Written by Bonnie Kane (Chicago, 2011)
It has been about 10 months since I ended my volunteer time in Chicago at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation and not a day goes by that I don’t think about the lessons that I learned while there. My volunteer experience began for me with perfect timing. I had just wrapped up my final year at Rockhurst University. I was craving an escape. At first, that escape was merely to be independent, challenged in new ways and getting out of a city that I grew up in. In hindsight, I was escaping and searching for so much more.
Since Chicago I have been through three jobs. I began by working at a hospice care business, helping with new referrals. Only a few short weeks later I got the break of a lifetime when my dream job was offered to me—working for Catholic Charities Kansas City-St. Joseph as a Foster Care Case Worker. The job was a huge challenge, and just as I began to get comfortable, Catholic Charities found out that they were losing the contract for the Foster Care program. I would be out of the job as of January 1, 2013. However, I was offered a job through Catholic Charities at their Turnaround Program, a prison re-entry program for those who are up to six months out of jail, funded by the Department of Labor. As a Case Manager, I work with clients to help them obtain education, jobs, opportunities and stable housing.
To say the least it has been a roller coaster of a year for me. I have learned something through all of these professional changes, but I have my Chicago experience to thank for preparing me and giving me the strength to go through them and come out on the other side.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to go into some kind of Social Service field, e.g., hospitals, mental health, youth, elderly, substance abuse, underprivileged, and education. Chicago taught me to be open and understanding. Talking with teens in their environment opened up my mind to so many obstacles they overcome to become successful. The experience groomed me; it started me off with an open heart, an open ear, and hope for those who have lost all hope. With these lessons and exposure I have been able to feel comfortable and somewhat successful working with children in foster care and ex-cons at the Turnaround Program. I felt prepared to take it all on.
Chicago changed my personal as well as my professional life. The experience gave me confidence. In social service fields one needs to be prepared for whatever walks in the door and be able to talk and stand up for oneself and one’s job if need be. Despite being on my own, I wasn’t alone. Immersing myself into my surroundings and reflecting on my life and others’ lives helped me learn about myself. I was able to re-evaluate who I was and where I was going. At the time, I was not heading in the best direction possible. Chicago forced me to meet myself all over again. The biggest lesson that I learned about myself was how strong and independent I had really become. I know now how much I can challenge myself and how much I can take on, thanks to my willingness to expand my comfort zone.
I also learned more about my faith, my spirituality and who God was to me. For some time, my faith had been dwindling. I kept running into situations that challenged me and I didn’t understand why I could never catch a break. So instead of leaning on my faith, I began to lean elsewhere. It was always still there—I attended church on Sundays and still believed—but I didn’t believe in myself and my own personal relationship with God. The first several months in Chicago were a big challenge. I was learning to live on my own, away from anything and everything that I knew. It was not all deep dish pizzas, Cubs games and sunny days. I had a personal struggle for quite a while and that struggle began with my faith. Again I asked myself and God, “What the heck am I doing here? What are you trying to show me and teach me. Once I was able to listen and to be honest, to get over myself, things began to unfold. I have all of the boys and staff at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation to thank. They taught me more about faith than I knew, and they most likely had no idea they were doing so. On my journey to find myself, I found God again as well. I began to accept hardships and learn from them. I wouldn’t be where I am today without this experience and God helping me blaze my own trail.
I cannot thank enough the staff and youth of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation for the experience that I had. Chicago prepared me and gave me the experience to be successful in an everchanging non-profit profession. I learned so much more about myself and my faith. With a stronger faith, I am always looking for what is next—yet still juggling and reminding myself to live each day as is; too much planning is no fun. I like to live with a little mystery! Like I tell so many clients, just roll through the hardship and slow down during the happiness and excitement.