Sofia | Vocare Site: Elizabeth Residence — Bayside Campus, Bayside, WI
I was blessed to serve at Elizabeth Residence in Bayside, in the portion designated for end-of-life service, where most every resident is wheelchair-bound, incoherent or non-communicative, and cannot perform daily activities, like eating, using the bathroom, or moving, without aid. Elizabeth Residence, however, works passionately to fulfill their philosophy: to provide the best and most comfortable care and allow their residents to live in the moment with joy.
When I reflect on my Vocare experience over the last couple of weeks, one particular story comes to mind. I was sitting during free time between activities with the elderly residents of my facility, seated quietly between their reclining sofas, eyes glued to a black and white film playing on their widescreen TV. These moments between scheduled events of the day, like the weekly “Sit and Be Fit” exercise program or “Friday’s Happy Hour” with special performing guests, were rare, but rather than feel intrusive or unproductive, I had brought some art supplies for these moments. As my fellow volunteer, Macy, made a string-bracelet to give to a resident beside me, I began to sketch a picture of the man seated in front of me watching the film. John, with a permanent frown stuck below a furrowed brow, was notoriously grumpy, and silent if not perpetually asking for a bag of Baked Lays chips. I drew him in his recliner, leaned back, legs crossed, hands folded. When I began to draw his surroundings, I decided I wanted him to not be staring at the television, but instead to be pondering a painting of a lake house that was hung up nearby.
I wouldn’t say I'm overly patriotic when I draw by any means, but when I was about to finish, I suddenly and inexplicably felt almost compelled to include a minute detail of a flag that hung on the house in the drawing. “Are you gonna give it to him?” asked Macy. Knowing John, the mere thought of disturbing him made my eyes widen. “Gosh, no,” I responded. “I think you should!” she encouraged me. “Hmmm…okay...but 50% chance he just stares at me,” I said. “And 25% chance he doesn't even look up,” she joked. Mustering courage, I walked up, a little shaky. “Hi John, I hope you–uh–don't mind, but I drew this picture of you...” And when I tell you I had never, ever previously thought his frown could possibly lift up like that, his face lit up entirely as he sat up and gingerly took it from my outstretched hand. “Oh, my. Oh, wow. Well, thank you,” he said quietly, proceeding to fold it gently into fourths and place it in his pants pocket. I can confidently say that from then on his deep, deep frown was a little softer, at least for the next entire hour. I later was told that he was in the Air Force and had fought in Vietnam.
DSHA provides a rare experience through Vocare. I am so grateful to know that our actions are helping bring others faith in our generation and thus in our collective future. I know that the continuity of this tradition will continue to help uplift others, as each successive class enters into their Vocare experience senior year.
Ceci | Vocare Site: Care-Age of Brookfield, Brookfield, WI
I spent my two weeks of Vocare serving at Care-Age of Brookfield. Care-Age is a rehabilitation facility with a mission to offer the highest level of care in short-term, sub-acute, and rehab therapy outside the hospital. At Care-Age, I helped in the activities department which was made up of three extremely caring and selfless staff members, who had a distinct way of valuing the residents’ knowledge and participation in activities. A few of my various jobs while volunteering included collecting residents for activities, running daily exercises, and talking one-on-one with residents. Along with the immense joy I received from running activities were the priceless pieces of advice I received from the residents. All of them have lived different lives full of love, loss, and growth. To be given an opportunity like Vocare is a gift in itself, but it requires that you truly give of yourself to receive in return. One of the many things I learned through my Vocare experience is that youth is a precious gift. Having worked with older residents, some battling dementia, it was often that I was appreciative of the simple factor of my age and the abilities I have through being fully able-bodied and mobile. One of my favorite residents, Maggie, often reminded me that being young and having the ability to receive a good education was all I needed to make the world my oyster. There has not been a day since volunteering that I do not recall that advice and thank God for my youth and my ability to serve others through that gift.
Yesenia | Vocare Site: Summit Woods, Waukesha, WI
I served at Summit Woods, which is a home for assisted and independent living residents. Summit Woods is part of Capri Communities, which was started by a man seeking a special home for his mother to live in. After not being satisfied with the nursing homes he toured, he decided to start his own community for her. At Summit Woods, we helped the kitchen serve the residents during breakfast and lunch. After meals, we would wheel the residents to their apartments and get them situated in their chairs with blankets and anything else they needed. During our free time, we cleaned and helped the staff with tasks they needed to accomplish. Then we would do the activities planned for the day, which were varied: shopping at Walmart, Goodwill, or Pick N Save; doing craft;, playing cards; or even playing The Wizard of Oz trivia.
