Foot Care & Kinship

I clean the feet of men experiencing homelessness each and every day. Over the past seven months, the patients at Christ House have become special people in my life. Christ House opened in December 1985 as the first residential medical facility for people experiencing homelessness in the United States. As a 24 hour medical facility, the patients live at Christ House on average for 41 days, sometimes reaching upwards of a year.

I serve as a nursing assistant, and my day includes patient vital signs, wound care, foot care, laundry, housekeeping duties and more. Cracking jokes about pedicures, spa days and more, make this seemingly simple task of foot care all the more enjoyable. Exchanging humor and laughter with the patients throughout the day is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my day. There are histories of pain and suffering from many of our patients’ pasts, and laughter serves as a medicine throughout our halls.

On the evening of the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, I gathered at a local D.C. church for a candlelit memorial service and vigil procession to honor the 45 men and women who died living on D.C. streets this past year. Repeated over and over again, I heard, “It is not enough to survive, we must all aim to thrive.” In a country as prosperous as ours, one should not die without the dignity of a home. I am committed to the idea that housing is the most basic form of healthcare, as a primary necessity in establishing and maintaining good health. The patients have changed my worldview and as each month passes, I appreciate more aspects of my own life that I once took for granted, such as a clean pair of socks and my warm bed at night.

Jojo at Christ House
Jojo celebrating Valentine’s Day with friends at Christ House.

The kinship created and fostered among patients and staff at Christ House are what makes it so unique. Soon after patient Mr. Steve comes to Christ House, he gives me the nickname “Jojo.” However, in the months of December and January, “Jojo” changes to “Pinky” because ‘My face immediately turns pink when I step outside’, according to him. Every few weeks, during a break from the wound care and foot care, I am able to take Mr. Steve to the local CVS to buy Ensure protein shakes. On our way, we stop at the local bodega for his cigarettes, something he knows “I do not advocate for.” He fills his bag with lollipops in order to meet the $10 minimum, something I also advocate against. While we are at CVS, I see a friend from the neighborhood and introduce her to Mr. Steve, as “my friend Mr. Steve.” As we are checking out, he notes that he wants to buy a new toothbrush, something that we provide at Christ House to the patients. I say to him, “We have plenty of toothbrushes at home.” As we walk home, at a snail’s pace, he says to me, “Thank you for calling Christ House home.” And I know that this small action of kinship had meant a lot to him. Eventually, after six months at Christ House, a space at a nursing home opens up for Mr. Steve, and his time to leave Christ House, his home, has come. He is nervous, and rightly so. He is afraid of the unknown. He tells me to take care of myself, and to say hi to my parents that he met when they visited. A few days go by, and the nursing station phone rings and Mr. Steve asks to speak with me and my coworker Sam. I answer the phone and hear Mr. Steve on the other line: “I told you I wouldn’t forget you, Jojo,” as he proceeds to quiz us on history trivia as he had done the past few months. And we both know he will be alright.

Patients like Mr. Steve have shown me the importance of kinship, and becoming one with the people we serve. The daily interactions of my work have deepened my compassion and empathy. I celebrate the highs and lows in our patients’ lives, and share many deep conversations and eye-opening revelations with the men who live at Christ House. I will never forget their abundant lessons, advice and friendship. #EndHomelessness

Joanna Kilbane Myers
Joanna Kilbane Myers, aka Jojo, graduated from The Ohio State University and is working as a Nursing Assistant at Christ House (DC) this year. Joanna plans to go medical school after her year of service.
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A Different Kind of Service Year

Serving at Don Bosco Cristo Rey has been a unique year of service opportunity. Typically, when one thinks of a year of service, they envision direct contact with the poor and the homeless; working at a soup kitchen, working in a donations center, or another ministry akin to those. However, at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School and Corporate Work Study Program, there is not that same feel. I am working in an office setting, wearing a shirt and tie every day. One must look deeper than the surface to see the service being done here. The students with whom I have had the pleasure of working with this year are extraordinary. Don Bosco is a low income high school, but our students do not let financial setbacks define who they are, but instead use it as a catalyst to take advantage of the college preparatory education presented to them at Don Bosco.

