Patrick C. Keaveny

The Wordy Coder

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Taking Risks, Overcoming Struggles, East St. Louis 2013


I’ve gotta say, I don’t think I could have asked for a better group to lead.

I’ve spent quite a bit of my time at College trying to go outside my comfort zone, and before this trip, I was finished with the idea. A few weeks beforehand, I had said to myself, “this will probably be the last time I go outside my comfort zone.”

I found that over the course of the process, whether it was the formation, group meetings, or the trip itself, I had to work to go outside my comfort zone. I’m the kind of guy who likes his alone time. I like being able to read, watch movies, and go to the gym. Interacting with people has never been a strong suit of mine, and so being a coordinator was a daunting task for me at first. I felt obligated to be one however, after a certain experience on a previous trip, and so felt I had to endure the challenges that lied ahead.

There were quite a few challenges to overcome. The main thing to overcome was being a part of a group, and then leading said group. I had never been good at being a part of a group, let alone being the leader of said group, and I had many worries and fears. In particular, I was worried that the members of the trip wouldn’t get along, and that I would feel responsible for it. It’s difficult to know concretely that a group will be cohesive, despite all the preparations for it. Despite all of the meetings, trainings, and resources, one is never fully prepared for what will happen on a trip, and much of it is left to chance.

During our first day, I was unsure of where things were going. I had spent quite a bit of time bonding with Michelle, the other coordinator, but I wasn’t sure how the rest of the group was faring.

That all changed however, during our first reflection.

We were scheduled to have reflections every night, and our first took place in a house in St. Louis that one of our friends had graciously put up for us. During our first reflection, many talked about the usual reflective things, such as how they were feeling and what they were looking forward to. It wasn’t until one of our group — a guy who I had noticed being very distanced from the rest — opened up to the rest of us. He shared something so personal with us, so heartfelt, that it paved the way for the rest of us to be open with each other. From that point on, I noticed how others had become more open, I even found myself discussing my battle with Depression, something I hadn’t confided in many people before.

From that point on, we all became closer.

Whether it was making jokes with each other, playing Mafia until late into the night, or sharing with each other the most personal feelings, we could all sense that we were becoming closer. Our group was very mercurial. We could spend all night making jokes about how our residence was built on “Ancient Indian Burial Grounds,” and then spend the next night sharing the most personal things with each other.

We all looked out for each other, we laughed with each other, we put up with each other. Most importantly, we had all struggled through the rough times with each other.

There were several times where we all faced difficult things to confront. The most difficult part, by far, were the kids we got to know.

We were assigned to a local after-school program every day, where we would tutor kids and children, play games, and hear their stories. By the second day, we all realized that the kids we interacted with, the lively, friendly, energetic kids, had troubles in their lives. The local kids were from broken families, many falling victim to drugs or gangs, and most only aspiring to work at the local motel when they grew up. At some point, we knew that the kids we had met would likely fall victim to crime later in life, and most were stuck in situations they couldn’t control, forced to live a life where drugs, crime, and poverty were as normal as going to school.

Each member of our group knew this, and we all felt powerless in our abilities to change what we couldn’t control.

Yet through it all, we found a way to be there for each other. We found ways to open up, to make each other laugh, and to struggle through this environment where so much was so different from what most of us had known. And that, in itself, was the greatest experience we could have had.

These trips, as much as they are about teaching us, a bunch of Creighton students, about poverty and injustice, are about the kinds of bonds we form with each other. Many individuals, when faced with the kinds of severe poverty we faced in East St. Louis, struggle with the experiences they have. Our group in particular had many struggles, whether it was interacting with kids in the Projects, serving impoverished members of the community, or even coming in contact with gang violence. In each case, we supported each other through the struggle. Whether it was:

Michelle with her smile and energy that could ignite a fire,

Sean and his ability to open up so completely that inspired the rest of us,

Erin with her unconditional open embrace for all people,

Kaylee(Kelsey) with her ability to connect with anyone,

Michael with his youthful and enthusiastic spirit,

Jessica and her brutal honesty and unwavering courage,

Colleen and her one-of-a-kind intelligence and ability to adapt to any situation.

The group.

Each person gave a part of themselves to support each other. Each member of our little group was so unique and so special that we formed more than just a group, we formed a family.

By the end of the week, I was touched not just by how each personality in our group came to the surface, but by how wrong my worries had been. I had worried that the trip would be a disaster, and that it would have been my fault. I found however, that not only had my worries been completely dashed, but my expectations had gone above and beyond and straight through the stratosphere.

I could not have asked for such a great group to lead, and I only hope each member was as touched as I was.