Friday, October 12, 2018

The Best Form of Team Building: Service with and for Others

Jesuit education promotes a "faith that does justice." We aim to become "men and women for and with others." There is but one path we all must walk to get there—one that is paved by service. Service among the poor and needy. Service with people and for people on the margins. Quite often, these folks aren't isolated or that far away. There is a great need within our own communities, sometimes at places we pass every day. Too often these people, these places go seen and unseen. Scripture tells us The Lord hears the cry of the poor—do we? Serving others can enlarge our heart, but it might also sharpen our vision and improve our hearing. How?
This year, I have been working as a liaison between coaches and social service agencies so that our sports teams can serve together. Given the demands of coaching, once the season gets started, finding and making the time to serve is always a desire and a challenge. It can be tough to find an organization that can host a group the size of some of our sports teams or a time slot that can work with school and practice schedules. However, persistence, creativity, flexibility and tapping into our networks and social resources have yielded an opportunity to give, and to receive, to serve and to be served.

This may sound strange, but my greatest concern was that I would help other teams serve together and leave my own team behind. Considering the number of matches per week and the amount of travel, I worried that I wouldn't be able to make time for service work. In that sense, I know how most coaches feel. In another, I knew it would be that much more difficult to ask others to do what I had not done. Amidst my questions and concerns, a need presented itself as an opportunity to serve. 
Every spring, SI hosts a basketball game with athletes from the Pomeroy Center.
Wildcats have yet to win...
St Ignatius, where I teach, has a long-standing relationship with the Janet Pomeroy Center—a place that as its mission declares, "provides recreational, vocational and educational opportunities for people with disabilities through programs and services that encourage self-expression, promote personal achievement, and lead to greater independence." A few weeks ago, a faculty member let us know that the JPC had summoned our help. He wrote,
Today I received an email from the Executive Director of the Pomeroy Center. Not sure if you saw this in the news last week, but there was a sting operation that uncovered six senior and child care facilities that were also being used for human trafficking. 
Those facilities were shut down and all of the resident care clients were left without housing. The Pomeroy Center has stepped into to care for eight of the adults (three of whom are full-time clients).  Although the Pomeroy Center isn’t a full-time overnight facility they do have a Respite Wing which they will use on weekends which is now being used seven days a week to care for these displaced adults.  How can we help?   
Even though the Pomeroy Center has a kitchen and respite care for eight, the employees could use some help with meal preparation. They asked if we would be willing to supply one dinner a night for the next few weeks until they can find permanent housing. If so, I am sure the Pomeroy staff, as well as the those displaced, would be thrilled. 
Given the size of the junior varsity girls program, I knew that cooking a meal together could work. I looked at our schedule and talked to my captains. We planned our menu during our van ride to a match. Rather than divide up the list of ingredients, we went to Trader Joe's together (who knew grocery shopping could be an opportunity for team bonding)?! We divided, we conquered and arrived at the JPC ready to cook.
Though I had told my team about the mission of the Janet Pomeroy Center and the folks who benefit from their programs, this population was very new to most girls. We arrived on the scene and were confronted by excited adults, and one who told us "you don't belong here." Others were largely non-verbal, some were older, many were young. A few girls asked me why some people in wheelchairs had to wear helmets; we were all impressed to learn a select group plays golf on Fridays through the First Tee program. 
We have done a good bit of team building this season, but none of it compares with our experience of working together in service of others. I looked at the photo I took of these girls and all I could see was their goodness. My heart felt pretty much that I decided to share that photo with these words.
Thank you for your willingness to jump in and serve at the Janet Pomeroy Center. When we first arrived, I'm sure you were wondering where your Coach had taken you. JPC and be uncomfortable for new visitors—communication with folks can be challenging....we don't know how others will react....but as you were able to see in our time there, it's an important place for those with developmental and/or physical disabilities to grow and find their independence! In the same way, we are seeking to do things on our own and yet cultivate a community, JPC does this for a population we see too infrequently.  
I hope in our time together you learned a few things about your teammates and about yourself. Serving others does that--just like golf! AND as I heard a number of you say—we had fun too. My biggest regret isn't a) locking us out of the van at Trader Joe's or b) not setting a timer for the brownies but c) that we didn't take a photo of the bubbling lasagne! I think the folks who receive our meal will enjoy, Food that is cooked with love always tastes better!!
I urge all coaches and programs to make the effort to serve together. You might have to seek out the opportunity...maybe it will find you. One girl remarked "we drive by this place every single time we go to practice. I can't believe I didn't know it was here." Another added, "I realize I've been very sheltered. We don't see people like those the JPC serves very often. I'm so glad there is a place they can go and have fun." What we were able to see and hear, taste and feel as a result of our time together reaffirmed another core teaching in Jesuit education: God can be found in all things. I firmly believe that includes sports—and most especially when a team serves together.

Photo Credits

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