by Vincent Tedford, Precious Blood Volunteer
Last year, I was meditating on Christ’s Passion. Christ’s sacrifice and suffering were a focal point for all my emotions surrounding the injustices I witnessed in the world around me. Nothing else evoked the same emotion for me. However, when I became a Precious Blood Volunteer, I witnessed human suffering on a scale like never before.
In August of last year, I moved to Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood to begin volunteering at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR). Within a few hours of landing, I met and heard the stories of those wrongfully convicted and/or formerly incarcerated, the victims of gun violence, the medically underserved, and generally marginalized people with whom I would be spending my year as a Precious Blood Volunteer. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but even on day one I was surprised at the reality our PBMR community was facing.
Death and loss are in constant competition against the backdrop of hope we try to maintain at PBMR. In the forefront were the daily struggles. I went to the woodshop and worked with guys trying to make enough to get by while learning what it takes to maintain a job; showing up and staying on task often prove to be a struggle for our participants. Early on I was enlightened by the question, “How can you meet basic expectations when your basic needs are lacking?”
“I don’t have a bed. My family is taking in people all the time and I gave mine up for my brother. He’s in high school, playing sports, so I want him to have the best shot at success.” One of our participants shared this with me while talking about his own journey to a career as an athlete. This young man is willing to make sacrifices, despite the drain on his own potential, for someone else to get a leg up he never had. Something as simple as a good night’s sleep should never be taken for granted.
Vincent (front right) with his fellow Precious Blood Volunteers in Chicago
For some, the threat of violence keeps them up at night; most are experiencing perpetual trauma which would make anyone restless. Just trying to get by, living each day on high alert, and/or self-medicating are enough cause for them to fall behind. Every day at PBMR I have seen elements of this cycle in people’s lives.
I am reflecting on my life before August and how the time since then has impacted and will continue to impact me going forward. Before graduating last May, I had no image more viscerally compelling to meditate on than the Passion. Now, while I walk the streets of Back of the Yards on my way to PBMR, I feel an intense emotion being evoked.
As I take the bus to my meetings and appointments, or towards my leisure activities and outings, the reality of human suffering is present and inescapable. I realize now my life was sheltered from this pain; my vision—even though imagining the Passion was important—was limited to this far-off concept of despair. Having been drawn near to my heart through my experience, the people of the PBMR community have shown me how I must go forth in spirit to my future.
When I go to the EdLab, our room for tutoring those trying to go back and get their high school diploma, I prepare myself to encounter the students wherever their minds are. Some days I know there is nothing I can do to help someone in or out of the classroom. On others, I feel the slightest gift makes a big difference. The common factor, though, is showing up and accompanying.
When I was told that the core of this program was to walk with those who suffer, I merely drew upon my experience sitting with people in pain. Now, even though I do often sit next to students to tutor, being seated speaks nothing to the difficulty of the walk we take. The walk they must take every day and to which I merely opt-in.
One student tested my proverbial ability to walk. I often hear incoherent stories of their life and I witness their unstable condition, both physically and mentally. They often challenge my ability to respond with compassion. Accompaniment, I learned, can mean frequent stopping for breaks and reminding someone to take a breather while you keep watch for them.
One day in the EdLab, I was grading papers and supervising students while they studied. A student was talking to themselves and getting louder. I asked if they were okay which they promptly brushed off. Thankfully, one of the religious sisters had reflected on these situations for years and helped me respond. “Hey, you’re doing some great work today. I can tell you have a lot on your mind, so how about we take a break and get some water? Let me know if you want to talk, okay?”
I learned through moments like this: the little bit of discomfort I would have during an interaction with someone during bouts of schizophrenia could be pivotal to their educational progress and more importantly, demonstrate compassionately how they are a part of our community not to be neglected.
Vincent checking the quality of a piece in the PBMR wood shop
I want to keep sharing my skills with my community. Someone once said, if you want to change the world, go home and love your family. From there, serve your community, and keep carrying that out across the global community we all share. For now, my roommates and I take care of our home together and share our experiences at PBMR while supporting, reaffirming, and imparting wisdom to each other. I’m grateful to Missionaries of the Precious Blood, who support me during this year of service, the people looking out for me and my fellow volunteers, and the PBMR community, who appreciate the gifts and talents I bring.
The liberty of our communities at large is bound to the liberty of each community. Wherever I go, no matter what I do, I now know my liberty is bound to my neighbors and we can work together. Marginalized, far-off, and/or rejected, you carry within you the same Precious Blood we all share.
Vincent is serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. Go to preciousbloodvolunteers.org to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers.
Raechel with members of the PBMR community
By Raechel Kiesel, Precious Blood Volunteer
One sunny Sunday in December, I found myself in the PBMR hallway watching my friend Essie teach the niece of one of the moms in our Families Forward program how to play a clapping game. It was similar to many of the patty-cake-like games I played as a little kid, but it wasn’t one I had seen before, so I soon turned to Sr. Carolyn, and we tried to clap along with Essie and our new friend. After many rounds of trying and failing, I ended up playing with the young girl. We had both improved just a little, so soon enough we were shouting together, “Right! Left! 1 Right! Left! 1 2 Right! Left! 1 2 3!” and clapping faster and faster, and when we finally made it to 5—which was a major feat, let me tell you—we jumped up and down and cheered. It was then that I remember watching out of the side of my eye as Fr. Kelly walked past us, narrowly avoiding contact with our flailing, clapping limbs, and I realized just how ridiculous I looked at that moment. Not only did I have reindeer antlers on my head, but I had been bent over playing patty cake with a little girl, laughing, shouting, raucous, and happy, in the middle of the hallway on a Sunday. It took me a while after that to realize that, actually, it wasn’t ridiculous at all—not for PBMR. Because that’s what we do here.
