Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Retreat, part 4: Service Day

The presentation on service was scheduled for Thursday.  Instead of a "normal" presentation followed by a guided experience, we started off with a guided experience in South Bend.  Our wonderful bus driver came and collected us and took us to South Bend.  When we arrived in SB we played a "game" to split our peer groups up.  We were supposed to make eye contact with a member of our peer group and then pick a number, either one or two.  My peer group was scattered throughout the bus, and one member of my group has a vision impairment, so we rather failed at this exercise.  Most of my group simply made decisions as to whether we were in group one or two. Amazingly we ended up dived as evenly as possible (2 and 3 is the best way to divide 5, since they frown on splitting seminary students in half).  Group one got off the bus.  We were at a place called Hope Ministries.
We arrived at Hope Ministries and were given a quick briefing on what Hope does. I really like their ministry.  Basically, people who have fallen on hard times for any reason can come live there.  They get an apartment that they can call their own. There are classes to teach them the necessary skill for getting and keeping a job, substance abuse programs, a day care for infants-preschool aged children and so much more.  They allow families to stay together (most shelter type places split families up).  People can stay there for up to two years.  Even after they have found work, they can stay for free, in order to build up a nest egg so they don't end up back in shelters as soon as they leave.  Then we got a tour of the shared spaces of the facility: classroom, library, meeting rooms and the nursery/day care. I've seen some shelter type children's centers before and this one just blew them all out of the water.  It wasn't fancy or anything, but what it did have was well put together.  For the older kids there were fine motor activities as well as a gross motor room.  There were tactile options,  vestibular stimulation items, all kinds of sensory-motor equipment, but all real simple.  The teachers (who were certified ECE's) spoke to us about the scheduling that they emphasize, noting that routine is so important to these children who have often experienced more trauma in the few short years they have been alive then most of us will ever experience.  I wanted to stay and play with them, but we moved on to the baby room.  Similar to the preschool room it was well equipped in a simple way.  I watched through the window as a teacher provided deep pressure biofeedback to a child (between ages 12-18 months I think) who appeared to have abnormal muscle tone. I watched another teacher feed a tiny infant who had oxygen tubing taped to his face (at first I thought it was a NG feed tube because it was so fine).  My heart wanted to stay with the children.  I asked our supervisor if we'd have time to play with the kids later on.  She said no.  I left, holding images of the children in my head and my heart.
After our tour we were told that 5 of us were needed to go to a partner organization to serve lunch at a soup kitchen type place.   I volunteered and we walked about 4 blocks to the soup kitchen.  After scrubbing and donning aprons, hair nets, and gloves we got to work.  My job was to scoop applesauce.  I'd taken the brace off my wrist so I get the gloves on.  While I was scooping it didn't hurt too bad, but it sure let me know the next day! Towards the end of serving, one of my group members starting feeling unwell (there had been a bit of a bug going around) so I was blessed to be able to care for her.  I was glad I had Pepto in my purse.  Praise His name that I was having a very easy withdrawal day! Both of us sick would not have been a good thing.
Once lunch was all cleaned up we walked back to Hope and had our lunches with rest the group and then they put us to work.  Our task was to put Christmas away.  Hope does a great job with Christmas.  There was Christmas everywhere!  We took down trees and set them up again in the enchanted Christmas Tree Forest in the basement.  We took ornaments off of trees and put them in boxes.  We took lights down and cursed them for being so tangled.  We washed windows.  I got distracted by a baby.
While we were taking down a tree someone came out of their apartment.  He talked with our supervisor and somehow I found out he had a baby who had been born very prematurely.  I asked if I could see.  I went into the apartment and there was the baby I had seen in the nursery that morning.  He was tiny...maybe the length from my finger tip to the crook of my elbow.  He had oxygen tubing attached to him and his breathing was labored.  I asked if I could hold him, and after untangling some tubing, I had an infant in my arms.  His name is Sage.  Pray for him. He is a fighter but he still has a long way to go. Before I got called out to continue with my group (who had finished the tree they were working on and were moving on) I was able to pray for Sage and bless him.
We spent the rest the afternoon doing trees.  Then, we went to a quiet spot to debrief.  We were just about ready to head over to join the other half our class when our supervisor asked us if we wanted to make "hope tiles".  In they foyer they have a wall display that says "HOPE".  I wished I'd taken a picture of it, but I didn't. The word is made up of little tiles that people have written "I have hope because..." and then shared their reason for hope.  We said we wanted to add to it, so we trucked back upstairs and made hope tiles.
Here is a sampling of our tiles:
Hope tiles made by our group. Click to enlarge.
When we were done with our Hope Tiles we headed over to the site where the other group was working.  They had spent the day at St. Margaret's House.  They spend their time deep cleaning the kitchen and sorting clothing items for a clothing sale/give away taking place the next day.  Their being there was a last minute arrangement (the original site cancelled at the last minute), but it was an answer to prayer for St. Margaret's.  G-d has a way of working everything out, just perfectly. 
After debriefing as a large group we headed to Bruno's for dinner.  Major accomplishment for the day: I managed to eat at an Italian pizza/pasta buffet without getting sick! I ate a lot of salad and some yummy potatoes fried with onion.

When we think of service we often think of blessing the people we are serving. I think it's important to realize that we are often just as blessed.  Sage's father might not know it, but he blessed me incredibly, just by letting me hold Sage. The lady who teased us (in a good way) while we took the tree down on her floor blessed me by putting a smile on my face.  My friend who got sick blessed me by letting me take care of her (instead of her taking care of me!).  Blessings come in many shapes and sizes.  We just have to keep our eyes open for them.

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