My new pitstop

“…but there’s something about a good drive, where the end is just the end and the actual traveling is what’s memorable…” -Magnus Nilsson

Last Saturday morning, after an unfortunate attempt at sleeping in, I got out of bed at 8:30, brewed a pot of coffee, and sat down to catch up on some new magazines that had recenlty arrived at my new address. Embracing the silence while I read Traveler’s magazine, I became hooked on an article which highlighted the quote above. The quote caught me off guard. It hit me in a spot that triggered something in my heart. It was one of those moments that makes you stop; look around; and settle into the exact moment and space that you’re currently consumed by. 

That space is my new apartment in Milwaukee. When would I have ever guessed that I would currently be living in Milwaukee, WI? Had you talked to me six months ago, I would have guaranteed I’d be moving to Seattle after my JV year. Had you talked to me two years ago, my guess would have been that I’d be moving back to Colorado after graduation. But WISCONSIN? Never crossed my mind. 

But that’s where the beauty of the quote comes in. It does not matter where we end. The traveling along the way is what we will remember. And one of my pitstops just happens to be Milwaukee.

I am almost to my two month mark in my new city and so far it has been quite the adventure. One thing that’s become certain in this short amount of time is the realization for why I’ve been brought here. This year I’m working as an Americorps volunteer with College Possible. CP is a non-profit with a mission to get more low-income students to graduate from college. I can guarantee I’ll write many more blog posts about why this mission is so important to our world and the injustices that low-income students face when thinking about college (so stay tuned!). My role is to coach 33 seniors at Pulaski High School during one of the biggest years of their life. I teach after-school sessions related to the college admission process, FAFSA and scholarship applications, and how to transition from high school to college.

Four weeks into my sessions and this job is proving to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Both the obstacles and the acheivements that happen at work remind me that the mission of College Possible and the students that I get to work with daily are why I am here in Milwaukee. (Yes the fried cheese curds and beer are also wonderful.)

So cheers to another year of service, a new adventure, and an unexpected detour in my life’s travels.


To be continued…

Exactly 365 days ago I was stepping on a plane en route to Morgantown, IN. 365 days ago I met the four people who have completely changed my definition of what it means to be a family. 365 days ago I embarked on the journey that would, unbeknownst to me, “ruin me for life.”

In 3 short days I transform from a Jesuit Volunteer to a Former Jesuit Volunteer. That’s some scary stuff right there. I’m trying to embrace the panic, anxiety, excitement, confusion, and all the other overwhelming emotions that come with moving on. But I’m also trying to reflect and ingrain into my soul the experiences I’ve had this year, the people I’ve met, the sadness I’ve felt, and the joyful laughter that never ceases in my house.

As a Jesuit recently told the JVs transitioning from our year of service, “if you are not sad when leaving a place, it means you were never fully there.” Humans have a tendency to hide from sadness. Understandably. The thought of starting a relationship knowing that it will have to end is depressing. Placing yourself in a city you know is a temporary home can be rough. Working as a social worker and hearing the tribulations of clients is sad. So why do any of it? In short, my answer is simply, because why not? Sadness is a reminder that you took the chance to do something brave and you put your whole heart into it.

So, cheers to Kansas City, JVC, my family, my community, Donnelly, and everyone who reads this. Thank you all for sticking with me on this crazy ride. I’m hoping to keep this blog updated during my next year serving with Americorps in Milwaukee, so be on the lookout! My journey is to be continued…

I want to leave you with a wonderful quote I came across last week. It’s helps me remember that the sadness I feel right now for leaving is okay. And that I will be back for you one day KC!

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place. We stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again by going back there.” -Pascal Mercier

Lessons from a year of service

Last night, my roommate’s coworker came over to host a “social justice night” for us. The evening was filled with chili, beer bread, wine, and a lengthy discussion about race. Our conversation about race and the racist issues that still plague our society was difficult and heartbreaking, but necessary and valuable for all of us.

The discussion was great, but I really want to highlight part of our casual dinner discussion with our guest. Once the chili was sitting heavy in our stomachs and we were fighting over the last crumbs of beer bread (I’m telling you people- you MUST try this stuff) our guest posed us a question: “What have you learned this year?”

