As a Good Shepherd Volunteer at Collier High School, my days are filled with cold mornings, substitute teaching, quiet lunch duties, and any other helpful work I can get my hands on. I am about half way through my year of service, and it is safe to say that most days at Collier are good days. Of course, there are hard days. Recently, the days that are hard are hard because I miss my family and friends, and having the opportunity to go home for the holidays made me realize just how far away I am. Sometimes, the little corner of the earth that Saint Mary Euphrasia has inspired me to work to let go of, comes swarming back and takes half of my heart as prisoner.
"My shepherds, remember that the work of helping persons know love is a work of labor and sacrifice."-St. Mary Euphrasia (SME)
Then there are the days that are hard because of work. One day when I was subbing for a class, the students started asking me questions about where I was from. Naturally, the conversation progressed, and I was asked “Why did you pick Collier?” It was asked with a tone of voice that makes you think that there’s something wrong with Collier or the students that attend. This question and tone that it is asked in, always throws me off and honestly, it breaks my heart. I quickly said, “I actually like it here.” It was my failed attempt to answer the real question that they were asking, “Why would you pick a place like Collier?” Before I got any more questions, a student changed the topic. I was filled with relief but was left with regret. I felt relief because the slightly interrogative questions were over but regret because I couldn’t explain to the students that I picked Collier for the same reason they think I should be deterred from doing so. That reason is them. I don’t think that I could ever find the right words to explain to them why they are the reasons I look forward to going to work every day.
“Our loving care follows people and supports them to be faithful to their truest selves”-SME
On days that are tough because of work, I carry this internal struggle with me.
I have learned that every student has something different to offer. The Collier students are special education students and are here because their needs weren’t being met at their previous school. Some students are faced with anxiety, depression, ADHD, poor socialization, school refusal, or low motivation. Collier is a place where a student’s disability is viewed without a stigmatizing lens. The Collier staff supports, encourages, nurtures, challenges, works with, and loves all of the students. They have created a safe environment where students can be who they are and not the reason why they came to Collier.
“Sentiments of gratitude give birth to great and noble thoughts.”-SME
On hard days, when students are wearing the stigmatizing lens and looking at themselves or each other, I remain hopeful. A way I find positivity is by keeping a gratitude journal. I started keeping a gratitude journal last year in March as an assignment for my Human Flourishing class. I kept with it because I noticed that I had an appreciation for little things that were good and that I had a positive outlook at the start of each day. In my gratitude journal, I jot down three good things that happened every day. Here are three I would like to share from my time at Collier:
When I subbed for a music teacher, a student practiced playing one of his own songs. It was hands down the most beautiful song I have ever heard.
A student showed me her acceptance letter to her top college and the scholarships she has been awarded.
A student scared me twice with dad jokes. Once by surprising me by walking up behind and a second time by popping up when I walked through a classroom door.
“You have a sacred, precious jewel confided to you. It is our mission you carry in your arms, in your person. Show it to the world, to everyone, in all its beauty. Our mission was founded through love. We have all been drawn to it through love. It is love which keeps us here.” -SME
Love is at the essence of my desire to learn, transform, and live. “Just love” and the words of Saint Mary Euphrasia are what attracted me to Good Shepherd Volunteers. The love I learn about from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, my community members, the staff, and the students, is the reason I look forward to each new day at Collier.
Written by, Meghan Leary Wickatunk Community '18-'19