"Who we are and who we are meant to become is a collection of constant creation and revision...I am still a work in progress."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Reality of the Past Year

" I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality."
                                                                                        -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Reality was my key theme to this past year.  I feel that for so long I was living happily in ignorance.  Ignorant of social problems, not only prevalent in our world but in my own backyard.  Ignorant that there is much more than expected underneath the surface of all people.  Ignorant of the real person inside of me wanting to be exposed for so long. But there is just something about the SJU community that pushes you into the "Real World".  This is why I have decided to make my last 8 observations of my freshmen year, the 8 real people who have contributed to my real life changing experience.


                                                                    1. Koininia

Koininia is a seemingly funny word that I can barely pronounce, but the meaning behind the word for me means the world to me.  They are my second family.  Week after week this group of people continually inspire me to become a better person.  Without them, my transformation over the past year would not be possible.  I initially joined this youth group on a whim, but it was the best decision I have made this past year, besides coming to Saint Joseph's University of course. 

Gabe: At first glance Gabe may seem like a smooth, Spanish guy sporting an intimidating leather jacket, but in reality he is an incredibly devoted Catholic who has pushed me to challenge my own faith.

Kate: Her inner goodness has allowed me to realize that it is possible to rise above personal obstacles.  She has the absolute best sense of humor, which can only be followed by a memorable laugh.

Josh: Josh initially comes across as a laid back soccer player, but in reality he is the symbol of a family man.  He has showed me what it truly means to put family first.

Katie: She has taught me that you can never care enough, as she continually puts her friends and family above herself. 

Tony: Even though he is a man of very few words, Tony has proved that actions speak louder than words.  He is the absolute nicest guy who would honestly do anything for anyone.  He has redefined the phrase of a "nice guy".

Maryclaire: She has taught me that it is perfectly okay to rely on the strength of others, especially when you are unable to keep yourself up.  In fact, it is in such times that family members are able to put you back on your own feet.  This has definitely been proven through my second family. 

Jack: He is probably one of the most knowledgeable people that I have had the pleasure of getting to know.  No matter how intimidating a subject, he pushes you to question your own beliefs.  Plus, his sense of humor makes people laugh til they pee themselves.  Trust me from personal experience.

Megan: She has a beautiful soul that instantly makes people feel at ease.  I would not have been able to get through my freshmen year without the encouragement and good advice that she has provided me. 

Jess: I'll get to her later....

                                                            2. The Roommates

Kelly- Finding out that my roommate was a preppy girl who came from an all girls Catholic school, I could not help but imagine her personality.  Much to my surprise, I was more than glad to find out that she is a driven person who is passionate about helping the world.  From falling asleep to conversations about abortion to venting about the injustices of students wasting food, Kelly and I were able to bond over controversial issues.  

Caroline- As my own mother lovingly nick-named her "the eavesdropper", Caroline has proven to always be there when I need her.  Not only does her witty sense of humor help to lighten up any situation, but she has pushed me to enjoy the simple things in life.

Kelly #2- Even though I was initially intimidated by her heavy Brooklyn accent, I have learned that Kelly is the ultimate sweet-heart.  She is the fun-loving friend that I always looked forward to coming home to.  Her laugh is contagious and has the precious ability to always put me in a good mood.

                                              3. The New Gay Bestfriend

Ray- Coming into college, I only had gay guy friends.  I made it a priority to find some straight friends, but it just ended up that Ray was just in the right place at the right time.  He looked and sounded just like Damian from Mean Girls, my heart melted.  From that point forward, Ray taught me to love the person I am.  Our bond was only strengthened once we traveled to West Virginia to build houses over spring break.  It was then that I was able to fully appreciate Ray for allowing me to be myself. 

4. The Girl I Initially Thought Hated Me

Rosie- I remember my first day moving into Hawk Hill.  Within the first five minutes of unloading my things, Rosie was awaiting in my room along with five other girls.  I would like to think that it was my nerves but I made a complete fool of myself and basically revealed that I had a sweating condition.  Only another example of my word vomit.  From that point forward, I thought Rosie thought I was incredibly weird.  But by the end of my second semester, I can now say that Rosie has become a close friend.  She has taught me the true meaning of being a hard worker.  Under an unbelievable amount of stress, Rosie still manages to smile and hug everyone she sees.  She has showed me to never let stress get in the way of relationships that only better your life. 

                                                           5. A Second Mom
Darlene- Coming into college, I would have never imagined that I would make such strong connections to the Admissions Office.  Honestly, after my tour at SJU I never thought I would go have to go back into that building.  But it was through a work study job that I gained a new found appreciation for Bronstein Hall.  Darlene is the secretary of Admissions and let's just say that she is the ultimate rocker mom in a mini van who just so happens to love everything Disney.  Not only does she own the strips of pink through her hair and wild orange nails, but she is the absolute sweetest lady.  She has guided me along my freshman year with the best advice only a mom could give.  Plus the homemade treats she brought into the office always brightened any stressful day.  She has taught me to not be afraid to put your heart into your work. 

                                   6. Orientation Roommate Turned Sister

Nicole- After meeting her at orientation, I was instantly struck by the fact that she was painfully quiet.  This proved to be the furthest thing from the truth after I learned we were going to be housemates.  Our relationship is that of sisters.  I turn to her for honest advice and homework help and in return we jokingly bicker and beat each other up.  She has proved to be one of the strongest people I have ever met, as she has won her own battle with leukemia.  I never let cancer define our relationship.  In fact, I would like to think that our relationship has helped normalize my relationship with my mom who has melanoma.  

7. The Girl I Always Wanted As A Bestfriend

Jess- When Jess walks into a room, her presence is known.  She is the girl with the nose ring who is confident in herself and not afraid of what people think of her.  She never lets her looks get to her and instead focuses on being a strong, smart, independent woman.  Needless to say, the first time I met her, I instantly wanted to be her friend.  She has become my person.  I can do absolutely anything with her and still have a good time. She lifts me up when I am down, dances with me awkwardly through campus, laughs at my weird jokes, and pushes me to be the best version of me.  Through this past year, I have learned that my initial impression of her was true, in fact she has proven to be the best friend a girl could ever want. 

                                                                    8.  Brenda

Brenda - I feel that it is only right to end on my learner Brenda.  Through the past couple of months of tutoring her at the Center for Literacy, I have found her to be an absolutely inspirational woman.  Against all odds, Brenda has lived a genuinely happy life.  I would like to think this was possible because of her fun-loving and hard-working personality.  She was able to push herself at the CFL to improve her writing, reading, and math skills.  She was even able to use the computer by the end of our sessions.  If this is what was possible after 4 months, I can not even begin to imagine what she could do in a year's time.  She has taught me to not only value the important things in my life, but to share these things with others.  Friendship. Education. Laughter.  And a little Hershey Kiss doesn't hurt either.  She has given me just about everything she has to offer.  In return, I hope that I was able to do the same.  I completed a painting for Brenda to show her my appreciation of all of her hard work.  It featured a quote that I could easily apply to my first year at SJU: "The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another's, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are the beauties in the world."

As cheesy as it may sound, my dreams have became my reality here at Saint Joseph's University.  With the help of truly inspirational people, I have become the person I always to be this past year. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

CFL Frustration

"Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success."
                                                                                                           -Bo Bennett

While even though my time at the Center for Literacy has been tremendously successful, there is always room for improvement.  I feel that my main concern with the service site from the past year is that there is a general lack of communication.  I can honestly not remember one week where each and every tutor was matched up with their learner.  Either a tutor missed and did not send an e-mail or a learner did not call Scott or Mark to let them know that they could not make the session.   There were even a few cases in which learners were not assigned for some of our classmates.  This led to a lot of down time for them,  since Scott or Mark rarely needed help with anything else.  Those select students felt awkward as they believed that they were impeding in on other students' service experiences if they helped them tutor.  This basically acted as an excuse for those students to sit around while the rest of us tutored for 3 hours.  Therefore, proving to be a major problem because some of our fellow hawks were not able to have the same enriching experience.  Whether it be geared towards learners or tutors,  I firmly believe that missing service next year should be enforced more seriously.

Behind each mistake there is an important lesson ready to be shared.  So in order to counteract this criticism, I would like to offer some ideas which could possibly help improve this service site.  Especially since I had such a meaningful experience at the Center For Literacy,  I would love it if other students could similarly enjoy their time at the CFL.  If a student would miss a session at the CFL, I feel that they should not only be responsible to make up that day but also read an article from the NYTimes about a social issue and respond to it in relation to service.  That way, students could still learn and reflect about the topic at hand, even if they can not have that first-hand experience. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

With a Bit of Good Fortune

I believe whole-heartily in signs.  When life hits you hard in the forehead, well you better pay attention.  This is why over the course of the last month, I feel as though I have been called and I am ready to listen.
This past semester had tested me in emotional and mental stresses that I could have never imagined having to face.  But it was during the worst of my weeks that I realized my true calling. During that time I was recovering from a mental breakdown from personal problems. Not to mention I was completely drained from my new job at Chili's and endless mounds of school work.  I was sitting in the midst of a fresh mix of stress and sadness in a restaurant ironically called 'Harmony'.  But when I cracked open the fortune cookie I finally smiled. 

The fortune read: " You would make a good lawyer."  In my crazed mental state I stared to laugh out loud.  The stress of questioning my future career was nothing I needed at the time.  But as I began to think about it more seriously, I remembered my passion for law.  I remembered how I easily I abandoned my dream career because of the stress of financing law school on my own.  Then I decided that I could not let the burden of money restrict my opportunities.  Especially since I have gotten myself to the point that I am right now.

I want to be the voice for the voiceless.  That is the very simple reason behind my love of law.  When I was involved in a leadership program in high school, I remember being mesmerized when I sat in on trials.  I love the idea of defending the innocent, representing the greater good of all.  My passion is to help others and I could not think of a more fulfilling career path.  Sure at times it will be incredibly challenging and I will have to sacrifice a lot.  But I think that it is worth the struggle. 

Since the time I opened that fortune cookie, I opened my heart back open to follow my dream.  Ever since that moment, I felt my old self coming back.  I started liking the person I was again.  I wanted to turn my problems and mindset around and I accomplished just that.   

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Fresh Start

You would think that by coming back to the Center for Literacy after a long winter break I would be refreshed and ready to tutor, but that was far from the truth as I stood outside the van last Wednesday.   I have been struggling with a self-diagnosed case of seasonal mood disorder, so I kept making excuses that walking in the cold was putting a damper on my service experience.  Plus it surely did not help that 20 minutes prior to service, I was bundled up underneath warm blankets, recovering from my week full of 8 a.m. classes.  But I could not keep hiding from the truth.  The fact was that I just did not want to tutor; I was in a funk.  I lost my passion for service and I really felt guilty.

                My learner, Frances, was sporadically not showing up to service, which definitely made me question my tutoring.  I saw such an improvement in both her reading and math skills over the past semester and I felt incredibly proud of her.  But with these abnormal absences, I could not help but wonder if Frances thought the same.   Did she think our tutoring sessions were a waste of time?  Was everything okay with her personal life?  Who was that guy on the phone who always made Frances cut our sessions short?  Why would Frances wear skimpy outfits to tutoring if she was coming from work?  These questions lingered over my mind for the past month and especially on the first trip of the year to the Center for Literacy.

                Once we arrived to the CFL, I saw that Frances was not at our usual table.  Within minutes I was taken aside by Mark in the back room.  My heart began to pound, as I was afraid for the worst.  Due to the strict attendance policy, Frances was asked to leave the tutoring sessions.  I soon learned that Frances has supposedly been working a lot of night shifts at the airport, which was why she has not been showing up for our sessions.  Although I was skeptical, I accepted this news.  But I could not help but feel a little discouraged and sad that I would never see Frances again.  I really just wanted to say goodbye and thank her for everything that she has taught me.   But then Mark interrupted my thoughts with the news that I would now be taking the place of Annie and tutoring Brenda.

                As I introduced myself to Brenda, I quickly retreated to feelings of nervousness and excitement from the very first day of service.  After I broke the news to her that Annie would no longer be her tutor, I sensed a familiar feeling of grief.  It was in this moment that I realized that we were in the same position.  With that in mind, I decided to make the best of this opportunity.  So I did what I knew best, and asked her to play a game of 20 questions.

From our game I learned a lot about Brenda’s life.  I learned that she believes in signs, wants to grow in a more spiritual way by reading the Bible, cooks a lot of Italian food, loves to travel, enjoys every shade of green, hates parallel parking and never wants to stop talking.  Needless to say, we are a perfect match for each other.  After a lot of laughing and a little work, we both felt that this is indeed a good change.  We decided that we could multitask by forming our own bible study session, which would not only better Brenda’s reading skills but my own spiritual life.  With this said, Brenda has awakened me from my funk.  I am once again proud to say that I am looking forward to Wednesday evening.      

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More Than a Drop in my Bucket

Thinking back, I easily remember the day when the Service-Learning interest card popped through my mail slot.  At first, I didn't know much about the program. I just thought that it sounded interesting and would probably look good on my resume. After much encouragement from my mother, I decided to fill out the card and send it back. I thought little of what that card meant, that is until I came to school.  All I know now, is that fate must have intervened.  

Sitting within the cramped white walls on that first English class in September, my first thought was “Wow, there are a ton of girls in this class. Oh boy, I hope it isn't dramatic.” Once we went around the room introducing ourselves, it became clear that this was a different type of class then from what I was used to. Instead of the usual “Hi my name is and this is my major” we began with saying what service activities we participated in throughout high school. Even though I always thought I was involved in high school, I couldn't help but feel intimidated by my peers lengthy lists of activities. But it was during that time, that I first began to see how Saint Joe's and ultimately service-learning would soon change my mentality. From that moment on, instead of feeling the urge to be competitive, I began to appreciate what each individual offered.

As the weeks flew by, I began to see how much I have changed. Through service-learning, I grew as a person. I learned to share my knowledge and experiences with others. I began to value my education even more. I finally understood how truly blessed I was to be going to college, especially at Saint Joseph's University. Not only was I learning about the failed education system in class, but I was working to improve this devastating problem each week at service. Now of course, it is only a drop in a bucket. But who is to say that this drop isn't important? I know for a fact that this experience is changing me for the better, not to mention Francis. I am beginning to overlook stereotypes, learning for myself through experience the definitions of hard work, dedication, and success.

There is one particular project that Francis and I work on together, in which I truly learned what it meant to be a woman with and for others. Francis loves words. Any chance she is given to use a dictionary, she will use it. One Wednesday there were a few nouns that she could not understand: aspiration, appreciation, and accomplishment. I could not help but feel deeply saddened that she did not know what these words meant. So an idea came to me. Why don't we make Francis her own dictionary?

I scrambled for paper and markers. I punched holes in the paper with my pen and tied the pages together with paper clips. I wrote out “Francis's Dictionary” in bold, red, block letters. On each of the following pages I wrote aspiration, appreciation, and accomplishment. I asked Francis to write the dictionary definition beside each word. After that, we decided to discuss who we looked up to. After deciding that we looked up to Oprah, our parents, and Beyonce, I asked Francis to draw them on the paper. I saw her finally grasping the intensity of these words. So from that day forward, whenever Francis does not know a word, I ask her to jot it down in her dictionary, along side of silly doodles of course.

I love learning new words and trying to use them in daily life. This might be one of the reasons for why I find English so satisfying and fascinating. I find looking up words in a dictionary or thesaurus to be just as fulfilling as Francis. This could be one of the reasons why we work so well together. Through our love of words we have bonded. My heart melts each time I watch Francis get that spark in her eye each time she flips through the pages of that dictionary. I am incredibly grateful to be able to share in this learning experience with Francis.

