By Lauren Mifsud, Mercy Volunteer Corps
|Mercy Volunteer Lauren Mifsud plays at recess with
three of her students at St. Peter’s School in San
If there is one thing that I have learned this year as a Mercy Volunteer, it is how to pay for things with change. My community member, Bianca, laughs at me when we go to the corner store and I present Ali, our favorite cashier, with my quarters, nickels, and dimes, rather than dollars. “Money is money,” I’ll say to them. I shove all of my coins across the counter and we head out to make the walk down the block home. Coming into my volunteer year, I never expected to be in a community of two. When I first heard “community” I instantly thought of five to six people packed together into a small, San Francisco apartment. This past summer, I was shocked to receive an email sharing that my community would consist of only Bianca and myself. While I entered the year with some anxiety about how such a small community would function, I have come to find it a tremendous blessing. Since it is just the two of us, we have had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in not only our own service sites, but in each other’s as well. From day one, I have felt like a member of the St. Peter’s School family, where I volunteer, and also a member of the Faithful Fools family, where my community member Bianca volunteers. I have participated in some of Faithful Fools weekly programs, I have attended several of their “street retreats,” and even brought the street retreat experience to the 7th graders at St. Peter’s School. After lots of planning and preparation, the 7th grade class and the Faithful Fools team gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Cathedral Hill. We divided up into small groups and explored the streets of the Tenderloin area of San Francisco, a neighborhood that is home to many people that are experiencing poverty and homelessness. Students had the opportunity to eat in a soup kitchen and interact with anyone they encountered, all while keeping the Faithful Fools mantra in their heads: “What holds us separate? What keeps us separated? As we walk the streets, what still connects us?” After several hours, we all gathered back at the church for reflection and sharing.
The thing that I love most about street retreats is something that any Faithful Fool knows as “The Penny Story.” This is shared at the end of every street retreat. It tells the story of Faithful Fools co-founder, Kay Jorgensen, and how she came to realize that her true mission was in the creation of the Faithful Fools organization. As Kay was walking to the market one day, she felt something hit her arm. Kay looked down and saw two pennies on the sidewalk at her feet. She picked them up and carried them on her way. At the market, Kay was by the refrigerator getting a drink when a man approached her and asked, “Do you happen to have two pennies? If I had two cents, then I could buy this drink.” She reached into her pocket, handed the pennies to the man, and then headed to the cash register. As Kay was paying for her lunch, one of her favorite songs came over the loudspeaker and she knew that she had experienced something special. Kay soon noticed that pennies seemed to show up whenever she was confronted with a moment of doubt or questioning. She came to see their presence as encouragement along the way. Pennies led Kay and her friend and Faithful Fools co-founder, Carmen, to find the location where Faithful Fools Street Ministry is located today. Kay’s penny story reminds us that, “we have what we need before it is asked of us.”
Pennies have become a recurring theme over the course of this past year. Bianca and I always seem to stumble across them when we least expect it. We found three during the last mile of the San Francisco Rock and Roll Half Marathon. Bianca finds that they appear to her when she needs an extra dose of hope. And when I made the call to decline a job offer that I wasn’t quite sure was right for me, I looked down from my bench in Golden Gate Park and saw one glistening in the sunlight. Catherine McAuley once said that Mercy was, “the principal path,” or a crazy roadway of twists and turns that ultimately help us to follow God. Bianca and I have come to see pennies as personalized breadcrumbs, left behind by God for us to snatch up as He tries to lead us right where we are supposed to be.
I feel so blessed to have spent this year at St. Peter’s School as well as Faithful Fools Street Ministry. Both of these amazing sites, and Bianca, have taught me so much about the true meaning of community. We don’t always know which way to turn. We will never have all of the answers. All we can do is have big hearts and strong shoulders for people to lean on, for however brief a time, while we navigate our path.
Much like a Mercy Volunteer, the penny is small, but mighty. By itself, it’s just one cent, but throw two together, and you’re making real change.
To learn more about Mercy Volunteer Corps, please click here.