The two things I learned through my Vocare experience are patience and stepping out of my comfort zone. Before Vocare, I almost always chose to serve in a school setting. I realized, however, that I was scared to push myself with something different, someone different. I learned how to overcome the challenges of sadness, frustration, and struggle I observed in residents. I ultimately interacted with a population of people that was new to me. I was forced to be present every second of my eight hours for two weeks. This was difficult, because most of my life is quickly spent in a constant fast-paced schedule. I rarely have time to actually sit down with my thoughts and reflect in the moment. The residents moved me each time they shared their stories. They told me that they are so happy to look back on their lives and to have accomplished all the things they ever imagined: family, careers, happiness. I very rarely consider what I want for myself at the end of my life. I could never picture what it would feel like to be satisfied or to just stop reaching for something more. One thing for sure that has come to me during Vocare is to think about my current moment and to live it to the fullest that I possibly can; to take advantage of what I can visibly see and do not give up on what I want to accomplish; and to travel as much as I can, just like the resident who traveled to Africa in her 80s. I have been inspired to never stop making goals and dreams for myself to achieve and never stop helping the people around me, especially the elderly.
Maellie | Vocare Site: Milwaukee College Prep — 36th Street Campus, Milwaukee, WI
I served at Milwaukee College Prep at their 36th Street campus. Milwaukee College Prep is a charter school system within Milwaukee. They have four different campuses that house grade levels between 3k and 8th grade. They predominantly serve children who come from families near, at, or below the poverty line. Milwaukee College Prep’s main mission is to close the opportunity gap in life between class and race through strong academics. While at MCP 36th Street, I served in the ELA homeroom for second graders. Almost every day my main job was to individually check the reading and writing skills of the second graders and to assist children who particularly struggled with learning how to write persuasive letters, which was the style of writing they were learning during my time at their school.
I think the biggest thing I learned from my Vocare experience was patience — how others demonstrate patience, how to be patient with others, and how to be patient with myself. Second graders are in the limbo age of being completely reliant on others and becoming more autonomous. That meant that the children I served were at times quite rambunctious and independent, but often times heavily reliant on their teachers. Day after day, the teachers inspired me by the amount of grace-filled patience they conducted themselves with when interacting with even the wildest child. My last two days of Vocare, the lead teacher was gone, so the aide stepped in as the main teacher. She really taught me the meaning of patience and living it out thoroughly as the sub dealing with young, antsy children. Working individually with each child every day with their reading and writing skills taught me how to be patient with others. For each child, a new way of teaching was required of me, specifically so that that specific child could be successful. I had to roll with the punches, learn how to adapt to continually changing plans, and how to not view sitting in the hall going over a chapter dozens of times as busy work, but rather something impactful and good.
Lastly, my experience taught me how to be patient with myself. Through the guidance of the 2nd grade teacher, I learned that things won't always be what you expect, and that's okay. She helped me grow out of a fear of doing the wrong thing, allowing me to focus more on the actual goodness of the service and less on what was right versus wrong. Through learning how to be more patient with myself and my capabilities, I was then better able to serve the community I became a part of and to serve in a way that better impacted those around me. Self-patience allowed me to better open myself to relationships with the community and understand how each individual at MCP functions. The thing I learned best during Vocare was coming to understand, to honor, and to live out patience in all aspects of life and service!
Lidia | Vocare Site: Notre Dame School of Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
During Vocare, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve at Notre Dame School of Milwaukee. Notre Dame is a Catholic school on the South side sponsored by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. At Notre Dame, they really strive to push their students towards excellence and equip them with the tools to pursue careers and develop lives that allow them to use their God-given gifts and talents to cause change in their communities. Notre Dame is a primarily Hispanic school, with 98% of students being Latino and its K3-4th grade co-ed primary school boasting a unique and important dual language model in which students learn both English and Spanish in school. Most of the staff are also bilingual.
