B: It was awesome and very humbling! Serving the homeless and low income was a great experience.
X: The St. Francis center was a different feel than any other soup kitchen I have volunteered at because they really focused on community. They had round tables with about 8 chairs at each and they welcomed in only three at a time. They did this because they explained that people would build relationships as they waited in line and then when they would come inside they were able to continue those relationships as they shared a meal together.
B: Then we were off to Denny’s for a very entertaining breakfast.
X: we parked on the top floor of a parking garage and dared each other to look down at the world below us. On our way back from breakfast, Katie was dared to climb a tree on the sidewalk of a very busy LA street! Some people said, “She’s like a tom cat!” Then, while we all wanted to fit in the elevator back up to our car, some were dared to run through the parking garage all the way up to the top floor. I can’t really explain how funny this was to witness.
B: After this Denny’s adventure, we went to the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels and celebrated mass together. As we toured inside and outside, we found there is so much diversity between cultures. It’s such an open and beautiful space where all are welcome to pray to God. Everything from the floor tile to the tapestry on the walls had so much architectural meaning.
X: My personal favorites were, the piece of the Tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the tapestry on the walls. The Tilma is the cloth that Juan Diego wore when he received the sign of Our Lady of Guadalupe and where the Lady of Guadalupe left her imprint. The Cathedral of our Lady of our Angels is the only other place besides the Cathedral in Mexico City to have a piece of the Tilma. The tapestry displayed saints from all the countries of the world. These saints were placed side but side but also were positioned to face the altar. Therefore when people walked up to the altar it seemed like the saints were walking with them.
B: After the church we went to the Cardinal Manning Center. We were 40 minutes late to our tour after experiencing mass and were afraid we wouldn’t be able to tour. When we got to the Cardinal Manning Center they understood and proceeded with our tour. The center is basically like a homeless shelter for men of skid row. They have beds, showers, and a community center room where they watch movies. This was a neat experience for us to see the community coming together to provide one of many shelters for the homeless to feel called to.
X: One thing that they said that really stuck in my mind was that there is a very identifiable line between skid row and “the other world” which is down town LA. On one side of the street you see people in tents begging for money or food, and on the other you see modern buildings with people that look like they are on their way to work. After running to our car for our next adventure that we were once again late to, we arrived at Jovenes Inc.
B: Jovenes Incorporated is another shelter for men ages 18-24 to find a place where they can get cleaned up and figure out how they need to change to work in the modern world. This is a very unique place because they look at all the individual gifts and characteristics that the men bring with them. They look at the dreams all the men are pursuing to get better, and they take these factors and help them work towards their goals and support them.
X: After this, half of us were off to the market to buy food that we would prepare and serve to the Guadalupe Homeless Project at Dolores Mission. I think we REALLY worked as a team and made some really great food. We proudly cooked chicken Fettuccini AlfredoJ with garlic bread and salad. After this we all walked away with memories of great conversation with the people we served.
B: At this dinner it was fun to practice my Spanish with those who spoke fluent Spanish. Ximena lead a great prayer in Spanish to the whole group. After this dinner we went back to our host families for the evening. They all provided great hospitality and truly shared their culture with us.
X: As you can see we had a very busy day however my night did not end there. Both Anna and Christina’s kids decided we should go to the park. A group of us played volleyball, tag, and many other games. It was so hot and we all ended up with grass stains and drenched in sweat. Our day that started off with an alarm (to the song Chainsaw) at 6 am ended at 11pm in our host family’s beds.
Thanks for reading and Hasta La Vista from East LA,
Baili and Ximena.
Not many people can say that they have had the opportunity to see lives changed in a concrete way; but we DID have the chance to see this at Homeboy Industries. The one and only Fr. Greg Boyle originally founded this organization. (Many of you have either read his book or listened to him speak at Carroll earlier this year). Fr. Boyle was sent to the Dolores Mission, where the largest housing projects west of the Mississippi were located and gang related shootings were a weekly occurrence. By working through kinship with the community surrounding the Mission, Fr. Boyle was able to create a space where formation of person could occur and people could turn their lives around. Enemy gang members work side by side making cupcakes, producing t-shirts and graciously serving others.
We first toured Homeboy Silkscreens. We met our tour guide C, a former gang member who turned his life around thanks to Fr. Boyle and Homeboy Industries. He shared with us both his life’s journey and the workings of the silkscreen business.
After our tour, we went to Homegirl Café, where homegirls with attitude will gladly take your order. The food was beyond incredible and the homegirls were even better. Even though there seemed to be an issue remembering who ordered what taco, they served us with smiles and grace.
Our last stop on our Homeboy Industries tour was the building where all the magic happens. G, our phenomenal tour guide, had a story that touched our hearts. The bravery required to turn his life from being an active gang member to a family man was incredible. Not one person in our group was left unaffected by this very genuine, authentic individual. We were shown the tattoo removal area where gang tattoos can be erased, free of charge, by a staff of volunteer doctors. We were also shown the administration end of the program and the many individuals it takes to run such a big industry.
Finally, we worked with the young students of Dolores Mission Catholic School in the Underwings after school program. In order to provide an enrichment activity they would not normally have the opportunity to participate in, our group split in two and worked with either kindergarten through 3rd grade or 4th through 8th grade. The younger students made oobleck, a messy but fun rubbery substance that the younger kids LOVED. The older group made towers out of BBQ skewers and marshmallows. (We definitely have some future engineers on our hands!)
This was by far one of the BEST DAYS EVER!!
We cannot wait to see what tomorrow holds!
Abby and Kaycee
What up gangstas?! Big Tess and Lil E here representing the LA headlights gang. Despite the complaints and “are we there yets,” we did arrive safely at our destination in East Los Angeles with only one hospital admittance (minor ear infection, but on the mend) and several cases of food poisoning from a taco stand that shall remain anonymous.
We spent our first night in the Dolores Mission School Library. “The Dolores Mission is a parish created in “the Flats” east of downtown Los Angeles, that is dedicated service to the poor, the immigrants, and to social justice. Dolores Mission provides extensive opportunities and services to counteract the neighborhood’s negative circumstances and positively impact the community.” The Dolores Mission parish school is an extension of the church for kindergarten through eighth grade students in the surrounding neighborhoods. This allows children a safe place to go and gives them faith, hope, and the necessary education for a promising future.
When we first arrived we took a tour of the mission grounds and then attended mass in Español. That evening half of our group assisted Lady of the Valley prayer group in serving the homeless dinner. We were able to sit down and share the meal with them as they shared their stories and struggles with us. After dinner, we walked over to the plaza by the church (which houses homeless men at night) and played guitar and sang with several of the men. They were full of joy and hope and delighted in singing and laughter.
Please continue to pray for us and all those we encounter.
God is calling-
Tessa & Ella
To learn more about Dolores Mission or to donate please visit:
Upon returning home from the headlights immersion trip, I was asked by my mother “how are you going to change your life after going on this trip?” I really had to think about this question. It made me reflect on all that I have experienced during this past week.
One experience that really impacted me happened at the Mother’s Day celebration. This celebration took place at the beautiful plaza next to the Dolores Mission. During the celebration we had the privilege of listening to beautiful music sung by young and old alike as well as heartfelt poetry. The highlight of this gathering was a clown who interacted with the audience and delighted the children with magic tricks and jokes all of which were in Spanish. At one point in the show he wanted to get the ladies of the community involved and started to drag them up to the front one by one. During his selection he grabbed my hand and my cries of “no, no, no.” did not seem to persuade him otherwise. When I got to the front he was having us do activities and asked us numerous questions all in Spanish. All of the questions I had no idea what he was talking about. During this experience I felt so uncomfortable and left out of all the jokes. Most of the laughing directed at my inability to answer the simple questions he asked. This was one of the first times in my life I felt truly uncomfortable and left out. This experience made me think about many people in the community that only speak Spanish. How they must feel uncomfortable in many situations, not just this one time for me.
