Growing In Compassion And Love

JillianBy Jillian Foster, FC 20

In the last few years, I have learned a lot about discernment and prayer. It started my sophomore year of college and there has always been one big decision or situation that I needed to pray and discern about. I have also started to feel a calling. That calling is very similar to what I am doing in FrancisCorps and my purpose for being in FrancisCorps. During my freshman year, I suddenly got an urge to travel and talked all about wanting to see the world despite my limited to nil international experience. Sophomore year, I chatted with a recruiter from the Peace Corps and studied abroad in Ireland the summer after. During junior year, I was accepted into a program that sent me to Malawi, Africa for two months the following summer and started being active in the Catholic Relief Services Student Ambassador program. During my senior year, I wanted to participate in a service experience abroad but decided to try domestic first, applied and was invited into a few different service organizations. Ultimately, I chose FrancisCorps.

This year has been a challenge and a test. A challenge that forced me out of my comfort zone and a test that addresses whether service is something that I enjoy and am cut out for it. These past few years, I have gotten attached to the idea of service. I believe everyone is called to serve and be a servant. There are many different ways of doing that, whether it is serving your family, friends, consumers of a business, or community, everyone is able to serve in some way or another. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have not felt called to the traditional lifestyle that most parents hope for their children: getting married, having kids, settling down or at least not yet. FrancisCorps is, for me, not just giving a year of my life to service, but the start of my career in service.

Much like my experience in FrancisCorps, I wish to seek new challenges and expand my comfort zone. I feel called to meet and live among people who are different than me. I desire to learn about different cultures and tongues. Through these experiences, I hope to be of service to others and be present to them on their journeys in life. I hope to cultivate a greater understanding and love for all of God’s children, my brothers and sisters around the world I have yet to meet. When FrancisCorps comes to a close, I have been blessed to join the Maryknoll Lay Missioners for a term of service in Haiti. God-willing, I hope to continue to be a servant to those I meet and grow in compassion and love.

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Where To Next?

ElizabethBy Elizabeth McNulty, FC 20

Where to next? Isn’t that the ultimate question? It’s a very common one for us to hear, especially since the year has been winding down and people are getting curious. It’s also a totally fair question. We gave up a year of our lives to serve and that year is running out. So of course, the question is being pondered in other’s brains, and looming in our own. However, that does not make it any less terrifying or daunting. When asked this question, I usually refer to a state of panic. I always think that I need to have a beautifully eloquent answer as to what my “perfect plan” is for the next chapter in life.  I think about how I need to carefully word my answer to make my future sound successful, smart, and put-together because anything else will be a considered failing, right?

Wrong.

Society has a way of rating your own achievements and growth based on an often small-minded view of what success looks like. Go to school, get good grades, find a good job right away, get promoted, and make lots of money. While I know this schedule is a little dramatic, it is often at the very least a version of what people tend to see and expect. Truth is that I don’t have anything close to one of those “10-year plans” that people talk about. I don’t even have a 10-minute plan! Maybe I’ll open the fridge? Have a snack? In my humble opinion, success for me will not depend on how much money I make, how many connections I have, what awards and promotions I receive, etc. Now don’t get me wrong, all those things would be great to have and be recognized for, but I think true success depends on the little decisions I make every day that will either make me a better or worst person, and especially the people around me.

So here it is folks. The biggest failure for me will have nothing to do with my lack of worldly accolades. I truly believe that the biggest failure would be allowing myself to believe I am a failure simply because I do not perfectly fit someone else’s imposed view of “the successful person”. The biggest failure would be forcing myself into a mold that I was never meant to, and becoming a shell of the person I am suppose to be. The biggest failure would be living in this mold and making a lifetime of lukewarm contributions to society and the world, rather than really making my own unique and necessary impact on the lives I touch. The biggest failure would be cheating the world of what I have to offer by thinking that offer isn’t good enough.

