Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Introducing our Serving with Sisters Ambassadors!

Many CVN programs offer volunteers the chance to live and work alongside men and women religious. This experience, whether one week or one year in length, is a unique opportunity to experience the rich charism of religious communities, grow in faith through prayer, lend a hand to their ministries in service to the poor, and develop long-lasting relationships. CVN's Serving with Sisters Ambassadors bring awareness to current volunteers’ journeys of spirituality, social justice, community, and simplicity in CVN member programs sponsored by Catholic sisters. Through creative reflection, conversation, and experience, Ambassadors share the joy, energy and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters. 

Meet our 2017-2018 Ambassadors! 

Melissa Feito
Hometown: Miami, FL
College: Tufts University
Volunteer program: Loretto Volunteers
Placement site: Interfaith Voices- Washington, D.C.
One word to describe your service year: Gumptious 

Ada Lee
Hometown: Queens, NY
College: St. John's University (B.S.; M.B.A.)
Volunteer program: Vincentian Service Corps West
Placement site: Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep - San Francisco
One word to describe your service year: Creative

Catherine Nguyen
Hometown:  Annandale, VA 
College:  George Mason University
Volunteer program: St. Joseph Worker Program – Orange, CA
Placement site: Saint Anne Catholic School
One Word to describe your service year:  Renewal 

Allison Reynolds
Hometown: Penfield, NY
College: Le Moyne College
Volunteer program: Good Shepherd Volunteers
Placement site: Sayariy Warmi - Bolivia
One word to describe your service year: Humbling

Jessica Vozella
Hometown: Boston, MA
College: College of the Holy Cross
Volunteer program: St. Joseph Worker Program - Los Angeles, CA
Placement site: St. Joseph Center - Homeless Service Center
One word to describe your year of service: Inviting

Stay tuned to hear from CVN Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

To Give Fully of Oneself

By Ali Kenny, Amigos de Jesus

This particular experience took place five nights before my return from Amigos de Jesus to the United States, during my last night of turno (the term we used for the shift when the caretaking staff had to spend a night sleeping with the kids in their dorm).

“Ok ladies,” I started. “I want to make sure that you all know what these next few days are going to look like. Tonight is my last night of turno. On Saturday, the hogar (home) is having a going away party for us volunteers. Monday will be my last night here and then on Tuesday morning, I’ll be leaving…for a long time.” There was a titter of disapproval as a few girls began processing out loud.

“Girls, girls,” I called out, “we can talk more about this tomorrow morning. And remember what I said about crying? We can’t do it yet because we have so many fun things to do before I go.”

“When can we start crying Ali?” asked Savana.

I smiled and said, “On Monday Susie Q. We can all cry on Monday.”

I walked to each of the girls’ beds, handing out the gummy vitamins that I brought each time I had turno. “And because it’s my last turno,” I announced, “everyone gets two vitamins tonight!” A cheer of tiny voices rang out against the cement walls of the dorm.

Once everyone had their second gummy vitamin in hand or mouth, I proceeded to read a bedtime story. Girls started drifting off to sleep, with the sounds of whispers and giggles fading into the night. I began the second book only to see less and less heads peep out of the bunk beds to look at each page’s pictures. I finished reading, turned off the dorm lights, and laid down with a sigh. Within seconds, four girls approached the bed. Elena literally jumped on top of me, snuggling into my right side, Ariana slipped into the bed on my left, Francisca started stroking my hair, with Natasha next her, leaning into my face with a goofy smile. Four seconds flat.

My mind started racing. I just got rid of my last bout of lice…Elena and Ariana definitely have it. I don’t want lice again! I’m not going to get any sleep. Shoot. Tomorrow is going to be a very long day. Ariana could wet the bed, she hasn’t been doing very well with the pee chart lately. Oh Francisca, your hands are so dirty. I hope they all don’t make too much noise and wake the other girls. Then suddenly, all those thoughts simply stopped. I felt like God had given me the energy and the desire to take it all on; to let these girls have me in the way that they needed me in that moment. I did make Elena and Ariana scoot down so they wouldn’t be sleeping on my pillow, and I did ask Ariana to use the bathroom. But then after that, I just laid there, on my back with both arms around these two girls I had given my life to for the past year, crying as Francisca caressed my face and as Natasha rested her head on my shoulder.

I felt like a gaping chasm, so vulnerable in its openness, but so free in it too, as if I could swallow anything with my self and manage it just fine; thinking that the selfish ways by which I had guarded myself against these girls seemed so foolish. I wanted all of them in this moment, I wanted these girls to fall into me and land safely in the special place that I had been preparing for them all year.

