Category Archives: 2014 Rachel Gacerez
“The best things in life
are the people we love,
the places we’ve been,
and the memories along the way…”
St. Mary’s Center will forever be special to me. I have gained so much more than I could ever imagine. The stories that were exchanged, the laughter, and the warmth with just a simple smile are unforgettable. Every person that I have interacted with over the two months have touched and impacted my life in some way without them even knowing. My co-workers and clients have made St. Mary’s Center a place I can call home. With the program being over, there is no way that I can walk away from St. Mary’s Center and let go of all my experiences. Two months was way too short for me. I love working there so much, and I know I will continue to work with this site. I feel like there is more work and effort that I can do there for both myself and others. Once Summer ends, and I figure out what my schedule is like for my senior year, I will make my way back to St. Mary’s Center whether it be volunteering every week, a few times a month, or just for big events. I have so much to give back to St. Mary’s Center for all the joy it has brought me, and I know St. Mary’s Center has more for me and my growth.
I am forever grateful for this Micah Fellowship experience. This has most definitely been the biggest challenge that I chose to put myself through. Throughout my college years, I have piled on commitments, work, and responsibilities, but I felt like nothing could faze me. Micah has pushed me out of my comfort zone, out of bounds even, and I couldn’t have been more proud of myself and the other 5 fellows. I know we all used our voices. We also learned a lot about ourselves, and we all made decisions based on our self-care. I saw a lot of growth in myself and my peers, and I know Micah has impacted us in some way moving forward. Though times were not always perfect, I know that the rough moments were defining moments for each other and ourselves. I will always look back at the Micah program as it has taught me many life skills within the two months.
When I applied for the Micah program, I knew that I would gain so much and learn something new about myself. Over the years I have been constantly adding commitments on top of commitments, but also challenging myself in trying new things. I was so passionate about the work I would be doing during the program, I figured it would overpower community living and that the only thing I had to worry about was forming friendships with others. As the program began to play out, I realized that there was more to community living than just to learn about each other. I got caught up in trying to be carefree, easy going, go with the flow person in the house, that I began to lose my voice and my identity, at the expense of others. I was so concerned trying not to be the difficult person in the house and trying not to be viewed as inflexible; I realized that I was too compromising. Naturally I would always put others before myself. I would rather make others feel happy, than for me to be happy myself. I feel joy knowing that I made someone else feel loved, care about, and heard.
Over the course of the program, I also learned that I need to care about myself in balance with my intentions for others. I eventually reached my tipping point, and I have no one to blame but myself solely because I did not speak up. In both community living and the workplace, I have realized that I need to improve on personal boundaries. Instead of always putting others before myself, I need to bring myself to the forefront, especially when it comes to my identity. If I’m not okay with something, I need to learn how to be truthful and express it, and not worry about how the person on the other end will take it. I remember Sam and Marshall asking us about self-care… What do we do? When do we do it? And I recall each time I struggled to answer. There’s nothing I could really pinpoint that I can identify as my self-care routine or outlet. Though there is about a week left of the program, I know that I will continue to work on these things.
Personal growth is never-ending. I entered the program hoping to learn new things at St. Mary’s Center whether it be development, programming, or social justice topics, but I had never thought that community living would be the part of the program that I would learn and gain the most about myself. I faced challenges at work, but I found solace in the friendships with my coworkers and the support they always give. In contrast, I felt the complete opposite for the first half of the program in community living. Though it has taken our house 7 weeks to be honest and open with each other in a dialogue to discuss personal and community struggles, we recently made a breakthrough. With one genuine conversation, I can describe the growth of each person over the program, but also I know where one struggles and what help that they need from the house.
I remember one week into the program, I thought to myself—Wow, I’m going to be away for a big chunk of my Summer. I wouldn’t be able to visit my family or friends whenever I wanted because my schedules were so packed. This program has given me an experience that I would have never expected. I have been pushed completely out of my comfort zone as living in community with others has been my greatest challenge here. I am very selective when it comes to friendships and people I can trust enough to confide in. Growing up, I have had only one person I can come to about anything, and that is my best friend who I’ve known since the 4th grade. My parents were not around much, and my brother and I did not have as strong of a relationship until my middle school years. For the past 21 years of my life, I barely had my home full with the three other members of my family. Living with 5 other people, where privacy was more on the difficult end, was a big adjustment that I never thought I would struggle with before the program. I have been completely out of my comfort zone, but I am grateful to have had the experience where I was safe in being uncomfortable. The safe space and brave space that has been created between the Micah fellows has helped me focus more about my own growth and the why rather than putting my attention on the what.
As there are only 18 more days left in this program, I am beginning to feel a bit of sadness, but I also have this drive to do absolutely everything in my capacity to set the bar high. St. Mary’s Center has taken me in as their “baby” meanwhile SMC has become my baby too. Moving forward, I wish and hope for nothing less than the best for them, and I’m excited that CILSA has their partnership with them. I remember talking to my supervisor, Karla, about SMC and her telling me that over the program, I will experience tears, joy, but also commitment. She warned me that I will be attached to the clients, but she forgot to mention that I would be attached to my co-workers, too. I have been so honored to be welcomed into the St. Mary’s Center family and to have form friendships and trust with the people I work with. I have gained so much from every co-worker, and I have learned even more from my conversations with the clients. Everything about St. Mary’s Center, from the staff to the clients, will always be in a special place in my heart. With only 2.5 more weeks left, I need to take advantage of my time to get tasks done, but to also strengthen my connections and to continue to create new ones.