So, for me, what comes next will be a job, and probably a few more after that until I find what I am best suited for. But of paramount more importance, what comes next will be a lifetime of using the lessons I have learned, as well as the lessons I will continue to learn, to help shape each decision I make in order to help make earth more like heaven rather than the alternative. Luckily for me, having had the privilege of participating in a year of direct service to a few different marginalized communities, I am now equipped with a fully stalked toolbox of those hard-earned lessons.

Ultimately where I’m called to go from here is not necessarily a “what” or a “where”, but a “who”. The question is not a matter of “where I am called to go from here”, so much as “who will I choose to be from now on”. At the end of the day, people are what matter, which is an all-too-forgotten concept. What will dictate my future is how I decide to handle situations, opportunities and, mostly importantly, the people that come into my path. I want to be ready if and when I do reach those pearly gates with a long list of people that I can say I helped bring. That is when I will consider myself successful.

The world has been graced with centuries of incredibly remarkable people who should certainly be revered as such. Their examples are great ones to follow and strive towards. But the world does not need another exact replica of these people, or their successes. Maybe exactly what the world needs is its very first Jenny Rose Anacan, Jill Foster, Isabel McCormick, Rachel Zanfardino, and even Elizabeth McNulty.

Life Resume

RachelBy Rachel Zanfardino, FC 20

Around this time last year, I was graduating from the best four years of my life. The kind of place that helps you to find yourself and feel that you might have an independent and unique purpose on this planet, even if you have no idea what that purpose is. Fairfield University constantly challenged me to reflect on the big stuff, and one of the hardest questions was: Who am I, whose am I, and who am I called to be? The first two were checked and checked.

But the part of who am I called to be? Well, I was going off to serve a marginalized community in Syracuse, NY with FrancisCorps so that was who I was called to be for now. However, I was hoping this year of service and reflection would help me make those big life decisions of who I was going to be in the long run. After graduation, many of my friends were going out into the world, getting their first jobs and apartments, moving away from home and starting their lives as adults. I wasn’t really ready to be an adult. In fact, I still don’t really consider myself an adult, just a big kid trying to coexist with everyone who already graduated into adulthood.

During this year of service, I think I found the answer of who I am called to be but not in the dichotomous black or white way that I was looking for. I thought I would figure out what my job would be, especially because society relies a lot on jobs, careers and money. When you meet someone, one of the first questions you ask them is “what do you do?” And I have come to realize, why does it matter? Why as a society do we fixate so much on what we do and hardly ever focus on who the people are behind the job?

As I have been worrying so much about my life after this year, where will I work, how will I pay my loans, how I will support myself, I remembered something else a friend of mine asked me: “If someone were to read your Eulogy what would you want it to say?” Whoa, kind of a weird question! Even though I am at the ripe old age of 23, I am not quite ready to think about my death. But then I got thinking… what would I want someone to say, how would I want to be remembered? Would I want the qualities that someone talked about in my eulogy to be the same qualities that I list on my resume for a potential job? Is there more to listing things like, shows up on time, works well independently or in groups, great Excel skills?

These are the qualities that you have to list when trying to market yourself to others. But are they the things that really matter about who you are? FrancisCorps is not only going on my actual resume but also my life resume. It is going under a list of experiences that have taught me to build relationships with people who are different than I am, to be a better listener (even as a huge talkative extrovert), to grow in empathy and understanding for marginalized populations and, most importantly, to voice my ideas even when others disagree with me. I am called to be Rachel. A person, who acknowledges the importance of others, leads with love, and preaches the Gospel, only using words if she has to. I am not a person who will be defined by careers and societal expectations, losing myself to the opinions and standards of others.

A eulogy is kind of like a life resume to God. It comes from the people who knew you best and outlines the important qualities that you had throughout your life. I don’t know what people will say in mine, but I hope that what they do say is that I treated others with kindness, and utilized the voice and the skills I obtained this year to make a difference in the lives of others.

