by Charlie Riebeling
Charlie is a second-year Loretto Volunteer at Academy of Hope, an adult education organization in Washington, DC.
When I was introduced to the Loretto community five years ago, I was first struck by a profound sense of welcoming and acceptance that Lorettos extend to others. As I reflect on the years I have been part of Loretto, one thing that always comes to mind is my gratefulness to have the opportunity to be a part of the intergenerational growth that the Loretto community opens itself to. Whether I’m stuffing envelopes for a mailing, chatting with Lorettos at the Motherhouse, or checking in with my Loretto “mentor” (I’m not sure JoAnn is sold on the title), I feel like my opinions and experiences and self are a valued part of the community as a whole. I have had the privilege to learn from people who have done uncountably many things to better the lives of people in their immediate community, as well as make considerable impacts on the world. The dedication and determination not only to know what can be done to better the world but to act on those convictions are things I can definitely learn from. The humility with which the members of the community regard their impacts is something I hope to be able to emulate in my life.
I see the same type of humility in the people I work with at Academy of Hope. I work with adult learners by leading classes in order to help people prepare to take the GED, receive a high school diploma, or prepare for college. The majority of the people I work with are juggling an astounding amount of responsibility to themselves and their families to be able to pay rent, buy food, get around the city, etc. To come back to school after 5, 10, 30 years on top of these responsibilities isn’t easy. To come back to a system that has failed them, to feel the stress of homework and extra scheduling on top of the stress of how to get their children to school each day while still attending classes – all of these responsibilities stacked on top of each other create a formidable barrier to being able to reach the goals our learners set for themselves (formidable being an understatement).
When I come to work every day, though, I see a smile on the face of every person I say ‘hello’ to. Being a part of a community that faces these challenges together makes those barriers less scary. One of the things that drew me to Academy of Hope, and that kept me there for a second volunteer year, is the efforts they take to make AoH a community of learning. There is no teacher – we are all students. This rings true for me every day. I don’t go to work to fill someone’s head with knowledge, just like JoAnn doesn’t answer my phone calls to simply spew out her wisdom. The people I work with already have wisdom, and they already have skills. Anyone who can juggle the responsibilities of family and work already has knowledge, even if it’s not the kind that our school systems are designed to recognize.
Originally, I was nervous about leading classes. I thought, "What can these people learn from a 23-year-old?” But AoH’s values apply to all members of the community, even me. We share an equal exchange of thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This exchange creates community and makes me feel like I’m part of Loretto and part of Academy of Hope. The way I look at the world is no better or worse than any member of the community, only different. Each member is unique and has creative and new ways to look at problems, each one just as valuable as the next.
I consider myself privileged to have been able to experience the value of intergenerational work with Loretto and with Academy of Hope. Because of my experience in both of these communities, I feel more confident in my own opinions as well as more open to the contributions of those around me, regardless of their different experiences. I feel like I am more capable of creating spaces in which everyone feels like they belong and are valued, and I am grateful to Loretto and the people I work with for providing the same spaces for me.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.