Former YLV Trip Sparks New Commitment to the Center
Sara Deeny Eide, a former year long volunteer (YLV), shares her perspective on her latest trip back to visit our Center Family of Families…
As a big birthday approached, I promised myself that this year I would treat myself to a trip to one of my all time favorite places – the Working Boys Center. I had a life-changing opportunity after my graduation from college (many years ago) to spend two years volunteering at the Center. Since my time at the Center (1995-1997), I’ve been back three times in 1999, 2001 and now in 2013.
This summer I started making plans to travel to Quito in November. To my surprise, Madre Cindy told me that a group from Dubuque, IA (my hometown) was planning a trip during the same time period. For many reasons it made sense to connect with this group. I also had two members from St. Augustin, my parish in Des Moines, sign up to come along and my Dad, Tom Deeny, signed up to go as well.
I was nervous about going back on this trip. It had been 12 years since my last visit. I assumed the Center had changed and that no one would remember me. Yes, things had changed at the Center, but at its core the Center had stayed the same. It remains a place where people are working hard to fight their way out of poverty while supporting each other, giving thanks to God for the blessings they have received, and learning from loving example and guidance received from the Center’s leaders. On my first days at the Center, I was overjoyed to see some old friends who lovingly welcomed me with saludos and abrazos, and I was excited to make many new friends. It was a great homecoming for me.
As a middle-aged mom with five kids, I had a new perspective during this visit. As I was there and reflecting on my years as a volunteer, I realized that the two years I spent in Quito were less about what I contributed as a volunteer to the Center, but much more about what I received from the Center – from Madre, Padre, Madre and the families. Having the opportunity to live in community with Padre Juan, Madre Miguel, and Madre Cindy was a gift beyond measure. Living and working alongside people who truly embody the teachings of Jesus has made an indelible mark on the trajectory of my life. My “refresher course” in November has reignited my commitment to do all that I can to help support and spread the news about the Center.
This Advent season our parish is doing our annual project to support the Center through our “Advent Mission Tree”. Looking ahead, we hope to take a group from our parish as well as one from our local Catholic high school.
During this Christmas season, I give thanks for many blessings. This year as I am still reflecting on my trip last month to Quito – I feel truly blessed and give thanks for having such an opportunity. As the new year approaches, I am making plans to double-down my efforts in 2014 for the Center. After all these years, I believe now more than ever that the Center is transforming lives and giving people the tools (education and personal development) to move out of poverty into the life that God wants for them.
AIM Team Connects with Center Families Through Service
We continue to be blessed by the constant flow of loving, giving people who leave the comforts of their own homes and travel to the Center to work one-on-one with our member families. Here, in her own words, Sara McNely reflects on her group’s experience…
Our experience at the Working Boys’ Center – A Family of Families in Quito, Ecuador was bittersweet. There was a true family welcome when our group arrived that was felt by all of us. Regardless of situation or status there was an undeniable sense of community between everyone who attended and/or volunteered at the center. We went there ready to work and serve but little did we know the work and service that was truly done was to us. Not only did we have the opportunity to tour and get to know the culture and life of the Ecuadorian people but we were astonished by the beauty of the country. We were surrounded by the beauty of the mountains all around us.
On the second day we were there, we joined the Mingas Program where we assisted in building a home for a family in the Center. They worked beside us and showed great appreciation throughout the day. However, one sentence was said by the mother of the family, Isabel , that embedded our hearts “Thank you for helping us. Please tell me where you live so that one day I can come help you with your home”. If they only knew we never built our homes and most of us have never even thought about what it took to get them built.
When we went on house visits at the barrios we had the opportunity to see where the families at the Center live. We were heartbroken and speechless the majority of the day. The living conditions of some of the families are incomprehensible. This experience made us understand why the Center requires families to take a shower every day at the Center, why they provide three meals a day, and why it so essential that not only to educate the children but to educate the parents as well. This also made us appreciate the Center more than words could possibly explain.
We met families who just entered the program and we also met families who have been participating in the Center programs for years or have graduated and the difference in their quality of life was amazing. Madre Miguel, Madre Cindy and Padre Juan’s love for the Center and the people is unmistakable. We loved watching the kids run up after Mass just to get a hug and blessing from Madre Miguel and Padre Juan. We felt honored to meet them and truly felt like we were in the presence of saints. This Center truly empowers the poor and treats them as equals by providing opportunities. We saw this every day we were there.