Next Chapter

Jenny RoseBy Jenny Rose Anacan, FC 20

Ten. It has been ten months since I hopped on Hawaiian Airlines flight 50 from Honolulu, O’ahu to Queens, New York, and a few days later Delta flight 5943 for Syracuse, New York. It has been ten months since I started my journey across the country to begin a year of service in a city that I knew nothing about. All I had been warned about was the crazy winters and the amount of snow that New York can get. I had been questioned several times if I was sure of my decision to move to Syracuse. As I reflect back on the past ten months, it has been a roller coaster of so many ups and downs, but in the end I have come to conclude that the ride to Syracuse has been one of the best decisions I have made thus far! As the Hawai’i girl I am, I got to experience memories that I probably would not have been able to back in Hawai’i. From the more than 90 minute car rides (several times!), to being able to drive through state lines, to catching a train from state to state to visit a friend, and…you guessed it… to experiencing the four seasons!

In the ten months I have been at Vincent House, I have learned so much serving the children from kindergarten to twelve years old. Being able to provide a safe haven for these children after school in a youth center during the times that the highest number of crimes can happen has been such a blessing to me. God has placed me at Vincent House for my year of service for a reason. Vincent House was part of God’s plan for me and as the weeks to my last day come closer, I am starting to unfold a better understanding as to why it was part of God’s plan for me. The children at Vincent House have become one of my inspirations in life. They have given me validation as to why I would like to open up a nonprofit organization for children back home in Hawai’i. There were moments that were challenging, but overall, the children have brought so much joy and growth in my life.

In the next ten months, I will find myself two hours west of Syracuse in Buffalo. Here I will be pursuing a graduate degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration. During my undergraduate career, I have found a passion in the Higher Education world. I know moving to Syracuse for my year of service has helped me transition from being away from home. I hope to take what I have learned during my year of service as I soon start my journey to my graduate degree. The children at Vincent House will have a special place in my heart and I hope that I am able to visit them once in a while as I am in Buffalo. It may be hard for me to pin point exactly what my year of service has taught me, but I know without a doubt that as moments come up I will come to the realization that FrancisCorps has played a significant part in what I am doing.

I thank God each and every day for bringing FrancisCorps into my life. I strive to bring God’s love through my actions and words. I strive to serve God’s people. I strive to make this world a better place each and every day no matter what I am doing in life. I am extremely excited for what God has planned for me in the next chapter of my life after FrancisCorps.

Discovery Of Love

IsabelBy Isabel McCormack, FC 20

Where am I called to go from here? Well, physically, in a few weeks, I am packing up and leaving Syracuse, leaving Francis House, and going home. I am hopefully starting a nursing program in Chicago within the next year, which is a decision I am confident in, and one that I can thank Francis House and its entire staff for helping me to see so clearly. When I think back to this year, though, I am not going to hold in high regard the moment that I made the decision to become a nurse. I am going to remember all the moments, both incredibly challenging and life-giving, that have shaped me into the person that has not only made the decision for my next step, but has also has impacted each step I will take after.

I am heartbroken to leave Francis House, and yet so ready to go on to my next adventure. I am going to take so much from Syracuse with me: the love from residents and their family members, memories from staff and volunteers who have become like family to me, the personal growth I’ve made, the many frustrations and joys both at the FrancisCorps house and my service site, and the life-changing friendships I’ve made. Each experience I’ve had this year, both large and small, has impacted me and has altered my trajectory for the path I am taking in life.

