I was recently sitting in a staff meeting for the Siena Youth Center, the youth center where I serve for part of my ministry with Dominican Volunteers USA. The topics ranged from the recent run-ins with budding adolescence, summer camp logistics, our upcoming obstacle race, to putting ourselves on discount. In this short year, Rafael Avendaño, the Director of the youth center, has constantly surprised me with these amazing nuggets of knowledge in the most unexpected and needed moments.
I was coming off an incredibly difficult day working with my fifth grade students who sometimes seem to conspire against me and my lessons and talk about anything but the topic we’re on! Work at the youth center that day was none the easier. If I’m honest, that day, I was just tapped out.
Rafa began the meeting by handing out a paper with the Siena Youth Center’s mission statement: “The Siena Youth Center of the St. Francis Center is a nonprofit organization whose focus is on helping families in need in the Redwood City area and attempts to assist such families in whatever ways will allow them to live in dignity and become self-supporting members of the community.” Below this was listed our organizational strategic goals:
Alleviate suffering by providing direct social services to the economically disadvantaged and disenfranchised.
Increase the marketability of our clients by providing skill-building courses.
Break the cycle of poverty by providing a solid education.
Provide quality and engaging after-school programming at Siena Youth Center.
Foster nurturing relationships, encourage self-determination and advocate for change in systems that oppress.
Finally at the bottom of this paper was the question, “How do you feel your servant leadership is assisting our organization with our mission and goals thus far?” After a few minutes we would be sharing our answers with the Siena staff.
The question really took me by surprise. What surprised me more was the inability to formulate a response, not for lack of willingness or ability, but rather that I was hesitant to put to paper what I had accomplished. I wasn’t willing to so openly give myself a pat on the back for what I had done. We’re volunteers- it’s what we do.
Rafa began talking about the impact that we have on our community and that we need to remember not to put ourselves on discount as he called it. He wanted to be sure we knew, understood, and reflected on the ways we had an impact on the community in which we are serving.
Since August, I’ve been tutoring the mother of one of my 5th grade students. From the moment I met Mayra, I knew that she was a special person who not only cared for her family, but also for those around her. Throughout the year, Mayra and I worked on building up her Microsoft Word and Excel skills, Language Arts, and as of most recently Algebra skills. About a month ago she had the opportunity to apply and interview for a managerial role in an apartment building. This was HUGE, not only for her but also her family. The opportunity alone meant that she was successfully working toward her goals. On a personal note, it translated that I was able to assist in increasing this mother’s marketability and help break the cycle of poverty. Though she was unable to accept the position for various reasons, it was still an accomplishment.
Last week, Mayra told me a story about her son who is exceptionally bright for his age. Due to the lack of educational opportunities and the language barrier, Mayra often feels unable to assist him in his homework. One night she noticed that he was struggling with converting decimals to fractions and percentages – a skill we had worked on a few weeks before. She asked if she could help him with it and he said he didn’t think she would be able to. With pencil and paper in hand she began assisting him with his homework for the first time in a long time. It made her feel wonderful and it reminded me that my servant leadership is truly assisting in the St. Francis Center’s goals.
Without realizing it I had been putting myself on discount. Safe to say, I took myself off the discount rack and put my accomplishments back in the center of my mind. I began to take note of the small and large ways that I was helping the mission of the St. Francis Center and those around me. It began to feel much more like a two way partnership, in giving we receive, oh so much! Thank you Coach Rafa!
Be sure to follow CVN’s Blog on Thursdays to hear more from Sean and his fellow Serving with Sisters Contributors!
Sean Puzzo is a volunteer with Dominican Volunteers USA and a CVN Serving with Sisters Contributor. This blog series is sponsored by our VOCARE Initiative, thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.