During my two weeks at Notre Dame, I was placed in a first grade classroom. I felt glad to speak Spanish fluently, as that was the only language for many first graders. I realized the importance of learning English and also continuing to develop Spanish, which for many students like myself, is the only language they can speak at home — the language they can speak with their parents and other family members, their shared first language. Many teachers rightfully refer to being bilingual as a “superpower” at Notre Dame and encourage the students to learn at least two languages and to continue learning more. Because of my “superpower,” I was fortunate to be able to have a hands-on, interactive experience in the classroom with all of my students equally. I could form bonds and new friendships with all the kids, because there was no language or culture barrier between us. I was granted the opportunity to lead small groups during centers in Spanish class and could always offer my help to any student, as well as communicate with their parents and other volunteers at the school.
I saw God every single day in all of the teachers and faculty members who give their all for their students. The teachers have dedicated their lives to all of these children. I saw God every day in all of the students, especially my students, the first grade Panteras and Golden Eagles. I bonded with those 1st graders, who are so adventurous, loving, and accepting, and that in a matter of nine days became my 52 new besties! I saw God in them every day as they came in ready to learn and to tackle another day with the most positive attitudes. Occasionally, they were afflicted by what my classroom teacher, Ms. Ponce, liked to call “ground-breaking first grade problems,” such as their friend had already checked out The Smart Cookie from the school library or they couldn’t find their favorite headband to match their Wednesday Adams outfit. The first graders helped me to put things into perspective and taught me many new things. I saw God in them every single day.
My Vocare experience was life-changing and eye-opening. I am determined to serve long-term with Notre Dame School of Milwaukee and other nearby schools, especially those that are disadvantaged in my community. Doing this kind of giving, selfless, and immersive service is a one-of-a-kind experience and unforgettable. I hope to be back there before the end of this school year and beyond to continue to serve among them.
Natalie | Vocare Site: Bryant Elementary School, Milwaukee, WI
My Vocare experience was truly wonderful. During my two weeks I was serving at Bryant Elementary, a school within Milwaukee Public Schools. I was assigned to one of the first grade rooms, where I spent most of my time working one-on-one with kids who needed help doing their school work. Something I did not expect was how much these kids would impact me. There were precious moments where I would see a girl in my class helping out her struggling friends with a problem without being told to do so, or all the kids coming together to comfort one of their crying peers, or the beauty of watching a kid I was helping with a lesson finally accomplish a problem on his own. These moments touched me, because the kids were so young and already showing strong qualities, such as persistence, patience, and kindness.
At Bryant School, I also learned about attendance rates. My first day there, my classroom had an attendance rate of 55%. Before I attended DSHA, I had gone to school in the Elmbrook School District, where the only time a student misses class is because of illness or vacation. My teacher at Bryant shared that one of the reasons a student misses school is because their family is experiencing homelessness, so they cannot give an address to be included on a bus route. They have no way to bring their child to school. This was a circumstance that had never entered my mind. School was something I often took for granted, and let's be real, sometimes even dreaded. These kids loved going to school and helped me to become more grateful for DSHA and my education.
The last thing I want to touch on is my amazing teacher at Bryant. One thing she did every day, no matter how the kids behaved during class, was to line them up at the end of the school day, give each of them a hug, and tell them she loves them. During my second to last day at Bryant, I expressed to her that I thought her goodbyes to her students were wonderful. I thank God that there are people like her in this world. I am thankful that I was placed at Bryant Elementary for Vocare. I served with 110% dedication, and I left knowing that I received way more out of Vocare than I had anticipated. I know in my heart that I was meant to serve with Bryant and to experience all that I did there.
Veronica | Vocare Site: Blessed Sacrament School, Milwaukee, WI
I served at Blessed Sacrament School, where the mission is “to strive for academic excellence and to transform students into leaders for tomorrow under the guidance of the Holy Eucharist.” Before the first day of Vocare, I was hesitant to begin my two weeks there. I didn't know what tasks I would be given day to day. On the first day, the three other seniors placed there and I were immediately welcomed with bright, curious faces. As I was greeted by the staff, I learned that I would be working with the 5k class, and I was instantly excited. I was tasked with making copies, cutting, laminating, and helping the kids with their schoolwork.