The most impactful “experience” I’ve had this year that I am going to be taking with me, and definitely the hardest to explain in a short blog post, is a new discovery of love. I have soaked up so much love and joy this year at Francis House, and reflecting on it, I know that I am called to share that love wherever I go, starting at home with my family and at school, and continuing on to my profession. I am called to a life of service, no matter where I am or in what capacity I am serving. There is a handful of people who I have met this year, or have heard about from other service sites in Syracuse, that have taught me this lesson. They live with so much love and generosity, not just doing service, but living service. Those are the people who change the world, one small community at a time. Those are the people that have inspired me, and that’s how I know where I am called to go from here. I have learned from this year that am called to be a nurse, but more than that, I have learned that I am called to be one that has a heart for service. I am called, to the best of my ability at every stage of my life, to reach out to and to generously serve both the people around me and those at the periphery.

Just Do It

RachelBy Rachel Zanfardino, FC 20

My entire life, I have always had an interest in service. I was a member of service clubs and did service trips throughout college. It was a crucial need that I felt to give back to those who were less fortunate than I was, to promote justice and equity for the unequal. It is because of this that I knew I would be doing a year of service.

This year is nearly 3/4 of the way over, and the person who is writing this has a very different perspective than the one who began it. The idea of service is glamorous. Not in the sense that you will be working with marginalized people, or with the false interpretation that you will make a lot of money and do fancy things, but in the sense that you have an idealized notion that you will help people, with the clear and obvious support, safety, and resources that you expect to need. You don’t anticipate feeling stressed out by a job that on paper should be simple, and you never anticipate feeling unsafe.

But there is a reality that no one talks about. One that my clients have to endure on a day to day basis. One that includes a narrative of sexism, inequality, violence, harassment, anger, and the systems of oppression that keep these people in these places experiencing these things. There are days that you feel really under staffed and under supported and underfunded. No matter what, I Rachel Zanfardino will not solve hunger. I will not be able to feed everyone and I will not be able to give them everything they need to survive and feed their families. And because of this, many people will not be happy with me. This is where the glamour fades and the reality that service is really hard comes in. Many times, I have to face the violence that my clients have to face. I have to experience the sexism and the derogatory remarks that my strong independent new female friends have to endure. I now have to feel my position of power, where I have food, and someone else is asking me for it, and I have to say no to them, maybe for a completely valid reason, but it is because of me that they cannot bring home that small amount of food for their family to get through today. And that is hard. And not glamorous. And it changes the way that you see people.

The marginalized communities in the world are always put into boxes of limitations, ones that prejudges them, their character, and their limitations. This year has taken those expectations and completely thrown them out the window. It has shown me how to treat others with the human dignity that they so rightly deserve.  Many of my clients that come in here are considered the voiceless. This comes with the lack of power that their lack of money provides. It has been really powerful to take a step back from my extroversion and talkativeness to finally hear others. To take the intentional steps to listen to the clients who walk through those doors.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is a beauty that is incomparable in service too. I have made beautiful connections and friendships this year. It has been in the same situations of discomfort and stress that I have been able to feel absolute gratitude from giving a client a simple loaf of bread to feed their family. It is through these amazing connections that I have helped women who have been domestically abused to get the resources they need to become safe again. It is in this service that I was asked to be the Godmother of a beautiful little baby boy because that baby’s mother and I had actually become friends who enjoyed the company of one another. It is where clients who have nothing wanted to show me love and spent money just to buy ingredients to make me cookies. It is where the people who told me they’d have my back always actually did, when I had to protect my other clients and volunteers being threatened. These people who I would not have met if I had not done this year are what have made this year all worth it.

It is through the lows that we can better see and understand the highs. Often times we like to only relish in the highs, recognizing that they are what are visually most appealing and rewarding. No one likes to feel down or broken. No one likes to admit being weak. But it is through that darkness that we are best able to see the realities of our situations and really see the light.

St. Francis said, “preach the Gospel and when necessary use words”. That means that you need to just do it. Actions speak so much more than words do. This year, I am experiencing the real highs and lows of what it means to do full and complete service, to live the gospel. And I need to be so thankful to those low moments, because without them, I never would have been able to appreciate how good the good ones are. I am not doing a year of service because I am going to end hunger in Syracuse, NY forever- that would be irrational. However, I am doing service to better understand the impact that I can have, even if on a smaller scale. It is through this year that I can see that the simple joys of listening rather than talking, and taking the time to recognize the human dignity of all people out weigh the burdens that these jobs possess.

