When I began my year of service at the end of August, I knew it wouldn’t all be easy and as a Dominican, inspired by Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, I expected “the work to be great and difficult.” In fact, it has been. This year has challenged me in ways I never expected and I’ve faced trials unlike any others. I was not ready for everything this year would bring, especially due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has changed every part of how we live. During prayer with my community on St. Catherine of Siena’s feast day, I found solace in some of her words: “To the servant of God, every place is the right place, and every time is the right time.” Despite all the trials, I can’t discount all the things I’ve learned and the skills I’ve acquired: from setting up a morning routine, to speaking up when I need help at work, to facing my social anxiety every day, and even learning to practice self-care when it seems like I don’t have time for it.
One of my biggest challenges has been learning to co-exist with my anxiety. Due to many factors, my anxiety has been operating at full force. It began to stabilize but as the mandatory lock down was extended, many families and members of our communities began to have more needs, and my work picked up. I recall having more clients than I could handle and struggling to manage them all. I was mixing up situations and names: I would make phone calls and accidentally call the client by another client’s name. Things were chaotic and my mornings became very difficult; I was experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety. Concerned, my mom took me to a “botánica” to get some tea and she helped me establish a morning routine where I take my tea to calm my anxiety and then I enjoy some light breakfast. After this, my body is better prepared to face any situation at work. It hasn’t been easy to stay loyal to the routine but when I don’t, I don’t feel well and work tires me out. I’m slowly but surely learning to respect my routine and practice it every day.
During this time, I also learned to reach out for help. In my head, I believed that any situation happening with the Quinn community would be my responsibility. I believed I was supposed to do it all but when I reached out to DVUSA expressing the situation with my anxiety, I was prompted to speak up and ask for help. Knowing that they would have my back, I spoke up. This helped to clear up that even though I was the only compañera at Quinn, I didn’t need to be the only one taking on cases and I received help with transferring some of my cases. Something else that came out of that are monthly Development Meetings with Kristen. These meetings have helped me feel more welcome and have provided a space to form relationship and mentorship at Quinn. Together we’ve discussed strategies to help my extroverted-self feel more comfortable at an empty 4-floor building and we’ve also discussed professional topics such as cover letters, and personal statements.
During a development meeting, I opened up about my social anxiety and the way that it co-exists with being an extrovert. I describe it as: I love people but I’m terrified of them. This means that I love to interact and be around people but at the same time, I have a paralyzing panic of being around and interacting with people. Due to bullying I experienced in middle school and high school, there’s always a voice in my head telling me that people don’t like me and that everyone is making fun of me. In college I learned to manage it during in-person situations but things like phone calls, video calls, or any type of interaction that isn’t in-person or in writing, sets off my fear.
Since opening up about my social anxiety, it’s been easier to face. I guess I just needed a space to name it in order to accept it and begin to overcome it. When I started in August, I rarely made phone calls. If I could text or email the person instead, I would. When there was no other option but to call, I had to mentally prepare myself and I had to write a script to follow, otherwise the panic would win and I would freeze. Now, I’m able to give myself a mini pep-talk and only write some bullet points to make sure that I don’t forget anything. I no longer need a script and I have more natural and welcoming conversations with clients. I also no longer get a paralyzing fear when I have to make a phone call. Don’t get me wrong, it's still scary but now, I can do it! The other day I interpreted for a USCIS Interview over the phone and answered 3 walk-in phone calls back-to-back. This was an intense experience and I had to take a few minutes to self-care and compose myself after, but I did it! That was my first time answering that many unknown numbers and walk-ins in one day!
Something that was also a struggle when I had so many clients was taking care of myself. I was facing my anxiety, my social anxiety, I was listening and learning about different difficult situations, and I was struggling with feeling helpless since there were no easily available resources for my clients. I was carrying so much onto myself and I wasn’t offering myself the same patience and kindness I offered my clients. TDJ, Quinn, DVUSA, my community, my family, and my friends were all telling me to take a day off to recharge and come back feeling better but I felt that I had so much work, I couldn’t afford to take a day off. I couldn’t handle the thought that I would disappoint my clients and that I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to work harder to provide resources and answers even if it meant my own demise. I was losing sleep and skipping my lunch.
