By Elizabeth McNulty, FC 20
There were a few different expectations I had when beginning my FrancisCorps experience back in August. I was thinking I would make some new friends, give of myself, get closer to God, etc. One thing that I certainly didn’t see coming, however, was that I would fall in love. Now, I know what you are thinking. Who’s the guy? How did you meet? But the trick is, I didn’t fall for one guy, I fell for 20 little guys who begged me to play basketball with them every day from 2-5p.m. One time we even raised the stakes and made a bet that the loser had to buy the winner lunch. Needless to say, I was out $12.99 that day and was lovingly given the nickname “trash” by a group of elementary schoolers. I was trying to teach them to respect me though, so by the end of the week I graduated to “Ms. Trash” on the court. Mission accomplished. I fell for 20 more little angels with new braids in their hair every week, who showered me with love every single day. Unlike their male counterparts’ clever nickname for me, to them I was “Princess Elizabeth” who had hair that was long and flowy.
I remember walking into the gym at Bishop Foery Foundation back in August and witnessing a scene of total and utter chaos. 30 elementary and middle school aged children from the Southside of Syracuse running around all over the place, bouncing off the walls, and somehow all of them were talking at the same time? Hair pulling, hitting, biting, screaming. I thought to myself, what on earth am I going to do with these kids. Now, flash forward to present day, and I find myself wondering what on earth I am going to do without them.
Now this story took a tragic turn when I got a call that Bishop Foery Foundation had lost its funding. I was told to say goodbye to the kids, let them know they had to find somewhere else to go after school, and clean out my desk. That was that. These relationships that I had spent the past four months building up and nurturing, were suddenly ripped out from under me. I was devastated. I thought about what exactly I would have to say goodbye to. I would no longer get to sit with Daja and Kiara and hear about the trials and tribulations of romance in the 6th grade. I would no longer get my hourly hugs from Katie and Jessica. Chris wouldn’t be able to assure me about how he was gonna “beat up” anyone that messed with his little brother. Jack and Carmen wouldn’t be able to get frustrated trying to teach me the ins and outs of Minecraft for the hundredth time. I wouldn’t be able to sneak Jon extra snack because who can resist that face? I realize how small and insignificant some of these encounters sound, but each of them was something I looked forward to every day. When my feet hit the floor each morning, it was the precious faces of the tiny humans I had come to know so well that came to my mind. Their big sloppy smiles made me want to do anything in my power to make earth a little bit more like heaven for them.
I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but as much as the kids needed me for certain things (supervision, snacks, hair-braiding, homework, etc.), it turned out that I needed them right back. They were helping to slowly mend some of the bruises and holes in my own heart with their love. And the best part is I didn’t need to do anything to earn this love! I didn’t need to wear certain clothes, act a certain way, change my looks or personality; all things I had done in the past to gain the wrong kind of love. To them, I just had to show up. I had to be present. I had to live, and breathe, and just be Elizabeth McNulty, and they loved me! I experienced a love of and from these kids that made me know exactly who I am. Which is someone who is WORTHY. OF. LOVE. Worthy of their love, worthy of love from others, worthy of love from the Father Himself. Having been through some weighty trials and tribulations of my own in recent years, this is a concept that I had really lost sight of. Who would have thought that 40 little kids in a tiny building on the Southside of Syracuse would be the ones to remind me of this necessary concept?
I truly believe that these kids showed me the secret to happiness, which is that in order to gain your own happiness, you must help others towards their own happiness. This worked as a two-way street at Bishop Foery Foundation, a place whose occupants will remain close to my heart forever. While I am still struggling with the loss of these friends from my day to day life, I can’t help but remain eternally grateful for the experience of a lifetime, something I would not change for the world. I now look, with an incredibly full and hopeful heart, to the next big adventure for me here in Syracuse, which will be working as an adult advocate through Elderly Services with Catholic Charities. While I will now be working on the complete opposite end of the age spectrum in this new ministry, you can bet that I will be taking the love and memories of my tiny, unlikely friends along with me.
Elizabeth is an Outreach Worker at Downtown Cathedral Emergency and Hospitality Services, and was a Youth Mentor at the Bishop Foery Foundation. Visit our service sites page to learn more about Elizabeth’s current site and others we offer.