The G Word

Elizabeth

By Elizabeth McNulty, FC 20

Growth is a really tough word. On one hand, if I slap the word “physical” in front of it, then I got myself an elementary math equation to determine an exact measurement. All I have to do is look at a measuring tape, read numbers on a scale, etc. to be able to almost immediately grasp how anything has physically grown. For decades people have been coming up with different tools and gadgets to provide others with numbers down to the smallest unit possible to satisfy humanity’s thirst to use something concrete to understand their growth. This is all well and good, but what about the other side of growth? What happens when I slap the words emotional, mental, spiritual or psychological in front of growth? When I can’t go on Amazon and have a tool that gives me all the answers to those types of growth within 3-5 business days?

When we were asked to write on the question of “how are you growing?” my brain immediately tried to take the easy way out. I thought maybe I could make up something cutesy about how I grew a few extra layers of protection around my middle from all the love poured out on us in the form of food this year, or how my hair has grown longer than ever because I am too stubborn to use my $100 stipend on a haircut. Physical growth= easy to measure, easy to understand. But if I thought that was the type of growth that we were supposed to reflect on, I probably wouldn’t have turned this blog in two months late. These other types of growth are much more scary topics to discuss because they are mostly dependent on a great deal of self-reflection. I personally can only really judge if I have made progress in one of these areas in specific moments. If I can look at a certain situation that arises in my life, and realize that I was saying, doing or thinking something that I may not have necessarily said, done or thought in the past, then I can fairly clearly see that I have grown.

Now there have certainly been various chunks in my life where I have missed out on growing because of one pesky trait: fear. I was afraid to grow because I realized that in order to grow, I had to do the scariest thing known to mankind (or at least to a young girl already battling all the already existing pressures of society for her demographic). I would have to break outside of my comfort zone and risk failing. I had to actually make the conscious decision to risk getting ridiculed, making a fool of myself, being judged, coming up short, or I could decide to wake up every morning and participate in a schedule that is completely comfortable, effortless and safe. And I could probably be relatively happy! But would I be as happy as I could be? Would I wonder if happiness stretched further into a state of joyful being? Would I feel fulfilled? I’ll admit that there are many times when this safe comfortability seems like the right choice. The side of me that is an introvert who spends her time in public tripping over her own feet and saying “thanks, you too!” to a waiter telling me to enjoy my meal, thinks this is an easy choice. The side of me that has experienced the thrills of leaping outside this comfort zone; however, knows better. The way she sees it, comfortability is synonymous with mediocrity and growth will NEVER be a fruit of either.

The other day I was driving to visit a client. I was belting a Bruce Springsteen song with the window down and the icy wind whipping my hair back. I had a big ol’ smile across my face. I suddenly turned down the music, zipped up the window and had a realization in one of those rare moments of clarity I occasionally get. I thought really hard about the situation at hand. I was driving to see a client who was about 45 years older than me who had suffered a lifetime of alcoholism and domestic abuse, and a whole slew of other issues that result from these two things. She spent the majority of her time being angry and depressed. Talk about an uncomfortable scenario! She was a different age, race, culture and background. Not to mention she lived in one of the more rundown apartment buildings in Syracuse. A few years ago, and even before joining FrancisCorps, I can safely say that I would not have been doing what I was doing. At the slight chance I would’ve agreed to do it, I would probably be shaking with my heart just about pumping out of my chest. I would’ve looked for any excuse not to knock on that door. I can tell you I certainly wouldn’t be singing along to “Thunder Road.” It was in this moment that I could clearly see the answer as to why I wasn’t feeling all the aforementioned nerves. It was because this situation that would have previously been outside my comfort zone, no longer was! My comfort zone had grown without me even knowing it! I thought about all the smaller leaps I had taken throughout the year up to this point that had widened this zone. Sometimes, even the tiniest bit of growth happens after what seems to be a great deal of discomfort or hurt. Some of the most painful times in my life have produced the largest amounts of growth in me, and I would probably endure those hard times all over again if it meant I ended up exactly where I am today.