Every member of the Center contributes by taking turns cleaning up and serving meals. Families help one another build homes after working hard to save their money and buy land. Even the children contribute by working when they are not in school. This was hard for our group who is from the U.S. to understand but we quickly realized these kids benefit immensely from work when they are not in school. It keeps them out of trouble, supports their family who are in need of it, and it makes the children responsible which leads them to appreciate every coin earned.
Even the poor can waste money so the Center helps them realize the importance of saving what they can to improve their lives. Our parishes, St. James The Less and Holy Redeemer, in La Crescenta, CA would recommend that every parishioner visit The Working Boys’ Center – A Family of Families because it is the only way to understand the impact it has on the participating families but also the impact it has you as a volunteer and visitor. The Center, children, families, and volunteers stole our hearts. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve this Center and be part of this Family of Families. The only we regret we had is not planning to stay longer but we will definitely be back!
Adults In Mission Team: Cynthia Ceja, Margaret Cooper, Jessica & Anita Gabrielian, Hugh & Kathryn Halford, Lynn Hansen, Dan Lee, Sara & Kevin McNely, and Hala Waneis
Christ’s Love Shines from Sunny California to the Streets of Quito
Maureen Tabari from St. Mary’s shares a reflection on her parish’s relationship with the Center in her own words…
St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception (“St. Mary’s”) is located in Los Gatos, California, a small community nestled in the inland side of the coastal mountains of Santa Cruz, California. Sr. Elizabeth Avalos, a BVM living in Sunnyvale, a nearby city, introduced the Working Boys’ Center – A Family of Families to our parish’s JustFaith membersand the WAV Youth Ministry Group. Moved by the mission of the Center, a group of seven pilgrimswere commissioned by the parish on Holy Thursday to travel to Quito, Ecuador, to participate in an immersion experience at the Center.
Since that original visit in 2008, there has been no turning back! A fire has been ignited! Over the past six years, one to three groups from our parish have traveled to the Center each year. And the word is starting to spread. Two of our parishioners (Anne Maloney and Patrick McCrystal), who traveled with their family to the Center in 2011, decided to bring the trip to the local Catholic high school where they teach, Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose. They led a group of Bellarmine boys this past February. Bellarmine now plans an annual trip, with many of the boys “jones-ing” to go again – if you have ever visited the Center, you know the feeling!
In order to organize and incorporate the principle of Solidarity and to address Catholic Social Teaching internationally, St. Mary’s formed Partners in Mission in Ecuador (“PIM”). It is through PIM that St. Mary’s coordinates with Sr. Elizabeth and the Center. The core PIM team meets monthly to plan the various activities related this partnership. The initial leader of the PIM was parishioner Carol Braham, who has visited the Center twice. She was at the helm for 5 years
The activities of PIM can be categorized into three areas: organizing the immersion trips for interested parishioners, educating the parishioners and others about the Center, and fundraising. To meet these goals, PIM coordinates an annual Ecuadorian Soup Supper. The Soup Supper is held in late fall. This year’s it is right around the corner, on November 3rd. The Soup Supper has turned into a great community venue to involve multiple groups within the parish. We have our master chef, parishioner Phil Micciche, and his team who concoct a luscious, healthy soup and pair it with buttery, crusty bread. We have started serving homemade Alfajoras cookies and Fair Trade coffee to compliment the savory dinner.
The evening is festive with a traditional Ecuadorian Band. The Spanish teacher at St. Mary’s School, Sandra Whalen, enlists the involvement of her students by offering extra credit to attend and bring their families. Our pastor, Fr. Rick Rodoni, is a staunch supporter and announcements are made at every Mass leading up to the event. The youth groups get involved by helping to serve dinner and clean up. Carol Thornton, St. Mary’s Director of Pastoral Care, Community and Social Justice Ministries works with a boundless insight and energy to support the partnership. As a past traveler herself, she is especially dedicated.
The highlight of the evening is the presentation of festive artisanal/handmade crafts. Jill Montanari and Carol de Caravalho and their team work together to create an Ecuadorian shopping extravaganza. Each trip, they work hard to plan and purchase Ecuadorian goods in Otavalo and the downtown Quito open-air market. The proceeds are donated back to the Center, and some are retained to use to purchase items for sale at the next year’s Ecuadorian Soup Supper. Additionally, Ecuadorian goods are sold outside each of the five Masses that weekend.