Only a month before that, I had been asking Sr. Donna if I could come to the first in-person mothers circle since covid had rendered them virtual. And when I found out that my parents would be visiting that weekend, I asked if my own mom could come too. Of course, she said, “Oh yeah, that would be great!” So that Sunday morning, I sent my dad with my brother to explore the city, and my mom and I went to PBMR. We were one of the first ones there, and still we looked at Sr. Donna and said, “Are you sure that it’s okay if we’re here?” We were feeling the discomfort. As two white women, strangers to gun violence and the grief of having lost a child, we were hyper aware of entering a space that did not belong to us—and yet we were invited in. So we made our name tags, pretended like we were comfortable, and we sat next to each other as the rest of the circle filled with beautiful women from around the neighborhood.
I didn’t expect to have much to share. Here at PBMR, we sit in circle for staff meetings each week, and by that point I had a pattern. Even coming here, I knew that as a white woman, I had so much I needed to learn. So I had decided early on that my primary role was to listen. Which isn’t something I’ve often told myself—to be humbled and value others’ voices over my own.
But in the mothers’ circle that day, when the talking piece got to me, I told a story about losing my grandmother, and the beauty that I got to witness in her final days among my family, how important that was to me. Looking around the circle as I was speaking and teary-eyed, and then as my mom spoke after me, the other women were nodding. They looked at us with faces that knew loss deeply, even the loss that we had felt, losing my grandma, my mom losing her mom. That stood out to me. They didn’t have to let some white girl walk into their circle and try to say something about grief, but they did. Not only that, they listened and encouraged me, and I felt so welcome and loved in a space I didn’t know could be my own.
Raechel with fellow Precious Blood Volunteer, Vincent, at PBMR
Jacquelyn Grant, a womanist theologian, makes the case that God is a Black woman and, in fact, manifested “in the community of Black women” (Grant, Jacquelyn. “The Challenge of the Darker Sister.” White Women’s Christ & Black Women’s Jesus, Scholars Press, 1989). In the experience of ancestral Black women, she writes, “They identified with Jesus because they believed that Jesus identified with them. As Jesus was persecuted and made to suffer undeservedly, so were they.” I read these passages years ago, but only now, witnessing the power of the community of Black women who gather at PBMR, do I understand them more clearly. These women incarnate God’s love, strength, and pain in our community, as they’ve done for me.
So our women—our community—are the ones who really decide that hospitality is what we do at PBMR. I know it might have been the founders thinking it over in the beginning, but the mothers sitting in circle that day were the ones to tell me, no, you’re welcome here. Come into this circle, sit with us, be with us. We know your pain, and we can share ours, and the burden can be a bit lighter. We can share healing, too, and laughter, and breakfast, and we can play patty cake and laugh raucously in the middle of the hallway together.
Raechel is serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. Go to preciousbloodvolunteers.org to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers.
2021-2022 Precious Blood Volunteer, Vincent Tedford
We are excited to announce that Vincent Tedford will be serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer! Vincent will serve at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. He will be serving for the 2021-2022 volunteer year. Vincent is a graduate of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Physics. Vincent is from Brownfield, Texas.
Why do you want to volunteer?
“I want to volunteer because I want to put my faith into action. I want to love others as I have been loved. Vocationally, volunteering prepares me for, what I hope to be, a lifetime of service to the world around me.”
Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?
“I want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers because I like the people and the mission. From meeting all those who interviewed me, I got the sense one of my biggest dreams would be fulfilled, to be part of a family-like workplace. I want to support the mission of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation as I walk with those who suffer, especially from injustice. While I hope to use my educational background for furthering mankind’s understanding of the universe, I think it equally important to support the educational needs of those in marginalized or underserved communities. I want a stake in a future where true justice, reconciliation, and love are more important, and in fact fundamental to, the advancement of humanity.”
What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?
“I am looking forward to being a compassionate teacher/mentor who plays a role in the education and progress of the individuals I serve. I look forward to building relationships with people who are different than I am and what we can learn from each other. Most of all, I look forward to living more like Christ and his apostles by simply focusing on the people around me, how I can be of service to them, and growing spiritually to be a vessel of God’s love.”
Learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers at preciousbloodvolunteers.org.
We are excited to introduce the three new Precious Blood Volunteers! Over the next few days you’ll get to meet Aaron, Raechel, and Vincent at preciousbloodvolunteers.org.
2021-2022 Precious Blood Volunteer, Raechel Kiesel
2021-2022 Precious Blood Volunteer, Vincent Tedford
Raechel Kiesel and Vincent Tedford will be serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. Raechel continues a tradition of University of Notre Dame alumni who have served with us. She comes from Indiana. Vincent graduated from Texas A&M University. He is the first graduate of Texas A&M to serve as a Precious Blood Volunteer, and our third volunteer from Texas.
2021-2022 Precious Blood Volunteer, Aaron Wise
Aaron Wise will be serving at KC CARE Health Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Aaron is our first volunteer from Case Western Reserve University. He continues in a long line of volunteers from the great state of Ohio.
Three volunteers from our previous batch lived in intentional Catholic communities in Chicago and Kansas City. This worked out well providing them places to share common life with people their own age. We are continuing with this for the 2021-2022 volunteer year. Raechel and Vincent will be living at Hope House, which is part of Port Ministries, in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago. Aaron will be living in community at Jerusalem Farm in Kansas City, deepening the long-term relationship the Kansas City Province has had with Jerusalem Farm.
They will begin their service next week during Orientation. Orientation begins on Monday, July 26 at Precious Blood Renewal Center in Liberty, Missouri. Please keep our new volunteers in your prayers.
To learn more about how you can grow in your faith by walking with others go to preciousbloodvolunteers.org.