She followed that by saying, “I’m sure you get asked this question all the time.” Actually, I can only think of one other time someone has asked me this question, and it was back in October. Back then, I was still having a difficult time processing all that was my life in JVC. Now I was able to fully embrace the question and spit out multiple lessons I’ve learned from my year of service.

At this point, it’s more common for people to ask me the anticipated question of: “what are you doing after JVC?”. I could go on a rant for days about this question. Everyone who’s graduated from college knows how frustrating it is to be asked this over and over again; even when you know what you’re doing post-college/JVC. So I was overjoyed when our guest asked us a purposeful question that holds so much depth to it. Back in October when a Jesuit first asked me what I’d learned so far through JVC, I was a little stumped. This time I felt stumped again, but for a completely different reason.

There are so many elements that go into a year of service. There is in explainable amount of spiritual, intellectual and cultural growth occurring. These elements can tear your heart open or fill it with joy. And trying to communicate all of this is overwhelming. Essentially I was stumped because at that moment I thought of a million and one things that I’d learned from my year of service. You’d get bored reading through a list 1,000,001 bullets long, so here’s a peek at a few:

  • I’ve learned that life is about cultivating meaningful relationships. To truly listen to someone’s story doesn’t take much. All it takes is for you to stop worrying about the rest of the world for a moment, stop worrying about yourself, and open up your heart. Allow yourself to be immersed in someone else’s personality and passions as you give your all into listening to their story. This is how you will create relationships.
  • Utilize your voice for the voiceless. It is shocking how our society marginalizes, discriminates, and belittles others for being different. Creating a voice for someone who doesn’t have one is powerful. It’s also just as important to keep your voice when you hear negative or wrong things being said by others. Don’t lose your voice in these moments and remember that standing your ground and saying something is more important than not saying anything.
  • Free events aren’t hard to find. Free events fuel a JV’s soul (and social life). Searching for these free events has taken me on some of my favotire adventures this year. Free ninety nine is the best kind of price to pay anyways. So explore your neighborhood or get online and search for local activities. You’ll be surprised by what you find.
  • Timing is everything. My roommate Gavin always says this, and I think he’s found the answer to life. If I met my community members in college, I may not have been friends with them. But now I can’t think of my life without them.
  • Differentiating between needs and wants. JVC is all about trying to teach this lesson. When you start doing only things that are needs, you eliminate a lot of waste. It has helped me become less materialistic and conscious about the purchases I make. Do I need or want cable? Do I need or want that cookie? (The answer is always YES- you need that cookie).
  • You can’t do everything. It can be so frustrating seeing so many social injustices on a daily basis. I am passionate about fighting for equal and substantial education. I see how school systems have failed so many children on a daily basis. But then I turn around and see how our government has failed so many people from earning adequate healthcare or housing. Or I see that there’s a food dessert just blocks from my house. And I become fired up about these issues and think that I need to help advocate for those issues also. It’s frustrated when you’re reminded you can’t do everything. Then I come home and hear the triumphs of my roommates who work in free care clinics and with migrant workers. I’m reminded that there are amazing people who have passion for other issues that I’m not directly involved in. And slowly but surely, as more people reach out to all the areas in need of help, we will begin to collectively fix things.
  • Put yourself out of your comfort zone. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone has taught me so much about myself. When you become too comfortable you stop learning. It was uncomfortable to have a discussion about race. But I learned so much from it!

I get chills everytime I think about how much I’ve learned this year. Now that it’s been more than a year since graduating, I think it’s a good time for everyone to reflect on how they’ve changed or grown this past year. For me it’s a reminder of the adventures I’ve gone on, the people I’ve met, the lessons I’ve learned, and how I’ll use all of that to move forward.

The $15 difference

The seemingly small amount of $15 has been a reoccurring price in my life lately. And within the past week, I’ve realized that $15 has significant influence over my life and a lot of my client’s lives. So why then has this specific amount of money inspired me to write a blog post? Let’s start from the beginning…

A few weeks ago, chaos broke out at work. I was going about my regular job duties and this particular morning I was helping two women sign up for ESL classes. People who want to take ESL classes make a pit stop at my office during the enrollment process to test and I determine which level they should be in. The “test” essentially is me having a conversation with the student and then getting a writing sample to determine their English level. This is the part of my job that gives me so much joy but even more stress. There’s the occasional times when I sit with a teenager from Honduras and all we can do is laugh because we don’t understand each other. Or I have to console an Iraqi woman who is telling me about how she’s temporarily away from her husband to find a better life in America. These stories always remind me to take a moment and examine my life in a different light.

