Weekly Service Sites Archive

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Warm Hearts and Hard Starts: A Reflection for World Refugee Day

world-refugee_Day_14It was a nice break from the usual slogging through ESL and cultural orientation material. Today, instead of practicing introductions, writing letters and numbers or learning about job expectations, we gathered with the students we were tutoring and worked on an art project together.

 With a few paper cut-outs, red, yellow and orange tissue paper, magnet strips, and some glue, my weekly service site group and the dozen or so students at the Southern Sudanese Community Association (SSCA) created something truly beautiful: autumn leaf magnets covered with balls of tissue paper, in various designs and patterns.

Every week my co-coordinator and I took a small group of Creighton students to the SSCA to help tutor refugees in ESL, cultural orientation and job training classes. Actually, all of these were usually combined into one class, taught by one very patient, very joyful volunteer, a recent college graduate named Ben.

Every week we practiced introducing ourselves and saying where we were from, wrote numbers and letters, learned job-necessary vocabulary and prepared for the citizenship test. Our success depended on the students’ ages, newness and levels in the class.

As someone who has never had to flee my country for safety reasons, and as someone who would probably struggle to find these students’ native countries on a map, it was uncomfortable for me, at first, to spend two hours working with people I could hardly communicate with, whose lives I barely understood.

Despite all of this, friendships were forged, not only between the students I tutored and myself, but also between themselves and one another. And the more I engaged with this community, the more I felt a part of it and felt a desire to be in solidarity with them.

It was amazing to watch the students build a community between themselves. They all came from different countries (mostly Burma and Bhutan) and were fluent in different languages, but they always found ways to help and joke with each other.

Humor, it appears, can travel across other languages. When someone mispronounced an English word, or when something that Ben was teaching sounded funny, they would all look at each other and laugh. If a fellow classmate was struggling to get something right, they would all chime in, either in imperfect English or in that student’s native language, to help explain it.

Despite the language barrier, there were always ways of connecting with the students. Laughter and joy are things we can understand no matter what language we speak. The students spoke through wide grins, bright eyes and a willingness to laugh at themselves as they stumbled over words. It was a language I could understand and return with my own laughter and smiles.  Every so often I’d ask a student to teach me a word in their native language, which made me feel the most connected to these resilient, storied people.

They always impressed me. Day in and day out the students got themselves to class, often while balancing jobs. They had this determination that could not be quenched. All of them were older, but they had the hope and humor of elementary school students.

The more I got to know the students, the more I could envision what their lives were like before immigrating to the United States. It was hard to imagine spending  almost my entire life in a country and suddenly having to flee it for another because of violence and corruption. At these students’ ages, learning a new language was hard, being forced to adapt to a new culture was scary, and not knowing anyone was terrifying.

Yet these refugees never gave up. They never gave up the love and pride they had for their home countries, nor did they give up their project of making this country their home. To get to be a part of that project did so much more for me than I probably did for them. As I taught the students, I learned from them about a world beyond my own, a world that challenged me to love and be in greater solidarity with its people.

Even with all of this, it was still nice to take a break from the hard work and just have fun by doing an art project together. I was astounded by the woman I partnered with for the project. Every time I finished one of my little leaf magnets, I’d look down at it in pride, thinking, Wow, this turned out better than I thought it would. Then I’d look at my partner’s leaves and admire her creativity. I could never have come up with the kind of designs she had on her leaves. They were beautiful.

At the end of the class, as I gathered my leaves and said goodbye to the students, my partner took one of my leaves—my favorite of the three—and then took my hand, looked in my eyes and smiled. When she let go, one of her beautiful leaves was in my hand. A way to remember each other, a symbol of solidarity, an icon of her warm heart and the hard start she was overcoming.

Anna Ferguson
Student Coordinator
Class of 2015

 

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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A Friendship at the Juan Diego Center

Katie Garrity

At the Juan Diego Center, I got to reunite with a woman I have been working with over the past few weeks. She ran up to me, gave me a hug, and said, “¡Mi hija! I’ve missed you!” She then proceeded to joke with me about the “europeos” (one of the many words I can’t pronounce in Spanish) and ask how classes were. I was so happy to see her that I didn’t even take the time to wonder how we became friends through our one hour of studying a week.

