Day 5: The Power of Community

Hey everybody, this is George and Charro from Chaminade (Go Swords!) and we'd like to share the story of our journey as we returned to Skid Row.

We woke up kind of early in order to prepare for the long yet fun filled day ahead of us. I (George) started off my day with a few bowls of triple rainbow Lucky Charms and a healthy dose of optimism (and sugar obviously). The drive to Downtown Los Angeles was a little cold and hazy, the buildings blurred in the distance. Arriving at the Union Rescue Mission (URM), I could see that it was a place that meant business; it had somewhat of an official feel to it. Once inside, we made our way to the kitchen and after dawning our hair nets, rubber gloves and aprons, we immediately began to help out with creating the breakfast plates. It was there that we met Rene. At first she seemed like any other volunteer that we'd met in the previous days, but then she shared her story with us; she had gone through the program at URM, was one of the successful people to completely finish and was currently a few years sober. She then instructed us on how to prepare the breakfast plates. At first we were a little slow and unsure of what to place where and how much of each food but Rene had the patience and took the time to help us out. As she said, "I might not be the boss, but I know how to work people." What seems like minutes later, we then had made an assembly line of hard boiled eggs, burritos and pastries and soon had created over 200 plates of food. Then it was time to open and masses of people started to line up, eagerly waiting to receive their breakfast. Handing them their plates, I soon realized that there was something different about these people from those I had met at the Catholic Worker earlier in the week. Here people seemed a little more at ease and more sure of what they wanted. After breakfast, Charro, Martin and I were given the opportunity to take a few boxes of the extra pastries and hand them out to the homeless down the street from URM. So we walked out the back door, with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts, ready to hand out delicious pastries. We walked just down to the corner but in that short distance, we met so many grateful people who were overjoyed to receive free baked goods and hospitality. Back in the kitchen we cracked dozens of eggs, opened cans of baked beans and opened packages of catfish and placed them on trays to defrost for lunch. After all of that we got to take a tour of the Union Rescue Mission with Marley. She showed us all of the different floors and  the variety of people that lived on each one. Some floors were specifically dedicated to only men while others were set aside for families and those with children. One floor even had a gym for recreational sports, a clothing center with a tailor and there were multiple laundry rooms spread out on each floor. We even got the privilege of getting to go on to the roof where they had a small garden and benches to sit on and relax throughout the day. Up there, we had a stunning view of downtown Los Angeles with all it's high business buildings and hotels. It was a breathtaking view and yet juxtaposing it was the overwhelming population of homeless aimlessly wandering the streets below. It was very sad to see such a beautiful city with that many homeless people, but it made me grateful to know that there are programs such as the Union Rescue Mission, Catholic Worker and Midnight Mission out there doing what they can to make a difference.

I (Charo) had some what of a different experience today down at Skid Row. I had the opportunity to go to Union Rescue mission in the morning for the second time this week, and also got to go to Catholic Worker. I found both of these organizations to be amazing, and although each organization provided me with a different experience, the feelings that I received from them were quite the same. I found my self feeling astonished and in awe of how much love and faith exists within these two different types of organizations that assist those on Skid Row. Although it was my second time this week at URM, I found the experience very different. This time I was able to see more of those that I was serving. and have a more face to face interaction with them. at Union I also got the privilege of getting to meet the young  woman name Rene who was in her sixties, who not only was a volunteer but also a participant in some of the programs at Union. Her story of her struggles amazed me and her power to love and motivation of paying it forward defiantly inspired me. When meeting Rene I felt that I was in the presence of one of God's angels. I could see God in her and it is in moments like this one on this trip that I feel help me grow in my faith and and become grateful to and learn from the struggles in my own life  just as Rene did. Also like George, I had the opportunity of passing out pastries to people out in the community of Skid Row. I must say the mental image of the peoples expressions after offering a pastry to them will never leave my mind.  It warmed my heart just to know that such a small act of kindness can really have a huge positive impact on someone's day. I also was able to experience the Catholic Worker organization on Skid Row. This community was some what different than Union because it worked more with those who are actually on the street rather than those who are in special programs. Although, I arrived later than the rest of my group to Catholic worker I still had the opportunity to sit down and talk to some of the people who come to the organization for a nice hot meal. One gentleman that I had the privilege of talking to shared with me his journey of coming to America in 1991, and also shared his struggles of being an illegal immigrant. What amazed me the most about him was not hearing about all of his struggles but was seeing that even though he struggled he still had a positive attitude and outlook on life. He shared with me that even though times are tough now he is in a better place than others in his home country of Mexico. I found myself not only only finding this positive attitude and love God in him but in most other people I met there at Skid Row. This amazed because throughout this week I have learned that Skid Row is not as terrifying as I had thought it would be. Instead I see as this amazing community in which people are going through a special moment in their lives in which are leading them into whatever future God  has planned for them.

Finally today we got to visit Junipero Serra High School, where we got an insight of what the Catholic community is doing to help the youth of Los Angeles. For me (Charro), this was an interesting opportunity for me because it gave me a perspective and kind of an idea of what Catholic based High Schools are like since I myself did not attend one. I must say I am learning so much on this trip, and not just about LA but also myself and who I want to be in my own community.

For me (George) it was really amazing to get to see how the past Marianist's culture influenced the high school; from the elegant grotto on the senior lawn to the tile mosaic of Father Chaminade and the magnificent chapel located within the school's halls. We also got to talk to Brother Skip, who attended Junipero Serra High School. Whenever he speaks, it's simply amazing to hear all of the knowledge and wisdom that he embodies and how willing he is to share it with any and everyone that he meets.

We then headed back home to Duarte to make our potluck dinner. Each of the universities (Chaminade, Dayton and St. Mary's) made a dish and the kitchen was soon filled with laughter, smiles and the smells of various foods floated through the air. Some of us even went outside and climbed the tree to pick lemons for our fresh lemonade. In the end we had a plethora of foods including salad, spam musubis, various enchilladas (chicken, beef and vegetarian) with rice and buckeyes and other chocolate dipped items like cookies and banana slices for dessert.


Sincerely,
George and Charro





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