Experience of Ivanhoe, VA
By Lauren K. Bivona
I didn’t know what to expect from Spring Break Outreach. Almost immediately, however, I realized how unique an opportunity this was. Ivanhoe is a town struggling to survive because all the local industries have moved out of the area. Some of the town’s buildings, namely a school and general store, have been abandoned and the town has to fight to maintain their post office and fire department. At first glance, one may not understand why someone would want to remain in Ivanhoe but, when you sit down and talk with the people in Ivanhoe, you understand how conflicted they are about leaving. Many of the town residents not only grew up in Ivanhoe, but their parents and great-grandparents did as well. The people of this town have roots and from those roots stem a great source of pride. Though Ivanhoe lacks a community school, bank, library and many of the other institutions we associate with comprising a “town,” Ivanhoe is more of a community than many other towns.
Never before have I met a group of people with larger hearts than I did in the town of Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe residents opened up their homes to us, fed us food made from their not-so-secret recipes (because they gave them to us later) and shared their stories. They played jokes on us, laughed with us and cried with us. During the week of March 6, the Ivanhoe community shared their lives with twelve Loyola students. I never expected to meet so many strong and interesting people with genuine love of their town.
It was a challenge for me to come back to Loyola. Even though my dorm room is on a floor shared by 71 other people, I was still lonely. My friends live right down the hall, but, sometimes, it seems too far and too much of an imposition to journey next door. Meanwhile, in Ivanhoe, people will drive for miles just to drop off something or say hello. What impressed me most about the people of Ivanhoe was their candor; even after just meeting us, they were willing to share details about their lives. I have been friends with people since kindergarten and I still hesitate sharing details with people. Yet, from those details the Ivanhoe people shared, I have learned about strength and courage and determination and so many other, wonderful things. I went to Ivanhoe to serve, but this experience has helped me more than anything I could have contributed to Ivanhoe.
On the last day we shared in Ivanhoe, our leader, Matt, interviewed Aurora, a young resident of Ivanhoe. When asked what she would change about Ivanhoe, she replied that she wouldn’t change anything. At that moment, I knew that Ivanhoe is still alive—because, to her, it’s her home and the best place to live.
Experience of Camden, N.J.
By John Doughertey
There are all sorts of ways that we fail to see other people as people; in our everyday lives and in service. Sometimes, especially in service. We can fall into the trap of seeing the people we serve as tasks, or just seeing our own reactions.
During my stay at the Romero Center, I served for a morning at Genesis, an assisted living home in Camden County. I had done some service in senior care centers years ago, in grade school. I was just a kid then, without any really solid ideas about anything. The clearest memories I have are of these terribly awkward silences where conversations would break off. I reached points where I couldn’t quite figure out how to communicate with someone. Since I’m talkative by nature, this made me really uncomfortable and attached a negative stigma to this kind of service.
I started to warm to it after a few hours at Genesis. I talked to the residents, had some great conversations, and just had fun in general. Late in the day, I found myself on the Alzheimer’s/ Dementia floor. The radio was on, and I was sitting with these three women. One was moving her foot to the beat. She said a few things, but I couldn’t understand them. Otherwise, she just listened to the music, unresponsive. The second woman was a bit more responsive, but the shape of her mouth made it impossible for her to speak. The third woman just stared out the window.
After a few minutes, my attempts at conversation broke down, and there I was, in the moment I had been dreading. No one speaking. Just the music from the radio breaking the silence.
As servants, I believe we have a drive to be very active when we’re serving. So, when we’re just sitting there, listening to music, we start to think we should be somewhere else, doing some real service, really doing something. That’s how I felt right then. However, I didn’t want to just get up and leave, or awkwardly excuse myself.
So, I started to think as I sat there. I tried to think of what it would be like if I were in their place, but I didn’t get very far. And then I thought: Well, what if this person was one of my best friends? What if this was someone I really loved?
Think about it. Think about your best friend, or anyone you really care about. Think about all the things you love about them, all the quirks in their personality, all of the things that make them a light in your life.
Now, imagine that they lose those things. Imagine that, while they are still here physically, that person, that friend you knew is gone. Imagine that they can never be that person again; that they don’t even remember who that person is.
It was one of my best friends’ birthday that day, and I thought of her, of all the things that make her the amazing, beautiful person that she is. What if she were her, in this wheelchair, staring blankly out the window? What would I do if it was her?
The answer I came up with was that I would sit there with her, and listen to the radio.
Because that’s good enough. Because that is service. Because these people are still people, even if they can’t carry on a conversation, even if they don’t respond at all. They still deserve to have someone sit with them, and care about them, and treat them like a human being. Sometimes, just being present is the best service we can perform. Sometimes, it’s as simple as sitting with someone, not saying anything at all, and just listening to the music.
Experience in L’arche, Washington DC
By Elizabeth Grillo
Whenever the topic of spring break arises, I respond by calling it the best week of my life. It was really a phenomenal experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. Coming into this week, I knew I had to be open for whatever God put in front of me. I know realize that this could not have been a better fit. As soon as we arrived I knew this place was special. I am one of three and have a small extended family. I have always wanted to have a big house, full of lots of people, lots of confusion and lots of love. That is what I found at L’arche. I feel like when I arrived at L’arche, I came into a house that really knows how to love. I could not have asked for a better way to spend my spring break.
The thing I learned most from L’arche is that every person deserves to be treated like a person. Everyone deserves normalization in their life. Since I only spent a week at L’arche, I am still unsure about how to do that, but I know that it is up to everyone in the L’arche community to be a role model for how to value each other for the rest of society who is too busy being individuals. I can say with much confidence that L’arche D.C. has not seen the end of me. I love L’arche, what it stands for and I want to be a part of this community.
Experience in Fries, VA
By Maura Toomb
I had an absolutely amazing experience in Fries, VA. However, it was not the specific things I did to help the community, or the wonderful group of people I was with or the beautiful scenery that made my experience. It was the people of Fries that truly changed my outlook on life. The people of Fries taught me more about faith and gratitude in a week than I could have learned in a lifetime. Though they have few material possessions, they have a wealth of love and community. They live each day to the fullest and take little for granted.
Each person in Fries greeted me with a smile and thankful words. It was evident that they truly appreciated our presence, whether we were cleaning and painting or just talking with them. Their community is one rich with history and stories and they were eager to share. They took real pride in their town, and rightfully so.
I can truly say that the people of Fries served me more than I ever could have served them. While I painted fences and cleaned churches, they taught me important life lessons. Fries taught me how to truly take advantage of each moment, and I will thank them for it every day.