Peter Distelzweig and his family volunteering at Project Home at the Church of Saint Mark.
By Kristin Vanevenhoven, Communications Specialist
Q&A with Peter Distelzweig on volunteering at Project Home and what it means to him and his family.
Q: What is Project Home like at the Church of Saint Mark?
A: Saint Mark has hosted Project Home for many years during the month of August. For the month, our Parish Hall is transformed into a place of hospitality. In the gym we set up small sleeping rooms. In Carolyn Hall we set up living space with tables, games, toys, and a TV area.
Q: How did you get involved in Project Home?
A: This is my second year volunteering. I started attending this parish when I moved to the Twin Cities two years ago. During my first year, I was able to host a couple of nights during the month. I immediately saw that Project Home was very important work and work that I had a real heart for. I also saw that the more stability and continuity the children could have with the hosts the better. So this summer, I was quite happy and willing to stretch my schedule for the month of August and volunteer pretty regularly.
Q: What types of relationships do you see develop over the course of the month?
A: A month is a short time. So you only get to know and build relationships with the parents and the children a little bit. But children are of course quick to make friendships, and quick to ask if you are coming again tomorrow. And I’m really glad to say if not tomorrow, later this week.
Q: What impact does volunteering at Project Home have on your family?
A: I’m really excited and eager to have my kids volunteer. I remind them before we come, we have been hosted many times by my parents when I was between jobs or between grad school and starting my next job. And now, volunteering at Project Home is our chance to be hospitable in the same way my parents were to us. It’s really important that my kids see it as hospitality. I don’t want them to see it as something foreign to our family life, but part of what we do. I also explain that Project Home is similar to when we have family or friends stay with us from out of town. The only difference is we can’t host 20 people, but our extended family at this parish can.
Q: Why is this message of hospitality so important?
A: Hospitality is really all about forgetting oneself and attending to the needs of the other. I remind my kids that we are not here just to play, but we are here to host, and a host looks out for the needs of the guests. So it is not about what you want to do right now, but it is about looking out for the needs of others. I think that is a really vital message. It’s a message that is not just vital for a healthy society and healthy children, but it’s one that is at the heart of the Gospel, and at the heart of what Christ came to teach us.
Q: How does this message fit into your faith life?
A: Pope Francis has really emphasized hospitality, mercy, and generosity. He reminds us to be at home in our neighborhoods and not distant from the streets of its city. I think that is very right. It is so important that we see volunteering not as an encounter with a radical other, but as hospitality to guests. That is why I connect this experience to being hosted by my parents. It’s not an encounter between the high and the low, but between brothers and sisters.
Q: What has been one of your favorite moments at Project Home?
A: Well, there is a family here with a son who is 9. And there was a family here—they have already moved on—with sons who were 13 and 15. I delighted in seeing the way the 9-year-old looked up to and idolized the older two boys. These older two boys were very gracious and good in the way they played around with him. They both knew that they were being looked up to, and had a responsibility to be a good example to him. One evening, we were setting up food in the kitchen. The 9-year-old and his mother arrived late, because she was working. He raced in because he saw the older two boys sitting at the table. After a little while, the mother came into the room with some other adult hosts. The older two boys stood up to give their chairs to the older people, and they nudged the 9-year-old to make sure he knew he should get out of his chair to make room for the older hosts. The interaction was very charming, good, and wholesome. This mother and her two older boys were quite inspiring and edifying to me. I hope that my children can be as self-aware and be such a positive influence on a younger child who looks up to them.
To learn more about Project Home, please contact: