Fall Break Service Trip Reflection: Kelsey in West Virginia

Up until my service trip to West Virginia, I had only ever read or heard about the kind of poverty I encountered on my trip. As Sister Pat put it, generational poverty has a unique culture of acceptance with a mindset of hopelessness. We passed miles and miles of small homes that were falling apart, grown over, windows broken, and roofs partially caved in. We saw a mountain top literally removed from the surface of the earth, leaving exposed rock where thousands of years of wildlife once existed. We talked to individuals who fell innocently into devastating and violent addictions to prescription drugs due to work-related injuries and improper pain management. We learned the hold mining industries have on the community, offering high paying salaries in an economy where jobs are scarce and the dangers of mining is worth the risks and health sacrifices.

With destruction existing in every facet of their lives, I never thought West Virginia could also hold such beauty and heroism. Thinking about the nature, history, music and traditions of Appalachia still gives me goose bumps. We drove throughout southern and central West Virginia, needing no more than the beautiful Appalachian mountains in autumn to keeps us entertained. West Virginians have an incredible appreciation for Appalachia and a history of unyielding devotion to their families and community. If there is one story of WV’s history I will always remember, it is one that Tom Breiding shared about the term “redneck.” Men unionizing against oppressive coal companies wore red handkerchiefs around their neck to symbolize their unity. Although the red handkerchiefs were once a symbol of solidarity and justice, it has been popularized to refer to uneducated, poor, and conservative “hicks” by the very people the unionizers were standing against. We also had the privilege of visiting heroic women in West Virginia. We met a 21 year old single mom of a two year old (child genius) and 3 month old. Despite coming from an abusive relationship and a poor family, she works hard each day, working towards an accounting degree so she can own her own home one day—a feat most women in the area do not expect themselves to do. Her persevering strength is an inspirational spark of hope for others in the community.

While we were exposed to some of the tragedies in West Viriginia, we had the privilege of meeting its beautiful people, dancing to its music, and learning from its experiences.

Service Trip Reflection: Sarah Carnes in Montgomery

Is anyone ever truly prepared for the experience of a lifetime? I wasn’t. That’s for sure.

As we pulled up to the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, it all began sinking in. This, this was where Martin Luther King was shot. I walked up the stairs. I looked in the window of Room 306. This was his room. That was his bed. Yet, when I looked down at the ground, it all suddenly became very real. I was standing exactly where he was shot… At that moment, I could see him standing there. I could see the bullet pierce his chest. I could see him lying in front of me. We hadn’t even made it to Montgomery, but my life was changing.

I love kids. Maybe it’s because of the energy. Maybe it’s because of the freedom. Maybe it’s because I am one. In any case, when I was told I’d be working in a school, I was ecstatic.

However, what should’ve been an incredible day quickly plummeted into a torturous afternoon.

Aaron came in late. He’d missed the first part of the lesson because he’d needed to have a test read to him. His face was hardened. He was scowling. He drug his feet all the way to his desk. Finally, he sat down.

When his peers began pestering him, he retaliated.

Completely disregarding his classmates’ behavior, the teacher barked, “Aaron, stop messing around and get to work!”

He glared at her. Taking out a sheet of paper, he slowly began taking notes. His note-taking gradually stopped.

Again, his teacher reproached him. And again, he made a halfhearted attempt to work.

I couldn’t help but watch him. As he turned around to talk to the boy behind him, he was quickly scolded, “Aaron, come back here and sit by me!”

He stood up. There were daggers in his eyes. His peers stared…

“Everybody stop staring at me!” His eyes met mine. His face broke and the daggers fell. He looked down.

Aaron took his things back to the teacher’s desk and began taking notes.

If you could’ve seen this kid’s face break, your heart would’ve burst into a thousand pieces…I couldn’t handle it. I began drowning in my own emotions. At that point I realized something very important: your heart must be broken in order to be reformed.

I began examining myself. Do I write people off according to a certain stereotype as opposed to seeing the whole person? Am I quick to judge the actions of my neighbor? Do I love others as I love myself?

The Civil Rights Movement itself may be history, but it also remains history-in-the-making. Though we’ve made great bounds in the right direction, we have miles to go. Yet, our future is bright.

