November & December theme:
“Choose One Thing”
Posted in :  Community Works

Designed as a way for us to make community service a sustainable part of our culture and inspire others to do the same, Fathom’s Community Works program grants each team member the gift of time. In addition to company-wide service events, we can each design our own volunteering experience to perform on company time.

The inviting Hartford Catholic Worker House.

I chose to spend my Community Works day at the Hartford Catholic Worker House, which runs after-school programs for children in the neighborhood, provides temporary shelter for those who need it, and has been building community in the north end of Hartford for more than 20 years.

My first experience with the Catholic Worker was volunteering at the soup kitchen at Viva House in Baltimore during my college days, when I was inspired to learn about Dorothy Day’s philosophy of direct aid for the poor and non-violent advocacy. Day was famous for giving new volunteers the dirtiest jobs, so I brought my work gloves prepared to be of service wherever they needed me most.

And those gloves got a workout! I spent the first part of the day scrubbing, mopping and tidying the living space in one of the cheerfully painted Victorian houses that is temporarily home to a high school student who spent years moving from one relative’s couch to another. Living here has provided much-needed stability and safety for this high school sophomore, and it felt good to make it a more welcoming home.

Tuesdays, the day that I had volunteered, are their quietest day, which I had chosen intentionally because I wanted to talk to the people who run the house.

During a lunch break between cleaning projects, Chris Doucot and I sat on the front porch and talked about social justice, building community, and his experiences over the two decades since he and his wife, Jackie, founded the community. His father, a retired steel worker, dropped Chris off at the Worcester Catholic Worker on his college graduation day, and he hasn’t looked back since.

He told me that a lot of kids in the neighborhood call Chris and his wife “Mom and Dad” for the important roles they’ve played in their lives, though he tries to suggest Aunt Jackie and Uncle Chris instead. Now, some of those kids have grown up and have kids of their own who call them Grandma and Grandpa.

Over the course of our conversation, Chris stopped to talk to a boy walking down the street, encouraging him to visit his grandmother, and to his own son, about his friend who died a day earlier in a car accident. He notes that one unintended consequence of raising two boys in the neighborhood has been seeing so many friends die. Their commitment isn’t without sacrifice, but it has made them a part of the community.

As I gathered up my cleaning supplies at the end of the day, Chris invited me to come back in the future. Saturdays are magical on Clark Street, he said, with a gathering in the backyard, laughter, conversation and a meal served “from littlest to biggest.”

The experience was a reminder of something that Viva House had instilled in me years ago: that we choose every day what kind of world we create, from decisions large and small. Like almost every volunteer experience, I felt that I had received so much more than I had given.

A poem of inspiration on the wall at the Catholic Worker House.

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Posted by: Louisa Desson
Email the author: louisad@fathom.net