Being With

Tori Smith, Intern

This note was originally published in our volunteer e-newsletter earlier this month.

As many of you know, I am one of the interns who will be spending their summer working alongside you here at the West Side Catholic Center. I've served breakfast and lunch with some of you and sorted clothes with others, and I am so grateful for the warm welcome you all have given me and the conversations we've shared.

For those of you who aren't aware, the reason why I am so blessed to spend my days here is because I am taking part in the University of Notre Dame's Summer Service Learning Project (SSLP). In addition to taking a couple classes in the spring and compiling a final project based on my experiences to present in the fall, I (as well as my fellow ND intern Isabella) work and serve at the West Side Catholic Center Monday through Friday for eight weeks and have themed readings and assignments to complete each night to help us take the most out of our time here.

One of the readings that really struck Isabella and me and continues to impact how we orient ourselves and aim to serve the clients who come to the WSCC each day is from Samuel Wells and Marcia A. Owens' book Living Without Enemies. In the chapter called "Nazareth," the authors tackle the four models of engagement: working for, working with, being for, and being with. While they laud the merits of each form of engagement, I want to focus here on the model of being with. Being with, to Wells and Owens, means simply to "set aside your plans and strategies for change and simply feel with disadvantaged people the pain of their situation."

Each and every one of us engages in this when we come to the West Side Catholic Center, whether we consciously realize it or not. Most of you will be familiar with the term "ministry of presence" and may have heard Veronica [Favela, Advancement Manager] tell her tour groups about how important acknowledgement is to the men and women who come for meals or to shop. Isabella, the other interns, and I have gotten the chance to get to know so many of our regular clients and learn about their unique stories.

Since I've started my SSLP, I've played bingo, worked on creating collages, traveled to an urban farm in Ohio City, and even taken a trip to Mitchell's Ice Cream with the men and women who come to the WSCC. Along the way, I've been a receptive ear to their concerns and joys and remembrances, learning that one of them used to travel the world modeling, another just recently started driving again after their stroke (a true miracle, they told me!), and a third is still grieving after having to bury his son last month.

This month, my challenge to all of you (whether you've been here for 10 years or 10 days) is to recommit yourself to truly being with the people you serve here. Learn their stories, walk with them in their struggles and triumphs, or simply say hello and ask them how they're doing that day. I'll leave you with one last thought from Wells and Owens as inspiration: "Being with can only be done for love. And in that, it imitates the way God loves us. God is with us for no other reason than that God loves us for our own sake. That is the mystery which all our ministry, service, and witness must seek to imitate and emulate. If, and only if, it does, will it become wholly fruitful."