One of my most meaningful jobs was working with a boy named Phoenix. Phoenix worked a little slower than the other kids in the class and needed extra help following along with the lessons. I took my time assisting Phoenix in following along with the worksheet he was assigned, reading, and everything in between. In those two weeks, I saw Phoenix go from needing lots of extra guidance to being extremely self-sufficient by the end. Honestly, spending time around lots of kids taught me a lot. The most significant thing that I learned was how much love there is to be shared, especially among children. Things that might seem so trivial to us, like including one other kid in a game of duck-duck-goose, goes a long way for them. It opened my eyes to how we should go about our interactions with others.
Oftentimes, children are seen as the people in society that know the least. In an academic sense, that may be true, but, in a spiritual sense, that is far from it. The children at Blessed Sacrament taught me how to be more light-hearted and to find joy in simple things. They taught me that we should always offer a helping hand to our peers. Most importantly, they taught me to share. We need to share our talents, stories, and knowledge, because we never know how much our neighbors need or will appreciate it. Now, even though my patience was often tested, especially at recess when freeze tag would be the chosen game for multiple concurrent days, I wouldn't trade my Vocare experience for any other.
I began to know that youth is such a special thing, and we have to cherish it and take care of young ones, because they are so impressionable. Every day, I heard stories from Aman, a soccer-loving kid, who shared every soccer fact he knew with me, trying to convince me that he could beat any World Cup player in a game. I learned about Jazmine’s family traditions and why she looked up to her siblings so much. Manny was always willing to give me a word search to do with him, even if he didn't know how to read most of the words. I watched special dance recitals from Kaylee every gym class, which always brought a smile to my face, even though I was supposed to be the one keeping her on task. Leia never missed the opportunity to remind me that everyone had to be in line order every day, no matter how close the next classroom was. Even though I thought of service as giving my time to others and sometimes teaching them, I believe that I was taught much more by the kids at Blessed Sacrament.
Bryana | Vocare Site: Goodwill James O. Wright Day Services, Milwaukee, WI
I served at the James O. Wright Goodwill location. Most people think of Goodwill as a large thrift store chain, but Goodwill actually provides a variety of additional community services. They deliver vocational training, transitional employment, community programs, and even do laundry for healthcare groups and the military. There is a considerable focus on serving vulnerable members of society, particularly the disabled. Attached to the James O. Wright outlet is a second building where these programs are run. The Day Services Clubhouse program, where I was placed, is meant to support people with various intellectual and developmental disabilities. Through enrichment courses, volunteer work, community outings, and an encouraging, safe environment, these adults gain and build the skills needed for a more independent, community-oriented life.
Going into Vocare, I was pretty apprehensive for a few reasons. Until a couple of weeks before the start of Vocare, I thought I would just be sorting clothes. I had never worked with the population I would be serving, so I had no idea what to expect. Furthermore, I was a little wary of the amount of time I’d be there. I’d never had a negative service experience, but what if I was placed somewhere I truly hated and was stuck there for two weeks? Walking into my site, however, I quickly realized that my fears had been unfounded. Our site managers were immediately welcoming and excited about our arrival. The clients were equally open, and some introduced themselves unprompted within minutes. It was a really warm environment from day one. I was in charge of morning dance fitness and whatever else I needed to do to help the managers. Over the course of our time there, we were also asked to come up with our own hour-long activity. I chose to organize Music Trivia, an idea I lifted from Mr. Montgomery. My most important job, however, was being present to and spending time with the clients daily. Whether it be through card games, playing Just Dance on the Wii, or simply conversing, I spent my two weeks building connections with the people we were serving in a way I had never done before.
An otherwise perfect two weeks were marred by one pretty frightening experience. A client wandered away after going home for the day. From 5 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next day, no one knew where he was, and he lived on the South side. His family panicked, because he was out on the streets with no way to contact them. He also couldn’t communicate clearly and had memory issues, so we weren’t sure if anyone he encountered would be able to help him. And then, he strolled through the doors during morning fitness as if nothing had happened, wearing a change of clothes. No one had any idea where he’d been all night or how he remembered the right Goodwill, and we will probably never know, but he did. A staff member, Rebecca, turned to me when I expressed my surprise and told me that for a lot of the clients, Goodwill was their happy place. And that’s probably been my main takeaway from Vocare – how much kindness, community, and time touch many of the people in the Goodwill program. I’m not the saccharine, sentimental type, but having served there for Vocare and reflecting on my time, I realized Goodwill touched me, too.