The evening also includes a short presentation about the Center. If Sr. Cindy Sullivan, BVM is in town, she speaks to those gathered. But, we also encourage recent past travelers to share their stories personally with the group. This has worked well to fill our upcoming trips, with young and old.
Typically we have offered two trips per year, one in the spring and one in the summer. The spring trip is for adults and the summer is for family or parent/teen immersion. Both trips have their advantages in serving a slightly different population of travelers, taking into consideration age and interest of the travelers. For example, the summer trip might involve more time spent playing sports with the children at the Center, and the spring might focus on doing simple needed repairs or organizational projects. Both trips have similar goals for the travelers to learn about the mission of the Center and to become ambassadors back here in the United States. The younger travelers are gently encouraged to look forward to the possibilities of joining the Center after college graduation as a year-long volunteer. Without exception, everyone (not just the teens) dreams of being able to return one day, one way or another.
St. Mary’s has also provided a weekend for which the second collection at each Mass is designated to the Center in Quito. This was our sixth year in so doing. Usually we have travelers speak briefly to the congregation at those Masses. The direct testimonial of the parishioners is engaging and motivating, and we see an increase in collections each year!
Additionally, on two occasions we have had a “Party for Poverty” dance, organized by the teens. The proceeds were donated to the Center. We are considering new options for upcoming years.
Tangentially, as a result of the BVM’s relationship with Annie Credidio and her missionary work at the Damien House in Guayaquil, Ecuador, most of our travelers have visited the Damien House on a day trip, while visiting the Center in Quito. This relationship has begun to grow as well, and we are seeking ways to form partnerships for Sr. Annie with nearby Catholic Schools and parishes.
We consider the relationship between St. Mary’s and the Center a huge blessing and success. It grows each year. We view it as a living example of the mustard seed parable in the Bible. With our little mustard seed of a beginning, we hope to be part of moving mountains from here to there, in partnership with the Center’s “Family of Families.”
Our Family of Families Stateside
The impact of the work being done with the people at the Center has a ripple effect on so many people who come in contact with our members, our staff, and our voluinteers. As we approach our 50th anniversary, we’d like to highlight our Family of Families in the U.S. Pat Costigan shares the story of her family’s involvement in the Center in her own words…
The Working Boys’ Center – A Family of Families has been part of the Costigan family since 2005. Clare, the oldest of our four daughters volunteered at the Notre Dame Middle School during her senior year at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. When the president of the school, Alvaro Garcia-Velez, asked what she was planning to do after graduating, Clare replied that she was looking for a place to volunteer internationally and speak Spanish. He said: “I have the perfect place for you”. He proceeded to tell her about the Center where he and his wife had volunteered.
Our family has lived in snowy Rochester, NY for 23 years. Bob and I have four daughters, Clare, Beth, Anne and Irene. When the girls were growing up they heard us talk about our interesting and rewarding Jesuit Volunteer days in the early 1970’s. Bob served in St. Mary’s, AK and I in St. Michaels, AZ. Those stories sparked their interest for volunteering after they finished college.
Raising our children was always a priority for me, and I always made art. Last year I had a painting exhibit about Hope, and am currently working on another exhibit about Grace. One of the greatest witnesses to hope that our family has had is the Center. Having been exposed to the transformation of lives through our children’s stories and experiences with the Center families, I see hope actualized. I so appreciate the exhaustive work that Padre, Madre Miguel, Madre Cindy, the staff and volunteers commit to transform families who otherwise would not have hope. To witness God’s bountiful Grace in action through the trust they have in our God has made my faith stronger. It has been a tremendous gift to have experienced the network of individuals and families throughout the world who believe in and have committed themselves to the Center.
Bob is a professor at St. John Fisher College, and teaches Organizational Behavior and Human Resources Management in the School of Business. “I can’t give a testimonial on the Center without choking up…it has meant that much to me and my family. The Center has given our family a common experience and a common goal. Our daughters were profoundly engaged in the lives of wonderful Ecuadorians. To see what the Center has given to our daughters is amazing. It is a lasting commitment for them – they keep looking for ways to help the Center, even after their volunteer days have ended. It would be difficult for me not to contribute in some way after witnessing their zeal for the Center.”
