This summer our director, Patrick Cashio, was invited to speak at the orientation retreat for the ’14 -’15 Jesuit Volunteer Core. While he was there he met a number of volunteers that had come to Romero Center Ministries at some time over their high School or College years. It is a rare occurrence that we can see where people’s lives lead after they experience the Urban Challenge. Jumping on this opportunity we followed up with one of Lauren Genalo.
Check out our interview with her below.
When did you first come to Romero Center Ministries and why?
I came to Romero Center Ministries in March 2012 (junior year of college). I was invited to join a spring break immersion trip with Corpus Christi University Parish (the Catholic parish across from campus) I love alternative spring break trips! On a simple level, the opportunity to serve and travel always appealed to me. I was told the Urban Challenge would be different than other alternative spring break trips. It would be more intensive and working in solidarity with those being served. I wanted to have this experience to learn more about social injustices and how the marginalized live.
Are there any lasting memories that you recall from your Urban Challenge experience?
I remember helping students with arts and crafts at an after school program at a church near the Romero Center. One of the girls cut out paper hearts and told me to bring them to my family back home. That moment has stuck with me.
The food challenge, where we had to live off of $3 per person for one day is another lasting memory. The whole experience from learning our family of four only had $9 because one person had a special circumstance to grocery shopping to living out the day. It was an eye-opening experience that I couldn’t learn any other way. Hearing about how people have to live is vastly different than actually experiencing it. It brought me closer to solidarity with the marginalized and gave me a perspective I won’t forget.
How was your life influenced by the Urban Challenge experience?
Almost immediately, I remember the drive home from Camden to Toledo. When we got off of the highway I saw Toledo in new light. My perspective on my hometown and poverty as a whole was changed for good. I was more energized to stay involved with The Toledo Youth Elect Service (Y.E.S.) Project, a local non-profit, Catholic organization that hosts a faith-based service project for high school students. The passion I carried from the Urban Challenge to Toledo YES Project gave me the confidence to take leadership roles within the organization. I was elected as board member for two years prior to joining JVC.
Long term, my experience in Camden at the Romero Center further inspired me to work for a non-profit agency after college. As I was considering my options after graduation a friend told me about Jesuit Volunteer Corps. While learning about JVC my Urban Challenge experience kept coming to mind. I felt that JVC would be the Urban Challenge that lasted one year instead of one week. This was exciting to me, though not easy in the least! The Urban Challenge motivated me to learn more about social justice issues and become a Jesuit Volunteer.
What is something you think potential participants should know about the Urban Challenge?
I think potential participants should know there isn’t a “finished product” at the end of the Urban Challenge. There won’t be a freshly painted house with before and after pictures to show friends and family. The work done throughout the week will make a difference though. The Urban Challenge isn’t about creating drastic change in Camden in one week. It’s about witnessing how the marginalized live, meeting them there, and being present. In that sense the short term “before and after” is seen in the participants.
What do you think is most important lesson you’ve learned in your experience of service (whether Urban Challenge, JVC, or otherwise)?
The most important lesson I’ve learned in my experience of service is to be present, treat everyone with dignity, and spend time getting to know those you are serving. Don’t get too focused on the work that you forget the people. I am reminded of this lesson every time I do service work and meet new people.
Now, that I’ve had these experiences I see myself working in the non-profit sector. These experiences have made a permanent impression on me and I want to continue working for those on the margins of society. Many people have told me I could work in a commercial industry and volunteer on the side. I have considered this and even experienced it. For 6 months before JVC I worked full-time for a physicians group while planning YES Project 2014 on lunch breaks and after work. It was challenging balancing it all. I learned I don’t want service to be my side project. I enjoy serving and I want to continue immersing myself in it.
Lauren Genalo is a graduate of the University of Toledo and is currently serving as a Jesuit Volunteer in Bridgeport, CT at Burroughs Community Center.
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