I’ll let you all in on a huge secret. There is another g word that is an essential player in the game of growth. This is grace. I need the grace to be able to trust that if I take a huge step off the edge of my comfort cliff, I will be caught and won’t fall to a rocky death. Without grace, I would not have the courage to even take a little peek over. The lucky thing about grace is that I can ask for it at any point and it never runs out. Grace is the gift that keeps on giving and that right there is the sole reason as to why no person, thing or situation will ever be able to fully stop me, or anybody else from growing.

Servant to Served

Elizabeth

By Elizabeth McNulty, FC 20

There were a few different expectations I had when beginning my FrancisCorps experience back in August. I was thinking I would make some new friends, give of myself, get closer to God, etc. One thing that I certainly didn’t see coming, however, was that I would fall in love. Now, I know what you are thinking. Who’s the guy? How did you meet? But the trick is, I didn’t fall for one guy, I fell for 20 little guys who begged me to play basketball with them every day from 2-5p.m. One time we even raised the stakes and made a bet that the loser had to buy the winner lunch. Needless to say, I was out $12.99 that day and was lovingly given the nickname “trash” by a group of elementary schoolers. I was trying to teach them to respect me though, so by the end of the week I graduated to “Ms. Trash” on the court. Mission accomplished. I fell for 20 more little angels with new braids in their hair every week, who showered me with love every single day. Unlike their male counterparts’ clever nickname for me, to them I was “Princess Elizabeth” who had hair that was long and flowy.

I remember walking into the gym at Bishop Foery Foundation back in August and witnessing a scene of total and utter chaos. 30 elementary and middle school aged children from the Southside of Syracuse running around all over the place, bouncing off the walls, and somehow all of them were talking at the same time? Hair pulling, hitting, biting, screaming. I thought to myself, what on earth am I going to do with these kids. Now, flash forward to present day, and I find myself wondering what on earth I am going to do without them.

Now this story took a tragic turn when I got a call that Bishop Foery Foundation had lost its funding. I was told to say goodbye to the kids, let them know they had to find somewhere else to go after school, and clean out my desk. That was that. These relationships that I had spent the past four months building up and nurturing, were suddenly ripped out from under me. I was devastated. I thought about what exactly I would have to say goodbye to. I would no longer get to sit with Daja and Kiara and hear about the trials and tribulations of romance in the 6th grade. I would no longer get my hourly hugs from Katie and Jessica. Chris wouldn’t be able to assure me about how he was gonna “beat up” anyone that messed with his little brother. Jack and Carmen wouldn’t be able to get frustrated trying to teach me the ins and outs of Minecraft for the hundredth time. I wouldn’t be able to sneak Jon extra snack because who can resist that face? I realize how small and insignificant some of these encounters sound, but each of them was something I looked forward to every day. When my feet hit the floor each morning, it was the precious faces of the tiny humans I had come to know so well that came to my mind. Their big sloppy smiles made me want to do anything in my power to make earth a little bit more like heaven for them.

I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but as much as the kids needed me for certain things (supervision, snacks, hair-braiding, homework, etc.), it turned out that I needed them right back. They were helping to slowly mend some of the bruises and holes in my own heart with their love. And the best part is I didn’t need to do anything to earn this love! I didn’t need to wear certain clothes, act a certain way, change my looks or personality; all things I had done in the past to gain the wrong kind of love. To them, I just had to show up. I had to be present. I had to live, and breathe, and just be Elizabeth McNulty, and they loved me! I experienced a love of and from these kids that made me know exactly who I am. Which is someone who is WORTHY. OF. LOVE. Worthy of their love, worthy of love from others, worthy of love from the Father Himself. Having been through some weighty trials and tribulations of my own in recent years, this is a concept that I had really lost sight of. Who would have thought that 40 little kids in a tiny building on the Southside of Syracuse would be the ones to remind me of this necessary concept?

I truly believe that these kids showed me the secret to happiness, which is that in order to gain your own happiness, you must help others towards their own happiness. This worked as a two-way street at Bishop Foery Foundation, a place whose occupants will remain close to my heart forever. While I am still struggling with the loss of these friends from my day to day life, I can’t help but remain eternally grateful for the experience of a lifetime, something I would not change for the world. I now look, with an incredibly full and hopeful heart, to the next big adventure for me here in Syracuse, which will be working as an adult advocate through Elderly Services with Catholic Charities. While I will now be working on the complete opposite end of the age spectrum in this new ministry, you can bet that I will be taking the love and memories of my tiny, unlikely friends along with me.

Enjoying The Little Moments

Jenny Rose

By Jenny Rose Anacan, FC 20

Every morning I never fail to do my daily devotionals and pray before heading out to Vincent House. My daily devotionals consist of reading the scriptures for the day along with a reflection on blessedisshe.net and devotions from the book Jesus is Calling. In my morning prayer, I thank our heavenly Father for a new day and ask him for strength and wisdom to help me throughout my day. At Vincent House, which is run by the Catholic Charities of Onondaga County, I work for the after school program. I serve a population of inner-city youth from kindergarten to the age of twelve who come from low-income families of the West Side of Syracuse. Daily, Vincent House serves a minimum of 11 to a maximum of 25 youth. No matter the amount of youth who walk in for program for the day, there is never a dull moment, the youth at Vincent House are such a light to my life as they are filled with so much love!

The first half of my day is pretty much the same. I come in at 10 in the morning and do some administrative work like checking my email and recording attendance. I do lots of planning for in-center activities like arts and crafts or food art and mini field trips. So far we have gone pumpkin picking, watched Incredibles 2 at Hollywood Theatre, the middle school youth went to a Halloween event at Syracuse University, and when it was warm out the younger youth went to different parks around Syracuse. Every other Monday, I go snack shopping with a coworker at BJ’s Wholesale Club to buy and deliver snacks for the youth of Vincent House and another after school program as well as a pre-school site. On a month to month basis I analyze the attendance records to determine the amount of days each child came to program, the average attendance, the lowest and highest attendance number, and the amount of children who came to program at least fifty percent of the time. I also analyze the snack record to determine how many snacks were serve in the given month. From time to time I will do other miscellaneous tasks like organizing and cleaning, washing the blankets and dress up clothes the kids use, sharpening colored pencils and many other things to maintain the center kept and going to run at its fullest potential when the kids come in after school.

The second half of my day is a completely different story than my first half, the after school program is open! Now this time is never consistent, every day is a different day and I never know what I will come across. Well, let me take that back, Mondays are usually the same, Movie Mondays with popcorn and we have a therapy dog name Molly from Paws of CNY come to Vincent House to hang out with the kids. Even if Mondays have the same activity, it can still be different in its own way. We are open immediately after the neighborhood schools are dismissed. There are children who come in as early as 2:05 PM, and we stay open until 5:30 PM. Our children walk, catch the school bus, or get dropped off by car to get to Vincent House. During the first half of program is free play in the living room as the first batch of children wait for more of their friends to come in. The children have so many options during free play: they can color, draw, play various games, build things, play pool, or simply come up with their own game or sit and hang out with their friends. At this time, I may help some with homework or play a game with the children! We love to play UNO, Chutes and Ladder, Connect Four, Candy Land, and more! One of the best things about playing win or lose games is teaching the kids that it is okay to lose and helping them build a sense of sportsmanship. Once majority of the kids show up to program, it is snack time. After snacks, we have several options for the kids. On some days there are scheduled activities, during the warmer days we will go outside to play on the playground, swing on swings, run around, or the older boys love to play basketball. When we can’t go outside they can play in the gym, there is a basketball hoop in there; our recreation room with a foosball table, basketball arcade game, or air hockey; or go back in the living room for more free play–the options are endless.