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Cap Corps Volunteer, John Sorice, and Ana Chapa, Director of the Corporate Work Study Program, with the statue of school patron, St. John Bosco.

Don Bosco is a part of a 30 school nationwide Cristo Rey network. Being a low income high school, students must demonstrate a financial need to attend. To offset the cost of tuition, students participate in the work study program, through which they work a corporate job 5 days a month. After first learning about the mission of Don Bosco, I did not really understand how high school students could work in the corporate world, or at what types of companies they would be working. However, not long after being here, I quickly realized that our students contribute real work to real law firms, government agencies, accounting firms, and many other businesses across the Washington D.C. metro area. In my position as a Program Assistant in the Corporate Work Study Office, I am constantly able to engage with the students. Seeing them in school, at work, and during their afterschool activities has given me a deep appreciation for what it means to be a member of the Don Bosco family. At a placement like Don Bosco, it is easy to be content with the plethora of paperwork and excel spreadsheets that need to be completed. At times, it can be difficult to see the service. However, there are so many opportunities to engage in the service at Don Bosco if you are open to taking advantages of the opportunities presented. Throughout the course of the year, I volunteered to chaperone the homecoming dance and prom. I volunteered as a baseball coach, and played in the school futbal league. These opportunities to engage with the students outside of the classroom and work environment helped me to develop a relationship with the students built on trust and mutual respect, which truly reflect the Salesian approach to education.

When making the decision to participate in a service program, you expect to make a difference in the lives of those you serve. However, my experience here at Don Bosco has felt a bit backwards. It is difficult to appreciate the impact you are having on young lives while volunteering, I am confident this is something I will be able to reflect upon once my service year is complete. However, what I feel on a daily basis is the positive impact that each one of my students is having on me. Despite their financial circumstances, their home lives, or the obstacles they face each day to succeed, the students of Don Bosco Cristo Rey come to school and work with an incredibly positive outlook on life. Their ability to thrive when people have told them they cannot has pushed me to be a better person, and to appreciate the gifts and talents I have been blessed with. I cannot imagine my year of service anywhere other than Don Bosco, and am thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of a school tasked with a mission to change lives.

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John Sorice graduated from Villanova University and worked at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School as a Cap Corps Volunteer for the 2015-2016 Volunteer Year. He supported students directly in their roles at work, providing mentoring and guidance, as well as communication with supervisors. He was offered a position at the end of his service year and is currently on staff at the high school.

Moments of Epiphany

I love helping students understand things. That’s something I only discovered this fall, during my tenure volunteering at St Francis International School.

Elementary school kids aren’t too thrilled when you drill them on grammar. Nor arithmetic, multiplication tables, or spelling. Trust me, I know. I’ve been drilling these subjects into the kids at St Francis International School since August. They squirm uncomfortably in their chairs, stubbornly insisting that they get it, that no, they really don’t need my help, that wrong answer they just wrote down was a fluke. A former chair-squirmer myself, I override each student’s objections, plop myself down stubbornly in the nearest teeny-tiny chair, and drill grammar and multiplication until, seemingly magically, my students get it.

That’s the moment I live for- the one when something clunks into place, and suddenly my student understands something he or she didn’t two seconds earlier. It’s wonderfully clear when that epiphany moment happens. There’s this shy smile that overtakes the student’s formerly haughty expression.

I saw it when cool eighth grader Brian, already grumpy at being forced to spend his precious recess practicing for the Catholic high school admissions test, suddenly understood the mysterious pattern behind using commas to connect clauses. For a moment, the haughty expression masking his day dreams of throwing a football were replaced by a shy smile towards his desk.

I saw it when Veronica, a mathematically struggling fifth grader, suddenly understood subtracting mixed numbers. Ignoring her fluttery insistence that she needed no help, I sat beside her until she too wore a shy smile, emboldened by five correct answers in a row.

