Monthly Archives: June 2009

HOUSE NEWS: Former guest found dead in Newnan’s Lake

Many of you may have seen the story in this morning’s Gainesville Sun about Ollen James Rogers, identified as the homeless man found dead in Newnan’s Lake on Wednesday. Ollen was a former guest of the house, and my interactions with Ollen were always kind and friendly. Ollen stayed with us during either our first or second year in the Blue House. Ollen had a pretty nice set-up out in the woods where he lived comfortably with several others, including family members. He was a bit of a throwback, a real man’s man–strong, independent and no-nonsense. The only reason he stayed with us for a few weeks was because he had been in a bad accident (on his bike I think) and when the hospital released him, they had told him he needed to rest, recuperate and be close enough for any return visits if needed. He came to the house pretty beat up, bruised and hobbling, lots of bandages.

Ollen wasn’t a regular at the house. He came by every once in awhile, usually on Sundays for the cafe during those first couple of years in the Blue House. I had been out to Ollen’s campsite on occasion, including one trip back in September 2004 when the hurricanes were coming our way. Several folks had gone out to some of the sites to see if anyone wanted to come to safer ground during the storm. I remember Ollen thanking us for the concern but noting that he would be just fine where he was, thank you very much.

Ollen James Rogers, age 53, we give thanks for having known you. May you rest in peace.

- John

REFLECTION: Vegetables, yes–but sunflowers too

Vegetables, yes--but sunflowers too

Vegetables, yes--but sunflowers too

Whether you are into bio-regionalism, the locavore or local food movement, food security, sustainability or whatnot, gardening seems to be at the center. And the prime purpose of a garden, of course, is to be able to grow your own food.

But I have a little confession to make. Behind the utilitarian value of it all, I’ve discovered that I am a bit of an aesthete as well.

Sunday, despite the ungodly high temperature (heat index over 110 degrees!), my son and I spent over two hours beautifying our little plot—picking up trash from around the vacant lot, rearranging the bags of leaves we use in our compost, cutting down the overgrown grass around the garden’s perimeter, and so on. We also managed to pick around 90 incredibly delicious cherry tomatoes, 175 pole beans, and various peppers, some okra and squash too. And even though the food is the main thing (and the little orange tomatoes were especially delicious), the best part of the day was stepping off a little ways away and taking in how beautiful the garden looked after our efforts. (And in the interest of full disclosure, it’s our friend Bob who has been doing the really hard work over the past weeks—weeding.)

To read the rest of this post, click here.

HOUSE NEWS: Tying up loose ends

GCW Spring 2009 House Members

GCW Spring 2009 House Members

Dear friends,

This will be the last email you get from us until we restart things in early August following our “summer sabbath.” But we did have a few loose ends to tie up:

ASKING FOR YOUR FEEDBACK: Part of what we do during our “summer sabbath” is reflect and evaluate the year just past, and start planning for the next year. As we do this reflecting, evaluating and planning, we would love to hear some feedback from all of you who are part of the GCW community. So, we’d like to ask: Why are you part of the GCW community? Why do you come to the house? What is it about the GCW that most resonates or speaks to you and keeps you coming back? If you’d like to weigh in, we’d love to hear from you. Join the discussion thread on our Facebook page or look for the post, FEEDBACK, just below this one on the GCW blog and leave your feedback as a comment. Thanks!

GOOD LUCK PATRICK: Patrick, who has been such an instrumental member of our community for the past one-and-a-half years, will be leaving us later this week to 1) get married to Catherine in late July, and then 2) start a MA program at the University of Dayton in Ohio in August. For anyone who has been at the house over the past year especially, you know all about everything that Patrick brings to the GCW. His friendliness, work ethic, compassion and general goofiness will be sorely missed. Thanks Patrick, and good luck to you and Catherine!

KEEP UP WITH US ON FACEBOOK AND THE WEBSITE: While we won’t be sending emails out to the list over the summer, we will be making some regular posts (and uploading photos, and whatnot) to our Facebook page, Kelli’s blog and the GCW blog. If you haven’t joined our Facebook group, we’d love to have you. On Kelli’s blog, you’ll read about how we’re learning to “live more locally,” with recent posts about Gainesville’s free bike project, recipes using local food, and neighborliness and hospitality. And given the chance to write some this summer, I hope to post some scripture reflections, any house news and so on on the GCW blog as well. Comments and feedback are encouraged!