One of my favorite moments is when I am in the gym with the younger kids and when I get “pulled” in different directions. There can be a couple of kids who want to play a game of basketball with me, and so I do, then 30 seconds later I can start hearing someone crying because of the “she/he is not sharing” story, so I’ll have to help solve that, at the same time, there can be someone who gets hurt, so I’ll have to administer first-aid, and during all this I’ll have others saying “Ms. Jenny let’s play catch!” This actually can happen quite often. Despite all the hecticness, these kids keep me on my toes, I love it so much! I want to share one final story, and one that I will never ever forget. One day I was describing to a few kids that I am from Hawai’i, and so they started asking me many other questions. A little girl, in the cutest voice ever goes “So Ms. Jenny, you caught the plane to come here?” and I replied “Yes I did, a huge one!” At this time I am thinking the kids must just be so amazed I rode on the plane because they probably have not been on a plane yet. Then all of a sudden another kid goes “Wait! You catch the plane to come to work every day? Do you sleep here too when you wait for us?” My heart melted so much for these kids, and all I could do was laugh so hard.

I have only been in Syracuse serving these kids for about five months now and I am definitely not looking forward to day I will have to say my goodbyes to the little hearts I have learned to love. In the meantime, I will enjoy every moment God has given me with these kids; so far serving at Vincent House has been a tremendous blessing!

Heaven On Earth

IsabelBy Isabel McCormack, FC 20

What do I say about Francis House? I have heard it described so many different ways: God’s House, Heaven on Earth, Love House, and even though those might sound like cliché’s, they all describe Francis House perfectly. As a home for people who are dying, it might seem like Francis House should be something sad and depressing, but there could be nothing further from the truth. Francis House’s mission is to surround dying people with the unconditional love of God, and I know that not only the residents, but everyone who walks into Francis House feels that.

The house is run by a few crucial teams: the volunteers, staff, and the caregivers. Volunteers keep Francis House running; they are around every single day of the year, from 8am to 10pm. They cook and clean, answer doors and phones, garden, and do maintenance work. We could not run without the dedication of all of our volunteers. Caregivers are responsible for actually caring for each resident, by bathing, feeding, adjusting, and talking to the residents and their families. The staff is the glue for both of these groups by coordinating schedules, admitting residents, fundraising, and absolutely everything in between. And believe it or not, despite the amount of coordinating that it takes to run a place that merits the name Heaven on Earth, absolutely no detail goes amiss.

I have been so fortunate in the past few months to experience how Francis House runs in all of these ways, because it gives me a better appreciation for the miracle that is going on. When I started, I worked with the volunteers and staff, filling in and assisting them when needed. In November, though, I was given the opportunity by Francis House to be trained as a Home Health Aide to be able to work also as a caregiver. I was terrified when I first started, because the residents were entrusting me with the care of their whole selves, and honestly, that’s an enormous responsibility. I’ve grown more confident in the position though, and even though it’s challenging, it’s been so amazing and fulfilling. Not to mention, because the people at Francis House are the best of the best, I couldn’t have asked for better teachers.

The work at Francis House is not quantitative, which is something that I struggled with when I started. Over time though, that has been my favorite part about Francis House. You can’t quantify the power of a smile, a kiss, or an “I love you”. I just feel so lucky that residents have let me join them during the last stages of their journey home. There really is no feeling in the world, and it is hard to put into words, but there really is no feeling in the world that compares to the sacredness of getting people ready for their final stop: Heaven.