The joy I felt and saw on this trip also impacted me greatly. I saw the joy in the giggling children that ran around the playground at recess. I saw it in my host mother’s face when she showed off all the delicious food she cooked for us at our Thursday night dinner. I saw it in our tour guide at Homeboy when he spoke about his new job and all he had planned for in his future. And I saw it in the other students and Alumni that came on this trip throughout the entire experience.
To answer my mom’s question there were two things I will take away from this trip that will maybe change the way I live my life. First I want to acknowledge how hard it is for individuals who have many barriers in their lives, particularly a language barrier, and how strong they are because they do not let it hold them back. I hope that I can learn from their example and overcome some of the simple barriers I have in my life such as preconceived judgments I have about people who are different then myself. I hope to take time to listen to other’s stories instead of form an opinion right away. Second I want to look for the joy in my community and to help foster joy in others lives. The joy that people had even in times of hardship was truly amazing and I hope to emulate this infectious joy. I feel honored and blessed to have the opportunity to go on this trip.
I am very grateful to have had the time to think and reflect on everything I experienced in L.A., as there has been a lot to think about. One of the biggest things that I have come to realize is that it is necessary for us to seek the truth in everything. For most of my life, I have relied on the opinions and ideas of other people. Being in Montana, these opinions and ideas were probably not completely right or, in some cases, completely wrong. It is a blessing that I have had the privilege to educate myself on immigration, gang membership (or non-membership), and restorative justice (reintegrating ex-“criminals” into society and reducing recidivism).
I have learned that we often have our own set opinions on such issues and aren’t even aware that they are inaccurate. Immigration, for example, isn’t even a problem in Montana, yet we still might have strong opinions on the matter. Yet, we don’t know or understand the first thing about it. After meeting homeless immigrant men, who many of them are undocumented, I came to understand immigration just a fraction of a bit better. What I do know, though, is that those men should not be denied access to anything that we have or any opportunities that we have. It is much easier to deny them opportunities if we don’t know them and don’t educate ourselves about them. I don’t think anyone could ever deny immigrants special opportunities or say they are against immigration if they were to actually meet and converse with the men that we had the opportunity to meet. They are human beings with dignity, and that is quite apparent when looking them in the face.
The same goes with people who have served time in jail. We had the opportunity to meet two men who had just served a period of time for second degree murder. What comes to mind when you first hear this? These men are probably worthless and evil criminals who should not be in society. Well guess what: they were employed at the office of restorative justice where we visited, helping others who had spent time in prison find jobs and support their families. The men were doing wonderful things in the world and were very capable. This is what people are not educated on: people who spend time in jail always go back to a place that encourages more and more criminal activity. They go back to a place where, in order to survive and support their families, they have to engage in criminal activity. These are very important things to think about.
I have also learned through reflection that although there is a lot of evil in this world (I am specifically thinking of Skid Row and gang activity), there is simultaneously a lot of goodness. We met several people who are currently doing wonderful things to improve the lives of those whose odds are against them. I believe that Carroll College has really shaped me to be able to do the same thing. While I have been very sad that I have had to say good-bye to my wonderful friends at Carroll, I find comfort in the fact that we have all been shaped to change the world. I know now that my decision to commit myself for a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps is the right thing to do. I am very much looking forward to my experience in Philadelphia and I’ll always know that my experiences and friends at Carroll can inspire me to my very best work.
I started writing a blog while I was in LA, but just wasn’t able to put on paper what I was seeing and feeling. What we saw and what we experienced is hard to describe, but when I reflect upon this experience after being removed from it for a few days, three words come to mind: people, perspective, and powerful.
The people I met on this trip were quite fantastic, not only did I make some great friendships with my fellow travelers, but I also met people who had an amazing love and compassion for their community and families. For instance, each of us got up one morning during the week to help a woman cook breakfast for the homeless men in her community. I woke up with her at 3:30 AM once and was exhausted. This woman does this 6 days a week for men she doesn’t really even know, she just knows that they are trying to make better lives for themselves and wants to help. Pretty powerful.