MAKING ENDS MEET: Finally, we’d like to thank everyone for their generosity in helping us to make ends meet throughout the year. No one at the GCW is paid. We are not a social service agency, nor do we have tax exempt status. We do not receive any monies from the government or foundations. The folks who live in the house contribute to a common purse, from which we pay our bills and secure what we need to help the folks who frequent our home. But we cannot do it alone. So many of you do what you can to help us make ends meet and keep this work going. For that, we are always grateful. For anyone who would like to help us in supporting the work of the GCW–about 4575 breakfasts to day laborers thru Breakfast Brigade; 5130 meals at Dorothy’s Cafe; and overnight hospitality to 30 different guests, a total of 456 days (for an average of about 15 days per each guest)–you can send checks made out to the GCW to 218 NW 2nd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601. Thanks again for your kindness.

Have a great summer and we’ll see you in August!

In peace,

John

FEEDBACK: Why are you part of the GCW community?

It is the end of another year for us (we operate on the school schedule, you understand) and part of what we do during our “summer sabbath” is reflect and evaluate the year just past, and start planning for the next year. We’ve never done this before, but as we do this reflecting, evaluating and planning, we would love to hear some feedback from all of you who are part of the GCW community.

So, we’d like to ask: Why are you part of the GCW community? Why do you come to the house? What is it about the GCW that most resonates or speaks to you and keeps you coming back?

If you’d like to weigh in, we’d love to hear from you. Join the discussion thread on our Facebook page or click on the “Comments” link below this post and leave your thoughts here. Thanks!

REFLECTION: No one lives locally, alone

Celebrating at our 3rd/7th Anniversary Party

Celebrating at our 3rd/7th Anniversary Party

Our life at the Gainesville Catholic Worker might be best summed up by the word hospitality. Our meals often consist of 8, 12, 15, or even 30 or more people. Our doorbell rings a dozen (sometimes two or three times that) times a day, with friends or visitors looking for a place to sit out of the sun for awhile, a drink of water, asking to use the phone, and so on. And we regularly have people who have no other place to go staying with us overnight—29 different guests stayed with us this past year for a total of about 450 nights.

Hospitality is often defined by the work of mercy dictate “welcome the stranger.” But the phrase doesn’t quite capture what I think we do. For the most part, we “welcome our friends,” or even our “brothers and sisters.” Maybe you could dismiss it as semantics, but I don’t think that would be fair.

To read the rest of this post, click here.

REFLECTION: On biking and “The Kickstand”

NOTE: Some of you regularly read Kelli’s blog, www.ourlocallife.com, which covers some of what happens here at the GCW but also more broadly treats the question: “How can we live more locally?” When Kelli or I post entries on that blog which touch on the work of the GCW, we’ll post the opening paragraphs and a link to the fuller post here too, in case any of ya’ll are interested and want to read more.

Working on bikes for the homeless at the Kickstand

Working on bikes for the homeless at the Kickstand

There seems to be nothing bad that can be said about biking. At every level, no matter what facet you consider, biking seems to be an extraordinarily good thing: it’s a good form of exercise, there’s no gas involved and no pollution created, it’s a fairly inexpensive form of transportation, and it’s fun. What’s the drawback?

For myself, coming from a middle-class background, biking is a choice I make in terms of simple living, health and having a low impact on the environment. But for many of the folks with whom we work closely with at the Catholic Worker, having a bike is less about any of these things and more about opportunities for work, access to healthcare and social services, and finding a secluded and therefore safer place to live.

To read the rest of this post, click here.

HOUSE NEWS: Last week til August, and we’re full again!

Dear friends,

For a full list of this week’s activities, click here.

CLOSING TIME: This will be our last week of operation until August. We’ll be taking our annual summer sabbatical to rest, rejuvenate and repair the house (and ourselves) from June 20 until the beginning of August. We are so grateful for how so many of you make us a part of your weekly lives: Karen bringing us desserts and various odds and ends regularly, Leah and Vicki faithfully at every cafe, Bob sweating in the garden, Gloria and Dave helming the Breakfast Brigade, and so many more… To all of you, thanks for making our fifth year in the Blue House so wonderful.

