We asked Sara Snowden (BSVM 2020-2021) to reflect on a key characteristic of a BSVM year: live where you serve. Hear Sara’s thoughts on learning from the legacy of the Sisters of Bon Secours in Southwest Baltimore, where she lived as a Ministry Volunteer and for another year after, and on the power of staying and listening to the community around you (or read the transcript below):
Sara: “When I initially applied to BSVM, one of the first questions I asked was, ‘why Baltimore?’ Are we welcome here? Is the mission of BSVM the mission and vision that the community has for it? The history of the Sisters of Bon Secours in Baltimore is what has driven us to be here, I was told. In practice, I saw this in the fact that one group of Sisters lives two blocks from the volunteer house, across the street from one of the ministry placement sites. The flags of the Bon Secours Sisters that flutter in the breeze in southwest Baltimore are on the affordable housing units the organization has built and the new community center recently opened. Not because the Sisters of Bon Secours have fixed southwest Baltimore, but because they have stayed.
The Sisters have stayed and listened. They’ve stayed and adjusted to the community’s desires over the years. They’ve stayed even though the end of poverty and violence in the neighborhood is not likely to be near, and is not something that they can really fix on their own. From them I learned that to be a neighbor is to stay: to plant roots and entangle into the community in a way that you cannot separate yourself from. In Southwest Baltimore in particular, this is really important because there are so many empty buildings. There are vacant lots that represent those that did not stay. Areas that are forgotten and cast off as ‘lost causes’. The area of Southwest Baltimore is often considered an ’empty’ area, a place that’s not habitable, that’s not welcoming or full of life.
BSVM has shifted as the neighborhood has shifted, and in my year of [service during early days of] Covid, that meant that we provided service in a new way, and we shifted with how the needs of the community changed. So we supported the Urban Farm at [Bon Secours] Community Works, which is two blocks from our home, and we also served at Sisters Academy in Baltimore, a school that Bon Secours sponsors. And while it was not what I was initially expecting at all– but that’s what being a neighbor really is, it’s being what your neighbor needs, right? Whether it’s a cup of sugar, or whether it’s someone to help lead a virtual yoga class or online Zumba, or laying ground cover to plant new crops at the Urban Farm. We never really knew what the community needed; sometimes it was using our van to haul food boxes to Sisters Academy on Saturday mornings because we had a minivan that could fit a lot of food boxes. And so, it was really what was asked of us each day was not to solve the problems of injustice, but simply rather to show up and to listen and see how our lives and the problems of injustices could support the neighborhood. And that was a really freeing experience.”