long days for low wages. In addition, their constant fear of being deported or caught keeps them from living in peace. One woman, for example, had to leave her son behind in Mexico and has not seen him in years – she told us all she wanted was to be able to see her son and hug him. Another woman and her husband put their faith in a lawyer who told them he would help them gain legal documentation, but he ended up stealing all of their savings and forced them to start all over again.

As a result of these stories and the discussion afterward, my mind exploded with questions. Why are living conditions in Mexico the way they are? Why are immigration laws the way they are? What can I do to create justice for these women and for others who share similar stories? How can I take these stories from Minneapolis to Omaha, apply them to my own community, and make an impact on those around me? My service trip taught me three important things. First, the most important questions are the ones that are the hardest to answer. Second, asking tough questions like the ones above should come hand-in-hand with doing service. And finally, even though the questions may remain unanswered, it is important that I take them with me wherever I go. The questions above have traveled back to Omaha with me, and I know that they will motivate me to find answers and create justice for immigrants.

Iwa Chanthavong
Class of 2015
Heider College of Business
SBSJT 2014 Trip Participant

 

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Communicating Compassion

group picDuring this past Spring Break, I was fortunate enough to go to Bethphage Village in Axtell, NE. Through this experience, I got the opportunity to get to know individuals living with intellectual disabilities. I came into this trip with little knowledge of intellectual disabilities and the struggles that these members of our society are facing. Admittedly, I was very awkward the first day I was with the residents. Because many of the residents could not verbally speak, I was at a loss for how to communicate with them.

This began to change after I met a man I’ll call Ethan. From the moment I met him, it was clear what a joyful spirit he has. Every day when I would walk into the room, Ethan would get the most enormous smile on his face and stretch out his hand towards me. I spent most mornings and afternoons simply holding his hand or letting him lean his head on my shoulder. As the days progressed, I found myself verbally speaking less and less when I was around Ethan. I quit trying to fill the silence with my own form of communication. Instead, I allowed myself to adopt Ethan’s communication of a wide smile and a gentle touch.

During my time spent with Ethan, he gave me more than I could ever hope to give him. He taught me that all of us want to be understood, regardless of the means we have to convey ourselves. We all have a deep yearning for compassion and community that can only be found in the presence of others. It is what connects us all on a much deeper level than speech can. It is what gives our lives meaning. It is what makes us human.

Hannah Mullally
Class of 2016
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Coordinator

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Simply Living in a not so Simple World

nanny resume picture
Imagine spending a week in a place you have never been, with people you don’t know without your phone or laptop. In a world that is constantly connected, it is somewhat liberating but also terrifying to be socially detached. When I went on my spring break service trip with the CCSJ, I experienced this social isolation. Although it was frightening at first, I quickly realized it was a great opportunity to live vulnerably. I believe that vulnerability fosters enormous growth because it forces one to take risks and experience new things. I am thankful I had the opportunity to leave my phone behind and experience Detroit, Michigan unplugged, off-line and disconnected.

While in Detroit, myself and five other Creighton students stayed with the Daughters of Charity. These women were such gracious hosts and I learned so much about love and selflessness through their hospitality. They welcomed us with open arms each night as we had dinner with one another. This was a special time for the sisters because it was the time of day in which everyone was home. During the day, each sister went out to serve in different ministries throughout Detroit. We visited several of their ministries and helped when we were able to be of assistance in the soup kitchen, Catholic grade school and Covenant House which housed homeless 18-22 year olds.

Living with the Daughters of Charity for a week was a great opportunity to live in solidarity. Each night after dinner we would watch the news with the sisters. Each of the sisters had their own craft they liked to do while sitting together in the living room. My group and I actually learned to crochet on our trip thanks to one of our group members who taught us all. This was a special way that we joined the sisters to work on our crochet while we sat with them after dinner. Although there was a considerable difference in our ages and interests, watching the news was a simple way for us and the sisters to come together and be in each other’s presence.

Although sitting and watching the news while crafting seems insignificant, this experience taught me to be present to the people I am with instead of constantly being concerned with my phone and things happening elsewhere. Living in solidarity with the sisters allowed me to appreciate the simple lifestyle they lived and how they cared selflessly for each other through small acts of kindness; clearing other peoples’ plates from the table, serving dessert to others before themselves and simply offering up one’s chair for the comfort of another were just a few acts of kindness these sisters constantly did for one another. It was a privilege to meet these examples of humility and experience solidarity I would have been deprived of had I been consumed with the pettiness of my phone. There is a world happening right before our eyes filled with people to meet and experiences to be had. However, sometimes our phones and laptop screens get in the way. Close your laptop and put down your phone. Look around you. There is beauty to be found even in the most simplest of things.

Steph Sehon
Class of 2017
College of Nursing
SBSJT 2014 Trip Participant

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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