Introducing the 2020-2021 Precious Blood Volunteers: Mike Nguyen

Mike was born and raised in Lahaina, Hawaii, and is our first volunteer from Hawaii! He will be serving at both Cristo Rey Kansas City High School and Bishop Sullivan Center. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2020 with a degree in neuroscience and Japanese. This year he will be applying for medical school where he hopes to continue his dream of becoming a doctor.

Why do you want to volunteer?

“I want to volunteer to serve and learn from communities different than my own. In my pursuit of being a doctor, I have seen how important it is to truly understand the people we serve so we can walk with them in compassionate solidarity. By interacting with underserved populations while living simply, I hope to understand those who need help them most. This year I am excited to work as a teacher and mentor so I can prepare myself to be a better doctor who empowers patients to be informed advocates for their own health.”

Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteer Ministry?

“Doing volunteer work has always been something I enjoyed, but I realized during my time in college that I had more to give. Joining Precious Blood Ministry I have the opportunity to help those in need in a sustained and personal way. By living out the Precious Blood Mission to build community and walk with those who suffer, I know I will be able to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most. I am extremely excited to serve the Kansas City community, and I know with the support of Tim and the Precious Blood Ministry I will be well prepared to do so.”

What are you looking forward to most?

“I am excited to meet new people and I looked forward to building strong friendships along the way. This year will undoubtedly present me with challenges but I am excited to learn from them and grow from the experiences.”

Learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers at preciousbloodvolunteers.org.

Introducing the 2020-2021 Precious Blood Volunteers: Thomas Weiss

2020-2021 Precious Blood Volunteer, Thomas Weiss

Thomas Weiss will be serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in the Program of Liberal Studies, Notre Dame’s Great Books education.

Why do you want to volunteer?

“The most formative experience of my education was the summer service program I completed after my sophomore year at Notre Dame. Living in intentional community at Hope House and serving at PBMR will hopefully be an equally illuminating and restorative experience for me.”

Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?

“The values of Precious Blood Volunteers outline the kind of life I hope to live. Commitment to serving those from suffering communities and a drive to redevelop often backward social systems resonate with the direction of my heart as I transition out of college and toward a career informed by Christ’s message of peace and compassion.”

What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?

“I am excited to step out of the classroom and into the real world. Having spent four years mostly reading books and writing essays, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to put my ideals into practice and to learn to sharpen my understanding of social realities through first-hand experience with those living on the south side of Chicago.”

Learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers at preciousbloodvolunteers.org.

