"No, Mama"

Oftentimes, I find that God sends me the most poignant messages in the ways I am most likely to spot them.

When I was fifteen, I started working at a dairy store. It was truly a Mid-Western girl’s dream. Not only did we offer cups and cones of sixteen different Wisconsin-made ice creams, but we carried fresh deli meats as well as over 80 types of local cheeses and hosted a soup and sandwich service all throughout the day. The best part? I received free meals whenever I worked. That, and the fact that I lived one walking block away. I ended up working there for the next seven years. That job offered me a lot of life lessons, but one of the most critical was learning the importance of asking others for recommendations and being open to a surprise.

(Left) The author posing at Times Square, New York City. (Right) The author and her new Washington Heights community of Good Shepherd Volunteers.

Last year, that lesson came in handy. When first applying to Good Shepherd Volunteers after my graduation in 2017, I took a chance on an immersive year of service at Collier High School in New Jersey per the suggestion of the GSV staff and Collier’s principal. Their words and a whole lot of faith are what brought me to what would undoubtedly become the greatest year of my life. There I saw how belief in mission and the tenets of the Good Shepherd Sisters came to be embodied by each individual staff member, and how I could become part of that culture as well.

Upon committing to a second year of service with GSV at a large agency in the city of New York rather than a small tight knit community, I was worried I might lose that strong sense of mission and zeal.

When I found myself feeling far from home and way outside of my comfort zone in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in New York City just a few weeks ago, it came as no surprise to me that I sought refuge in a Baskin-Robins. As I loitered around the frozen rainbow buckets I contemplated whether nine AM was too early to indulge. My sentimental heart said “never” but my volunteer stipend said “not today kid”. As I was contemplating where to go next the third member of our team, a local, called to meet me nearby. Having lived there for many years, Digna offered to make the most of my day and take me on a tour of some of the many GSS programs hosted in East New York. Thanks to where I had spent my morning and my unfailing attention to all things ice cream, I immediately noticed the woman who boarded the bus after me wearing a tank top covered in rainbow dreamsicles.

Staff members at Community Resources In Brooklyn (The C.R.I.B.),

Donned in bright pink slouchy capris, that eye-catching tank top and high socks with slip on sandals, Pinky made a strong first impression. As she stepped on board, she immediately began asking the driver questions about how to get to a certain place of which she would not say the name. Unsatisfied with his advice, Pinky began to curse, saying bus drivers have no idea what they’re doing. To my surprise, Digna then spoke up, asking where Pinky was trying to go. I watched from what felt like miles away as my partner carefully responded to her each time, “No mama”.

“I’m trying to get to my shelter in Brookdale. It’s in Brookdale, not Brownsville.”

“No, mama. I think you mean Brooklyn, Brooklyn. Not Brookdale.”

“No, the address is in Brookdale. How do I get to Brookdale?”

“No, mama.”

When we got off, Pinky got off too. Suddenly it seemed she agreed to walk in the right direction. As soon as we watched her successfully cross the street, Digna turned to me to explain. Before coming to Good Shepherd Services, she had worked at a local women’s shelter just a few blocks away. One floor of that shelter is dedicated to women with mental illnesses, where my partner knew Pinky lived and was trying to go. Digna called herself a busy body, but I think that was her way of hinting that she truly lived to serve her community. Her tough exterior might not let her openly admit it, but in that moment, I saw her embody our mission and assist an individual not even within one of our programs. It wasn’t her job to help Pinky, but she did. Digna was giving her all even outside of our department of Government and Community Relations in the same way I hoped I could learn to by living an intentional year of service. Where I had been worried about losing touch of the mission by leaving a position of direct service, I should have been looking at the ways I can reach individuals even outside our programs instead.

The author and her department of Government and Community Relations meeting NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer.

As a part of the Good Shepherd family, we live our mission to the core. That zeal, that flame which never goes out, fuels our entire being. Through the values of the Good Shepherd Sisters and the four tenets of GSV, I am learning what it means to find one’s vocation and not just work a nine-to-five job. I am blessed to be where I am, and I am blessed to believe in a God who sends messages in the form of ice cream.

“A soul is of more value than a world.” - Sister Mary Euphrasia

Written by,

Samantha Wirth

Wickatunk Community '17-'18

Washington Heights Community '18-'19