Clare volunteered two years at the Center, and now lives in Pittsburgh, PA, finishing her Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy at Chatham University. “How I first heard about the Center was not a coincidence. While volunteering, I would never have known that the Center would provide me with my closest friends, and lead to a rewarding occupation due to my Special Education experience at the Center. As my parents always said of their own volunteer experiences, I have been “ruined for life.” Each day that goes by I think about my kids at the Center and how much I loved hearing the squeak of the swings outside my window. Starting at 6am I heard my kids’ voices scream, “Clarita,” as I attempted to get up and start the day. I think about the endless hugs I would receive everyday entering the Center in La Marin in the afternoons, and how I could see the families enter into the front gates. This is home. There is nothing like the feeling of seeing the Centers in La Marin or Cotocollao in pictures, or talking about it with my sisters or close volunteer friends. This place has changed my life. Returning to Quito as a former volunteer and visiting my old students and families, I see how much it has improved their lives. To see families become leaders guiding the newer families during la merienda or la misa is inspiring. Through hard work, prayer, and staying together with their family, transformation happens.”
Beth graduated in 2008 from Creighton University in Omaha, NE, with a degree in photojournalism. After college she explored in Argentina and Chile with her camera and an interest in post-dictatorship Latin America. She now lives in Missoula, MT. “The Center has been an important place for my family; additionally, it has brought incredibly special people into my life. I look forward to visiting Irene this coming year at the Center.”
Anne graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD in 2010 and is working for Anixter International in Denver, CO. She volunteered at the Center in 2010-2011. “The Center is a community that has welcomed my family with open arms as, one by one, the Center impacted us and we became one of the many families in the Working Boys’ Center – A Family of Families. The Center has influenced me in too many ways to count, but one thing keeps popping into my mind: Those little shoe shine and candy selling boys are natural born sales people! They are not afraid of rejection and are confident in their product. I am now in the world of sales and these kids have come to mind quite a few times over the past few months when I have dreaded making a certain phone call or feared rejection. I quickly snap out of it, as I think of little Michael and Jefferson hitting the streets with their candy and shoe shine boxes being told “No gracias” all the time, but coming back to the Center as sales boys showing off all the money they made at the end of the day. These boys are some of the most influential sales people in my life, and I am blessed to have these little role models in my heart.”
Irene graduated from The Catholic University Of America in Washington, DC in 2012 and is presently enjoying volunteering at the Center. She is currently serving in her second year at the Center. “Everyday at the Center I see the resilience of the human spirit and am inspired by the strength my students possess.”
The Costigan family believes: The Working Boys’ Center – A Family of Families works. It works, because everyone works together for Love.
“Help” is Not a Four-Letter Word
Back in high school, Kevin Fink traveled with a group of students for a short-term service trip. He truly enjoyed his experience at the Center and decided to use a college research opportunity to return again. Here is what he learned in his own words…
I strongly dislike asking for help. My parents have heard the phrase, “No, I can do it”, over and over again. I do things like carry heavy objects by myself while declining the assistance of ready and willing bystanders. I’ll spend hours trying to understand a homework assignment rather than stop by my professor’s office. Calculus was always the exception. But after arriving at the Working Boys’ Center – A Family of Families in May, by lunchtime of my first day I had realized that I was going to need help this summer…lots of it.
I am a civil engineering student at the University of Notre Dame and work for an organization called Engineering2Empower (E2E), led by two of my professors. E2E was established in 2010 in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti that claimed over 100,000 lives and left millions more homeless. Since that earthquake, E2E has sought to develop earthquake resilient housing models that can be implemented in Haiti and other at-risk regions of the world. The hope of E2E was to use this summer as an opportunity to analyze the state of low income housing in underdeveloped countries in areas with high seismic activity. For me, Quito was an easy choice. I spent three weeks as a summer volunteer at the Center as a high school student in 2009 and had seen firsthand the houses that make up the mountainsides surrounding Quito. When the Center agreed to host me for the summer, I was thrilled to be returning to the city that had made such an impact on me as a teenager and eager to begin my research. The challenges I would face never crossed my mind.