Francisca left fairly quickly. I was surprised she had even shown me that much affection as we weren’t particularly close. Elena immediately fell asleep; she must have been even more tired than I was! Natasha darted around the bed every few minutes, only to spring up right next to my face again. At one point she circled the bed with her arm touching my body, outlining me with her little fingers. After a few minutes I beckoned Natasha close and told her that I love her. She told me that she loved me too, and then quietly climbed into her own bed.

That left me with Ariana, who was clearly still awake, as she was cooing and wriggling around next to me. I pulled her in close, this little girl who taught me the importance of sensitivity, affection, and patience; this little girl who showed me what kind of mother I wanted to be for my own children; this little girl who God made perfect.

“Usted es mi mami,” Ariana murmured as she fell into her own dreamland, as she fell into her own place within me. And for the first time, I felt like I could, perhaps, be worthy of the name.

To learn more about service opportunities through Amigos de Jesus, please click here.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Who knew cornflakes could make you cry?

By Kimmie Fink, NPH USA International Volunteer Program

Who knew cornflakes could make you cry? Upon my return from my year as a volunteer teacher at El Rancho Santa Fe (Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos’ home for orphaned and abandoned children in Honduras), I remember visiting my hometown grocery store and feeling completely overwhelmed. The sheer number of choices on the shelf left me in tears. I gained more than I gave as a volunteer, becoming enriched in friendships I still hold dear and learning about myself, but what I value most is what volunteering taught me about humility and gratitude.

When I left for the Ranch, I’d been teaching for seven years. Already National Board Certified and Teacher of the Year, I was a bigshot teacher and figured I had this year in the bag. When my supervisor in the Montessori school shared that the previous coordinator had not wanted me to come because I was a “know-it-all,” I was horrified. In that moment, I decided that I couldn’t let my pride be an issue. I jumped in willingly to all my teaching duties, including sweeping and mopping the floor, distributing watermelon for snack, and checking heads for nits. When I got back to teaching in the U.S., I swore I would never again utter the words, “That’s not my job.”

The part of my role I enjoyed most was being a mentor to the teenage girls. I spend my evenings and every other weekend in hogar, getting my hair braided, helping with homework, and just listening. After spending the night there, I contracted lice. I was embarrassed, but I was soon overcome by the kindness my girls showed me. They washed my hair with special shampoo, dried it with their towels, and combed it with their brushes. It was an incredibly humbling experience, and it gave me a great deal of perspective about how other people live, and the dignity with which all people deserve to be treated.

Spending a year in Honduras certainly made me a better teacher, but perhaps more important, it’s made me a better parent. When you volunteer for NPH, you learn to live simply. I used one plate the entire year, and I could delight my girls with a new bar of soap for each of them. I worry that children in this country are over-stimulated and even entitled. As I raise my daughter, who turns 2 next month, I want her to appreciate what she has. I hope she’ll grow up to be like my friend’s 8-year-old, who on her birthday, asked for bags of cat and dog food to be donated to the local animal shelter. We’re a military family, and we hope that our travels take us abroad so that our daughter can learn from diverse experiences and perspectives.

Volunteering abroad also made me confront the privileges bestowed upon me as a citizen of the United States. I have a passport that can take me anywhere. A Honduran friend struggled to get a visa even though he’d been accepted to a college program here. I have reliable access to emergency services. The year I served, a young pequeña died on the way to the hospital in Tegucigalpa. I am relatively safe walking around the streets of my city. Friends of mine have been assaulted and mugged in the streets of the capital. There’s nothing quite like coming home to make you realize how good you have it.

I am thankful for the life with which I’ve been blessed, but I don’t think gratitude is enough. I would argue that it is with privilege (as well as power) that comes great responsibility. It’s why I’ve continued to be involved with NPH. I’ve helped at fundraisers and galas, organized a read-in at my school to benefit the kids of NPH, and now I serve on the Diversity Task Force, which seeks to recruit and support volunteers of color. I am in regular contact with my five godchildren. As a family, we have more than enough, and so we give.

If volunteering taught me anything, it’s how very lucky I am. I’m perhaps most fortunate in that I had the opportunity to be a volunteer. I held the hand of an injured child at the clinic. I made bread for 500 people. I sang Little Mermaid songs as I tucked a toddler in bed. Each moment was a gift, and I carry those gifts with me -- from the classroom to the nursery and yes, even to the grocery store. 

To learn more about service opportunities through NPH USA, please click here.