On days when I have those encounters, I leave St Francis School feeling no less exhilarated than my students. I helped someone understand something! I taught a child something that I myself didn’t understand when I was his or her age! That day, a child wouldn’t have to suffer a pain I’m still familiar with: the embarrassment and frustration of not understanding something that seemingly everybody else got easily.

Volunteering at St Francis reminds me of perhaps the most basic principal of ministry: Ministry begins in using your own experiences to make someone else’s life a bit better, even if your own experience was nothing more than confusion and self-doubt.

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Christiana Gellert is a graduate of Catholic University. Her placement is at St. Francis International School in Washington, DC. 

 

Prayer & Ministry by Amber Johnson

Tuesday is my prayer night in our community in the Cleveland house. I work as a Patient Advocate/Health Care Coordinator at Migration and Refugee Services, and a couple weeks ago I decided to mention the refugee crisis and incorporate the struggles of these modern-day individuals and compare their plight to those found in various passages of the Bible.

The first verse I mentioned was Exodus 14:1-14.  In this passage, God convinces Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free. Soon after Pharaoh sends them on their way, he changes his mind and sends waves of men on chariots to chase after the Israelites, which are swept away by the sea during their pursuit.  This is many ways is very similar to what is going on in our world today.  People are being driven out of their home countries or are forced to flee due to persecution and oppression.  There are hundreds of thousands being killed and tortured for simply being different or for their beliefs. With such evil and hate surrounding so many, it seems impossible that there is any good in the world.

Most of the refugees I come in contact with acknowledge that even before they had the slightest hope of coming to the United States, it seemed highly unlikely that there was a plethora of “do-gooders” in the world willing to help them. Although they appreciate what we do, because of where they have come from and what they have endured, it seems utterly bizarre that there are so many (in the U.S. or other countries) willing to help people that they don’t know or who may be very different and seemingly unrelatable. Just as Moses reassures the Israelites, the compassion and care on behalf of those fighting for justice reassure the refugees that, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Those who have suffered greatly will eventually be rewarded greatly, they need only to have faith and patience.

The second passage reflected upon on was Psalm 34.  Highlighting how those who fight for justice will be protected, praised, and uplifted by God, I used this verse as a continuation of the verse in Exodus.  While those who are living in fear are “being still,” and putting their faith in God, God inspires millions to fight for the oppressed, the marginalized, and the downtrodden.  My favorite line of Psalm 34 reads, “Learn to savor how good the Lord is; happy are those who take refuge in Him. This means that those who truly believe in the wonders of the Lord will be at home with Him and will be rewarded for their faith. I believe that anyone seeking change and fair treatment for the lowly are looked upon in favor by God, and He will always have a special place in His heart for the brave.

I closed my reflection with the verse Romans 8:28-39.  Perhaps the most powerful of the three passages, this verse solidifies that no matter who, what, where we are, how we feel, or what we have done will ever keep us from being loved and guarded by the Lord.  Putting this into context with today’s issues; fear of persecution, torture, death, despair, etc. cannot stand in the way of God leading us to salvation.  We will always have someone looking down upon us and fighting for us, if we continue to fight for His kingdom here on earth, regardless of our gender, our color, our religion, our language, or even our political ideals. These three verses challenge us to be patient and to trust in the Lord, and if we do, we are promised eternal love, guidance, and protection, no matter what evil we have faced. I call upon everyone to think about your relationship with God, and ask yourself if you have done the things these verses ask of us. If not, I leave you with my favorite line, and perhaps a reminder of how blessed we are and a call to do the same for others, like the refugees, who have not been as fortunate. Romans 8:31 “What then shall we fear? If God is for us; who can be against us?”

Amber Johnson is a graduate of John Carroll University. Her placement is at Catholic Charities: Migration and Refugee Services in Cleveland.
Amber Johnson is a graduate of John Carroll University. Her placement is at Catholic Charities: Migration and Refugee Services in Cleveland.