Once arriving in Quito, my task was to visit as many homes as possible, interviewing homeowners while taking pictures, notes, and measurements of the homes themselves. By identifying the materials used in home construction, the size and quality of these materials, and the methods in which homes are built, E2E can assess a home’s ability to withstand earthquake forces. In order to complete this research, I needed to spend my days in the neighborhoods, visiting families at their homes. During my preparation for this summer, I failed to consider the many factors that would make this a difficult endeavor. Firstly, I had not practiced Spanish in over three years, and despite my confidence that it would be easy to pick back up, I spent my first weeks in Quito barely able to communicate. Secondly, Quito is a massive city that I was entirely unfamiliar with. Until I developed a strong understanding of the city’s layout, traveling by myself to neighborhoods would be impossible. And finally, if I was able to reach the neighborhoods, I would be asking homeowners to allow a complete stranger to enter their homes, camera and tape-measure in hand. This, I realized, was a request that they would most certainly deny. My first day made it quite clear. The success of my research would be completely dependent on the help of others.
While I experienced some truly amazing things during my time in Quito, the overwhelming outpour of support I received sticks out as the most inspiring and memorable aspect of my trip. Teresa Ramos, an employee of the Center, became my lifeline for my first month at the Center. Every day she took me up into the neighborhoods. Sometimes these trips included three or four bus stops and would take over an hour and a half each way. If my lack of Spanish speaking ability frustrated her, she never showed it. She would ask me question after question and then listen intently as I stumbled through my responses. Once we arrived at the homes of the Center families we were visiting, her presence was invaluable. As I tried to explain to homeowners why I was there and what I hoped to accomplish, she would clarify my words and assure the people that they could trust me. If no one was home at the house we were visiting, we would walk around until we found another family that Teresa knew. On more than one occasion, Teresa fought off dogs that had made me ready to run. Almost everything I accomplished during my first month of research was because of Teresa.
Teresa (pictured here on a bench with one of the Center homeowners) was just the first example of the selflessness I encountered everywhere I went in Quito. The hospitality I received from the Center families I visited overwhelmed me. They told me all about their lives, their families, and their homes, and allowed me to conduct research that I considered invasive. As I worked, they watched, smiling, asking repeatedly if I would like something to eat or drink. Sometimes, my help came from complete strangers. During my last week I traveled alone by city bus to visit a Center member at his home. After overhearing a conversation I had with the fare collector, a woman told me that I had missed my stop and asked the driver to stop the bus. At the time, I thought I needed to take that bus for another thirty minutes. Everywhere I went I was met by those around me with warmth and an innate eagerness to help in any way they could. When I arrived in May, I stepped off the plane intending to learn a lot about the homes of Quito. If my research had gone as planned, however, I would not have learned a single thing about homes, only houses. While houses are defined by columns, walls, windows, and doors, homes are defined by the people in them. As I move forward with my research, I take with me memories of a people and an organization whose generosity, selflessness, and unwavering desire to help will inspire me forever.
A Foolish Hope
Patrick O’Grady traveled to the Center with a group of other teens and their mothers. In his own words he thinks back on his experience…
Jaded glass, vibrating from the violent barking of malnourished and beaten guard dogs, lines the makeshift walls nearly crumbling into the streets at every corner. This is the Quito the world knows, a decrepit city overflowing with crime and immeasurable poverty as cardboard houses shelter upwards of fifteen people in what resembles a brown barn. These people have no 401k’s or Roth IRA’s to worry about, instead they can only ponder how they will put the next meal on the table for their six kids and six nephews that were abandoned by their parents. This is the Quito that is trapped under the shadow of Cotopaxi and the Quito that sits on one of the most active fault lines in the world. Basic healthcare is scarce and jobs are even more rare. I present the world’s Ecuador.
When I arrived in Ecuador, my first opinion was that civilization had been held back about 200 years there. I did not think that people should have to live like animals with modern technology and advanced economic systems. Yet, children were running through the streets struggling to make enough money just to afford food for their families. I wondered, “Why can we not bring America here?” Why can we not teach them our ways and bring them good ‘ole western prosperity. They have the oil to become a power in South America and they could begin to revolutionize their way of living if they effectively marketed this natural resource. The lost children could become “successful” and buy huge houses in gated neighborhoods. Why not? Ecuador has something different, a sense of culture that is an apple compared to the orange of the United States. Culture is el Mitad del Mundo, or the focal point of human achievement. It is not measured by coins or property rights, rather culture depends on commitment by the people who support it and the cohesion among these people to a certain lifestyle. It is priceless and it is Ecuador.
