Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011 Retrospective (Part 2)

As the year wraps up, I am spending a lot of time reflecting on what this year has brought to my life. This is the second in a series of these posts. See also Part 1.

Come August 6th, I was on a plane to California. I officially started JVC that day with orientation in Aptos, CA. It was a gorgeous place, but also so cold. Especially for me--it was 60 degrees and I had been dealing with 107 all summer in Austin. It was an interesting, fascinating week learning all about living in JVC and getting to know my housemates. On the way down from orientation in NorCal, we drove aways on the coast and then went to (most of us at least) our first In-N-Out experience!

The next week came my first week at Urban Compass. The kids didn't start school for almost a month after I began work, so it was mostly a lot of prep work and getting to know the ropes on the admin stuff. And then come September, the kids came back to school and though I may not have fallen in love immediately--I have now, and there's no going back. Read all Urban Compass related posts here.

At the same time, it has been a wonderful challenge to live in intentional community. My house-mates are all incredible people individually as well as a collective blessing to my life. We've had some wonderful times exploring LA and spirituality. These people help keeps me going in the foreign land that is Los Angeles. It's overwhelming at times, and we are all thankful for each other to work through the hard times together.

I have been working on driving again, and I have now officially failed the test three times. And I still hate driving, but doing my best to get my license.

It's a fascinating experience being part of JVC. We are put in such unique positions in many aspects of our lives and made to make the best of it. It's difficult, but especially with the support of my house-mates, church families, family and friends, it is do-able. As readers of my blog, you are part of my journey, and I appreciate each and every one of you. Blessings to you in 2012!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 Retrospective (Part 1)

As the year wraps up, I am spending a lot of time reflecting on what this year has brought to my life. This is the first in a series of these posts.

This has been an interesting year.

I would never have imagined on 1/1/11 that I would be living in Los Angeles.

I embarked on this year as a fresh college graduate joining the ranks of everyone else, trying to find a job and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I spent about two months applying to jobs, interviewing for some, exploring post-graduate service programs and working on those applications. And a lot, a LOT of folklórico. I went to practice every day to have a concrete reason to get out of the house, and since I didn't really have much else to keep me from going. I also started going to zumba at St. Ed's pretty often (blending in with the students...). In January, I had started Weight Watchers, so the exercise went along with my eating better, and in the first half of 2011, I lost 15 lbs! (It has stagnated since then since I haven't been keeping up with as good exercise/eating habits, but I haven't gained it back either...)

Then came March, and I was hired as a temp at the IRS. One of the most interesting two months of my life. The job was... pretty boring. (I say that if my most boring job of my life is at age 21, then I'm doing pretty good). It was tedious work of opening envelopes, restapling, stamping, paperclipping and filing tax returns. That's what I did for 8 hours a day. And I also worked nights. But it paid well, and it was two blocks from my apartment so I could walk there. (David picked me up at night since it was 12:30 when I got off). And the people I worked with were really, really amazing. Don't miss the job itself, but I do miss those people.

In April, I also participated in the Relay for Life at St. Ed's, especially in honor of my friend Madeleine, whose seventh anniversary of her death passed on on April 28th.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Looking for the Light

When a classmate of mine died in tenth grade, a good friend told me to look for the light in my life. I have received a lot of good advice in my life, but this is something I try to always remember when the times are dark.

And tomorrow always comes. There's always a new, fresh day to start over with. There's a lot of things I would change about my life and many that I plan to work on now that I have the time. But there are so many more things that I wouldn't change for anything. I keep looking for the light. And I can always find it if I look hard enough and if I'm not afraid of what I'll see in the process.

It's something I've been trying to remind myself in the last few weeks, where there has seemingly been a lot of darkness in people that surround me. This darkness could affect any of us in a particular circumstance, and it is especially hard to see the young ones of Urban Compass have to deal with some of the struggles that they do. I remember at the beginning of this job, I would mostly just have fun with the kids and then something would remind me of the lives they live outside of us. Lately, I can't seem to forget.

With the stories these kids tell us, it puts a whole new perspective for me on what it means to have a good childhood. I didn't grow up oblivious to the world's problems but most of them weren't at my house. My home was a safe space, my neighborhood was pretty safe. I had parents that were around and made enough money for us to live comfortably. So many of the kids we work with in Urban Compass are missing out on one or more of those things--some even, all of the above.

So it's been harder for me to look for the light, but each one of these kids is a blessing. I learn from them each day. I hope that we at Urban Compass serve as a light in their lives, which is absolutely what we strive to do.

There's one particular Urban Compass student that has shown a lot of light to me recently. She and I butted heads a lot at the beginning, and she was the one I struggled with working with the most. But she has made so much improvement in the last 8 weeks, and then still seems to like me. And she made me this picture. On the back it also said "Ms B and me are special. Ms B is nice. I am nice. We are best friends."

"Ms B and me"

And I feel like I must be doing something right. 

There's the light.

