A Day in the Life: Ada Lee – Vincentian Service Corps West – San Francisco, CA

Ada is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Ada and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

This year has brought changes to my life in all aspects- physically, mentally, and emotionally. One of the biggest changes has been learning to live in solidarity with the communities I am serving. Oftentimes and unfortunately, we can get so preoccupied with the hustle of our own lives, that we become prone to seeing those who are different from us as a “stranger.” The interactions we have with others then become inauthentic and muddled and can even take away from the basic human experience of compassion and human dignity. Pope Francis says, “To welcome the stranger is to welcome Christ,” and this has been my personal aphorism for the year.

I am serving at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep High School through the Vincentian Service Corps and have the opportunity to lead some sophomores on their service immersion trips. These trips are mandated for the students’ English class, but are meant to provide insight into the infamous Tenderloin community right next door, offer opportunities for direct service, and reveal the issues of social injustices in society. Through the St. Anthony’s Immersion program, students serve clients in the dining room, clothing store, or homebound food delivery systems, have lunch with the people they’re serving, and hear a firsthand experience directly from a current member of the Father Alfred Drug & Alcohol Rehab Program.

Going on this experience with high schoolers blesses me with the opportunity to help shape the minds of young people. Prior to the service trip, many students are not aware of the Tenderloin and its resources. In fact, there is a stigma among many young people about this area and the people who live there; while the Tenderloin does have its unique trials and tribulations, there are preconceived notions that the homeless there are just lazy and have no motivation. It is seen as a hopeless place that is better ignored. The students brought these preconceived notions forward prior to starting our service experience. I knew then that it was my role to help break down the stereotypes.

While leading morning prayer, I incorporated activities that revealed to the students the bias and prejudice that we are often so unaware of in our daily lives. First I gave random descriptions of people, and students wrote down their first impressions. We had an in depth discussion afterwards about why we thought certain things about people and how we can better our service experience by breaking down those preconceived notions and entering with an open mind and heart. My students and I formed a community with each other, unique from any other kind of academic experience, because we were able to reveal our hearts to each other. 

During one immersion experience in the beginning of October, I met John David, one of the members of St. Anthony’s Father Alfred Drug & Alcohol Rehab program. John narrated his addiction/ recovery story to the students and even gave us a taste of his spoken word pieces and his original poems. Afterwards, I thanked him for his service to us and wished him well. Last week, while walking through the Tenderloin, I stumbled upon a familiar figure- it was John David again! We stopped, looked at each other, recognized one another, and hugged each other in excitement. I asked him how his poetry was going and where he was getting his inspiration from. With a look of sincerity, he replied that he was honored that I remembered him and his work. “Of course, John!” I responded. “I would never forget someone as talented as you!” John David’s face lit up in happiness. I continued, “Thank you so much for your service to our school and for speaking with and inspiring our students.” John David looked me in the eye and replied, “No, thank YOU for your service to bettering this community and our lives.” 

It is one thing to serve for a day. We can go to a soup kitchen and give someone a sandwich, with absolutely no true intention, zeal, or passion. But to truly make an impact on those being served, it must be as St. Vincent DePaul once said, “with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” My hope is that I had enough of an impact on my students so that they can do just that. By serving with an open heart and mind, their perceptions of those in need can start to change. By changing negative perceptions, we can start to truly do good in this world. In doing so, we can show those in need the human dignity and compassion they deserve. 

I implore anyone doing a year of service now or in the future, to be present to all that they’re doing. It is so easy to ignore “the other” in the midst of our own lives, but it’s also easy to be open in receiving and understanding the lives of those we’re serving. In following the words of Pope Francis and by “welcoming the stranger” into our lives, we can begin to understand each other, to really make an impact in this world, and to work towards systemic change and social justice. 

Ada, a current volunteer with Vincentian Service Corps West, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN’s From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
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