The world does not recognize this Ecuador, this Quito, nor this definition of culture. Yes, Quito is monetarily poor and a slum, but it is also culturally magnificent with a strong regional identity that originated with centuries of indigenous tribes. This paradox is the hidden beauty of Quito. It contains the rawest sense of humanity I have ever seen and provides a mold for the rest of the world to follow. Quito is about the people that inhabit it, not what they inhabit. The city lacks an ostentatious atmosphere and this absence does not distract the citizens from themselves. All the city has to its name is Ecuadorians, the very same ones that work from before sunrise to after sunset to support their families. With this heavy focus on humanity and the centrality of culture, something very unique becomes visible. Something I like to call a “foolish hope.”
At the onslaught, a “foolish hope” sounds like something negative as foolish usually has a negative connotation attached to it, but it is really only “foolish” to onlookers who do not have faith in what human ingenuity can accomplish. I believed I had seen hope before I entered Ecuador. I saw it in school, “I hope I get an A on this test.” I saw it at home, “I hope the economy turns around soon.” I even saw it when I talked to my friends, “I hope I get a sweet new car.” I realized I had seen nothing after I saw Ecuador, where hope keeps people alive and committed to achieving something more meaningful than earning enough money to buy a Lamborghini.
Needless to say, hope is more powerful than any hunger or lack of money. The people my group encountered had nothing to their names besides a dilapidated shack, but they had the biggest smiles I have ever seen in my entire life. They possessed an incomparable amount of joy about every waking moment of their day that I honestly envied intensely. I reasoned with a sense of confusion, “Why are these people so happy?” I have so much more than they but I do not act like it is Christmas Morning every day of my life. I have working appliances in my home and a clean, bug-less bed to sleep in, but I do not have the sheer love of life I saw during our experience. This sort of behavior breaks language barriers, political barriers, and social restrictions. A human smile is a language of its own and something the English-speaking voluntarios could finally understand, it was something we all could finally understand.
Ecuador is not poor. In fact, Ecuador is not poor at all. This country is the farthest thing from what we expected, what the world told us to expect. There is no soaring depression rate, a majority of the population is not continually crying, and wearing a frown is not considered standard dress code. Instead, there is somewhat of a hidden gem, a diamond in the rough that is just waiting to be discovered. It is something that every man, woman, and child carries in their hearts that the entire world should admire. No matter how bad it gets, they just keep moving forward in an unfamiliar, but inspiring degree of hope. Proof of this ingrained attitude is visible anywhere in the country, just look at the buildings which are completed in multiple stages. When a family has enough money they can begin construction on their home but usually stop part of the way through to raise more money. This is very unusual because they do not cap the roof, oppositely they actually leave rebar sticking out the top on which to build their next floor. They may not be able to build the next floor right away but the rebar waits in silent expectation, buffered by the wind but unrelenting in its mission.
Teen Trip Inspires Gratitude
Kira Welcenbach, one of eight students from Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee, WI, spent two weeks at the Center over Easter. Here she shares a reflection on her experience…
My two-week journey to the Working Boys’ Center – A Family of Families has truly changed my life. As a Catholic, I’ve always been incredibly dedicated to service and it’s my passion in life. This trip has strengthened my faith in God and my desire to help serve those around the world facing injustices like poverty and oppression. Because I got to experience and to see the poverty the people of Ecuador face firsthand, I’ve become ever more devoted and determined to do service to help improve the standard of living and quality of life for people across the world. It has also taught me a lesson on being grateful and appreciative of the numerous blessings in my life like my education, family, having my own bed and dinner every night, and a car to get me places.
Over the course of the trip, we spent a lot of time in classrooms at the Center, playing with the kids and talking with some of the parents. We participated in two little “mingas” over the course of the trip since we were not able to do actual mingas because we stayed at the Center over Easter break. For these mini mingas, we painted the ceiling of a classroom and sorted through a ton of cards in the warehouse. While this sort of work was nothing compared to building a house or a roof, it was still special and important because, as volunteers, we knew that we were doing the work that was most valuable to the Center at the time. By meeting the immediate needs of the people and place we were serving, we were doing the best service we could for the Center.
My favorite part of the trip came down to a tie between house visits and interacting with the kids. When I went to shadow one of the yearlong volunteers, we went up a mountain in the far south of the city to do house visits. It was such a different experience taking public transportation and only being able to speak Spanish if I wanted to interact with someone. We saw houses of some of the Center members. It was an experience I’ll never forget! Seeing where the members live and how far they travel just to get to the Center to receive healthy meals and an education is unreal. Most houses didn’t have electricity for cooking or plumbing and there could be up to five people sleeping in one bed. However, despite their poor living conditions, the people were so welcoming, happy, and grateful. This experience was the perfect exhibit of how material possessions don’t ensure happiness, for these people had little to nothing, yet were filled with faith, life, and joy.