The stress comes from having to discuss pricing with ESL testers. In general, there is so much lost in translation during the test. Throw in a conversation about money and I’m setting myself up for disaster. After the test I discuss pricing and payments with them and then send them off to pay in the Business Office. Half of the time I’m nervous I’m sending them off to pay when they’re actually just going to leave because they have no idea what I said.

Up until last Wednesday, ESL classes were $50 per class, per month. When you rely on working full time at a job that pays minimum wage, this is a hefty price to pay. ESL students are already making a sacrifice in their budget to accommodate for these classes. Well imagine that you’re the ESL student and you find out that the price has risen to $65 per class. This is when $15 becomes an issue.

$15 has never been more significant to me until this happened. I had to watch faces sink under confusion and disappointment when I told these students the prices have changed. I watched one woman hold back tears and shake her head to tell me “no she can’t afford that.”

My time in JVC and my job at Donnelly force me to look at situations from a different angle. I am constantly humbled when I am in a situation that reminds me of the graces I have been given. Last year I thought of $15 as an average night out to dinner or a screaming deal on a concert ticket. This year that has become 15% of what I make in a month. It’s what stopped me from actually going to a concert with my friends last Saturday because I didn’t have that much money at the end of the month. That was my $15 difference. But for people who are living pay check to pay check, the $15 difference in ESL classes is the difference between whether they can fully pay their rent this month.

I want to encourage you to look at your next $15 purchase a little differently. I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty for spending $15 at the bar (I’ve done it this year) or $15 on a pair of socks (who doesn’t love a nice pair of socks, am I right?). I’m just encouraging you to take a step back and reflect. Find peace, comfort, and maybe some humility knowing that you have this $15 to spend.

My blog’s namesake

I figured it’s probably time for me to honor the team who gave the inspiration for my blog’s name. The good ol’ Kansas City Royals are the MLB’s beloved come back team who captured the nation’s attention last October. They also captured my heart (ohhh too cheesy?) or at least Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy (with beard) did.

When I moved to Kansas City in August, the Royals were still perceived as a mediocre team who hadn’t made it to the playoffs since 1985. I mean seriously…that was the worst record in MLB history. One of my new neighbors said that people would practically “give tickets away” last season. Despite this poor reputation, most Kansas Citians still adored the team who never gave them a reason to watch baseball past mid-September.

The moment I officially felt connected to this city was during the infamous wild card game. Recap: royals were losing (pretty badly). Half of the bar had left because it was deemed over. At the end of the 7th inning the score was 7-3 Oakland ahead. Terrible odds, right? Around the 5th inning I had gotten a call from a friend back home. Since all hope hadn’t quite been lost at that point and Mike’s, the friendly neighborhood bar, was packed with people, I promptly ignored the call. I’ll admit that I have a bad habit of leaving events too early because I’m tired (boo-hoo) or I because I feel I should talk to the friend from home who’s calling or whatever other excuse I can come up with. It’s mostly the 80-year old woman inside of me wanting to curl up in bed early and make sure I get my 8 hours of sleep every night. But, on that infamous Tuesday night, I had a feeling that I should ignore this call and stick around at Mike’s. I needed to prove myself a true Royals fan.

Good thing I went with my gut. The Royals made the biggest comeback imaginable! By the end of the 9th inning they had tied it up. Everyone in Kansas City was on their feet and the rest of the world was tuned in to witness the game that put a mediocre team from the Midwest back on the map.

12th inning…The A’s get a run. Now they’re up 8-7 and it will all be over if the Royals don’t make some magic happen. Hope is not lost. The Royals get 2 more runs to WIN the game 9-8 and make it on to the post-season for the first time since 1985.

Wow, sorry for that long recap. I was just so excited reliving this memory in my mind! Anyways, the Royals go on to be AWESOME and make it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Unfortunately, they lost that final game, but that’s besides the point.