It took a whole month of physical anxiety symptoms to finally prompt me to take a day off. I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted but my community mate and I took a walk where we got bubble tea and I found free books. It was refreshing to not have to look at my computer or think about all the worries from work. I now try to do that whenever I feel overwhelmed. I might not take a whole day off but if my day is rough, I’ll take a few hours and make them up within that week. I’ve learned to accept that if I’m not doing okay, I can’t give my best self to my clients and I can’t offer them the support they need.
This work has definitely been “great and difficult” but it’s also been the right place and the right time. This work is still challenging but had I not faced these experiences, I would not have grown. I would not have learned how to co-exist with my anxiety in the mornings, I would not have learned how to ask for help at work, I would still be paralyzed and having panic attacks over making phone calls, and I would still be denying myself the care I need. However, the biggest thing I have learned is that Social Work is not the route for me. I love the work but it’s too draining for me which simply means that the thing that will set me on fire is still out there, waiting for me to discover it. I am not yet the thing I should be but I’m on my way. I’m very thankful for everything I’ve faced and I look forward to whatever my future may hold including the rest of my time with TDJ and Quinn, and beyond.
TDJ ACCOMPANIMENT STAFF
For 5 years the Quinn Center was the most important part of the Golden Apple Scholars summer. You welcomed 30 pre-service young teachers into your Summer Program. They were able to teach every class that was offered--from science to music, math, reading--and included every age of the campus. Our scholars grew in all the areas of teacher preparation and learned the real definition of diversity and acceptance. For many, this was their first experience working with children of diverse ethnicity, economic backgrounds, and English language learners. They planned their lessons each day and truly looked forward to working with their “kids.” They grew to love them and respect them. This opportunity also gave our Scholars the time to learn about the amazing Monsignor Quinn and all he stood for. His story inspired these young people to embrace the differences, be strong and stand up, be the voice for those who do not have one.
Even today, as these Scholars look back, they all agree that their experiences at the Quinn Center were the very best of all their Summer Institutes. The Quinn Center is a very, very special place.
Thank you Quinn Center for your trust, cooperation, and the love we all felt. May you continue this journey.
Former Director, Golden Apple Institute
For me, there is no "magic moment" that I remember more than others that I experienced during my years of volunteering at the Quinn Center. The whole concept of forming a gathering place for the residents of Maywood/Broadview in the vacant St. Eulalia school was "magical"! My commitment started at the very beginning, in the fall of 2010, when our pastor at that time, Fr. Carmelo Mendez, envisioned a community center for the parish's neighbors, the residents of Maywood and Broadview, in the St. Eulalia school building and spoke to the parish council about the possibilities that could come to fruition in education, sports, fellowship and
community involvement. Having grown up in poor immigrant neighborhoods and public housing at a time when there weren't many options available for community engagement and constructive activities for kids, I could relate to Fr. Carmelo's proposal and immediately connected to it.
His ideas came alive and the school building became the Quinn Community Center, named to honor Msgr. Bill Quinn and his passionate involvement throughout his religious life with the poor and disadvantaged and the many social injustices they faced in their lives. As a member of the parish Human Concerns committee and as site coordinator for the West Suburban PADS program, I, along with other parish and committee members, were asked to meet with the newly hired, part-time director of the center, Gabriel Lara, to plan a calendar of programs, activities and other functions for the center to offer to the community. While those more structured programs were being formed, we immediately began after school tutoring programs, ESL classes, dance classes, music lessons and expanded food pantry and soup kitchen programs, all staffed and organized by volunteers.
One of the "magic" memories for me is that Gabriel was the only paid staff member of the Quinn Center. All the programs and activities that became part of the Center were conceived and managed by volunteers! I taught ESL to a group of mostly Latina women and some of their spouses and other family members. This first core group of women were about to begin a journey of much growth and independence through programs that were developed specifically for women as the Center grew. I really enjoyed getting to know those wonderful women through that class; however, my real commitment of volunteering at the Center began with the formation of the first summer program for kids the following July.