I could see it in the 8th grader who cleared the bathroom for a couple of potty-dancing preschoolers. I could see it in the four year old boy who took it upon himself to make absolutely certain that every single child in his class had something to drink after recess. I could see it in the way they praised God through every word they sang in church.

“Smile first… I’ve never seen an icicle that hasn’t eventually melted.”

After all, it all begins with small things because eventually, the small things become big things.

–Sarah Carnes

Service Trip Reflection: Madi Felipe at White Rose

What is service? I found myself thinking this upon my return from my Spring Break “Service” Trip. I kept looking back at my week and tried to determine what services I provided. I never fed the homeless, built a house, or tutored kids. Did I serve? Yes? Maybe? Honestly, at first I didn’t know. But then I started thinking about my experiences with my group and the people at our host site, the White Rose. We shared laughs and knowledge, food prep and clean up duties, floor space and house work. We were together, we were whole. We listened and spoke with intention. We created a safe space where all of us felt comfortable sharing opposing, contradictory, and scattered thoughts and feelings. We served each other. By becoming vulnerable and open we were able to be honestly present physically, mentally, and emotionally for each other. No one needed a hand out, no one needed food or clothes or shelter, but we did need love, acceptance, and community. We provided each other with the support that allowed ourselves to be so truly authentic that we could connect with ourselves, and each other, on a deeper level.
I realize now that those actions were my forms of service. Being a supporter and friend IS an act of service. Just staying in the room talking to the people on meal prep or dishes; asking questions about themselves so time could go more quickly and create a more pleasurable environment, IS a way of serving them. There might not be a physical reminder of the service I provided, but there is a profound change within the people I interacted with, as well as inside myself, that proves to me how much my presence and openness mattered to this experience.
I learned so much this past week about myself, but I know that would not have been possible without the service of the people around me. Their authenticity and intensity was contagious. I was there to serve them, but in the end I would say they served me much more than I them.
I want to send my gratitude to the coordinators of the trips, my wonderful White Rosers, and all the people I came in contact with in Chicago. Through learning this new definition of service, I have come to the conclusion that I can dedicate my life to the service of others without changing any of my future goals. Service is a mindset and attitude just as much as it is an action. Motivation matters, and I plan to use my motivation to live as a servant of humanity.

-Madi Felipe

Photo Friday: Sarah Meets Detroit

Photo taken by Ben Stevinson of  Sarah Peraud who wrote the following reflection on her Spring Break trip to Detroit.

I had the absolute privilege to spend my spring break in Detroit with 5 amazing people living with the Daughters of Charity and exploring different service sites.

Detroit is terrifying. Everywhere we drove we saw houses burned down. We saw people living, selling drugs, surviving on the streets. There was a lot of darkness, a lot of pain.  God was very hard to find.

But, I discovered Detroit is possibly the most hopeful place in the world.

Detroit used to be motor city, a city built on machines and industry. That was quickly taken away. Detroit was stripped. The bones of the city stand as testament to a world and industry that sucked out their marrow and then turned away.

There are no more factories. There are no shiny new cars rolling out from shiny warehouses and factories.

It is the people that make Detroit now. When I met those people, God became evident. When I opened my heart to loving God became inevitable.

I met a boy who, although homeless, just graduated high school wants to go to college and law school and move back to fight for Detroit. I met a child who wants to study fashion and who has the voice of the old Mo-Town greats. I met two homeless teenagers who had found love in each other. I heard an ex-addict talk about the power of poetry. I head volunteers speak with the utmost respect and welcome to the people who walked through their soup kitchen lines.  I saw grafitti everywhere, testament to artists still willing to put their name, their art, their mark on this city.

Repeatedly, after telling us about the cold and destitute situations they were dedicating their lives to people would say, “But things are looking up.”

“Detoit is a phoenix rising.”

“Detroit is a diamond in the rough.”

Over and over again, I heard, “We are a diamond in the rough.”

Detroit is a diamond in the rough. The rough is tougher than most, darker, thicker than most. There is certainly a lot of work to be done, and we are nowhere near finished. But hope is easy to find when the diamonds shine this bright.

I cannot wait to go back.

Advocacy Alerts

Thanks to the CCSJ Advocacy team these advocacy alerts!

