By Matt Lincoln
As I began my quest to Port Ministries, I did not know what to expect. I packed my White Sox hat hoping to blend into the life of south side Chicago.
Though it was sweltering hot without an air-conditioner and the sun never wanted to retreat, the true warmth radiated from the children at Port. Their smiles were contagious, and one could not help but fall in love with their silly jokes, their dynamic personalities and their open hearts.
Life is not always easy for children growing up on the south side of Chicago. Many we assisted struggle with problems at home and witness violence just beyond their doorstep. Some children wore shirts that were torn and dirty, while others wore broken flip-flops or old, filthy tennis shoes. Yet I never heard a child whine about the unbearable heat or complain of boredom. There was no begging for food, but it was evident at snack time just how hungry some of these kids were.
One of our tasks while at Port was to tutor the kids in math and reading before playtime to prepare them for the school year. With some of their mothers practicing English or learning computer skills in an upstairs classroom, the activities of Port were routine for the children: study, then play. I tutored an 11-year-old boy who did not know how to calculate seven plus one or recognize his name on a piece of paper. He started school at age 9 because he was confronted with domestic violence over the course of his childhood, and now he and his mother reside in a local shelter. At Port, he was identified as “the bully” and he did not speak English very well. Despite his rather tough and guarded exterior and the obvious language barrier, I was able to connect with him in the four days I was there by using the Spanish that I knew. He was able to learn basic addition and subtraction and through flashcards, he began to understand vowel sounds. He is an example of a child who was lost, abandoned by society, but with the patient guidance of Port Ministries hopefully he will secure a vital foundation on which to grow.
We also prepared more than 1,000 sack lunches during our stay, which were handed out daily from a bread truck traveling through area neighborhoods. While preparing lunches, I was struck by how many people depended on this as their one, consistent meal. Comprised of a bologna sandwich, three cookies, and a banana, it did not seem like much, but to many it meant survival.
Port Ministries is dedicated to not only providing mothers and their children with the vital tools to succeed in life, but to help each one realize their full potential. When a child walks through Port’s front door, no matter what he has seen on the outside, no matter what he experienced that morning, he knows that love exists in the world and that he is loved.
My trip to Chicago humbled me. It instilled a sense of gratitude and inspired me to confront and conquer my struggles. It taught me to appreciate the smallest joys in every corner and to be thankful for every blessing that God has graciously given me. The leaders at Port taught me something special as well. Most people have the passion to dream of changing the world, but many lack the compassion to truly make a difference in the lives of those around them. The people who work and volunteer at Port are passionate about what they do, but most importantly they radiate and elicit true compassion from those they help. This was an incredible experience for me, but it was only an experience. For the children I met, this was their way of life.
In the four days that four of us from St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City were there, I can only hope that the children felt love through our presence, and I pray that they may see and hear God in their lives. I hope they can understand that they do not walk alone. I can honestly say that Port Ministries has changed me for the better, and that I received so much more than I gave.
(Matt Lincoln, 18, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, is a 2011 Regina High School graduate and freshman at Creighton University.)