Christmas Cards

This is the third year in a row I've made Christmas cards for my friends and family. It's a blessing that my circle keeps growing, but it meant I had 96 cards to make this year... Yeah. I had been working on them off and on in the last few weeks but finally just set aside a day to get inspired and do them on this past Saturday, and cranked out about 70. I enjoy the process and the finished product, and I'm glad I get to share something beautiful with my community during the holiday season.

Monday, December 12, 2011


How is it December? How is it that 2011 is almost over? How is it that it's been a year since I graduated from St. Edward's University?

I don't think I had any idea a year ago where I would be right now--sitting in an office in Watts in LA working for an after school program. Yeah, I had the idea of doing a year of service, but never would have known that this is where I would end up.

It's been a crazy few weeks. Got back from Thanksgiving, and my dad and brother came to visit, and even came to volunteer at Urban Compass one day! We had a lot of fun wandering around LA, going to some museums, eating out (which I rarely do here) and had a day trip to Malibu. They also got to spend time with my community. The three of us made dinner one night--zucchini boats (yum!), salad and sweet potato bread for dessert (this was an experiment, but it was SO good).

I really enjoyed my time with family here. Even though I will see them again really soon at home, I loved showing them my world here in LA. I could really illustrate the stories I tell them by showing them my context.

A few photos:

Dad drawing with fourth graders Arianna & Michelle

David drawing with first grader, Ruth

Broadway men searching for shells and rocks in the Malibu coast

David & I and Malibu sunset

Dad & I & Malibu sunset

Last week, we had a few dramatic things happen at Urban Compass, that I will perhaps write about in another post, so it was a struggle for us. It showed us just how our vision as an organization meets the actual reality of kids growing up in the projects.

We also had a Coat Party!

Casa DK is planning on doing our family Christmas on Wednesday. Friday, we say goodbye to Kevin and Mike P. Saturday is the Urban Compass Holiday Party! Sunday, I head back to Austin. I can't wait to go home for a couple of weeks, but I will absolutely miss my kids and my casa-mates so much, so I know I can't wait to return!

Monday, December 5, 2011

California Roses: Photo Post

I've been enjoying roses in the fall/winter and wanted to share some of the photos I've taken recently.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Honoring Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke and Jean Donovan

On December 2nd, it was the anniversary of the murders of Dorothy KazelIta FordMaura Clarke and Jean Donovan by the Salvadoran military in 1980. These four women are the namesakes of the JV Casas in Los Angeles--I live in Casa Dorothy Kazel.

On Friday night, Mount St. Mary's College held a memorial service for the churchwomen, as they have done for 31 years. For 31 years, they've decried violence and injustice. For 31 years, many sisters have come to this service memorializing the deaths of women they knew, women that were their friends. 31 years, they have bought roses in December and placed them on the altar.

We had people attend the service from each JV house in LA. My dad and brother are in town, so they came as well. There were many sisters that came to the service, and it was fascinating to hear from these women about their connections to the churchwomen. It was such a blessing to be among them.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend

What a fabulous way to spend Thanksgiving! Wednesday night, five of us (Mike P., Mike H., Jackie, Erica & I) piled into Barney (our purple 4runner) to head down I-10 to Phoenix, Arizona! Each JV SW house traditionally hosts a holiday, and the Phoenix houses band together for Turkey Day.

We had some fabulous food, thanks to the amazing chefs in Phoenix. Here's the spread:

We hung out and watched A Very Gaga Thanksgiving that night and then settled into our food comas.

Friday, I skipped out on a hike (I'm not much of a hiker...) that Mike P., Jackie & Erica did with a bunch of other people, or exploring Phoenix with Mike H. & others, in favor of meeting my friend Elena for lunch! Slightly embarrassing, but we met through a very pink website at age 14/15... We've been friends through cyberspace for about 7 or 8 years, and since she lived nearby, we finally got to meet in person!

We also ate delicious Indian food.

Friday night we partied a bit, but still got up bright and early to head to the Grand Canyon for a few hours on Saturday.

We spent about two hours there. So beautiful.

Then it was 8 hours back to LA--which was actually not too bad.

The next night we had our Casa DK Thanksgiving, since Sonia and Kevin weren't able to come to Phoenix. We had a ton of leftovers from various Thanksgiving parties at our workplaces the previous week, so we really didn't have much cooking to do--just reheating. It was good to reflect on how thankful we are for each other and our experiences in JVC.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello all, I hope you are enjoying your post turkey hangovers, or waiting in anticipation for dinner start. I find myself in the latter group, as the turkey still has about another hour to cook, and then the feast will begin. We are in Phoenix; there are about 30 or so of us here, and all is set for a wonderful dinner--thanks to our fabulous hosts!! Best pre-dinner appetizer has been pumpkin dip. I had to move to the other side of the room to stop eating all of it...