The point is, that the Royals gave Kansas City something to rally around. It’s always exciting to see an entire group of people support and cheer for something that connects them all. There seem to be too many conversations and issues that divide people into two groups. Political affiliations, thoughts on immigration reform, the never ending cake vs. pie debate, etc. This was one of those rare moments that bonded people together. Maybe the 50 A’s fans in the country would disagree with me, but I hope even they were secretly pulling for the Royals. And I am beyond thankful to have been a part of the iconic Royals season. This could be a story I tell my kids in 29 years (if it takes the Royals that long again to get to the World Series. Let’s cross our fingers that’s not the case though. Go Royals!

royals 4

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royals 7

Summer blues

All I hear at work right now is the “buzzzz” of the air conditioning and my own typing. This must be a miracle. Spring break was the last time I could clearly hear those noises. All other hours of the day have been filled with the chatter (and yelling) from students as they end the semester and prepare for the long-awaited summer.

This past week was finals for students. Which apparently in their minds equates to: I can be as loud as I want and loiter in the halls, because I’m stressed. Granted I cannot give them too much flack because I was at that point exactly a year ago. But this mentality made the chatter in the hallways and outside my office almost out of control. Now that finals are over though…I can finally hear the buzz of the air conditioning.

Today is day two of post-finals. Now that day two is coming to a close, I’m deciding that this no students around thing is more boring than I expected. I’m also realizing how much of my job relies on student interactions. One of the unique elements of JVC is that job placements are required to provide 75% of hours in direct contact with clients. Meaning at least 3/4th of my day should be spent with Donnelly students. Granted there were some days throughout the school year when I would shut my office doors to block out the constant interruption of students and could complete a project. However, most of my days really did hit that 75% mark. Even if 15% of that was me sitting in my office overhearing conversations from the tutoring center I supervise.

Now that the students are gone, what I thought would be peace & quiet is actually heartbreak & silence. Okay- maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But two days in and I really do miss these kids. I’m nine months into JVC (holy cow) and wish that I could have nine more months with the students I worked closely with. They taught me so much and I can only hope that I made an impression on them.

So cheers to the Class of 2015! And bring on all the summer school students!

Good reads

What does one do to occupy their time when they have a daily two hour bus ride? Of course my number 1 favorite activity is to eavesdrop on conversations other riders are having. I shouldn’t even call it eavesdropping, since most of the time people do not shy away from making their conversations heard by everyone within a half mile radius of the bus. I’ve also picked up the bad habit of reading books or text messages of those who sit in front of me. I give you full permission to judge me for this, but trust that I’m making an effort to break this habit. It’s honestly just so entertaining sometimes.

But besides stalking all the people on my bus and making up stories about their lives in my head, I mostly fill the long bus rides with books. I’ve always loved to read. The greatest obstacle I’ve had in the past from truly enjoying a light read every once in a while was school and the joyous textbooks I needed to read instead. BUT now I’m free!! And can read whatever I want, whenever I want!! So I’m obviously not taking this for granted.

Essentially what I’m getting to here is a chance to share with you all the books I’ve read during my JV year so far. Most of the books I’ve read have been great…others not so great. So if you’re ever looking for a light read, check out any from this list!

  1. Sharp Objects– Gillian Flynn
  2. The Night Circus- Erin Morgenstern
  3. Not That Kind of Girl- Lena Dunham
  4. Wild– Cheryl Strayed
  5. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil- John Berendt
  6. Everything I Never Told You- Celeste Ng
  7. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace- Jeff Hobbs*
  8. Tattoos on the Heart- Fr. Gregory Boyle
  9. The Shack- William P. Young
  10. Me Talk Pretty One Day- David Sedaris
  11. City of Thieves- David Benioff
  12. For One More Day- Mitch Albom
  13. The Defining Decade- Dr. Meg Jay
  14. Currently: The Devil in the White City- Erik Larson and Food: A Love Story– Jim Gaffigan

It’s obviously been a busy year for me. But actually, not having cable or wifi at home and a two hour daily bus ride forces me to read. I love it. This may be the only time in my life to read this much too, so I’m taking full advantage. Please feel free to send me any recommendations you have and I’ll add them to my list!

*This is the best book I’ve read so far this year. I don’t think I’ve ever become more emotionally attached to a person in a book than Rob Peace. It’s a non-fiction story about a boy who grows up in a poor, single parent household in East Orange, NJ. Rob pushes past all the odds life has set up against him to eventually attend Yale University on a full-ride scholarship. The book is about overcoming odds, perseverance and hardwork, and how things can still go wrong. Highly recommend this to everyone!