I Haven’t Seen Styrofoam in Years
By: Ari Alvarez
Ari is from Clayton, CA and graduated from St. Mary's College in 2015 with a degree in Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies. Ari is living in the St. Louis community and working as a campus minister at loretto-founded high school, Nerinx Hall.
I’d be lying if I said that my adjustment to St. Louis was an easy one. In all honesty, it has been one of the hardest things I’ve done. Keep in mind, I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world for service and immersion opportunities…so I thought I was prepared. Well, nothing could have quite prepared me for this adjustment.
Though my community has proven to be incredibly supportive, fun, and enriching, I struggled a lot with allowing myself to be present in the moment in front of me. I kept calling home just to see what friends and family were up to, I even began looking at opportunities back home for the NEXT year. How embarrassing! I was struggling and was really missing the comfort of the Bay Area.
I kept thinking back to opening retreat where we continuously discussed and unpacked the concept of “leaning into the discomfort.” This philosophy was familiar to me, for, I used it a lot in college and previous work. I was a firm believer of it, an ambassador for the philosophy that yielded brave, powerful, and fearless folks! I left retreat with a determined spirit to live by those words! Then BOOM! Reality set in and I was a mess. I was not leaning into the discomfort whatsoever; I was trying to run away as fast as possible.
I’ve experienced such a culture shock here in the Midwest. I am constantly amazed by the layout of St. Louis in regards to racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic divides. Even more surface level things - like the fact that I haven’t seen Styrofoam in years, yet, that’s widely used here. I began comparing even the smallest of details to life back home. I began realizing how toxic this was. My continuous habit of picking apart every aspect of my new city was inhibiting me from fully immersing myself.
More complex issues, such as the deep racial divide here in St. Louis, have also been overwhelming to my spirit. This city has experienced so much pain, heartbreak, oppression, and more. It’s almost unbelievable driving by buildings and neighborhoods that are nearly falling down, knowing that those are communities where families exist; families that work every day to foster love in their homes. Families who have experienced life at a much different pace than I have.
It’s been these moments of realization and pain that have, ironically, granted me love and appreciation for this city and this volunteer program. It’s been these moments that have allowed me to fully accept and embrace where I am right this second, knowing that I am exactly where I need to be. I’m still uncomfortable and out of my element, but I’m finally embracing it.
While here, I’ve found community in my housemates, supervisors, sisters next door, past volunteers, co-workers, and more. Through their support and knowledge, I’ve had the privilege to attend events discussing racial justice, marches to welcome Syrian refugees, conversations about displacement, racism, culture, triggers, and more. I’m living richly - surrounded by energy, the constant pursuit of a better tomorrow, love, laughter, and exploration. This has been achieved with a lot of face-to-face time, a lot of getting lost, a lot of laughter, and a lot of simply being and accepting where we are right now in life. Accepting that some days will be amazing, while others might suck. Accepting this journey as a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to know oneself on a level deeper than one could have imagined.
My community here is slowly building and establishing itself. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude every night before I go to bed- seriously! I’m not just saying this to be corny and try to win over my readers- it’s the honest truth. There is value to what I am doing, to what I am feeling, and to what I am experiencing. There is value to being uncomfortable.
I cannot wait to see what comes at the end of this volunteer year. But for now, I am happy with what I have today, and that’s a big step for me. I am reenergized by the spirit of this city, to say the least.
9/15/2015 11:06:16 am
Ari...this is absolutely amazing! It brought me to a few tears....your honest, vulnerability and challenge is 'awesome'. So very happy that I get to see you in St. Louis!
9/16/2015 09:57:06 am
Thank you so much Claud <3
9/15/2015 10:31:16 pm
Ari, I have known you since you're a baby and i just want to say that I'm proud of you , don't ever change 😊
9/16/2015 09:56:33 am
Thank you so much :))
9/16/2015 11:02:48 am
What an incredible story. I have tears in my eyes. You are an incredible young lady that has so much to offer to so many people. Your courage to travel and help others is amazing. Keep up the good work. Take care xoxo
9/17/2015 02:14:46 pm
Thank you so much, Silvia! You're very sweet :))
9/16/2015 03:55:53 pm
Ari, you just never know what's going on behind the open, smiling face of another. Thank you for sharing our own openness to vulnerability, to being the person you know you are, and for commitment to this year as a Loretto Volunteer! All the very best to you!
9/17/2015 02:15:17 pm
Thanks Barb! You've helped me feel at home here in STL :)
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