AmeriCorps Week March 8-14, 2020 (Elizabeth Pearson)

I serve at the St. Mary of Celle Family Strengthening Center in Berwyn, a suburb of Chicago. When I researched the area prior to my big move away from Georgia, I noted with wry amusement my new town’s motto: Berwyn, “City of Homes.” At the time of my move, I knew no home but the South, the region where I had years of history, the region where I had roots. How could Berwyn become a home in a fleeting year of VISTA service?

Fast-forward to today, and I am proud to profess that in only a seven-month stint, I can already claim many, many Berwyn homes. I am at home in the snow, I am at home in my first apartment, I am at home navigating the “L,” I am at home in postgraduate life. Most importantly, I am at home at my workplace, a community center that provides local Spanish-speaking families with a rich array of classes and programs with topics ranging from language acquisition and technology to citizenship and physical fitness.

From the beginning, St. Mary of Celle welcomed me with open arms, and I have never felt the pressure of facing relocation challenges alone. The first time we met, a coworker invited me to her house for the holidays should snow prevent me from flying South. Yet another coworker provided me with an after-work tour of the area, introducing me to local points of interest and then treating me to baked goods at the tour’s culmination. Perhaps most movingly of all, the families who frequent the center chose to overcome a plethora of barriers—the indirect nature of VISTA service and distinct cultural backgrounds, to name just a few—to get to know me and to thank me for my work.

My own parents and siblings may be miles away, but local families warmly fill the vacuum. Mothers push onto my desk delectable homemade pupusas and tamales, and fathers help me to practice Spanish and congratulate me (magnanimously) on my improving accent. Shy children softly introduce me to their toys, and the not-so-shy ones demand that I join them in games of tag. This center has enveloped me in its beating heart, and no words can describe the generosity and kindness I have found here. I will sadly have to leave the “City of Homes” in five months, but I will carry with me always a gratitude for the rich welcome I received here, a welcome that turns any interaction into a taste of home.

Elizabeth Pearson
AmeriCorps VISTA
St. Mary of Celle Family Strengthening Center
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago