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.

When Students Teach by Michael Best

Two days removed from yet another act of evil to befall an innocent school, I sit on the K6 bus bound for my own school, Saint Francis International listening to my news podcast. Debate is ensuing over how to respond to more violence in our culture. However, what I hear is certainly not productive. One side questions the other’s humanity, they respond by questioning the other’s sanity. I’ve always believed that the simplest answer is always the best, but my stop has arrived. The pause button is hit, and the kids arrive. Further reflection will have to wait.

“We as people of faith must learn to love and be joyful in the present moment, as children are.”

It is Friday, thus the day begins with 3rd grade math. The window presents an image of dark and gloomy clouds hanging low over our school community. What a parallel to our larger society. While I prepare on the fly to teach the lesson, another part of my mind thinks about my recess duty later today. Inside or out, and how to cover the four classes? Finally, it is time to teach. As is their habit, the class applauded when they hear it is I who will teach them today; the first act of joy. The lesson goes off without a hitch. They multiply thousands by sixes and sevens and compare which is greater with sublime swiftness. I say without a hitch, except for the one girl who outsmarted me, by finding a second “Math hack” to add to the one I already taught. Smiles are all around by now. The day continues.

Some classes went outside, some stayed in so I venture to first grade. As I sit down to supervise while the teacher leaves for a break, one boy decides to turn into a magnet. He will not get out of my face until I sing “Let it Go” from Frozen. Despite my not knowing the lyrics, and the 55 degree weather not being quite so fitting for that song, they demand I sing. So I sing what I know, an old simple bluegrass number. Eyes light up, and there are wide smiles regardless. I’m rewarded by three kids petting my hair, along with an airplane sticker and bear hug from one of the girls. In that moment, my thoughts from earlier that morning, begin to find answers.

The recently beatified Solanus Casey is clear about how life ought to be lived, “We must be faithful to the present moment.” The kids of SFIS know and live this reality. They do not see the anger and vitriol happening just outside the door, but choose to imbibe the joy happening here and now. The ability to get more out of math class, the soul brightened by song, or the simple joy getting to put a sticker on your teacher’s forehead. They can see the innate good in people, and in society arguably better than anyone.

How then can we solve the problems of this world? Simple; the Gospel of Matthew calls us to “Change and become like little children”. They are sacramental personifiers of that innocence, love, and joy which is God Himself. Which is why it hurts that much more when any violence befalls even a single child. We as people of faith must learn to love and be joyful in the present moment, as children are. It is the only way that we will efficaciously be the light for the world that we are called to be. May this be our prayer, and work this Lent.

Michael Best
Michael Best is in his 2nd year of service with Cap Corps. Last year he worked at SOME – So Others Might Eat, and currently works at St. Francis Int’l School in Student Support Services.

A Day in the Life of a Cap Corps Volunteer

Walking to School5:45am – An early start to the day! I mozy my way out of bed to shower, get dressed, and eat the most important rushed meal of the day. Then I catch my bus to my placement at Sacred Heart School.

7:30am – Here they come! With coffee in hand, my daily commitment of greeting our (sometimes drowsy) students and their parents at the door begins.  With a warm smile and a “Buenos Dias”, this everyday moment, has become a great joy for me.

8:00am – Time to transition to morning prayer in the theater and homeroom. Although, classes are in session, I am still greeting our late comers by name and answer any parent questions.

11:30am – After a few quiet moments in the office and preparing for enrollment events, lunch and recess begin. It is time for the to kids let go of their stored up energy. Thursdays are my days to cover lunch with the spontaneous, fun loving 1st and 2nd graders, which I very much look forward to!

1:15pm – Time to take a breather outside to spend time with our 7th and 8th graders SHGardenduring their recess time. Ms. Heil, our principal, takes a moment to water our community garden during this time.The Sacred Heart community takes pride in taking time to stop and enjoy the beauty of what has been given to them, and what they have received.

3:15pm- Greet Sacred Heart’s parents in the car pick up line to send off our kids home. Then I rush off to go finish up any last minute work and respond to emails.

4:07pm –  My afternoon commute begins. Depending on the crowded bus in rush hour wasn’t always pleasant but this is an experience that I will never forget. It really put into perspective the life of those that Cap Corps serves. Seeing mothers, fathers, children, and the frail elderly all depend on the bus because it was their only option, was a life changing experience. If it was hot, cold, raining, or snowing, they had to be on that bus to provide for themselves and family. Ministry of presence happens as I take all the different walks of like all on one bus.  

6:30pm – Our house friar, Br. Phil arrives for community night. All the volunteers gather around our round table to share about their days whether there were highs or lows. This moment is Cap Corps.  Having a simple meal, enjoying time with community with the support of our house friar, talking about our volunteer experience.

Praying with Paint8:00pm- Community prayer and our community activity tonight is praying with paint!  I will always treasure these nights because every conversation helped me reflect on my year and formed connections between those that I was serving with.

10:00pm – Packing lunch session in the kitchen with other volunteers to recap the night,  and share our hopes for tomorrow.

10:20pm- Finally off to bed, to do it all again. Doing this year of service may be tedious at times, but my days were always filled with honest joy and self-giving love.

Cap Corps isn’t just a year of service. It is a program that is filled with limitless possibilities, concrete friendships and community, and meaningful challenges that help you grow into a self aware and faithfully sustaining individual.


Shenelle Sanoir graduated from Marymount University and worked at Sacred Heart School as a Cap Corps Volunteer for the 2015-2016 Volunteer Year. She continues to work at the school as a teacher and project manager.

For one year, Cap Corps Volunteers work full time in education, healthcare, and social service placements while living simply in community with other volunteers. Our education placement at Sacred Heart School includes a balanced opportunity of teaching and support services.

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.

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.


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.

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