As a service provider in the Ignatian tradition, one of the most important things we do is facilitate encounters between brothers and sisters in Christ. Each year we welcome young people from colleges, schools, parishes, and other programs who not only serve as volunteers, but also live at The Father McKenna Center for a week at a time. This program is often an Alternative Spring Break or an Outreach Program for students who come to the Center on Saturday or Sunday, and stay through the following weekend.
Breaking Down Barriers
Our volunteers are not bystanders, rather they eat their meals in common with the men we serve, work in the Center, and support all aspects of our program. They sleep in the program area in the former church basement (often on pews or air mattresses they bring), take time to reflect on their experiences of service, and often have supplementary learning experiences at other organizations that support people experiencing homelessness (e.g. The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless). The week of service frequently culminates in a day of advocacy as our visitors meet with their representatives or staff in the US Congress – just steps away from The Father McKenna Center.
We believe the experience of immersive service plays a vital role in breaking down societal barriers, teaches about individuals as well as issues, and equips our young visitors with tools for compassionate engagement as they return to their own communities.
As one of our visitors from The University of Notre Dame observed,
When I arrived, the homeless were a demographic. Now, they are people. A brother or a sister to me.