I was asked to work with the little ones, ages 5-8, finding something fun, yet meaningful, for them to do. I facilitated an art program for them, having absolutely no art talent myself. I came up with the idea of making greeting cards from the limited supplies we had that first year – construction paper, markers and glitter! We created the cards, sent them to shut-ins and disabled veterans at Hines hospital nearby and prayed for those receiving our cards. Those kids, young as they were, "got it". The enthusiasm, kindness and understanding they showed in doing something that they understood would make someone else feel loved and appreciated really sealed the deal for me in my desire to be involved. How could you not fall in love with these innocent little ones in their simple act of caring for others, as the Gospels tells us we all must live ! The summer program has grown and remained a valuable option for the community and their families over the past ten years and I still remember with fondness and gratitude the opportunity I had to be part of those early, formative years.
The "magic moments" continued as I began spending more time at the Center. Gabriel had his hands full juggling program planning, administrative tasks, building a donor base, recording and thanking donors and sponsors, seeking grants and establishing relationships with donors, community and corporate sponsors. I had plenty of free time in the evening after my work day ended, so I began to help him with some of those responsibilities. I never saw them as tasks; for me, it was more a labor of love for the Quinn Center and all who entered its doors to help it prosper and that gave back to me much more than I ever gave to the Center. New cherished and enduring friendships; so many opportunities to expand and embrace peoples of other cultures, their traditions, their dreams , their struggles and fears, their family lives, all enriched my life and helped me to grow; the opportunity to use my business skills and implement my justice oriented value system to cultivate like-minded donors and sponsors and the opportunity to welcome other faith congregations and community organizations to share our space in spreading their voice – interaction upon interaction – all empowered and solidified my Catholic beliefs – enabling me to continue choosing to live my life as God asks of us. (Matthew 25:40).
Some of my favorite memories revolve around that first group of Latina women in my ESL class and their families. These families and their commitment to the programs and activities provided to them through the Quinn Center, remain a fond memory for me to this day. I smile when I think back to what a typical evening at the Center was like. The kids were in tutoring, music, dance, art or sports programs; the hallways and gym and lower level were filled with their laughter and presence. The hallway walls became showcases for their art, of which they were so proud. Meanwhile their moms were also in the building, participating in English classes, teaching each other sewing and cooking skills, or attending programs presented by community and advocacy groups on empowerment, domestic violence, leadership skills, business skills, childcare and faith formation. Some of their husbands were often around the premises as well, learning English or computer skills, cleaning and repairing the building, acting as a security presence when the building was occupied and at community events. It was a joy to witness this once empty, decaying building come alive day after day, moment by moment, in this now vital community formed by so many who were living their lives in joy and gratitude for the opportunities presented to them.
On Tuesday evenings, many of those families would eat supper at the soup kitchen, facilitated by Martha Minnich and her dedicated team of volunteers and then move upstairs to the programs and activities waiting for them, once again staffed by the most dedicated volunteers from within the parish, within the Maywood/Broadview communities and other parishes and community organizations. We experienced many "magic moments" in that once darkened building on 8th avenue that was now a gathering place of peace, love, friendship and encouragement for all who entered. We were witness to Fr. Carmelo Mendez's vision, and Fr. Bill Quinn's legacy, coming to fulfillment at the Quinn Center. I feel all of us, the participants and the volunteers, came away from those experiences with so much richness, growth and fulfillment in our lives by being part of the evolvement of the Center.
Congratulations and blessings to Kristen and all the current volunteers and community participants and prayers of thanksgiving for the passion and foresight of Msgr. Bill Quinn, Fr. Carmelo Mendez and Gabriel Lara in making the "magic moments" come to life for so many at the Quinn Center of St. Eulalia parish in Maywood Illinois.
Mary Ellen O'Donnell
former parishioner, volunteer and founding board member of the Quinn Center
Visit this website and scroll to the right for beautiful photos of the Quinn Center's opening mass, dedication, and open house.
I am Tom Fuechtmann, a member of St. Eulalia parish for over 17 years. I do not live within the typical parish boundaries of Broadview-Maywood, but I was attracted to the parish because of the strong sense of welcoming community that has always been its hallmark. In the liturgy at St. Eulalia, divisions of race, ethnicity, gender faded away, modeling the kind of united, sharing community that Jesus calls us to be. It has often been said that 10:00 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America – except at St. Eulalia. That is why it became my spiritual home. For about 7 years, I was privileged to work with Gabriel Lara and some remarkable people in growing the Quinn Center out of the empty classrooms of a shutdown school building.
This week, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Quinn Center, I would like to reflect briefly on two of its foundational elements: its name, honoring Msgr. William Quinn, and its logo, the loaves and fishes
The Quinn Center was conceived and nourished in the experience of St. Eulalia. I feel that very strongly, since I was there at the Quinn Center’s origin.
Ten years ago in 2010, the school building was largely empty and unused except for occasional parish functions and the once a week soup kitchen and food pantry. The pastor, Father Carmelo, took the courageous step of re-thinking the building’s function as a community center for an outreach toward the social needs of the neighboring community. He hired Gabriel Lara, at first on a very part-time basis, to make something happen. And that is quite simply how the Quinn Center started. There was no strategic plan, no over-arching vision; just the mandate to “do something.” And that’s where I got involved.
Gabriel was looking for a connecting link to the parish. I was chairing the parish council’s Human Concerns Committee. Gabriel welcomed the invitation to join our committee for someone to talk with about creating and shaping this new parish enterprise. Over the next 7 years I partnered with Gabriel by creating successive committees to build an organizational structure for the Quinn Center to support its sustainability.
The Quinn Center may have started without a plan, but it did already have a name. And that name contributed significantly toward shaping the vision and the goals for the new center. Naming the center after Fr. Bill Quinn, the almost legendary pastor from 1967 to 1984, gave the center a legacy from the past and a mission for the future.
In 2010, many parishioners still remembered Bill Quinn. He came to St. Eulalia after years of working at the upper echelons of the Catholic Church organization. For 11 years, he served as the American bishops contact person with the bishops of Latin America. He attended 2 sessions of Vatican II, and provided a critically important link between the bishops of North and South America, in a period when there was little connection. And then in 1967 he was posted to St. Eulalia as pastor. It was a very different world—ground level, so to speak--to which Quinn brought his wide experience of working on larger issues affecting the national and global church.
Quinn came to the parish at a critical point. Maywood was experiencing dramatic demographic change, as White residents moved out and Black residents moved in. Quinn strongly supported housing integration as a principle of justice. One anecdote is illustrative: a parishioner told the pastor that he had a gun with 2 bullets—one for the Black that would move in next door, and one for the real estate agent that sold him the property. Quinn made it clear that such an attitude no place within St. Eulalia. Quinn’s firm position on integration within the parish was echoed by his participation at the national level. He marched several times with Martin Luther King, and was a close friend and advisor to Cesar Chavez, who stayed at the parish when he visited Chicago.
Quinn could be firm, but he was also open. His strategy for effecting change was not to build walls, but to generate dialogue. He was a consummate people person who talked to everyone. Parish staff remember that there was always someone waiting to talk with him at the parish office. And if no one was there, he would call someone to go have coffee or lunch. His strategy for healing division was to get people talking– with him, and across the parish. It took time, but the result was a unified parish community.
Quinn wanted the parish to be generous in helping with people’s needs. He formed the program ECHO – Eulalia Community Helping Others, providing a food pantry, secondhand clothing exchange, cribs for expectant mothers, job search support. He wanted Eulalia to be a caring community. He himself was a model of selfless generosity. An oft-told story provides an example. He never spent money on himself, getting his clothes second-hand. One winter, his coat was so frayed that a parishioner bought him a new one. A week