Volunteer Stories - Kristin Penkala

A Chaparral AMA Reflects:
"Take part and make an impact on the world around you."

After graduating from Assumption College (Worcester, MA) in May of last year, Kristen Penkala signed on to be an Associate Missionary of the Assumption (AMA) in Chaparral, New Mexico. Her experience as a service director of the Reach Out Center and of Campus Ministry's Mexico Mission convinced her that growing in her faith through service to others was the way to go.

She served at Casa Maria Eugenia in Chaparral with her fellow AMA, Katy O'Brien. Kristen is from Cumberland, Rhode Island. Katy hails from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Kristen reflects on the first few months of her AMA experience:

"I began my journey as an AMA uncertain of what would await me, what was expected of me, and what challenges and joys the year ahead would hold. The flight across the entire United States provided plenty of time for the anxiety and excitement to grow. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I have felt fully embraced by the astounding community of Chaparral, New Mexico. Exhausted from my travels, I pulled myself along the airport’s hallways to baggage claim. There, eagerly waiting, were ten Chaparral children and one of the four passionate Assumption Sisters, to welcome and greet the new AMAs. With smiles from ear to ear, one child held a sign, “Bienvendos. We love you”. I was struck, taken aback, and while we went through introductions and hugs, I repeated their words in my mind, “…We love you”. They. Love. Us. While it may have gone unnoticed by others, it was precisely these three small words that put my entire year into perspective. It reassured me that I was where I was supposed to be, it assuaged any concerns, and it gave me a glimpse of the beauty I would experience throughout my time here. Before Katy or I arrived in New Mexico, the community had already opened their hearts and lives to us.

Following in the direction of St. Marie Eugénie, we work primarily with the youth in Chaparral with particular attention to education. The children lead lives faced with economic strains, violence in school, drugs in their neighborhoods, and blurry visions of a better future. With such great need in so many different areas of the community, each day we wake with the motivation to use every interaction and moment through the day as an opportunity to form relationships and serve others. Whether we are working in the schools, leading Confirmation class, visiting neighbors, or entertaining children on a Friday night, it is an essential desire that both the community and myself walk away bettered by the interaction. The Assumption Sisters in Chaparral have made amazing achievements in their time here. It is exciting to see Chaparral growing and the community strengthening. The Sisters prove to be a vital source of strength and encouragement for us AMAs.

I wholeheartedly believe that it is necessary to leave one’s own world and experience the lives of others. I have come to understand that when one is placed in a life drastically different than their own, it is only then that person can fully grasp who they are. Suddenly, the person becomes stripped of the superfluous complexities of life, and in true simplicity, can begin to see the things that really matter. Life in Chaparral is quite different from the comfortable life that I left in New England. There is such a beautiful strength in the suffering, a strength that is incomprehensible to many people. For those who do not know a life other than their own, I invite you to step into the experience of another. I invite you share a meal with a family who welcomes you into their home whether they have enough food or not. I invite you to experience the sorrow of a family of children whose parents have been deported. I invite you to feel the strength in the embrace of a dying woman, with her children crying by her feet. I invite you to sit in a family’s home, see beyond the cracks in the walls and holes in the floor, and breathe in their love and happiness. I invite you to hold the hand of a child through the fence that divides the United States from Mexico. I invite you to take part and make an impact on the world around you."

Kristen Penkala
Assumption College Graduate 2007
AMA ‘07-‘08, Chaparral, New Mexico


Volunteer Stories and Reflections:

Chaparral, New Mexico
Kristen Penkala, 2007-08
Andrea de Castro, 2006-07
Maggie McCormick, 2005-06

Worcester, MA
Liz Supple, 2011-12
Pierre Tardivo, 2007-08
Liz Clayton, 2006-07

Mexico City, Mexico
Brendan Carey, 2009-2010

Bognor-Regis, England
Matt Collins, 2006-07
Beth Sheehan, 2006-07

Newcastle, England
Kathleen Gardner, 2011-12
Rebecca Ickes, 2009-10