Four days a week, the Catholic Worker House opens its doors to the Des Moines community. On a typical evening, community members and volunteers wander in and out of the large two-story house that serves as base for the group’s outreach projects. Some take seats inside, gathering around an old television set showing the nightly news. Others find a place at one of the many white picnic tables out back, smoking and telling stories.
In the middle of it all sits Tracy Robson ’08, conversing with the guests as they walk by. She can barely finish a thought before another person greets her. She smiles widely, seamlessly transitioning between English and Spanish as needed, calling almost every person by name.
“I love the people,” she says during a brief pause in activity. “I love the people I live with and the people who come here. It’s crazy because you really start to care about the people you get to know here. It’s really a family.”
Since January, Robson has been living in the Catholic Worker House, serving in the Des Moines community. She receives no payment for her work, only room and board.
“It’s not a job,” she said. “It’s a way of life.”
Those living in the Catholic Worker House follow the principals of the Catholic Worker Movement, which calls for people to live the Gospel by working for peace and justice and serving the poor. Members of Catholic Worker House serve in the community by providing the poor with basic needs, such as a warm meal, a clean shower, canned goods or even a dry pair of socks.
Robson first found the Catholic Worker House after what she calls a “life-changing” semester in Nicaragua her sophomore year of college.
“It opened my eyes to the poverty in the world,” she said. “When I got back, I really needed an outlet so I wouldn’t have to think only of myself.”
Through Simpson, she began volunteering at the Catholic Worker House every week, and she continued to work there for the next two-and-a-half years. After graduating from Simpson in December 2008 with degrees in math, Spanish and education, Robson wasn’t sure of her next step. She was drawn to the Catholic Worker House because of the idea of having her life and her work intertwined.
Living at the house has also given Robson time to contemplate her future and explore her options. She works outside of the house as a substitute teacher and a Spanish teacher at St. Anthony’s Catholic School. On the weekends, she works for the Iowa Homeless Youth Centers, reaching out to Des Moines’ homeless teenagers.
“This places makes me think a lot,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of developing since I was here.”
Despite some challenges, Robson has embraced her life at Catholic Worker House. For her, the most meaningful experience is interacting with and getting to know the community members who come to the house’s open hours. She loves that everyone is treated equally and fairly in the house and that it becomes difficult to tell who are the guests and who are the volunteers.
“It’s great,” she said. “It’s really where the Gospel is being worked out on both ends.”