As we studied for the citizenship test, several questions came up about voting age and rights. This November was the first presidential election I was able to vote in, and we talked about how excited I was to vote. I looked at this woman who has been studying so hard to become a citizen so she, too, can have the right to vote. I realized what a privilege it is for me to be able to support a candidate and use my ballot to say I agree or disagree with the policies and views of the people running for office. I know in this election, the rights of the people I have worked with at the Juan Diego Center who cannot yet vote will be reflected in my choices.

I have been so privileged to get to work at the Juan Diego Center and meet some truly incredible people. Everyone has been so patient with my struggles with Spanish as we work together to learn about what it means to be a citizen of the U.S. I have felt a renewed sense of what it means to be a citizen of the United States, and it has helped me become more aware that I need to take advantage of the rights that come along with living here.

Katie Garrity
CCSJ Student Coordinator
Class of 2014

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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Southern Sudanese Community Association Service on Mondays

Southern Sudanese Community Association
Mondays 1:00-3:00
Start Date: January 28

The SSCA assists refugees in learning to work and live in their new culture in order to provide better lives for themselves and their families. Come help them transition to life in Omaha by tutoring them in English. Meet the van at Deglman Circle. 

For more information or to reserve your spot, contact:
Michelle Villegas:
MichelleVillegas@creighton.edu
KatieGarrity:
KatieGarrity@creighton.edu


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Siena/Francis House Weekly Service on Thursdays

Siena/Francis House
Monday 4:40-6:15 pm
Start Date: Monday January 28

Share a meal and conversation with Siena/Francis House guests who are homeless or in addiction recovery. Learn about the real-life challenges faced by our neighbors. Meet the van at Deglman Circle.

For more information or to reserve your spot, contact:
Haley Warren:
HaleyWarren@creighton.edu
Ryan Freeman:
RyanFreeman@creighton.edu


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Humility Found Through Service

One of the best parts of working here in the CCSJ Office is getting to lead a weekly service site. The site that I co-lead every week is to Siena/Francis House.

Every Thursday, I run out of class and meet my group down in Deglman Circle, and we embark on our 4 block ride to the Siena/Francis House, the largest homeless shelter in the area.

For the first half of our time there, we sit down and eat with the other people getting meals there. This is something that is often a little unexpected for first-time participants, because they usually expect to be serving the meal, and not being served. This, however, is one of the most special parts of the day for me because we get to sit in communion and commonality with the guests there, who are really members of our community.

After we have all finished our meals, we head over to an adjoining building where we are greeted by Tim Sully, a director at Siena/Francis House, and someone who is currently enrolled in their drug and alcohol recovery program. We all head back to one of the overflow rooms they have for women and children and sit in a circle.

As we sit there, we listen to the story of the person who is in the recovery program. This can be one of the most difficult aspects of the site because we hear stories of drug use, incarceration, and abuse. Although these stories can be shocking or challenging, I find that they are incredibly humbling to listen to.

It is very common for addicts to have the mentality that they are in control of their addiction, or that they need to be able to control their situation–let’s face it, we all feel that way sometimes. For them to come to Siena/Francis and give up full control and completely trust in the program and God (or whatever higher power), is a true expression of humility. This never ceases to amaze me and make God’s presence feel real to me.

Ryan Freeman

Class of 2013

 

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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Presence

By: Haley Warren

I am one of two coordinators who leads the service site to the Siena/Francis house homeless shelter every week. My first experience with the Siena/Francis house was during one of the first weeks of my freshman year. The first day I went, I absolutely hated it. I felt uncomfortable, and was unable to find the value in the awkward silence at my table. I almost didn’t go back.

