Manresa Meets Mississippi: A Lesson in Southern Hospitality

Earlier this month, Manresa members Dean Parmach, Mr. Rametta, and I traveled to Monroe County, Mississippi to18750309895_32d17071ca_o serve as camp counselors to children of local families within the area. We represented Fordham as part of its Global Outreach service program. Differing from the typical suburban camper experience where the kids are dropped off by mom and dad in the newest SUV, many of the children that attend this camp are not even afforded the luxury of two parents and a stable home. Sadly, the results of such chaotic home environments were quite evident; many of the kids were rambunctious and difficult to manage, but at the same time, they displayed the ability to be cooperative helpers and friends. This was a learning experience for camper and counselor alike. While the respective dynamics of Camp Friendship and the Manresa Scholars Program might seem incongruous at first glance, they actually complement one another quite fittingly as they both draw from key components of Ignatian spirituality. Three themes in particular, namely frustration, communication, and humor, stood out as most prominent to me throughout the project.

Frustration: As a Manresa Tutor, much of my frustration comes with trying to help students find solutions for problematic writing and thinking. Sometimes the fix is easy as the issue is merely stylistic or grammatical, but more often than not, multiple sessions are required to eliminate a more deeply-rooted problem. Likewise, at camp, I came to realize that many of the issues the kids dealt with were not ones that could be remedied over the course of a week, but I could (at the very least) provide a model of behavior for them to follow, so that they could begin to act in a more positive manner. Instead of allowing my frustration to render me apathetic with the kids, I instead used my prior experience with them to remind me of the importance of patience when dealing with long-term dilemmas.

Communication: All FCRH students are required to take four Eloquentia Perfecta (EP) courses, which place a particular emphasis on developing writing and speaking skills. Since Manresa courses are designed with these skills in mind, each one fulfills the EP1 requirement, with the hope being that every student leaves the course well-versed in how to effectively present a point and defend an argument. Having lived in the Bronx my entire life, I certainly had to employ my EP skills when communicating with children from rural Mississippi. Quite often the kids would say, “Mr. Ryan, you talk too fast, please slow down!”, and so I had to become more aware of my target audience and adjust accordingly with slower speech. By accommodating their needs in addition to amending their errors, I was better able to communicate with the kids and they were better able to communicate with me.

Humor: While much of my satisfaction from working in the Manresa Program comes from the challenges it provides me, my joy ultimately comes from the humor I share with those around me, sometimes at my own expense. On the rare occasion that I make a mistake editing a paper, students are quick to call me out, but they do so in a way that simultaneously humbles me and helps me to laugh at my own errors without denigrating me. On one occasion in particular at camp, I had a very similar experience. After telling the boys to clean up their respective sides of the dormitory, I found a portable water jug lying in the middle of the floor. Already at wit’s end by this point in the day, I carried the jug around, sternly asking each boy whether or not it was his. About half way through my interrogation, a young boy tugged on my shirt and said to me, “Mr. Ryan, did you even bother to read the name taped to the bottom of the jug?”. I flipped it over, and after seeing the name, I couldn’t help but laugh at how oblivious I had been. The students and campers I work with help me to see from differing perspectives, and they do so with great kindness and joy.

Ryan Gilligan, FCRH 2015, GSAS 2017
Manresa Live-in Student Tutor, 2014-2015 and 2015-2016


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