Being in the midst of immigration was also an experience that I will never forget. Poverty, violence, and fear are all realities to these people. Poverty occurs because of lack of jobs, or lack of decent-paying jobs. Violence occurs because people who can’t find jobs turn to gangs for acceptance and a sense of purpose. Fear is a reality not only because of the gang violence, but because of possible deportation. I could not imagine living one day like this, but this is people’s reality. However, being around these people made me realize that we are not so different from one another. They love just like I love, they laugh just like I laugh, and they have faith, just like I have faith. The only thing that separates us is where we were born, which none of us had control over. These are real human beings, with the same capacity to love like the rest of us and being in East LA gave me a new perspective on how I am going to treat the issue of immigration. Pretty powerful.
Again, it’s hard to put into words what my emotions and reactions were to this trip to LA…but to sum it up quite frankly, the people were awesome, my perspective has changed, and it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
Peace and Blessings,
I think it’s a good sign that I spent an entire week participating in a service immersion experience and wasn’t able to find any time to write an entry for our group’s blog. Even though the twelve of us have returned from Los Angeles, I know that our journey will continue. As I process all that I witnessed and encountered over the past week, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on a concept that incorporates so much of what I experienced: community.
Community = open doors
Delores Mission is a church without walls. I am struck by the Delores Mission logo, which depicts a building made of people, and I can’t think of a more appropriate image for a church. For many years, before the mission built an additional structure to house the homeless overnight, the church itself was used as a shelter. You can still see the scrapes and chipped paint along the sidewalls caused by many mattresses drug from storage each night and laid on the floor and the pews.
I was also humbled by the willingness of community members to open their homes and host us overnight. Tessa, Mary, and I stayed with Rosa, her husband, and their three children. Each night as we arrived at the family’s home very late, Rosa (alerted by her 3 chiwawas) would greet us at the door. On Thursday evening we enjoyed a meal with the family, which included pupusas, traditional Salvadoran stuffed tortillas, and great conversation.
This image of an open door is truly radical, especially in this place. In a community accustomed to crime and violence, I expected to encounter gates, barred windows and locked doors not just literally, but also figuratively. As we said goodbye to Delores Mission and Boyle Heights, I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude toward this community that responds to violence with openness and love.
Community = family
While we were staying at the mission we continually heard of the escalating violence that had led to three recent gang-related homicides. Fr. Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries explains that many men and women who become part of gangs are under the illusion that the gang will provide unconditional acceptance and love – like a family. As many eventually learn, this acceptance and love is conditional and can disappear very quickly.
Throughout this immersion trip, I was continually reminded of how connected we are as a human family. Living in Montana, I’m not exposed to homelessness and violence to the same extent that I witnessed on Skid Row and in Boyle Heights. Very rarely do I meet undocumented immigrants or hear about gang-related crime. But this doesn’t mean that I’m not affected, nor does it mean that I can ignore any of these issues. I am returning home not only with my stories but also with the stories of others whose faces are fresh in my mind and whose words are fresh in my heart. As Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Community = reconciliation
One of our most difficult visits as a group was to Skid Row where we witnessed the effects of drug-related homelessness in an incredibly uncomfortable first-hand manner. Personally, I walked away from the experience very disheartened. When reflecting on the experience with others, I learned that I wasn’t alone.
One of our last visits before leaving Los Angeles was to the Office of Restorative Justice, an organization that responds to Jesus’ invitation to walk with both the victim and the prisoner in a very concrete way by reaching out to victims of violent crime, the incarcerated, and the families of both. Violent crime is so divisive and leads to many people feeling excluded and ostracized. It was so uplifting to hear about the specific way that this office is facilitate healing and forgiveness.
I have begun to experience reconciliation in a small way since visiting Skid Row. I have learned that it is only in community that I can sort out my feelings and find even the smallest ray of hope in an incredibly broken situation. The Office of Restorative Justice provided an amazing lens with which to gaze through, and I feel as though I’m returning to Montana with renewed faith and conviction that specific steps can be taken to restore wholeness within our own communities.