But something pulled me back there, and that same thing has been pulling me back ever since. I can’t quite put into words exactly what this thing was, but through reflection I have come to conclude that it had something to do with how uncomfortable the Siena/Francis House made me feel. When I first went to volunteer there, I was expecting the classic passing out food to homeless people type service. When I got there and the coordinators told me that I was going to be eating, and talking with homeless people, I was caught off guard. When I was reflecting with my roommate later that night, we said things such as I feel like we aren’t even doing anything. I thought we were actually going to be helping by serving food. At that time I hadn’t realized that building relationships is the most profound and important aspect of service to me. I can’t put into words how thankful I am that I went back that second week, because I honestly can’t imagine who I would be, or where I would be, had I not continued to attend this weekly service site.

Even though I knew in the past that I enjoyed going to the Siena/Francis House, I hadn’t really figured out exactly why I love it so much until these past two weeks. The first time I went back this semester, I found it easier to talk, to be present, and to be interested in the people I was sitting with. Unlike last year, I no longer had to force myself to be my usual, outgoing Haley-self. I felt comfortable around people who society tells us we should feel very uncomfortable around.

The second time we went this semester, I started leading reflection by sharing a short story written by Thich Nhat Hahn. In his writings, Hahn describes the method by which he ate cookies as a child. As a kid he took up to 45 minutes to eat one cookie. While he ate, he went outside and was present to everything around him: “the sky, the earth, the dog, the flowers.” He suggests that, “it is possible to eat our meals as slowly and joyfully as I [he] ate the cookie of my [his] childhood.” And he finishes saying, “the present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” After I shared this with the group, each of my peers contributed something about what presence means to them. My sharing was rooted in my experience studying abroad in Bolivia this past summer.

My freshman year of high school I did not get involved in extra-curricular activities. Therefore, when I came to college, I was committed to get as involved as possible. One of the things I decided to do last year was apply to study abroad in the summer. For some reason, applying for this program, even as a freshman, felt like the right thing to do. Once again, something was pulling me to push myself way outside of my comfort zone.

While I was in South America, there were many times I was very bored. As many people know, I tend to book myself to the brink. I often overcommit, and stretch myself thin because I am so passionate about so many different things. Therefore, the more laid-back lifestyle of Latin America was a big adjustment for me, that I am not sure I ever quite grasped while I was there. Bolivia was the first time in my life in which there were times that I had to be bored, and there was nothing I could do about it.

At the time, it annoyed me, but looking back on it, I know that being bored is just what I needed in order to realize how important relationships and presence are to me. When I came home from school at the end of the day and had no internet, no smartphone, no technology to distract me, I was pushed to interact and be fully present with my host family. The talks I had with them and the time we shared together was authentic and beautiful.

Coming back to the states, living the busy lifestyle that I once couldn’t live without has been really hard for me. Taking 19 credits and being as involved with work and other extra-curriculars as I am was something I thought I could handle. But that was before presence and relationships were something that I realized I really wanted to focus on as I transitioned back after being abroad. Also, it has been hard for me to text people, and even to talk to people on the phone, because these ways of communication seem so impersonal to me; and over the past couple months being home, I have really struggled with that. Our society is so technologically based, and being busy is seen as a good thing. In fact, when people aren’t busy, sometimes they are seen as lazy, or are seen as not living up to their full potential. Due to the nature of our society, there are so many ways to get distracted, and therefore it is much harder to push oneself to be present at every moment of every day.

During these busy, busy first few weeks back at school, the Siena/Francis house has kept me sane. When I go to this amazing place, I am able to break bread with beautiful people who I would never otherwise meet. I get the chance to hear someone’s story in the addiction recovery program. I get a chance to put aside all of my stress, all of my homework, all of the tasks I am expected to complete for an hour and a half, and just be with my brothers and sisters.

The Siena/Francis house is a place where people are present to me, and I am present to them. The gift of presence is one I receive every time I go there, and I am so thankful to be able to say that it is also a gift I am able to give.

“La cosa mas importante que yo lo aprendí durante las semanas ha ido la importancia de la presencia y de mis relaciones” –Excerpt from a song I wrote in Bolivia a few days before returning home.

 

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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