Working on being worthy to be considered role models

From left to right: Janie, Stefanie, Samantha, and Lusila at the Sunset at the Farm event in September at Mill Creek MetroParks Farm in Canfield, Ohio (Janie Rosko)

Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our sixth round of bloggers: Natalia Liviero is a volunteer with VIDES+USA serving in the Middle East, and Janie Rosko is a Humility of Mary volunteer serving within the Ursuline Ministries in Youngstown, Ohio. This is Janie's first blog post. Read more about her.

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My Ursuline ministries service story began with my decision to knock on the Beatitude House door on the west side of Youngstown, Ohio, in 2013.

Beatitude House offers a variety of services at three branches in the Youngstown, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties, including permanent supportive housing and transitional housing programs for women to create a better life for themselves and their children. Often, these women and children are survivors of domestic violence.

The Beatitude House on the north side of Youngstown offers the Ursuline Sisters Scholars program. Here, first-time and/or low-income college students receive help navigating through their college career and are paired with a mentor with experience in their field of study. Beatitude House is also a member agency of Second Harvest Food Bank; every Tuesday, the location on the west side of Youngstown has a garage set up to distribute food to qualifying people within the community.

Some people the Beatitude House program serves are escaping cycles of drug use or domestic violence, working toward a more stable, positive future. Some are disabled physically or mentally and are connected with a place to call home. Others are immigrants or community members working toward similar goals.

The particular summer program I volunteered for was with the children who, along with their families, were enrolled in the English Language Learning Program, sometimes known as our Immigrant Outreach Program. Classes for adults learning English as a second (or sometimes third) language are offered weekly on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Tutoring for children is every Wednesday afternoon, and over the summer break, they attend twice a week. Valuable teaching and learning in English are accomplished here, at our west side location, among other life skills.

I volunteered in the Summer Service Learning program for four years before I became a Humility of Mary AmeriCorps member in September 2016. Recently, I began my second AmeriCorps year, and Beatitude House has continued to be my main site.

From left: Stefanie; Jessica Baird, a Youngstown State University volunteer; Lusila; Zain; and Janie Rosko create fall wreaths (Provided photo)

The English Language Learning program continues to resonate with me because I am able to learn about and appreciate a variety of cultures while also experiencing the children and adults within those cultures learn and grow in their own ways.

Tutoring and mentoring the children within our program, we try to find meaningful ways to assist them with learning. Quotes can teach us valuable lessons regardless of our age, so a helpful quote for me can also be helpful for children. One that has become integral to my teaching approach: "Broken crayons still color."

When I first saw the quote, I was immediately inspired. It is simple and relatable to children, yet it communicates a powerful message. People can prove to be incredibly capable, even when we least expect it. Even when we feel distraught, our accomplishments can be tremendous. Our limitations do not stop us. Our past does not prevent future prosperity. We can be strong when we persevere. Academically, socially and emotionally, it is crucial to instill these messages in children, especially those facing adversity, like immigrants.

The other tutors, mentors, staff and I have been collaborating to build on the foundation of the program for the benefit of those served within it. As mentors, we typically meet at least every other week before tutoring. We discuss ways to creatively motivate the children, whether it is adding opportunities for hands-on learning with different materials, decorating the room for a celebration, or making time for a game.

We also schedule various speakers within the community, such as other Ursuline ministry members, to help us elaborate upon our ideas. We share dates, times and feedback on potential community events that we can attend with the children, too.

Thanks to the children's director at Casa Madre, another Ursuline ministry, I created a daily evaluation sheet for the children. We only began using it over the summer, yet it is proving to be a valuable tool because it gives feedback that is useful for our discussions. On the evaluation sheet, a tutor might mention how dominoes helped a child focus in math more than flash cards or that a child seemed distracted by an event in their home life. The objective of these evaluations is to read and reflect upon tutoring approaches but also about any deeper issues that may arise.

We hope to continue adding to and organizing the collection of records that demonstrate each child's progress throughout his or her time in this program. Right now, the sheets are only used for the purposes of mentors and tutors; however, we hope to involve parents and children in the near future. Perhaps physical presentations of the children's progress will signify to them their capabilities in fulfilling goals throughout life.

Written and spoken suggestions to encourage academic, social and emotional growth are powerful, but certainly not enough to support the children. We also plan to take our children to community events more often to increase opportunities for them to build upon their experiences.

The evaluation sheet used to help track the children's progress and address potential concerns (Janie Rosko)

Many children within this program do not have many opportunities to go out within the community, besides attending school, because of their parents' limited transportation options. Sr. Norma Raupple, the director of the English Language Learning Program, consistently encourages us to include the children in community experiences that might otherwise be out of reach for them. They are just as deserving as any other child.

Samantha Williams, the other current Youngstown Humility of Mary AmeriCorps member, and I brought two second-graders, Lusila and Stefanie, to a September celebration at Mill Creek MetroParks Farm in Canfield. Once we arrived, the children jumped out of the car, saying, "Let's go!"

Both children were hesitant to stir the apple butter cooking inside of a bulky pot over a fire, but they each still tasted some of it on a cracker. At first, Lusila said, "Ew, what is this?" then, a second later, let us know, "Well, I guess it's all right." The children will gradually learn that intentionally seeking out new experiences causes personal growth.

Continuing on, we observed the animals for a while, including the ever-popular alpacas. Alpacas never fail to make a person stand in awe of their peculiar beauty. We also navigated through the corn maze, looping in between corn stalks and people. Personally, this was my favorite part of that day. Lusila and Stefanie convinced us that they absolutely needed fries. Together, we sat on a hill enjoying the food, so I guess Samantha and I needed the fries, too.

As food is crucial to nourish the body, so are caring relationships to nourish the soul. Fostering caring relationships with the children we mentor and tutor is certainly among our top priorities.
A core group of helpers exists, along with temporary volunteers. Although our levels of involvement vary, all of us helpers are essential parts of the whole program. We work together to maintain an inviting, inspirational atmosphere for the children, as well as one another.

We want the children to look up to us as role models, but we must first make sure we are worthy of being considered role models. Being worthy in this sense does not mean we must be perfect. In fact, it means we must be accepting of and accountable for our mistakes.

We need to aim for clarity, wisdom and strength. Clarity helps us see challenges for what they are. Wisdom helps us figure out how to go about these difficulties. Strength allows us to act on our wisdom. This may sound a bit dreamy and optimistic, yet these are vital considerations.
We must also keep consistency in mind in order to maintain the children's trust and confidence in us.

On a recent Wednesday evening, I was unable to pick up Lusila for tutoring because of last-minute circumstances. Unable to reach her mother through my cellphone, I decided I would stop by their house after tutoring to say hello and explain the circumstance. Before I left the classroom, I grabbed a few Rice Krispies treats for Lusila and her two brothers. I got in my car, drove to their house and knocked on their door.

A student builds a project at Beatitude House in Youngstown, Ohio. (Janie Rosko)

Peeking through the white blinds on the window, the children approved of my presence and opened the door. They patiently listened to my explanation for not coming earlier before they excitedly took the treats. We spoke for a little while, and I left shortly after arriving. Perhaps they were grateful for my concerned explanation, but they were definitely grateful for the snacks. Again, food helped brighten the day. For all of us involved in this program, we know that keeping days bright for the children is critical to our mission's success.

[Janie Rosko is a Humility of Mary volunteer serving within the Ursuline ministries in Youngstown, Ohio.]