Everyone Deserves A Home - Jacob Henson & Carlos Rodriguez
Our group of fifteen divided into three vehicles: two cars and one minivan. On Tuesday’s morning commute, I rode in the car with Austin, junior, and Maureen, UD’s LA Immersion coordinator (from the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio) along with Valerie, sophomore, and Pono, senior, from the University of Chaminade in Honolulu, Hawaii. These four people were strangers to me the night before and were still were on the morning ride. Yet, I had no idea that this was only the beginning of one of the strongest connections I would make with people I have never met before.
Our plan for the day was to landscape the front lawn of one of the houses on the property of the Good Shepherd's Women’s Shelter. Additionally, we had planned to carve out a little time to interact and play with the kids that also lived on the property. Theses kids are the children of single mothers; together these mothers and children are families that have sought help to get back into the real world. And if there’s anything to pull away in understanding people who need help, it’s knowing that help isn’t always easy for an individual, or in this case a mother, to admit that she needs help. However, help at Good Shepherd is certainly valuable beyond any gift or money that could be given to these women.
There was one thing I noticed as we drove along the crammed highway. I couldn’t help notice the skyscrapers in the moments of stop and go traffic. I mean, I’ve been to LA before, and to other larger cities, but this time I thought about the 3.9 million people that concentrate this one area. When I looked at those massive skyscrapers ever so close to the clouds, they reminded me of how many people that were in this city who were probably often forgotten about. And it was specifically this time that I became more aware of approximate 46 thousand women that have reported domestic abuse in their home, according to a 2016 record by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women.
Now, I wasn’t aware of these facts until after my experience at the shelter, but leading up to service, I had wondered what the first day would entail. Our itinerary for the day wasn’t shared with the whole group, so when we arrived, we jumped right into the work we would be doing for the day. After all, we’re Marianists…I didn’t have any less expectation but to jump in.
So there we were, pulling into a gated area with a large house in front of a five parking space driveway; the property itself was quaint in the 10-foot tall hedges surrounding it. Once the other two cars arrived, our group made our way over to the back of the property. I say back of the property, but in actuality, it was a side of the property that connected to another street. Little did the group know though that the fifteen of us would be spending the next six hours coating ourselves with dirt, straining our backs to lift, breathing in dust, and laying down mulch and gravel.
Nevertheless, this first day experience was worth the while. Every drop of sweat running down my temple and every bit of rock and of wood chips stuck in my shoes were all worth the connections that I had made with my sister universities. Overall, the most exciting thing about our landscaping was that the process of laying a timber tie, digging up dirt, planting hedges, laying an irrigation system, and laying mulch, gravel, and stepping stones, was a process that made strangers become friends.
Like I've told other in the past, I've found it easiest to connect with other people when there’s a common task done together. In this case, it was dying in the heat and grime of landscaping, but what mattered most was that it was in the efforts of dying together! This is a great first step in our journey so welcome to the introduction of this community’s journey, where hard work is accomplished and personal relationships are formed.
Just like that, in the four hours we landscaped away, the majority of our work was complete. The fifteen of us had divided ourselves so evenly that we managed to go from a ho-hum front lawn to an HGTV makeover. I am pleasantly pleased with our team efforts, and to that, all I have to say is job well done to a first day’s work! It wasn't until later that our efforts would continue on to drain us of the little energy we had left.
The next part of our visit at the Good Shepard Women's Shelter was taking some time to interact with the kids. We played with the kids outside on the playground; most of the kids were a little scared to play with me, which was not offensive or surprising at all. After all, I know that I'm this behemoth of a human who probably intimidates kids with my height. However, once kids, in general, get to know me, they find that I’m actually a softie on the inside, a gentle giant really. I had a hunch that they would come around and eventually they did to the point that my height wasn't something to fear.
One little girl came around enough to me that I had the honor of going roly-poly exploring with her. Two boys also played on the seesaw with me to which ended with the two of them falling from the lack of stability, which in turn caused me to fall and slam my tailbone against the bar of the seesaw. It hurt like hell, but it was definitely funny. The boys rolled around in a giggle fit and I, with a not so shared reaction, rolled around in a kind of nervous laugh. Ouch...but hey, playtime was still great!