As we have encountered people on our trip this week we have been asked, “what are you doing?” This question has caused me to reflect on our purpose here and the aspects this trip revolves around. The easiest answer is we are visiting Homeboy Industries to learn about gang violence because largely that is the most well known aspect of our activities this week. However, in reality our trip is about much more than that – it is about a community learning to embrace its challenges and embrace the place that is their home.
As we unpacked our stuff on our arrival on Saturday, we were told that the community had experienced escalated violence in the past month. I was sad at hearing this because just 7 months ago on our last visit people were so happy that they had gone all summer without hearing a gunshot in the neighborhood. While we were being told three homicides had taken place on the streets around the church, I looked around at the faces in the room for a reaction. We hadn’t even been here for 10 minutes and immediately we were hearing of some serious challenges for this community. We didn’t have time to talk about the complexity surrounding this violence or of the communities reaction to it. However, over the past four days each activity we have done and each person we have talked to gives a new perspective on how complex life here is.
Just across the street from the school is a memorial to the latest victim of violence. A 23 year old walking with his friend, who was shot on the street corner. Flowers, balloons, candles, and notes mark this spot where his life was taken. Each time we pass this place I think about how sacred these streets are to this community. This is a place where many families have lost loved ones either because they were innocent and in the wrong place at the wrong time or because they had gotten caught up in the cycle of gang activity. As we walked through the neighborhood on Sunday we stopped to look at the memorial and then turned down another street where I remembered a young girl got caught in cross fire just before we first visited here in 2006. The image of the peace walk we were invited to participate in and praying in front of her home came back to me very vividly.
It is so easy to think of this neighborhood as a place people want to get out of as soon as possible, however we hear so many stories from people who are invested in making this a safer better place to be for their kids. I am sure there are some people here who would rather live somewhere else but the majority of people we talk to have an investment in this community. They see this as their home. For some their kids have died on the streets of this community and they are tied here more deeply than I will ever understand. For others being here is a better life than what they left in other places.
The ministers and leaders who work in this community have also invested themselves in doing “with” the community and not doing “for”. Watching how they work is inspiring, they are true examples of empowering others. By observing the way they honor the sacredness of these streets and the sacredness of people’s stories I have learned a great deal about serving others.
Thank you for keeping up with us!
Yesterday on our visit to Homeboy Industries, we met Fr. Greg Boyle. Check out the video to hear a bit of what he had to say to us. Standing along side him is Fr. Ted, the Associate Pastor of Dolores Mission Parish.
Preparing and serving breakfast to the homeless men of GHP is one of the many ways we are serving the community this week. Taking shifts, today Amy, Makayla, and I awoke around 3:45 am to arrive at the kitchen by 4 am. Just three floors below where we were soundly asleep, the kitchen was lively with an energetic woman named Navidad and latin music playing in the background. We were awake in no time.
We watched as this happy woman weaved around the kitchen and took guesses at what she was preparing. She admitted to speaking little English but fortunately she spoke English well enough to tell us about her children, husband, job, and life here. Words she didn’t know she animatedly thought out loud in Spanish until she came to a similar word in English. The conversation was therefore choppy but delightful.
Breakfast was prepared around 5:30: coffee, rice, hamburger with stewed tomatoes and potatoes, an excellent chili and garlic sauce, and day old bread from the Homeboy bakery. At 5:30 the men arrived, 33 in all. They gathered in the hall to say a morning prayer before their meal. We joined them to pray. “It was short today”, one of the men commented. Then we helped serve their plates. After they all were seated with their food and coffee we grabbed a small plate to taste what we made and sat with some of the men. They were very warm. Navidad introduced us to them as volunteers from Montana after we were seated and they applauded us. After we finished we decided to go around and shake every man’s hand, wishing them a good day. One man, who looked a lot like my grandpa Esteves, now deceased, kissed our hand. We felt elated interacting with them. Some of us were pushed out of our comfort zones. Some of us were more comfortable than we would have thought. The real lesson for me is these men are all people we know. I see God in all of them.