Bridget | Vocare Site: St. Ann's Intergenerational Care — Stein Campus, Milwaukee, WI
I was selected to go to St. Ann’s, an intergenerational care facility that provides health and educational services to all ages and abilities in Milwaukee. Initially, I felt that my Vocare experience would feel like more of a requirement than an awakening. Working with the Marian Scholars Program at DSHA for the past two years had granted me the time to work alongside my peers, navigating a classroom setting with a strong support system and an inclusive curriculum. But the thought of exploring this outside of a school setting intimidated me at first, and I was nervous about the responsibility I would be given. When I arrived at St. Ann’s that Monday morning, I knew that it would be an experience I’d cherish. Within two short weeks, St. Ann’s changed my world, and I slowly realized the benefits of working with such a diverse group of individuals.
I spent my mornings with children from three months old to three years old, attending music class, swim class, recess, and snack together, where I observed each child learn about the bright world ahead of them. I bonded with a one-year-old named Harold, who would sob when his parents or grandma dropped him off each day. I held his hand for what felt like eight hours straight, but I didn’t mind because I felt comforted by it too. Even when one of the other one-year-olds accidentally kicked me in the face and gave me a bloody nose while we were playing, I easily laughed it off, because the environment was filled with so much compassion that it felt impossible to be upset.
I then spent my afternoons in the adult daycare facility, working with individuals with various physical disabilities or cognitive impairments. I made cookies with them, sang karaoke, and played Connect Four with them as well. I even learned how to play Blackjack during Casino Day, to give each client a realistic — but legal — Vegas experience. I especially connected with Kae and Jamie, the directors of the adult facility. They told us stories about each client and how they all possessed a special quality that made St. Ann’s thrive. Some of the clients had battled with homelessness, foster care, bullying, and serious illnesses, and yet they all arrived with a smile on their face each day. All the clients at St. Ann’s displayed that their challenges did not limit them and that they are all incredibly driven and resilient people who constantly inspired me throughout my time there. Although I’m sad that Vocare is over, I can confidently say this has been my favorite activity in my four years at DSHA. I will definitely be returning to St. Ann’s to rekindle the connections I made and to embrace the warmth of their community once again.
Ultimately, I have learned that DSHA is not just an educational experience or a religious institution, but rather a sisterhood of unique and amazing individuals looking to bless the world with the abundance of talents they possess. I admire the people who promote this mission, and I’m glad to say that I was a part of it. I encourage the future generations of DSHA students to cherish your Vocare experience and to welcome the joy Vocare brings with an open heart and an open mind. Although only two weeks, Vocare is truly a heartfelt journey that will forever ground your faith and help you make your mark on the world as the brilliant young woman you have grown into today.
Bridget | Vocare Site: Carmelite Ministry of St. Teresa, Wauwatosa, WI
I was placed at the Carmelite Ministry of St. Teresa, which is an apartment-style residential home for women with developmental, physical, and intellectual disabilities. The Carmelite Sisters who run the ministry put a huge emphasis on the ladies being as independent as possible, while also receiving the support they need to live comfortably. While there are only five residents currently living there, each one is extremely happy and loved. In fact, it is because of the small number of people that I was able to connect with the residents on a more personal level. While I was serving in the ministry, I accompanied the ladies throughout their daily activities, which included Spanish class, arts and crafts, rosary making, and Zumba. When we had free time, we would help the Sisters with tasks like cleaning, addressing envelopes, and other housekeeping duties. However, my favorite part of the day was spending lunch with one of the residents, Ann.
Ann became blind very early in her life, which is why she chose to stay at the Carmelite Ministry, where she could receive the help she needed. Over our many lunches, I learned a lot about her life story and her struggles. She was incredibly open, and I loved listening to her experiences. While listening to Ann and learning more about her, I began to feel a connection. Before I knew it, I had opened myself up to her in return. Listening and talking together created a deep connection and a beautiful sense of understanding between us.
Over the course of the two weeks, each of the residents of the ministry opened themselves up to me, and I pushed myself to really, truly listen to them, and open my heart up to them. In doing this, I formed some incredible bonds in a very short time, and I realized how important it is to make an effort to really understand someone. Human connections are ultimately necessary for an effective society to function, and I learned that while it may seem daunting, all it takes to connect with someone is a little empathy and a willingness to listen.