2008-09 BY THE NUMBERS: I’m a baseball guy, and therefore statistics are important to me. For the 2008-2009 year, together we shared about 4575 breakfasts during Breakfast Brigade; 5130 lunches/dinners at Dorothy’s Cafe; and we gave overnight hospitality to 29 different guests, a total of 447 days (for an average of about 15 days per each guest). We shared hundreds of more meals (maybe thousands) with friends and visitors outside of Dorothy’s Cafe, received mail for dozens of people, provided a phone or a place to sit and rest to countless to others, and so on. It is a grand undertaking we set out to do each August, and again it is through the generosity of so many friends and volunteers and the kindness of so many guests, visitors and friends that we can keep it all going.

FULL HOUSE: After emptying out for about 10 days, we’re back into the double digits. Three community members are still here, we’ve got two guests, and thru Friday we’re hosting TiAnna and 5 high school students from Holy Faith Catholic Church’s Youth Group, who are doing a week’s retreat with us. If you have a chance to stop by this week and spend a little time working alonside TiAnna and her students, I’m sure they’d love to meet some of our regular volunteers. Keep their group (and us) in your prayers this week.

So if you can, come on by and see us this week. Make your last Dorothy’s Cafe or Breakfast Brigade. And give thanks with us for another wild and interesting year gone by…

In peace,

John

HOUSE NEWS: Doing the little things well, for others

Dear friends,

For information about what is happening this week at the GCW, click here.

This past week, we had a young man staying with us who is considering joining us for the Metanoia semester (a semester-long immersion experience into life at the GCW) in the fall. I often wonder, when coming face-to-face with someone who wants to live and work with us, what their reasons are. Part of my introductory speech to new community members stresses just how seemingly mundane and typical our life is. We cook food and we eat. We clean. We garden. We raise our children. We work. All of us do most of these things. It’s not glamorous work. There is no big “Wow!” to it. It is simply the basics of life.

What we’ve come to believe is that there is something eternal and profoundly meaningful in undertaking these “basics” of life–that there is a great “good” to doing them well, with intention and with gratitude, and maybe most importantly, doing them for others. As a parent, I imagine that this resonates with many of us who are parents–we do all of these things regularly because of our sense of responsbility for, and more deeply, our love for our children.

For people considering living with us, I stress that if the value they assign to their work resides in how big or impressive or “Wow” it is, then they’re not going to like what they find here. For us, as it is for many of you, it is the little thing, the basic thing, done well, with love and in joy, which takes up most of our time and energy. My experience has been that for the vast majority of folks who frequent our home, our doing those little things well for them is seen as a gift, moreso than what one would think maybe. A home well-kept, a meal well-prepared, a clean bathroom, a vase of cut flowers. There is a deep-down goodness to these things, these things that any and all of us can do.

GCW NEEDS LIST: We’re looking for a few things that would help us around the house in our various projects. 1) A DVD player: We’re still looking for a working DVD player, in case anyone has an old one they’re no longer using. We frequently show films at the house and our DVD player broke about a month ago now. 2) Bike locks: This past weekend, we got 6 working bikes (see photo below) from Nam, Lili, Carlos, Jacqueline, Kelly and their crew and the folks at The Kickstand to pass along to some of our guests and visitors who could really use them for work, transportation to appointments, etc. We’ve already given 2 away but we need bike locks for the last 4 so the new owners can make sure they’re secured. The group of students, UF grads and others will be refurbishing more bikes in the weeks to come too. So if anyone can make a gift of a bike lock or several bike locks to the house, we can put them to good use. 3) A lawnmower to borrow: We need to cut back the weeds and grass surrounding our garden on 2nd Street and the use of a lawnmover for an hour or two would be a big help. If you have an easily transportable mower (we’ll come and get it) we could borrow, let us know.

Nam works on a bike

Nam works on a bike

See other photos on our Facebook page by clicking here.

UPCOMING VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES: This is our next-to-last week before we take our summer sabbatical. We can use help at Wednesday’s cafe (9:30am-6pm), Friday’s Breakfast Brigade (4:15-7am) and in the garden (call or drop by the house) anytime this week.

In peace,

John

HOUSE NEWS: Running on empty

Hi folks,

For this week’s schedule, click here.

