Chicago, IL and Dayton, OH CCME 2017

Ok. This is the second try to open the blog with an Ash Wednesday selfie.  Hope this post actually gets posted to the blog.

I sent out an email to the group this morning going over things like weather, packing lists and departure time.  The group is both excited to be going and stressed with this week’s midterm exams.  I’m certain that it will take the entire eight hour drive to Chicago for the students to decompress from the midterm anxiety bubble, catch up on some needed sleep and prepare to enter into the Mission Trip experience.

Well I’m off to deliver some stress to my students.  I’m giving my midterm in a few minutes.  Let’s pray they do well.

Arrived at Chicago 

Our drive to Chicago was long and most people did catch up on their sleep on the way. But we had bought extra long auxiliary cords for the cars so that everyone had a chance to plug in their phone and play their favorite songs.
We stopped south of Toledo Ohio for lunch and then passed the National RV Hall of Fame which is just before the turn off for Norte Dame University at South Bend Indiana. There was only one objection when I announced that we didn’t have time to stop at the RV Hall of Fame but I’m sure that they could have sold a few t shirts if we had.  
When we arrived at St. Ambrose Parish we quickly put down our bags and got cooking. It was all hands on deck. We had some cheese and crackers, chili, cornbread muffins and mangos for dinner.

Kennychard cooking the chili

Ciera, Nicole, Alison Rick and Kayla cut up the mangos and only ate about 1/4 before they made it into the bowl.

Serving up dinner. Ryan was in charge of the muffins.

Washing up after dinner.
Kayla, who was on the trip last year and is back as our student leader, has just took the group on an expedition to find ice cream. There is a Baskin Robins about five blocks away and everybody is in need of some stretching after the car ride.
Fr. Bill
Chicago on the town – Sunday

Wow, we got our steps in today. We started the day with mass at St. Ambrose. Fr. Bill was asked to celebrate the mass and a young deacon from Togo who is studying at the Catholic Theological Union was asked to preach. For all the students it was their first experience of a Catholic mass being celebrated in the Black Catholic tradition. They loved the gospel music and the other elements from the Black Protestant tradition like the extended sign of peace which included the entire congregation.

Our group with Deacon Thierry at St. Ambrose.
After a quick lunch we set off for downtown Chicago. The first stop was Millennial Park and the “Cloud” statue which is mostly know as “The Bean” here in Chicago. The reflective surface makes the viewer part of the art and just draws you to be part of it.

It was warm but windy in the city so we were comfortable taking a bit of a walk. So, after the bean we went in search of the Chicago Theater. The theater is a Mecca for young performers coming out of Chicago and for many the launch pad for their careers. Artists like Chance the Rapper first made a name for themselves performing at the Chicago Theatre.

After the Chicago Theater we hiked to Navy Pier to get a view of the city from Lake Michigan.

It was a long, long, walk back to the cars. Everyone was footsore and windswept by the time we made it back to the parish. And hungry, very hungry. Rick was head chef tonight and made a big pasta dinner with garlic bread and mozzarella salad. Ektaa wanted to get some school work done and looked up a coffee shop in the University of Chicago. She didn’t exactly guilt everyone to go with her but she does drive a big van and can turn on the Mom way of saying ‘you can stay here if you want but if you brought any books or notes with you it might be a good opportunity to study’. Well everyone went.

A few of the crew were thinking of transferring to UofC after that trip. The school’s architecture is inspiring and the coffee shop had a very cool vibe.
Kenwood UCC Soup Kitchen – Monday 

We sent five students to help out at the Kenwood United Church of Christ Soup Kitchen. The Kenwood UCC is in the same block as St. Ambrose Parish and the parishioners of St. Ambrose support the ministry with volunteers and food donations.

Ciera, Bella and Alison join Miss Betty and the Kitchen crew making coleslaw for lunch

Adam and Ryan chopping onions 

Monday review 


 of us went to a women’s shelter today, while the rest went to a soup kitchen down the street from St. Ambrose’s. Tomorrow we’ll switch.


 at the women’s center had the chance to get dirty, whether by raking leaves or taking a group selfie in a tree. Hard to imagine but it was the first time several of us had climbed a tree. But we beat the rain and filled twenty or more bags of leaves.


 as the raking was, we also had the chance to interact with some dedicated staff and hear about their passions and involvement in the shelter. In particular Miss Maple had some advice to share and surprisingly strong hugs to give. But raking was nice because

 even though it was small and seemingly had an insignificant impact, it was feasible for a group to do. But the single man caretaker would have had a harder time of it.


 into the soup kitchen also included some telenovela-esque adventures. Kitchen drama, three hour onion chopping marathons, and perfected parmesan sprinkling. What a tice experience.


 the kitchen, Father Bill whipped up some chicken and we had a classy burrito bar for dinner afters dirty rakers showered. We are honestly eating like kings and queens, and intimate “family dinners” around the parsonage dining room table are always touching.

  This was followed by some good reflections as a group. 


 some of the team is in the kitchen experimenting with “provocative brownies.”  


 usually start off with violent Scrabble matches, but usually end with much calmer games like spoons. But the night is still young.

