By Peter Woo, Lend for America Intern
On Saturday, July 7, CEF celebrated its second annual Financial Independence Day by throwing a cookout party at HOPE Gardens. Though human flesh seemed to cook faster than the chicken (the grill was very small), CEF staff, volunteers, and members both veteran and new kept the spirit high with each other’s company. But it was a hot day, and the flow of the food supply was somewhat tight. Two of our members—Dennis and Ronald who had experience working for restaurants—and Mike—our former member, current Opportunity Class teacher and a former owner of a restaurant—were hard at work manning the grill and getting grilled.
When I grabbed my share of some potato salad and beans, I sheepishly asked Ronald to make sure to grab a plate himself.
“Nah, I’m good. I’ll wait until I see that there’s enough food for everyone.”
I felt many things all at once when I heard his reply: surprise, shame, admiration, gratefulness. For the moment, however, I felt that it would be best for Ronald if I magnified my feeling of gratefulness, though I was mostly ashamed. Ronald was doing something that is incredibly hard for people to do; he was going through a lot of discomfort for the benefit of others. A proper response would be to accept that thankfully and take a positive challenge to heart.
The second leg of CEF’s dual mission is to incubate genuine leadership within students. And it’s such a great nursery for that kind of growth because students are forced to greet some form of discomfort every day. For me, at least, doing my best to face and embrace discomfort every day forced me to see a lot of ugliness in me which in turn made me vulnerable. And I find that mutual vulnerability through discomfort is critical for an authentic community that softly assigns both parties, me and my clients, into a place of sameness.
As CEF currently goes through a process of growth, there seem to be some discomfort. Obviously, needless discomfort is a function of inefficiency, but I’m confident that CEF will grow into the kind of discomfort that promotes thoughtful self evaluation and community building vulnerability. It’s definitely not going to become an organization that grows comfortable.
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24
Peter is a rising junior at the University of Notre Dame, and is interning with the Community Empowerment Fund through a national internship program called “Lend for America.” He has jumped right in and gotten involved in all levels of CEF’s programming this summer to learn about how we work and hopefully take some great lessons back to his home campus in Indiana, where he is starting a campus-based MFI called “JIFFI.”