June is typically a time of “endings” for us at the GCW. When we moved into the Blue House five years ago, we decided that it would be important for us to take about a 6-week break each summer. Some of it is practical–like it is really hot during the summer and not having to run the AC all summer would be a big cost-saver for us. But the “summer sabbatical” also comes from the knowledge that life at the Blue House means being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; that the pace of the work and sometimes the intensity of our lives and the lives of those who visit us each day can grow to be overwhelming, even exhausting; and that if you want to last at this, if you want to live this life over the long haul with integrity and with openness, then you need to practice what our biblical ancestors called “sabbath.” So each June, around about the middle of the month, until the first week of August, we take what we call a “summer sabbatical.” It is supposed to be a time for us to get away from the house and get some rest (if we can), to let the house “lie fallow” (all our projects stop), and to cultivate those things which will rejuvenate us, re-invigorate us spiritually and physically, and bring us back to this work rested, whole, vital and excited.

But I am getting ahead of myself a little. Our summer sabbatical doesn’t begin until June 20, so we’ve got a full two weeks and then some of activity. But we’ve started to feel a little bit of that “winding down” that precedes our summer sabbatical this past week.

These past several months have been some of the fullest, in terms of capacity, that we’ve experienced at the house. We’ve had 11 of us living here regularly for some time, with other overnight and multi-night guests throughout joining us as well.  But we’re starting to empty out. Leroy, who has been a regular member of the community since we first opened the Blue House, left yesterday after staying with us for almost a month following his stabbing as he recovered. Mohamed, another regular member of the community for the past four years, moved into his own apartment after about five months with us. Luis, ever-present volunteer, who had been staying with us since March, also left this past weekend. And finally, Kendera (and Moraa), after being part of our live-in community for the past 2-plus years, also moved in with her good friend Rose. All will still be in the area and involved with the house, so for that we are grateful. We’re most grateful though that, for each of them, they were able to find what they needed while living at the house and they leave us blessed with achieving some of what they were searching for when they joined us.

In many ways, this is the nature of our communal life. It is a series of comings and goings, beginnings and endings. Each person who has passed through our home changes us, enriches us and becomes part of who we are forever. And we look forward to new gifts and experiences, which new guests and new community members will bring when we start back up in August.

For now, Patrick, Kimberly, Kelli, I and the kids, will finish up the next weeks, close the doors June 20, and then we’ll reflect, rest and rejuvenate. And then we’ll start it all over again in August…

BIKES FOR THE HOMELESS: Several longtime supporters of the GCW have purchased/collected dozens of bicycles which they are refurbishing for us to give out to homeless folks and other guests of the GCW. The generous folks at The Kickstand, 722 S. Main Street, between Gainesville Rock Gym and Discount Hi-Fi, are helping with parts and labor, but we need more folks to show up and help fix the bikes up. Whether you have skills or not, we can put you to work. So come out to The Kickstand anytime between 9am and 1pm on Sunday, June 7th to help with the bikes!

AND THEN THERE WERE 3: Get your Cafe-fix before we’re closed for the summer! A delicious meal of homemade soup and bread awaits you. Prep begins at 9:30am, serving at 12pm, and clean-up at 4:30pm. Donations of butter, fruit, salt, flour, soup fixings, etc. are always appreciated. Just 3 more cafes til we close for summer. Ditto for Breakfast Brigade on Friday!

MASS AT THE GCW: We’ll be celebrating Mass with Fr. John Phillips, our chaplain and the pastor of Holy Faith Catholic Church. This will be our last Mass before we close up this summer, so join us in giving thanks for this past year.

EXTRA DVD PLAYER OUT THERE? Lastly, if anyone out there has a used DVD player lying around which they are not using, ours broke a couple of weeks ago. We frequently show movies at the house on special nights or for guests and community members and we would make good use of it if you don’t need it anymore. Thanks!

LOCAL GOAT CHEESE: We’ve been enjoying delicious goat cheese at the house over the last few months supplied by a local dairy that’s getting started – garlic-chive, mild jalapeno, honey-nut, pesto… just delicious. We love supporting an up- and-coming local food producer, and we love the cheese (which can be frozen). It’s $5/half pound. Let us know if you’re interested and we’ll hook you up.

Thanks again to everyone who has been helping out these past few weeks!

In peace,

John

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