A 'Real World' experience

By The Beacon | February 2, 2011 9:00pm

(The Beacon)

By Jo Cecilio, Guest Commentary -- The Becaon

Nine strangers, picked to live in a house and work together, to see what happens… sound familiar? No, it's not MTV's "The Real World" — it was my sophomore year. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to live in the Faith and Leadership House. Let me tell you, it was a REAL experience. Nine of us were chosen that year to live together, learn together, pray together and serve together. The Faith and Leadership House's program is shaped by five pillars: Faith, Prayer, Intellectual Life, Community and Service. Living in the house both challenged and cultivated these areas.

Let's start with Prayer. I knew a couple of years ago that my prayer life was lacking. I was doing crazy things, as many sophomores do, and still hadn't found my fit in the University. My housemates and I were fantastic about praying together every day, even if it meant praying at 11 o'clock at night. It was an opportunity for us to share our praying styles and explore God in different ways. Now prayer is a daily part of my life. I start and end my day with a conversation with the big G-O-D. Even at meals with friends, we have made it a habit to join hands and thank God for our food.

I became incredibly academically motivated living in the house. There was always someone to study with, walk to class with and look over my Bib Trad papers. Once a week a professor or faculty from the university would come over and speak on a topic. I looked forward to those speakers every week. The FLH brought learning right to my doorstep and engaged me in ways I had not experienced. This piece of the program enhanced my academic life incredibly, making me excited for classes.

Community was the most challenging piece in the program. The thing about living in intentional community is that you don't just get to pick up and leave. This community needs to work through rough times and celebrate in the better times. The best thing about this particular community is that it isn't just you and your housemates. A useful tool that I use to this day is the "Speaker/Listener" tool or what Stacey Noem calls the "Power Tool." Basically, it involves allowing a housemate to say his or her piece, then restating back to him or her in your own words what you heard. It has helped in making me more patient in my relationships and allowing us to say what we need while feeling heard.

The best thing about living in community is the automatic support system it creates. When tragedy strikes, and believe me, it does, the housemates mobilize quickly and creates a space filled with love, comfort and safety. What's different about living in this community is that those key elements are grounded in the understanding that we are a faith-filled community and that is what sustains us through rougher times. Two years later, I have learned to create that support system. The support system that has been built up around me is just as solid, if not more so, and is filled with unconditional love, comfort and safety. Those people, my community, are whom I turn to in crisis and whom I rejoice with when I've made it to the other side.

Service has always been a part of my life. My freshman year, I started working at the Boys and Girls Club just up the street from UP. The house requirement is one placement of individual service and a placement for group service. The housemates collectively agreed to do the House service project at my Boys and Girls Club. This experience solidified how much I truly enjoy this work and know that this is what I want to do.

I've saved the first pillar for last because it is by Faith that the rest of the pillars were able to move through my life. I have been humbled over the last two years as I realize how much living in the house affected my life. Without a doubt, my faith was strengthened through the process. The program is really built to cultivate and promote growth in the whole person. The lessons I took from the year have stayed with me. I am more intentional in everything I say and do. It may have broken me down spiritually, academically, emotionally and physically. However, it built me up in those very same ways. The house provided a way for me to explore my faith, become more self-aware and academically motivated, be more attentive to others and discover God's movement in my life.

Did it make me better? Heaven YES!

Jo Cecilio is a senior social work major. She can be contacted at cecilio11@up.edu

(Photo Submitted by Jo Cecilio)