Today I am thankful for many things and I am feeling incredibly blessed. I have such an amazing family and amazing friends, I cannot believe how lucky I am sometimes. I am grateful for the opportunity to do JVC, and really explore myself and the world for a year. I am grateful for my health. I am grateful for the children at Urban Compass, who teach me something new every day. I am thankful for my community, who are incredibly supportive and encourage me to be the best version of myself. And I am thankful that I feel like I am becoming that person.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Originally written 5/5/10

"Though we must accept finite disappointment, we must never lose infinite hope."
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King
My single greatest value is hope. 
Hope for my own life, that I am able to experience so many things that the world has to offer. That despite my struggles, I will always see a better day. Tomorrow always comes and joy comes in the morning.
And I believe in social change. I don't believe the world is perfect but I have hope and faith that by working together we can see a new world. I believe that we are all a part of this universe and we all have a responsibility to make it a better place. We must respect each other but we also have the responsibility to confront the issues we see that show injustice and need to be changed. It does not mean things aren't wrong if we ignore our problems. They don't just go away or solve themselves. We have to be active in our roles in the hope that things can always be better.
And while I strive to not cause anyone unnecessary pain, I will never be the one to keep silent when I see injustice. Yes, it's hard to see so many problems in the world and feel like I can't solve them all. But that's why I have the hope that working together we can cause real change. And I don't apologize for pointing out problems in the world that others are too blind to see. I should hope I'm not making up problems that don't exist, but I won't turn my head and ignore them.
This is who I am, this is how I've always been. It's one of those things I couldn't change if I tried, and I wouldn't ever want to.
This kind of hope is what got me here today. Got me through the struggles of having one of my best friends die, numerous family members die and church family members die that were also practically blood. This is the hope that got me through my bouts of depression. This is the hope that spurs me on to be so involved in so many things. And this is the hope that keeps my faith strong. There is a better world out there, and I want to be a part of its coming.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spirituality Night: With Such a Cloud of Witnesses

I led Spirituality Night again a few weeks ago, as a combination of day of the dead honoring/remembrance, discussion of who has been influential in our spirituality/faith, and a bit of reflection through Bible verses. I read some passages, we reflected and shared with the community, and I wrapped it up with another passage.

I read Romans 8 first. Some of the most powerful verses I focused on:

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Then I read Hebrews 12.

Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

We then had a few minutes of silence to reflect on the passages, before sharing about our clouds of witnesses.

Friday, November 11, 2011

An Armistice Day Prayer

Today, 11-11-11, I prayed from 11:00-11:11 (a little longer to be honest).


I pray to you this day, Armistice Day, in remembrance of all who have been lost to war. I pray to you in the spirit in which Armistice Day was intended--as a message of peace. I pray for the families all across the world that have been torn apart because of war. I pray for the governments that have made decisions of war, out of thinking it's the only way, or greed or power. I pray for healing for all those involved in the direct and indirect costs of war. Healing that only You can provide.

I pray that as a people, we can find ways to solve conflict without resorting to violence and war. I pray that the economic disparities between us become not so stark, and we can fight the root of the problem instead of the people themselves. I pray that You give us guidance on which path to take, which way to go forward in our lives. I pray that we never forget that You are on our side.

In Jesus's Name.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hello November!

I didn't do as good of a job writing about IPV in October as I meant to but you can read a collection of some of the posts I did write here. And you know me, I'll write about IPV whenever I have something to say.

This week brings me to three official months in JVC. In the spirit of this month being about thanksgiving, I would like to mention things that I am currently thankful for:

My job, though intense many days, is fun and rewarding. I love seeing the direct affect I have on children's lives.

sidewalk chalk art, by the kids, celebrating their teachers :)

I keep being known as Queen B now after the crown I made

to the right was Ashley, age 9, to the left, her younger sister Leslie, age 5 copied :)

My Casa-mates. Living in community can be difficult sometimes, but I also would not have made it through the last three months.

Halloween, we bobbed for apples

Kevin dunked his whole head in and spilled water all over the floor

I was not that good...

The greater support system I have from home and around the globe, especially my family and friends.

Including my darling friend Samar that visited last weekend!

Especially in the last few days where SoCal has been COLD, my hoodies, fleece, snuggie, scarves and space heater!

I hope to get better at updating regularly again. The Urban Compass annual gala took place last Saturday, and it went FABULOUSLY. It was so much fun, and most importantly, our founders seemed to enjoy themselves, and that's who we wanted to honor.

Theresa Gartland, Executive Director of Urban Compass, me, Annie Levine, Program Director of Urban Compass (my two lovely bosses!)

the JV's that volunteered to help with the gala! Mike P. & Erica from DK and Carolyn and Jackie P. from CMC!

Casa DK represent!

my lovely casa-mate Erica

Mike P. and I helped keep the dance floor moving :)

Halloween, we did not have Urban Compass, and instead went over to 112th Street Elementary for their Harvest Festival. Annie and I guided kids through the Haunted House, and (shh! don't tell!) Luis was one of the monsters inside scaring people. (I totally convinced a second grader the next day that we had invited monsters to the festival so they could come scare people) It was hilarious. Kids were screaming behind me and I was laughing so hard. It was so much fun seeing everyone dressed up in their Halloween costumes. I was, of course, Hello Kitty.

this is not even an Urban Compass student, but she was also HK, so obv I had to get a photo

one of my first graders--Ani as a tiger

two more 1st graders--Ruth as Supergirl and Elias

Devante, a second grade skeleton, holds a special place in my heart :)