Unlearning Racism: A Volunteer's Journey

by Leah Landry, Precious Blood Volunteer
Most white people do not want to talk about race. In fact, I feel uncomfortable typing this article right now. I am so scared of saying something wrong or implying something hurtful so it would be easier to stay silent. But after Chicago Regional Organizing for Anti-Racism’s training (C-ROAR), I realize it does not matter what I want or what is easy: we have to talk about race.
I knew early on that racism existed. When I was eight years old, my brother’s best friend joined our family. Shaun is African American and I saw that he was treated differently than my Caucasian brothers in our predominately white neighborhood. I remember Shaun and me getting weird looks when we were together and the police pulling him over much more often than my white brothers. But our conversations at home were about how other people were discriminatory, never about how racism worked through us as white people. I knew I had white privilege, but I did not realize I was part of the problem.
As a year-long volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR), all my suspicions that racism ran deeper than I could articulate intensified. I see every day how people are discriminated against because of the color of their skin. In the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, I was overwhelmed and appalled by the disproportionate number of black and brown teens my city locks up. While working at PBMR, I accompanied a young woman to court and was immediately told I could use the shorter line because the guard mistook me—the only white woman in the crowd—as a lawyer. I met young men who were given tickets for jaywalking and biking on the sidewalk while I had escaped every instance of a police stop with nothing more than a warning. I witnessed intense poverty: people struggling to pay rent, afford clothes, or feed a family, always one crisis away from losing everything. I saw all this and knew that there must be root causes, but I did not understand the depth to which racism and white supremacy created and perpetuated these circumstances.
Through the anti-racism training and researching on my own, I learned that racism is at the heart of every one of these issues. I discovered that nationwide policies of redlining forced black families into segregated neighborhoods and denied them access to the same government-backed loans that allowed my own grandparents to buy a home (“A Case for Reparations”, Ta-Nehesi Coates). I found out how the criminal justice system is designed to target, imprison, and harass people of color (The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander). I learned how the inequities originated: not because of something inherent or lacking in communities of color, but because of structures that intentionally privilege white people and subjugate people of color.
The hardest lesson I learned is that racism is not just the overt, stereotypical racism we immediately think of, like the KKK or the rally in Charlottesville. It is the deep-rooted racism of unconscious bias that lies within all of us, because we were all raised in a racist society. This was and still is hard to fully comprehend for me. I, in my ignorant whiteness, perpetuate racism, even though I have a black brother who I love dearly, even though I say I am committed to racial equity and justice, even though my family told me to love everyone regardless of race. I have centuries of ingrained white supremacy born into me. I was raised in a society that was built on the backs of enslaved people of color and live in a country that continues to privilege white people.  
The anti-racism weekend was transformational for me. It highlighted how entrenched white supremacy is and now I cannot un-see it. The most challenging part is that now I see racism play out in me. I catch myself stereotyping, preferring white people and white practices, making myself the center in spaces of color, and poking holes in stories of discrimination and racism. One particularly poignant moment of recognizing my own racism was when a person of color in the anti-racism training called me out for my racist behavior during the training itself.  It is painful and embarrassing to admit it, but I know it is the truth. I hope that acknowledging my faults can clear the way for other white people to start noticing their own. Nothing is going to change until white people recognize that we are part of the problem, that we are perpetuating the system of white supremacy, whether consciously or unconsciously. But we cannot stop at recognizing that racism works through us, we also must begin to change.
Every time I recognize a way in which I am perpetuating white supremacy, I try to change my behavior and truly stand up for communities of color. I repeatedly question my actions in all my work at PBMR, since I am in a position of power over women of color. I am trying to rework the system so that the young women can be in charge. I am continuously investigating how I, as a white woman, can play a role without recreating unjust structures. I am educating myself on both the oppression and strengths of different communities of color, as I know that each community—and each individual for that matter—has a unique experience of discrimination. I am constantly trying to learn how to be more aware and understanding.
I know talking about race is hard. Believe me, writing this article was really hard, and scary. And we are going to falter and err sometimes. But that’s okay, because mistakes are part of the learning process. The only real mistake is if we do not try at all.
Leah is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago. 
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org
 

Introducing 2017-2018 Volunteers: Leah Landry

2017-2018 Volunteer Leah Landry


Leah Landry is a native of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. She will be moving east into the Back of the Yards neighborhood serving at Precious Blood Ministry Reconciliation. She will be living in community with the Dayton Precious Blood sisters who live and serve in Chicago. This past May she graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts in political science, Spanish and peace studies. Leah was awarded the Yarrow Award from the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame. The Yarrow Award is awarded to peace studies undergraduates who demonstrate academic excellence and a commitment to service in peace and justice.

  • Why do you want to volunteer?

“I am excited to be a volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation because I see this as the start of my vocation dedicated to helping create a restorative justice system in the US. As a volunteer, I will have a chance to learn from and be a part of the stories and the experiences of the young people at PBMR. I hope this year helps me grow and become a better advocate and ally for people who have been hurt by our current justice system.”

  • Why do you want to be a Precious Blood Volunteer?

“I want to be a Precious Blood Volunteer because I am looking forward to being a part of a community that is dedicated to making the world a better place and helping others. I think it will be a great experience to work alongside volunteers who are passionate and excited about social justice issues like me.”

  • What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?