This assignment could not have been at a more perfect time. Today at work, I was waiting in the lobby to shadow a case manager, and there was a woman who I have recognized at St. Mary’s Center events. I was finally able to talk to her, and she was so positive and open. Our conversation related a lot to the “Now I Become Myself” article by Parker Palmer. This article talked a lot about one’s vocation or calling and how it was destined/given to us. Personally, I’m still struggling with this idea. It is hard for me to believe that there is a predetermined outcome for everyone, and if we don’t reach it, it is because we are not accepting our true self.
When I saw the woman in the lobby, I engaged in some casual conversations about her life, what brought us to St. Mary’s Center, and what future plans one has. She opened up to me saying that she was referred to St. Mary’s Center by her younger sister. She expressed that she got into some trouble and said, “I just was not myself anymore.” This woman talked about how she made poor choices in her past which accumulated over time in order for her to do something more for herself. She said that “St. Mary’s helped her find (her name here).” We talked about how we need to get through the bad to truly recognize our worth. Pasts are never something we should regret, because they were vital for us becoming who we are today. Now, she is planning to write a book about her upbringing in the south up to her present day.
While reading the article, I had a few thoughts/questions for myself… The article said that families, schools, work, and religions are created to pull us away from our “true self,” but I feel like these institutions help us create our true self, which is why I have a hard time believing that we are born with a certain identity or even this template that we are constantly trying to fit throughout our lives. I feel like there is so many factors in our lives that have a huge impact in the different decisions and routes, and that one is not necessarily better than another, right or wrong. I like the quote on p.9 that says:
Now I become myself
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s face…
This quote acknowledges that it takes a lot of learning and reflection in order to truly become you. Each person’s path of life is not linear or perfect, but I struggle with this article because it says that our life journey is to find out who we are made to be rather than to find out who we are becoming.
Four weeks have passed, and I can’t believe I am halfway through the Fellowship. I will be forever grateful for the people I have encountered, the stories I have heard, and the moments I experienced. This eight-week program is way too short for me, and I am constantly challenging myself to learn something new every day, whether it be about myself, someone else, or society. After working a lot with children for the past 2 years, St. Mary’s Center has allowed me to immerse myself with seniors and the struggles they face. I noticed that issues involving children has a lot to do with quality of resources, whereas issues regarding seniors is about the decrease in resources and attention.
On Tuesday, I was able to go to a hearing for Oakland’s Board of Supervisors involving budget cuts. I was representing St. Mary’s Center along with many others who want to advocate for seniors. Funds for community based organizations and other groups are planning to be cut. During the hearing, I was able to see how much funding was targeted for children, youth, adults, and seniors in a pie chart. Both youth and seniors covered less than 1/8 of the chart together. I learned that these two groups are beginning to fall in the background even when it comes to social justice and equity. Many organizations and programs are not focused on these two groups, and the government/city also does not allocate sufficient funds for them to receive decent services. These two groups are continuing to grow in numbers, while the resources decrease.
Before the program, I was solely interested in quality education and giving children the tools to succeed instead of setting them up to fail, but there are so many areas in social justice and equity that I need to learn about. I have increased my awareness with another marginalized group in society, but I also realized that there are many other focuses that need just as much care and support. For the next coming weeks, I want to increase my awareness, and also immense myself in Oakland’s culture/community. Every day I learn more and more about what citizenship means, and how there’s a lot of people in the community caring for each other even when they don’t have much or are also struggling. I have hope and faith in the community that change will happen with patience.
For homework, we read, “Justice and the Common Good” by Michael Sandel. Sandel’s main argument is that individuals need to dialogue with one another about one’s personal morals and values in order to have a just society. Sandel mentions, “A more robust public engagement with our moral disagreements could provide a stronger; not a weaker, basis for mutual respect. Rather than avoid the moral and religious convictions that our fellow citizens bring to public life, we should attend to them more directly—sometimes by challenging and contesting them, sometimes by listening to and learning from them” (268). This statement is important to me because it acknowledges the reality that differences and disagreements exist. Instead of looking at it as something that takes away from the community, he says that it helps others learn, forming an empathetic community.
While reading this article, there was also another quote that resonated with me: “If a just society requires a strong sense of community, it must find a way to cultivate in citizens a concern for the whole, a dedication to the common good.” I think community is something very powerful and a benefit to society as a whole but also individuals. The first definition of Community says that it’s a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. According to Sandel, the characteristic that holds a community together is the responsibility for one another in terms of the common good. As I reflect on the idea of community, I realized that many people have multiple communities that they identify with. I wonder if this is a good thing or is it reinforcing barriers and segregation between different social groups…
I made the connection to my service this Summer by living with people who also share a dedication in restoring the dignity of others in the community. All of us are working at different non-profit sites and focusing on various challenges that people are facing in the community. I think I enjoy going to work as much as I do because I feel a great sense of community with my co-workers, and I see the community and safe space that the seniors have created amongst themselves.