Creating Community in Chicago by Ed Nunez

Posted on March 02, 2020

When I told people that I was doing a year of service in Chicago and that I was going to live with 10 strangers, sharing food, bathrooms, cars, and basically our lives with each other, they thought I was crazy. And honestly, they’re right! In our individualistic culture today, it’s a crazy thing to think about living intentionally with people the same age as you and you have no idea who these people are until you move in together in July. And yet, community life was one of the most impactful components of my year of service and leadership development with Amate House.

I had heard a lot about the concept of “community” in undergrad. While at Creighton University, community was embedded in all parts of the student experience from the residence halls to retreats to even the academic programs and athletics. When people ask me and my Creighton friends what our favorite part of Creighton was or why we chose to go there, you typically will hear “the community.” And what a beautiful thing that is! To find a space for four years where one can feel connected to literally anyone on campus is a feeling like no other. This was and still is my idea of community – where people feel loved, welcomed, and vulnerable with one another. Little did I know that my idea of community would not only be affirmed but also wonderfully challenged during my year of service in Chicago.

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Ed (second from left) with Amate House Fellows and Community Members

I had an idea of what intentional community was going to be like when I applied to Amate House; namely, cooking meals together, doing chores together, going to events and parties together, attending workshops and reflection sessions together, spending so much time together…you get the point. Intentional community, in my mind, was manifest in the giant calendar in our dining room with all of our events and activities or the two dishwashers always full in our kitchen or all the different shower caddies we have in our communal bathroom. While community was absolutely all of these things, it was also so much more than that.

Creating community meant having the difficult yet necessary conversations around structures and systems of racism in our country, and not to mention the systems that affected us more personally at our site placements where we worked. Community also meant having conversations around how we might take what we learned and saw about social justice into the spaces we would enter after our year together.

How can we continue to be present to the communities we enter after being in this intentional and tight-knit one, and yet challenge them to think more critically about issues of justice, just as we have?

My community taught me so much about life, love, relationships, and social justice. I realized during my year that community is one of the most important ways in which love can be put into action and social change can occur. Being in intentional community showed me that I am not alone in all the experiences of my life. I learned there are people who are just as passionate and excited about social issues and community as I am. And to live and work in that space for a year was a great gift and something that I will cherish for the years to come.

If I was asked what three lessons I learned from community life, I would have to say: 1) Be present; 2) Assume best intentions; and 3) Have fun!

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Ed (top middle) poses with his fellow Amate House Fellows

Being present was one of the most important ways in which I entered into intentional community. As a forward-thinking person, I am always looking to the next thing and the future. But what I learned is that by being present to the experiences and people you are encountering, you will learn so much more than worrying about the future. Being engaged and attentive in the moment helps you see how important the present community is to you, as well as the communities around you.

Assuming best intentions has been a prominent part of my own community experience. When things don’t go the way you want them to, assume that they were done with good intentions in mind. When living with so many people who all have different life experiences than one another, it is vital to realize that we are all there for a reason and we all want the very best for the larger community.

Finally, have fun! Living in community provides you with so many opportunities to just have pure fun. Whether it’s having spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen late at night or going to the local diner down the street just to get the cheap donuts, having fun with your community helps you realize to let go sometimes and enjoy the simple things in life.

As Dorothy Day once said, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” I sure have found Dorothy’s words to be true in my experience with community in Amate House.

And I know that I will continue to carry this sense of powerful community and prophetic love into the next chapters of my life.

*This was re-posted with permission from Catholic Volunteer Network's blog, "Former Volunteer Reflections"