By Michael Debaets
If my Servant Year has had a theme, it's been the theme of charity.
In itself, signing up for Servant Year Philadelphia is a charitable action -- it's donating a year of time and energy to the program. And, during the following months, as I worked at Covenant House PA, lived at House of Prayer, and completed the requirements of the Servant Year program, when my motivation would sometimes fail, I got the strength to continue by recalling and recommitting to my initial charitable decision.
By continually renewing that original charitable commitment, I have learned that the best way to put charity into action is to commit to doing a little bit over a long period of time.
At the beginning of the year, I was trying to do too much. I would be looking for extra charitable things that I could do for other people. I wanted to see that I had made a positive impact.
Covenant House seemed, at first, like the perfect place to do "extra charitable things," because there were so many opportunities for "going the extra mile." I wanted to really help these young men, to go above and beyond.
But whenever I got caught up in "doing extra charity" for any one of the residents in particular, I lost track of the big picture, my professional responsibilities, the reason why I was there. And the reason why I was there was to administer the charity of Covenant House. There's no charity called Michael DeBaets House. These men didn't come to Covenant House PA to get my help. They came to get Covenant House's help.
And Covenant House's help is nothing to scoff at. Covenant House -- the nation-wide organization -- is the largest provider of housing to homeless teens in the United States, and perhaps in the world.
When I began to realize that Covenant House was so good, I became free from a feeling of over-obligation to the residents. These days, whenever I start to wish I could do something extra to help them, I remind myself that I have already done a lot of good for them by working for the organization that shelters them. And I recommit to the structure of Covenant House, which keeps me from falling into sympathy too easily.
I don't have to do extra charity. I am already doing charity.
Covenant House was a great place to learn this, but I have also learned this by living with my housemates and by living within the structure of Servant Year. The explicit agreements that we make -- those are our primary obligations. And we keep those primary obligations, and they sustain our community.
For instance, my house wrote in our house rule that we meet every Wednesday to share dinner, and we meet every Sunday to plan the week. Rules like that are our long-term plan for house happiness. It's a little bit of charity spread out over a year. And that's our obligation to each other.
I've learned that, when I have these structures in place, I can relax a bit. I can trust.
And maybe that's God's little gift of charity to me.
Michael serves as Youth Advisor at Covenant House.