Over the past weeks of the semester, I have learned a lot about the real world. Working with Francis, I have been able to share the knowledge I have had through years of schooling. In return, Francis has shared with me the knowledge she has gained over her lifetime. This is the realization that I needed. I am not in competition with others. Instead, I am working with others, to gain the most I can through personal connections. I am a learner myself; we all are.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Linking Worlds

The link between the real world and the Center for Literacy simply needs to be discovered. The aged metal may be tarnished, yet the valuable luster still manages to shine through. Draped with interwoven layers of rich ivy, the connection between the two worlds is hidden to most of society. The arch much like the Center for Literacy, is just awaiting to be appreciated. This gateway leads to much more than a home, instead this archway symbolizes a communal safehaven. Once you travel beneath this arc, whether a tutor or student, you continue onto a journey of change.

The archway acts as a symbol of change in my life. Every Wednesday evening, as I make my way underneath this arch, I start to feel an overwhelming sense of excitement and determination. Even though I am exhausted after a day of classes, I know that within the next couple of hours I am bettering my own life. I am so grateful and glad to be able to pass along some knowledge that will help better another person's life. In return, my learner teaches me so much about reality. She inspires me to work to the best of my ability.

I remind myself of Francis whenever I feel tired, over-worked, or aggravated from my day. Not only does she work full-time at the airport, but she sends her paycheck to her family in Africa. Plus she uses her free time to better herself, as she takes classes at the Center for Literacy. Not to mention she dedicates her Wednesday nights for our tutoring sessions. Each time she walks underneath the archway, Francis is taking the steps to bettering her life. This rusted, ivy-covered arch acts as much more than an entrance to a building. Instead this gateway is an entrance towards self-improvement.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Now and Then

Three months ago today was the first day of classes at Saint Joseph's University. My official start of college. Looking back, I can easily recall my unbearable nerves and incredible excitement. Finally, here was the fresh start that I had been craving throughout high school. But what was I going to do with this opportunity?

Before I came to school, I kept a mental to-do list of all of the things I wanted to accomplish in my freshman year. I started off with wanting to keep my grades up. I wanted to participate in a couple extra-curricular activities...one sport team, one community service group, and one program involved in the arts. I wanted to keep in touch with my friends and family from back home. I wanted to take advantage of the location of SJU and explore as much of the city as I possibly could. Most importantly, I wanted to surround myself with a group of really great people. Although the list was a good reminder to keep my head straight, it added a whole new level of personal stress to be successful.

As the weeks passed by quickly, I was unable to pull myself back from my college experience. With the stresses from classes, social pressures, and a busy schedule, I barely had any time to reflect. I was unable to fully appreciate everything that surrounded me. Instead of recognizing how I truly have grown from my classes, I decided to criticize my B+ G.P.A. Instead of embracing and loving my new friends, I became determined to make even more friends. Instead of focusing on healing from my recent break-up, I decided to emphasize the need to move on to new boys. Instead of appreciating the fact that some of my relationships with old friends have strengthened, I focused on trying to reel back the friendships that have weakened or those I have lost.

Eventually, I was able to take myself away from the situation by making time for myself. I needed an escape. Through exploration of the backyard to my campus house, I found an escape. Literally, a fire escape. This staircase led me to exactly what I needed to escape from reality, the roof. By spending time on the roof, I took time to not only appreciate the surrounding natural beauty, but the beauty in my life. This is when I truly began to appreciate everything that was going right. I had stayed true to who I am. I have grown both academically and spiritually. I have became friends with such kind, fun, inspiring, and loving people. Sure I have made mistake along the way, but I decided to now focus on the positive.

Change can be complicated and confusing. But once embraced, all opportunities to better yourself become available. I am not an entirely different from the person on August 30th , but I have definitely learned a lot about myself. My priorities have not changed. Instead, I have strengthened these priorities. I realize that I can not expect myself to be perfect, nor will things always turn out the way I want. I now embrace my situation and everything that I am. My positive outlook on life has been restored.