Playing with the kids also impacted me in a special way. They were so open with their love for everyone that they would just run up to you and jump on you or give you a hug. We played soccer, volleyball, played on the playground and swung them around until we got dizzy. A few other volunteers and I brought things along for the kids like stickers, glow sticks, candy and chalk – the kids absolutely loved these little gifts. It was so different to see how our interaction and insignificant items made them so happy. They were also incredibly grateful for our attention. The people in Ecuador have set a great precedent for me: I need to be grateful for what and who I have in my life, for that is the key to having faith and happiness in life.
Minga Madness Scores Big
Jim Parks, Center volunteer from 1985-1986, has been leading groups of volunteers to the WBC to construct roof structures for the past 8 years. He reflects on his recent minga…
The 2013 Minga was a great experience! Our group included ten people comprised of two father/son combinations, a husband and wife and four men. The dynamics of these personal relationships within the group made the trip even more enjoyable. At ten people, this minga represented the largest group I had ever chaperoned in the last 8 years. Typically, we have 6 or 7 people on the trip, which makes for a good-sized crew.
Since my fundraising for the purchase of minga materials exceeded my target by a factor of two (I had a fundraising goal of $7,500 but I raised $15,000 – thank you to all who generously contributed!), we had sufficient funds to purchase materials to complete the roof structures on two homes. And with ten eager volunteers, I wanted to be sure that there was enough work to keep everyone engaged and motivated. So, I took the leap of faith and informed those in charge of the minga program at the WBC that we were prepared to construct two roofs on our visit.
The process for selecting the family (or in the case of this year, families) who receives the benefit of the minga labor and materials is fairly straightforward. The family must be a member family of the Center, who is actively living the ten core values of the Center which are: Loyalty, Work, Personal Formation, Family, Religion, Education, Health, Recreation, Economy and Housing.
Also, the family must have their home constructed to a point that it is ready to receive the roof structure. The roof structure is constructed of a combination of reinforced steel, lightweight block and concrete. If a family satisfies all of these criteria, their name is entered into a lottery of names selected by the Center from a hat. This year, the winning families were the Taipe family and the Toapanta family.
The Taipe family joined the Center about 9 years ago when the mother, Narcisa visited the Center to learn more about the Center programs. At the time, Narcisa and her husband Miguel were separated, but after working with the leaders at Center they worked through their problems and have been living together as a family ever since. Miguel and Narcisa will live in their new home located in the barrio of San Pedro de Monjas, with their four children, Luis (19), Gabriela (17), Sabrina (13 and Jenny (13). Their son Luis recently graduated from the WBC metal mechanics program and likely will be moving out on his own very soon.
The Toapanta family joined the Center about 7 years ago. Guaras Toapanta is a single mother raising her 3 children, Christian (13), Mateo (9) and Estiven (7). She wandered into the WBC out of curiosity and quickly recognized the benefits she could receive for her family. The Toapanta family home is located in the barrio of Rancho Alto on the north end of Quito.
Of course, no leap of faith is without its challenges. The two winning families lived on opposite ends of the city which meant it would be impossible for me as the chaperone to be at both jobsites each day. Fortunately, one of the other volunteers, Tom Shepherd, spoke enough Spanish that he offered to be the translator at one of the sites while I worked at the other site. Afortunadamente, Tom puede hablar muy bien espanol! (Translation: Fortunately, Tom can speak Spanish very well!). Tom, thanks for stepping outside your comfort zone and leading one of the crews.
In spite of the geographic separation of the two sites, we successfully achieved our mission of constructing the roof structure for both houses. I sincerely appreciate the generosity of those who donated to the minga fund and to the nine people who gave a week of their time to travel with me to Ecuador on this trip.
