Jessica 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 Jessica and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!
It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Friday. I get in the driver’s seat of my volunteer community’s Toyota Corolla and wait until all of my fellow community members get in. Today is a program day; one of the special days that my program, the St. Joseph Worker Program in LA, provides its volunteers to experience service and formation in spirituality, leadership, justice, and community.
While each community member works in a different location throughout the year, on program days we go together to visit one of these locations. Today, as a group, we will drive to where I work every day in Venice, CA. I am the only volunteer from my program placed at the Homeless Service Center at St. Joseph Center, which was started by the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Every day I travel to the center and work alongside other case managers as we serve Los Angeles – the city that is home to the most individuals experiencing homelessness in the nation.
This program day will be focused on Bread and Roses, the restaurant-style meal site at the Homeless Service Center. As I drive, my community members sing and dance in the car to “What Lovers Do” by Maroon 5 feat. Sza – our new jam – despite the very early hour. It’s amazing to me that they can have so much energy, while I can barely keep my cool in the infamous LA traffic. However, I am excited to serve alongside them at my service site — the site I have come to love over the past two months.
A table fully set at Bread and Roses Cafe.
As we pull up to Bread and Roses, we see our program director, Sister Judy, who is always ready to greet us with a warm hug before we get to work. At Bread and Roses, we serve the clients of St. Joseph’s- many of whom I am delighted to know by name- a hot meal with milk, juice, and fruit. Unsurprisingly, Sister Judy knows all of the support staff at the site, and with those she doesn’t, she is quick to introduce herself. In this simple way, she embodies community and care for the neighbor while inspiring me to do the same, especially at the Homeless Service Center.
A picture before serving at Bread and Roses Café. Featured are some regular volunteers, as well as Chef James in the middle and Sous-Chef CJ on the left. Sister Judy joins us for the picture with her signature smile. While they usually don’t take pictures as much as Sister Judy does, the Bread and Roses volunteers and staff love where they work, and those smiles are as real as they get!
During the week, I meet with clients each day, orienting new members, and working to find housing for those who have already been through our doors. This program has thrown me head first into a new world of gray- where nothing is black and white, and I must lean on my coworkers for information, support, and encouragement daily. Clients deal with so many hardships that joy is difficult to find. The most impressionable experiences I have are listening to clients describe their lives, needs, or experiences, and watching them walk away just a little lighter. For example, one of my first clients was a single mother living in her car. She had a child with a medical condition and was recovering from trauma at the hands of an abusive partner. She shared her story with me with such genuine emotion that I found myself with wet eyes. It was hard knowing that I could only fill out more paperwork and explain the process ahead toward housing. However, at the end of this meeting, she hugged me and squeezed my hand with a “thank you,” reminding me that our interaction mattered.
Though my days at the center are always full of new experiences, this program day is unusually busy and exhausting. Working at Bread and Roses is fast paced, but allows me to engage with many clients in a different setting – they are not in the office, but sitting down to eat. They are treated with the dignity each person deserves, but which they seldom encounter in their daily lives, and smile and laugh with one another over the delicious meal. This is what the Sisters of St. Joseph talk about when they say that they “serve the dear neighbor without distinction.”
Various snapshots of the day with my community serving at Bread and Roses. I wish we could serve here together every day!
Left to right: Angelica and Molly setting the table for the second serving of the day, Michaella and Manny cleaning up after a full service, and me and Chef James.
After lunch, we head to St. Joseph’s main center, where Sister Judy has arranged for us to hear from Va Lecia, the Executive Director of St. Joseph Center. Va Lecia’s story is rich with faith and illustrates powerful female leadership that our program seeks to encourage and grow.
The presence of leadership, spirituality, and community doesn’t end as we complete our program day. We drive to the Carondelet Center, the center for senior sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Once we arrive, we are officially commissioned into our year of service through a communal prayer service and an introduction to the Sisters. We also pray for the other St. Joseph Workers across the country in our program, uniting us together.
We clean up nice (and quickly!) for our Commissioning in St. Joseph Chapel at the Carondelet Center.
Left to Right: Molly, Angelica, Michaella, Myself, and Anh
We are sent off into our year with a blessing and the gift of a Celtic cross necklace, the official symbol for our program. This symbol reminds us of our four pillars of our program – spirituality, justice, community, and leadership – as well as our strong faith in God’s vision for justice in our world. We end the day with the knowledge that we are continually held in prayer by the sisters, and head home to a long night of sleep after an incredibly busy day!
Blog update and prayer request: Since writing this blog, my community has been impacted by the fires in Southern California that have been burning close to Los Angeles over the past week. To date, our community remains safe and we have embraced the Sisters of St. Joseph’s charism of caring for the dear neighbor by welcoming four sisters to stay with us. Their living facility was evacuated due to its proximity to the Skirball fire near Bel Air, LA. Amidst the challenge of this evacuation, we did enjoy lively dinner conversations and sharing stories with them over the time of their stay and are grateful for the connection our community has with the congregation. Fortunately, the sisters were able to return to their home on Sunday, December 12th. At this time, we would ask you for your prayers for safety and a quick end to this natural disaster as well as for those who have been immediately affected by the fires across California. We would also implore you to join our prayers for a global awakening to our earth’s climate change and the need to take action. Thank you!