Before our time ended at the shelter, our group was able to hear more about the services that were provided to the women and children that resided in the shelter. Therefore the family and marriage therapist, who works with the eleven women at the shelter, took a little time to speak to us about the opportunities and situations that he had experienced with these women. He talked about opportunities like offering classes such as ESL class, yoga and exercise class, cooking class, budgeting class, and a computer and resume-building class. He also paused frequently in speaking about this next part. The part when these realities are often straining to speak about because their truths are harsh to any human heart and mind. Still, he told us that these eleven women endure the worst of the worst, and in some cases even find it difficult to feel at home and peace in the shelter. In fleeing from abusive relationships, acquiring restraining orders for their protection, yet also worrying about their children's relationships with their fathers, the therapist shared that these few struggles are some of the most emotionally taxing struggles on the hearts and spirits of these women.
Which is why, despite the rough work that was done today, our group sees that it’s all worth it in the end. It’s worth it to make these women feel like they live in a place that’s more than a shelter. It’s worth it to put in just a little of my personal time in order to increase just a little of their purposeful time feeling secure and supported. And it's DEFINITELY worth it have taken that blow on my tailbone for these kids because I too want to see these women find their way on their own. In that process, if I can give just a little bit of work for the greater comfort of these women and their children, then I will. In the end, it’s worth it to me to know that these women feel at home because everyone deserves a home.
In all of my feelings and thoughts that were felt on this first day, it's sort of exciting to think that today is just one of the many things I signed up for when I came on this trip. It's definitely one of the things I signed up for as a Marianist. As a Marianist, it’s in our “yes”, like Mary’s “yes”, which exemplifies our willingness to put in the effort to make these women feel at home. And it’s in our “yes” that will continue to motivate the passion that each of us will share and touch upon in this blog, as we build upon other relationships along the way.
Senior, St. Mary’s University
My name is Carlos Rodriguez, and I am a senior at the University of Dayton with a major in Human Rights Studies. Today, May 18th, we finished our first full day in LA. All of the groups have already begun to mesh together. Even though we are all from different areas, the Marianist connection created a strong bond between us. This day was filled with laughter, learning and growing as student leaders.
The day began at Good Shepherd, a home for battered women and children. When we arrived, we jumped right into service; the organization had an amazing project for us to work on, the finishing a garden for the families. All fifteen of us came together and worked together on this mission. The goal of the garden was to give the families a place to relax outside.
After we had finished the first half of the garden, we took a break to play outside with the children. I saw pure laughter and joy from not only the children but also the university students. I had the opportunity to play with two boys, and they were obsessed with Star Wars. We were running around jumping from playground to playground. It was beautiful seeing the happiness and hearing the laughter from the children and the volunteers. When we finished playing, we went back to work on the garden. All together we pushed to finish as much as we could, this included, digging, planting, placing mulch, setting gravel, pulling weeds, and fixing the irrigation system. The sight of everyone working so diligently on the garden was inspiring. The garden that was halfway finished when we arrived would soon be complete. My mind was blown that a group of people that just met each other the night before had no issues while finishing this gorgeous garden.
At a certain point, we took a break from the garden and went to learn about the organization. We sat down with one of the therapists and picked his brain about the organization's mission and purpose. This opportunity allowed the group to understand the importance of the garden and more importantly, the impact this organization was making in this community. Overall, Good Shepherd gave our community a chance for us to learn about the need of these women and what we can do to help.
The end of our day consisted of seeing the Marianist brothers in LA. While with the brothers, we shared in Mass, dinner, and conversation. The conversations with the brothers and other members of the immersion did not fail to excite. We shared funny stories, the reasons we came to LA, and where we saw God in the day.
My God moment was in the creation of this garden. I saw the difference made by working together. I thought if humanity could unite around a cause or a mission for the common good, our world be a much better place. The first day in LA was a success; I cannot wait to see how the trip will change and transform each of us.
Senior, University of Dayton