Caroline | Vocare Site: St. Coletta Day School, Milwaukee, WI
I volunteered at St Coletta Day School, two classrooms inside St. Sebastian’s, dedicated to educating students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The classroom consists of students ranging from nine to twenty-one years old, as well as a transitional program for older students. St. Coletta’s strives to teach students how to contribute to society, as well as to feel valued as individuals. Not only are the students taught math and reading, but skills on respecting themselves and others as well. During my two weeks at St. Coletta, I was thrown into their daily school routine, starting off with a morning meeting. Each day, the kids recited: “Today is a new day. Today, I will try to get along with everyone. Today, I will try to follow the rules. Today, I will try my best. Today, I will make better choices.” As I participated in this mantra every morning, I started to realize how these students really took these words to heart. In our reading groups, one student would be the leader for the day and help me to guide the discussions. I noticed how engaged every student was, and how, each day, true to their mantra, each student came in ready to discuss their book. One time, a student previously had a rough day, receiving a few minuses on his behavior sheet for not following directions. As I began setting up for the reading group, he sat down next to me and said, “Today is a new day, and everything will be alright.” The positivity that flowed throughout the classroom daily was something I will never forget, and the students worked so hard to be okay with making mistakes, realizing life will never be perfect.
Through my Vocare experience, I learned how enriching the role of a teacher can be. The point of a classroom is that the teacher educates the students, but from my perspective, it was the other way around. The students I worked with opened my eyes to so many new ways to look at situations. Each student had such unique ways of working, and St. Coletta strives to embrace the uniqueness, rather than squash it. The students are taught responsibility, for example, through repeated morning routines, turning in their homework in a certain area, and creating copies of their behavior sheets. They know they can use their learned responsibility in the outside world. The students were even more responsible than I, as I forgot my ID badge at home once, which was obviously reflected as a minus on my behavior sheet. I really appreciated all the students keeping me in line. I saw so many different ways that these students shined. They showed kindness to their friends, gave complex answers in class when asked about the meaning of an idiom, and one girl even corrected me in long division. Vocare has taught me that there are so many different paths to one answer, and through critical thinking and an open mind, the paths are limitless.
Maddie | Vocare Site: MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary, Milwaukee, WI
I served at MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary during Vocare. MacCanon Brown is a daytime sanctuary and resource center for homeless and at-risk individuals. The sanctuary is located in a food desert and works to provide fresh produce and other food to those in the community who would otherwise have no access to food in this way.
I had no idea what to expect the first day I showed up at the sanctuary. We were given a tour of the mostly unfinished five-story building and learned in detail the plans that Sister MacCanon Brown had for each floor. Sister had such a vision for each floor. Each would work to provide more resources and services to the community that she was already helping. One floor would have an aquaponics system that would allow them to grow food in a sustainable way.
At the end of our first day, Sister asked all of the volunteers and employees to sit in a circle. All her employees are former volunteers, and she invited some of them to share their stories with us. A common thread among all of these stories we heard was that Sister called each of them a miracle, and said it was a miracle that they were here because of all the struggles and hardships they had to overcome to be sitting there and doing the incredible work that they do. That really stuck with me throughout my Vocare experience. Another thing that Sister pointed out was how each of her employees felt that God had called them to be exactly where they were.
On Fridays, the sanctuary provides outreach at Hepatha Church, and we were fortunate enough to be able to experience this as well. The Church lends Sister the use of their basement. Hot meals are served and food and clothing are given out to everyone who shows up. I was assigned to work behind a clothing table and help guests with their clothing selections. I remember one guest coming through the line and his face lit up when he saw all the colors of the pants that were available. He dug through the pile with a huge smile on his face until he came across a bright yellow pair. He excitedly told me that they matched his shirt and held them up to show me. I found myself able to see God in the man’s excitement over such a small thing. I felt God looking out for everyone in the community Sister has created and God smiling on each of them, even in small ways. I am so grateful to have served my Vocare at MacCanon Brown and to become part of the community that is being built.
Anna | Vocare Site: Feeding America, Milwaukee, WI
I served on Vocare at Feeding America, a non-profit food bank that is one distribution center in a network with 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs across America. Nearly half a million Wisconsinites face hunger, including 171,460 children. The Eastern Wisconsin location makes a difference by serving rural, suburban, and urban locations across 35 eastern Wisconsin counties. The food they receive comes from donations from national food businesses and government agencies. Then we, the volunteers, show up to do our part. They describe volunteers as the lifeblood of their mission. During my time at Feeding America with Anam and Caelinn, I participated in every activity offered: boxmaking, food sorting, checking, packing, labeling, weighing, moving, and cleaning.