“I am really looking forward to getting to know the Back of the Yards community. I’ve lived outside Chicago my whole life and have always wanted an opportunity to become more ingrained in the city neighborhoods. I am also excited to learn more about restorative justice and be trained in how to facilitate circle processes. I can’t wait to start volunteering at PBMR and finally put into practice all the theories and ideas I learned in my Peace Studies classes.”

Engineer builds foundation for life as postgrad volunteer

 

Vanessa Steger with students from Cristo Rey Kansas City

When Vanessa Steger graduated from Notre Dame in December with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a B.A. in History, she already had a job offer and second interviews with some of the world’s largest companies. But she wanted something more.
“Mysterious inward promptings drew me to the Missionaries of the Precious Blood and Kansas City after attending the Fall Postgraduate Service Fair,” said Steger, who is from St. Louis.
Steger’s volunteer calling took her to Cristo Rey Kansas City (CRKC) where she shares her passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with urban high school students.
“I was looking for something immediately after graduation and the Precious Blood Volunteer program had the flexibility to accommodate my schedule,” she said. Also appealing was one of Cristo Rey’s 2013 Strategic Plan goals: Develop and enhance robust curricular and co-curricular STEM programs.
Located in Midtown Kansas City, Missouri, CRKC is one of 26 Catholic, college preparatory high schools in the Cristo Rey Network. CRKC serves a culturally diverse student body with high economic needs and limited educational opportunities. “A school that works,” CRKC offers an innovative Corporate Work Study Program to offset tuition costs where students gain real-world work experience. The school also boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate.
“These kids really want to be here,” said Steger. “97 percent of boys and girls attending Cristo Rey qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. Our student body is about 60 percent Hispanic and 35 percent African American, many of which are first generation immigrants.”

From L-R: Nate Balmert, Nora O’Connell and Vanessa Steger

Precious Blood Volunteers receive a small stipend while living with priests and other volunteers at Gaspar Mission House. As a group, they share morning prayers, dinners, stories, all while developing bonds that will last a lifetime. Community living is a central part of the experience of being a Precious Blood Volunteer.
“Being at the mercy of a bus schedule and listening to the daily conversations of other riders, especially those struggling to find work, puts life into perspective,” she said. “I’m also realizing I can live off very little. My true needs are easier to see when those material extras are unavailable.”
Gaspar Mission House is in a unique, yet safe, environment to grasp the true essence of Kansas City’s engaging community and rich history explained Steger. A couple of blocks in one direction will take you to a nice middle-class neighborhood, while just east is the racial dividing line of Troost Avenue.
“When I talk to my friends who pursued employment straight out of college, I don’t get the feeling that their work gives them joy. I’m blessed my volunteer experience gives me joy every day.” she continued.

Vanessa guiding the Cristo Rey Robotics Team

Most of her eight-hour day at Cristo Rey is spent “creating a safe space” for students to learn. As a STEM volunteer and coordinator, Steger coaches the Robotics Club and supervises seniors taking online science courses. She recently chaired CRKC’s first-ever Science Expo. Filling in as a substitute teacher two to three times a week, Steger also has daily lunchroom monitoring duties. Before the end of her placement in June, she is designing a plan for a city-wide STEM summer camp program for CRKC.
“This experience has given me a way to put my faith into action,” said Steger. “I have had the privilege of learning so many of these kids’ stories and to hear how they suffer in ways I can only imagine.” Through firsthand knowledge, she is discovering that education can break the cycle of poverty in our country.
“None of us have all the answers to life,” she concluded. “Money isn’t everything. Building character and defining life skills are the things that will truly carry you through life. If you don’t quite know what you are looking for, and this sounds challenging and scary at the same time, chances are the Precious Blood Volunteer program is for you. I would make the same choice a million times over!”
For more information on Cristo Rey volunteer opportunities or other Missionaries of the Precious Blood placements in Kansas City, visit www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org or contact Tim Deveney, volunteers@kcprovince.org; (816) 781-4344.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]