Natalie Maria Reynoso – Learning to Be Present

Before even beginning my internship, I must have thought of a million reasons why doing it would prove to be entirely too overwhelming and too time consuming. Fortunately, Simona, the internship coordinator at IES Abroad Roma, did not let me make a final decision without visiting my internship site first. And surely enough, after my first visit, during which I met the director of Casa Famiglia, I somehow felt and knew that I needed to do this. Thus, a few weeks ago I began my social action placement at Casa Famiglia, which is a group home for teenage girls who have physical and/or emotional problems. I was given no description of what I would be doing there; I only knew that I would be expected to spend time with the girls and occasionally help them with their English. Needless to say, I was extremely nervous about how my presence would benefit these girls, if at all. But all of that nervous energy seemed to go away the minute I walked into the apartment to two smiling faces staring back at me. I was greeted by two young girls who immediately invited me to have lunch with them and then gave me a tour of the facilities.

In the first few weeks of my internship, I realized (from my observations) that these teenagers have lived so much life. It is difficult to gauge the extent and the nature of their issues, but it is evident that they are all struggling, albeit in distinct ways. There is one girl who angers very quickly, but ironically enough, she is the one who is always asking me to join her in whatever activity she may be doing at the moment. And then there is this other girl who is probably the most mature teenager I have ever met. We have spent hours talking about life and social justice issues; she continues to surprise me by how great of an analytical and objective thinker she is. One of the other teens in the home craves attention, and she’ll scare you or tickle you to get it. But her infectious smile and laugh prevents you from getting mad at her. And then there is a young lady who I like to call my teacher because she is always making me practice and learn Italian. The first day I met her, she said (in Italian), ‘you help me with my Spanish and I will help you with your Italian.’ “Deal,” I said, forgetting that she did not speak English.

To put it simply, my main task is to be present. But that is not a simple thing to do; in fact, it is one of the hardest things about my social action placement. At the end of every day that I spend at Casa Famiglia, I am emotionally exhausted. There have already been moments in which I have doubted my ability to serve these girls in the way that I have been called to do so. But then I remember that it’s not about me, it’s about them. I find that my days at Casa Famiglia pass by way too quickly, and when it’s time for me to leave I’m never quite ready to go. This feels right. I am exactly where God intended me to be. And whenever I do feel like I have taken on more than I can handle, God has a way reminding me that He hasn’t left my side. I absolutely love my internship, and I am grateful that it is pushing me beyond my comfort zone. By the end of a week, I am incredibly tired, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.