Before serving at Feeding America, I thought I would find the most meaning in the physical work I was doing. I instantly learned that God and the most meaning came from the volunteers. I was blessed to be able to work with exchange students, four different companies, two different college spring break service groups, school groups, Mormons from Utah on mission, veterans, adults with disabilities, full-time Feeding America workers, and different individuals. I loved to hear bits of their stories, which showed me how connected we are. I was the most inspired by three older, retired regular volunteers and was in awe of their dedication. The first was a hard-working woman who comes in about three times a week. She had lost her job during COVID and decided at that point to retire and to volunteer. The second was a retired finance banker with glasses. He had volunteered at Discovery World until COVID made him stumble upon Feeding America. We worked together one day; the others, he was in the warehouse, so we’d give each other a friendly wave.
Brian, the last retired volunteer, was welcoming, friendly, and helpful to us. He asked us our names, used them regularly and remembered the DSHA girls’ names from Vocare last year. The first week, I learned about little parts of his life, such as college, school with nuns, his family, the East coast, his faith, and much more. While discussing the pattern of male death in his family, he stated that everyday is a blessing from God, and he is ready for when God says it is time. Later in the week, I saw him stretching over a short metal table trying to ease the pain in his back; then, a few minutes later, he was pulling huge pallets like nothing was wrong. After cleaning up for lunch, he would ask if there was more to do and would often work partially through lunch. The day after a funeral in New Jersey, he was back at Feeding America and would also be working the big weekend sort. It amazes me the sacrifices people make for others, even in small ways.
When saying our goodbyes, Brian said that we are always welcome and encouraged to serve. The retired volunteers inspired me by showing up with no obligation to serve. Why not retire on a warm beach in Florida? Instead, they choose consistent physical work, some I found difficult. God was present in their selfless acts of service, kindness to us, and abundance of love in their hearts. I look at them and see an example and path I would like to follow. I can always look back and be grateful for all those I was able to cross paths with at Feeding America.
Ava | Vocare Site: Franciscan Peacemakers, Milwaukee, WI
When I arrived at Franciscan Peacemakers on the first day of Vocare I had no idea what to expect. During those two weeks, we cleaned and reorganized the store and workroom. We helped make bars of soap, pump lotion, package and label candles, bar soaps, and bath bombs. We helped pack over 200 hygiene bags that Franciscan Peacemakers gives out to women on the streets.
In all of these tasks, I had the opportunity to interact with some of the graduates of the program who work there, as well as two women currently in the program. One of them said to me, “People told me I couldn’t weather the storm, but I told them, 'I am the storm.'” I realized that this is exactly what Franciscan Peacemakers does. They help these women, who are in unthinkable situations, make them feel special and loved, provide them with resources, and support them to help them to conquer their storms.
Franciscan Peacemakers seeks to help women who are engaging in prostitution due to sex trafficking, drug addiction, or trauma. This strong women-led organization aids these women on the streets, providing them with meals, hygiene bags, and warm clothes. They support these women when they are going through detox and are their right-hand women while in the program. The women in the program receive housing at St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House and have jobs at Franciscan Peacemakers, where they help make products. From the women currently on the streets to every single employee — these women embody Jesus.
The women on the streets have so much personality and love for everyone at Franciscan Peacemakers. They are also so happy and grateful for everything these women do for them. It’s amazing to see so much joy in women who are often seen as outcasts in society. In the couple interactions I had with them, they were beyond grateful for so many things I have often taken for granted. They appreciated all the items in the hygiene bags, such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, two things I have taken for granted.
The women we worked alongside are angels. They know every single woman they see by name and know their life stories. They made sure every single woman left with a smile on their face, regardless of how their day had been going otherwise. They asked about specifics of these women's lives, making each of them feel loved and valued as a member of the Franciscan Peacemakers community. God is present everywhere in the organization. My Vocare experience at Franciscan Peacemakers taught me the meaning of loving those who we do not know. Leaving, I feel as if I have a whole new family with whom to conquer our storms.