Sierra Club
Public Power-Get Nebraska in the Game!
Nebraska is a public power state, which means that the future of our energy is decided by the public. Now is the time to create a future for Nebraska where we produce our own, local, clean energy.
Unfortunately, Nebraska is falling behind. Despite having the nation’s 4th best wind resources, we don’t even rank in the top 20 wind producing states. We are well behind other states in the region.
This is a crucial moment for the state’s energy future. Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) has proposed a $1.5 billion modification plan to outdated coal plants — an unnecessary move that would lock us into decades of burning fossil fuels. Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) and Lincoln Energy Services (LES) are facing similar decision points on their aging coal plants.
Get Nebraksa in the game and tell our three largest public power entities to invest in renewable energy! 
Economic Justice
Amnesty International
Corporate Respect for Human Rights in Myanmar
In July, the Obama administration lifted sanctions on the country where several positive reforms were initiated late last year after decades of human rights abuses. Now companies in the US Chamber of Commerce are moving in to capture a potentially lucrative new market.
But we believe human rights must come before profits. Burmese freedom fighter and Nobel Laureate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has raised the caution flag for corporations doing business in Myanmar — despite recent reforms, the country remains a hard place to do ethical business. Political prisoners, forced labor, and lack of accountability for past and ongoing human rights violations are just a few of the human rights challenges that businesses encounter.
Help Keep the pressure on big business. Urge President Tom Donohue, of the US Chamber of Commerce, to make sure US companies take Amnesty’s recommendations seriously, and put human rights first while doing business in Myanmar. 
Amnesty International
Investigate the Execution of Troy Davis
The execution of Troy Davis on Sept. 21, 2011, was an injustice. But the serious flaws in the case against Troy Davis – including police coercion and unreliable witness testimonies – are many of the same problems that plague many cases throughout our capital punishment and criminal justice systems. Amnesty International has collected 10 well-documented cases where the death penalty has been exercised unprofessionally, including the case of Troy Davis. From Georgia’s Attorney General to US Attorney General Eric Holder, we are demanding accountability. We want an independent, impartial and transparent investigation into all that was wrong with Troy’s case. Sign the letter asking the Attorney Generals to exercise more care when working with death penalty cases.

Advocacy Alerts

Many students in Cortina also work with the Creighton Center for Service and Justice. The CCSJ is a wonderful office on our campus that does many things well. One of them is Advocacy. Knowing that we cannot allow our thinking to be disembodied and without practical application in our world, we are happy to announce that the CCSJ will be sharing their advocacy alerts with us each week. So, from now on you can expect Saturday Advocacy Alerts that come to us by way of the CCSJ Advocacy Team.

Below are three important issues and links to ways to advocate for them.

Working Conditions for Walmart Employees
This year, as Walmart celebrates its 50th anniversary, and executives celebrate the values of “hard-work,” “entrepreneurship” and “the American dream,” we remember and pray for the 1.4 million Walmart workers in the United States earning poverty wages while having to work in dangerous environments with limited access to insurance and benefits. Walmart is the glaring example of inequality, and for 50 years it has supported an economy that benefits the interests of a few wealthy executives at the expense of working people. Sign the petition to call on Walmart to redistribute corporate wealth to workers by providing a living wage, benefits, as well as a safe workplace.

Bring Back the PACE Clean Energy Program
One of the best ways to reduce our society’s dependence on dirty-energy technologies is to give people the ability to use less energy in their homes. But while several states are trying to make it easier for families to make their homes more efficient, the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA) recently shut down the national energy-efficient homes program. Everyone should have the ability to make their homes more efficient and affordable. Take action now to help make energy-efficient home ownership a possibility for millions of Americans!

Call on the House to Pass the Stronger Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is set to expire September 30th, 2012. This law protects millions of women across the country from domestic violence. While the U.S. Senate strengthened VAWA, the House bill stripped critical protection for vulnerable populations which includes undocumented women as well as victims of human trafficking. The House bill puts undocumented women in a precarious situation in which they can be deported for reporting acts of violence against them. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops states, “As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form—physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal—is sinful; often, it is a crime as well.”  Act now to protect all women by calling on the House to pass the Senate’s version of VAWA

Are there other issues we can be advocating for right now? Post links and information in the comments section