“I had previously done another challenging service trip and this Minga trip was amazing. We felt secure, comfortable, well fed, and part of the WBC family. The timing was perfect, the accommodations exceeded our expectations, and the entire Center family was welcoming.” – Tom Shepherd
“I highly recommend the Minga experience. Not only do you get a sense of accomplishment, but you also get to connect with and positively impact members and their families. Everything was great from the food thru the sightseeing. Ecuador is a beautiful country filled with friendly and hard working people. I enjoyed getting to know the history of the Center, the leadership and volunteers who sacrifice so much, and helping the member families on this trip!” – Marck Simson
“This was my first introduction to South America and a service trip like this. Certainly I was moved by the poverty that permeates Quito. But I was also so impressed with the work of Fr. Halligan and Madre Miguel…to listen to them, on how the Center prepares families to work in their world and add value to their respective families.” – John Mueller
“There was a discomfort initially – being so dramatically different from what we were used to but you quickly realized that these people are happy and healthy. The people are very appreciative and kind.” – Chris Choren
“When we were at the Center everyone thanked me for volunteering and for the hardwork our group was doing. I really feel like I should be the one saying thank you. Thank you for the opportunity, the amazing hospitality, for letting me be a part of your family for a week, for opening my mind and heart to things I had never experienced, for introducing me to wonderful people, for the childrens’ smiles, for the hardworking team that helped me be a construction worker for a week, for the laughs, and love. I truly enjoyed myself! THANK YOU!!” – Holly Shepherd
St. Peter’s Prep Students Give Back
Maura Toomb, Director of Campus Ministry at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, NJ shares the story of the strong bond between St. Peter’s Prep and the Center.
In the summer of 2009, Saint Peter’s Prep began working with the Working Boys Center – A Family of Families. We began sending groups of students on immersion trips, and since then, more than 45 Prep students have had the eye-opening and life-giving experience of working with the community at the Center. Many of these students have reported that their time at the Center has changed their lives, and made them realize their own blessings and happiness.
However, we wanted to do more than just send volunteers to the Center each summer. Our volunteers gain so much from their experiences with the people of the Center, and we wanted to just begin to repay them for that. So, along with sending volunteers each summer, we make a donation to the Center from our annual Mission Drive.
At Saint Peter’s Prep, the Mission Drive is a fundraiser that runs throughout Lent and Easter Week. Our students raise money through games, dress down days, bake sales, etc, etc. It is a chance for our students to band together and have some fun doing something on behalf of others.
Last year, we decided that we didn’t want to just raise money during the Mission Drive, but we wanted to strengthen the ties that we have with each of the agencies we raise for. Along with the Working Boys Center, we also raise money each year for Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, CA and the Jesuit Volunteer agencies in Bethel, AK. With this goal of strengthening relationships in mind, we attached each of our class years to one of our Mission Drive beneficiaries. Right now, our sophomores work with the Working Boys Center, while our juniors work with Bethel, and our freshmen and seniors work with Homeboy Industries.
Students know now that all of the money that they raise will go directly to their assigned Mission Drive site. An agency will follow a class through their four years, and students from the assigned class have the opportunity to travel to the site each summer. The idea is that after four years, up to 40 students in a grade can have a shared experience, and the whole grade can raise close to $20,000 for an agency in their four years at Prep. This is our goal for the Working Boys Center.
This year, we’ve really tried to make the Center (and our other Mission Drive sites) present in the everyday life of the school. On Fat Tuesday, the day before our Mission Drive began, the students who traveled to the sites this summer gave presentations to their classmates about what they experienced over the summer, so that their. We hosted a Christian Service Fair to encourage students to apply for the summer immersion trips. And, most importantly, we’ve profiled members of the Center community and put their faces and stories in the sophomore homeroom classes. There is a picture and a brief description of someone served by our Mission Drive funds outside each homeroom classroom this year. One cannot walk down the halls here at Prep without seeing the smile of a child from the Center. While the sophomores know that the money they raise doesn’t go directly to the person profiled in their homeroom, the profiles give them an idea of who the people at the Working Boys Center are. By introducing them to children like Camila, Eduardo, and Josselin, we are hoping to build a strong connection between our community and yours.
Personally, seeing the faces of “los ninos” as I walk the halls at Prep has reminded me of the spirit and joy found at the Working Boys’ Center each day. I hope that if my boys can sense even just an ounce of that through the pictures and brief stories, they will be inspired to give, and to support the important work that is done at the WBC each day.
“To me, the Center Family of Families means integrity, hard work, determination, accomplishments, and a great environment which fosters the genuine spirit of the young boys and girls who are making new lives for themselves in Ecuador” ~Ian Michelin ’15