Life in community supports finding your best self

This article appears in the Notes from the Field feature series. View the full series.
Dom, Sophie, Kia, myself, Nicole and Sarah on our last day of the 2014-2015 school year. (Provided photo)

Boston, Massachusetts — Notes from the Field includes reports from young women volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015 This is our third round of bloggers: Brenna Neimanis is a Good Shepherd Volunteer at a juvenile justice residential detention facility serving adolescent girls in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Kerry DiNardo is a Notre Dame Mission Volunteer AmeriCorps member serving at a Cristo Rey school in Boston.

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Last year, I walked into an apartment in an active construction zone in Boston, where I did not know anyone and where I would spend the next two years of my life.

Though it was scary, I've always been one for more adventurous choices, so I decided to move 300 miles north rather than staying in Philadelphia. I had been there my whole life. It's funny to look back on that moment and remember the feeling that I was entering a completely foreign place with no comrades to conquer this new land with.

Going into it, I was terrified. I was scared to live with the same people I'd be working with and, admittedly, this transition and lifestyle was difficult to get used to. But as time went on, I saw what beauty and promise it held, as well.

My five roommates were all new to Cristo Rey Boston High School in the 2014-2015 school year, like me, so together, we figured out how the school worked. Yes, it was new waters I had to test, but I did not have to do it alone. The five women and I, each of us very different, lived in community with one another, and we quickly began to bond.

When all of us were having a particularly hard time with the initial transition, one of my community members, Dom, prompted us to look back on the moments we shared with the people who made us the women we are today: parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, church members, neighbors and friends. They were and still are the lighthouses we look to for help finding the right way, no matter how far from home we are.

As we have grown into adults, we have also transitioned into the role of lighthouses ourselves, for both the students we work with and others in our lives. We just need to step back from the chaos every now and then so we remember that.

The six of us on our volunteer retreat in Vermont. We made a pit stop at the Ben and Jerry's factory! (Provided photo)

The students we work with look up to us for advice on subjects that seem silly (outfit choices) and ones we know are very important (college choices). The students take our opinions seriously and, in turn, we take our roles as lighthouses seriously, as well.

At first, the community I had found in Boston seemed too good to be true. There's no way six women living and working together could get along this well, right? But we knew this something special would last. We were experiencing something great together, all with open minds, so we were able to feel each other's emotions through it all. We didn't have to speak to understand what was happening.

The support existed both at home and in school. When one (or all) of us was having a bad day, we could always count on one of the other women to send a goofy email to get us through, or you were bound to have a bag of M&Ms and an iced coffee sitting on your desk after a particularly rough study block.

During the week, we would share dinners and eat lunch together every day at school in between serving lunch to the students. These meals were a chance for us to unwind from the day and gain support from each other through both humor and wisdom. We instituted once-a-week community nights, rotating the planning responsibility each week. Events included tie-dyeing shirts, dinners out, and periodic nights in the house to reflect on our experiences thus far.

One of my favorite community events happened at the end of the year. We all went to school late one night when no one was there, ready for a surprise community event that Nicole planned. Each of us took turns sitting in front of a whiteboard, our back to it, as the other five wrote what amazing things they saw in the one sitting on the throne. After a year of laughs, tears, struggles and triumphs together, it was time to see ourselves through our community members' eyes. Nicole took photos, and we all got to see what our community members wrote about us. My photo is hanging in my room today.

The close of the school year was tough. Two of us would be staying a second year, knowing it wouldn't be the same without the community that got us through the year. We ended the school year with a community event where Sarah, the English teacher, gave us sentence starters, and we passed around papers writing down the first thing that came to mind. One of the sentences we finished was "Our home is . . . ."

We wrote down many things, but what stuck out to me most were these answers: rejuvenation, full of life, people I feel like I've known forever, and where I found some of my best friends. I'm so thankful for the time we had together and the intentionality we all had in both the creation and continuation of this community, no matter how far apart we are this year.

Now, as I near the end of my two years of service, I cannot reflect on my time at Cristo Rey Boston without this community of six coming to mind. It was through their support I was able to be my best self at school for the students. It was through their eyes that I was able to recognize myself as a lighthouse in others' lives.

Here I am in front of the words describing what traits my five community members see in me. (Provided photo)

[Kerry DiNardo is a Notre Dame Mission Volunteer AmeriCorps member in her second year of service at Cristo Rey Boston High School, where she works in the Student Life Office.]

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