We asked the seven 2017-2018 Precious Blood Volunteers to answer three questions:
- What is/are some relationship(s) that have stood out for you during your time as a Precious Blood Volunteer?
- What are some of the experiences that have stood out for you during your time as a Precious Blood Volunteer?
- How have you grown during your time as a Precious Blood Volunteer?
Below is the answer from former Precious Blood Volunteer Leah Landry
My most impactful relationship as a Precious Blood Volunteer has been with the first young woman I met at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR). Meeting and getting to know her throughout the year completely changed my worldview. She is a 23-year-old young woman who was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. I am a 23-year-old young woman who was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago.
By becoming friends with this young woman, I see first hand how the system is set up in a way that allowed me to go to college and start my career while it has hindered her at every turn. However, she is determined and it has been an honor to walk with her as she got a job, found housing and daycare, and dedicates her whole life to making sure her 3-year-old daughter can have a better one. I’ve witnessed her fight to get a job for three months until she finally secured a good one. I’ve driven her to the hospital twice: once as her sister gave birth to twins and once when her boyfriend was shot at on his way to work. I’ve watched her parent her extremely energetic three year old, even when she’s exhausted from working six days a week and cannot possibly answer the question “Whatcha doin’?” one more time.
Getting to know this young woman has personalized a life that I only knew from statistics about gun violence and poverty. Her friendship has given me a whole new perspective on the challenges people face in Back of the Yards, the strengths of the community that we tend to overlook, and on my own upbringing and privileges I’d once taken for granted. I am so grateful for her friendship and for continued patience as I learned and grew and tried to understand as best I could.
I have worked at PBMR for nine months. In that time, two of the young people at the Center have been shot and killed. These experiences, especially the death of Branden a month ago, have shaken me. Branden was the first young person I met at the Center. He was at the Center almost every day and was always the first guy to greet me when I walked in. I knew that the young people were in danger every time they walk outside but I don’t think the reality of that hit me until Sr. Donna told me that Branden was dead. Branden—who had been at the Center a few hours before, who had shared his Doritos with me just a day ago, who’s bright smile and beautiful dreads were such a common sight that I’d started not to notice—was dead. Shot and killed in his grandma’s backyard.
The fragility of life has never been that close to me before. For someone younger than me, and healthy and strong and so full of life, to be dead was incomprehensible. And not just dead, but murdered. It seems different somehow than someone who dies from a sickness or even a freak accident. It was intentional and cruel and unnecessary. I’m not sure I’ve even fully accepted Branden’s death yet. Every time I see his photo I have to remind myself that he’s gone, that he’s not going to come back.
I’ve heard about the shootings in Chicago my whole life. But first with Isaiah and then with Branden, I see that these events are not just statistics. It’s a trauma that affects so many lives. And if Branden’s death has shaken me this much, what must it be like for the people who have known him his whole life, who have grown up in the neighborhood and experienced countless other murders, and who don’t have the choice to leave as I do? Gun violence in Chicago no longer feels like a hot button political discussion. It has a face and a name and an experience for me. The memories of Branden and Isaiah will stay with me long after I leave the Center.
My time as a Precious Blood Volunteer has brought my idealism down a few pegs. I came to PBMR with my Peace Studies lessons on social justice and community change buzzing in my head. Working at PBMR has forced me to put into action the values I had always championed and it made me question and refine them. For example, Peace Studies taught me that all social change should be led and directed by the people in the community, that those closest to the problems have the best solutions. So when I was asked to start the Young Women’s Group at PBMR, that was how I wanted the group to be structured. The young women should tell us what they wanted and be a part of the planning process.
However, this did not go as planned. First, the young women did not even show up. We had multiple meetings where only one person came. It took six months for a consistent group of young women to start turning up, but when I’d ask them what they wanted to do, they’d look at me blankly. I started coming up with the ideas and running it past them instead: trip to the aquarium, a painting class, parenting support group. Finally, two of the young women suggested a class they wanted to have. I arranged a meeting with a facilitator and the young women so they could be a part of the planning process. Only one young woman showed up—an hour late—to the planning meeting and no one came to the class itself. I was constantly feeling guilty as I thought that our group was not based on what the young women wanted and needed but based on my ideas and connections. The times I felt I was living out the value of community-led change, the results were disastrous.
But reflecting back, I realize that I was living out this value, just not in the way I expected. This last month, the young women have started suggesting events. They asked to go out to dinner downtown and to have a zoo outing with their children, so that’s what we planned. It took eight months, but I think it’s because they rarely had people asking them before. It takes a while to get comfortable articulating your needs and wants, and you have to build trust first. I also notice that the young women did tell us what they wanted earlier on, just not as directly as I expected. They told me all the time how hard motherhood was, so we hosted a mothers support group. When they showed an interest in the art class, we had a mural painting inspired and painted by the women.
My time as a volunteer has shown me that the values that I hold so closely are more flexible than I anticipated and sometimes I will be more successful at living them out than others. Even more, I now understand that being true to your values is hard and it takes time to work your way up to them, especially when you are an outsider. You have to gain trust before you can get anywhere and you have to be willing to listen to the people you work with and be aware of different ways they communicate their needs and wants. Being a volunteer has given me the opportunity to try to live out my values and forced me to see that it is easy to talk a big game but much harder to live it out.
Leah served as a Precious Blood Volunteer from July 2017 to June 2018 at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago.
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org.