Kennychard Lafontant

Tuesday ministry sites

Today Ektaa, Kennychard, Rick, Kayla and Nicole went to the Kenwood United Church of Christ to assist with the Soup Kitchen ministry.

Meanwhile Ciera, Adam, Ryan, Bella and Allison went to Maria Shelter and were put to work painting the shelter’s dorms.

They also got their hugs from Miss Mabel.

Nicole’s reflection on the day

Tuesday March 7th: 

This morning (6am) some of us went for a lovely stroll along the beach (gorgeous Lake Michigan) and we were able to see the Chicago Skyscrapers (the skyline of the city). Half of us then spent half a day in the SOUP KITCHEN which was a truly humbling experience. Serving all of these homeless people with varying levels of mental illness and physical disabilities, and with absolutely nothing, and so grateful over a single plate of food made me really grateful for what I have. It really makes you look at what you have differently, and we met some inspirational volunteers in the Soup Kitchen who talked a lot about discrimination and how wrong it is with us. During lunch it was interesting to see how some people just took advantage of the system (ex. The retired School Teacher) Yet, I felt bad for the guy who was obviously homeless and dressed in rags (He walks all the way from downtown Chicago to get to the soup kitchen) & the lady with schizophrenia who was talking to herself (yet I learned that even such a severe condition doesn’t define her because I was still able to talk to her and have a wonderful conversation with her). I was very grateful for the fact that I got to interact with the people a little bit and I talked to some interesting characters (the school teacher had some experiences with the Holocaust). After serving both breakfast and lunch at the Soup Kitchen we came back to the house. I think the most important thing that I learned is that we have to treat these people just like we treat anyone else, and we shouldn’t pity them. The other half of the group went to the Women’s Shelter and did some painting there. They also had a great and eye opening experience, and they met Miss Mabel who is unbelievably inspirational. After we got back to the house, I got a massage from Ektaa (the physical therapist grad student) and then I gave a MASSAGE to Kayla. We also went on a little expedition to the African American History Museum, while the other group was locked out of the house. We then went to GIORDANO’s for some delicious Chicago Deep Dish pizza!!!! When we got back, I mopped and swept the floors, and we did some chores, and then we were off to play more games! 


Wednesday- travel to Dayton 

We traveled to Dayton today in the midst of gale force winds.  Before left Chicago we had a massive clean up effort at St. Ambrose Parish.  If it could be vacuumed it was vacuumed.  If if could be mopped it was mopped.  It was really quite impressive just how much the group could get done in an hour.  The bathrooms even passed Ektaa’s “mom test” on the first try.  Now Kayla asked me to point out to any parents reading this blog that this is all part of being on mission and not to expect this level of cleanliness when we get home.

When we arrived at St. Benedict the Moor School we jumped right into the after school program without even unloading the cars first.  Not to dwell too much on gender stereotypes but the girls went straight to the classrooms while the boys were sent to the gym to do a cleanup and to begin assembly of a table tennis set.

Dinner was a quick chicken parm and zucchini parm (the local market doesn’t have eggplant).

We did dishes and reflection and headed out to Tim Horton’s for coffee and school work.

What happens when you have too much coffee!


Thursday at St. Benedict the Moor School 

Last year our students raised money to help begin a playground for the school and we are pleased to show you that first piece of equipment in stalled and being used.

This year’s students took up the task and also made playground equipment the focus of their crowdfunding efforts.  We hope that when we return next year we will see a swing set added to the playground.

In the morning we were asked to clear out two classrooms that are being prepared for next year. Also we organized the resource room and the nurses office.

In the afternoon we did tutoring and took the kids out to play.

Ektaa’s Thoughts

Before this week, I hardly had interacted with any of the students going on this trip. Occasionally I would see Kenny or Caroline in the library, where I practically live, but not see any one else. I was worried about how the students would interact with each other, how they would see me, or if I would be able to build a sense of community among them. All my doubt was completely gone before the first day even ended. The 8 hour car ride to Chicago was filled with ice breakers and sharing our favorite music. Everyone quickly became friends. Every night we come together to make a balance dinner and work as a well oiled machined to clean up after ourselves. Over the past few days the sense of family among the truly diverse group of students can be felt by anyone who comes across the 11 of us. 

Our time in Chicago was filled with intense games of scrabble, spoons, and would you rather questions, and sprinkled off with service to the community and engaging with the community members. But mostly TICE games of scrabs. In Ohio, we helped organize and clean up some of the classrooms at Benedict the Moore school and had the chance to play with children that attend the school. Tonight we will be helping out at the Fish Fry at the church where we hope to meet more of the community members. 

All in all this trip has been an a great experience we all have stepped out of our individual comfort zones to experience and learn new things. I hope that this group can continue to create stronger ties with one another in the time to come. 

Friday Fish Fry at St. Benedict the Moor Parish 

Friday we went to the parish to help with the Lenten Fish Fry which is the major fund raiser for the community.

Nicole and Ektaa clean the windows at the front doors.  We also swept, mopped, vacuumed and generally did a good clean up at the church.

Bella and Allison were the first ones to jump into the kitchen and serve the fish dinners 

Rick, Adam and Ryan took over the serving line while Rick and Kennychard did dishes earlier.