Friday, October 17, 2014

Keepin’ It Real With 3 Recruitment Fair Best Practices

Recruiting for your program at volunteer or career fairs is an amazing way to connect with students looking for post-graduate opportunities. Here are some tips for making the most of these fairs! Many of these tips came from observation, experience and conversations with veteran recruiters.

It’s easy to feel like you could have said more during these conversations. I wonder what I did or didn’t say. I want to respect the discernment process while encouraging students toward volunteering. How can I find that balance without “sound biting” CVN programs? I remind myself that many students feel overwhelmed with fairs and further the prospective of exploring our 200+ programs.

Nevertheless, I have found three key tactics to engaging students in meaningful conversations at fairs:

  1. Tell them who you are, but don’t be afraid to get to the point. During a conversation with a program director at a recent fair, I learned that she struggled with attracting students to her program due to its geographic location. She later told me that over 50% of volunteers who participate in a year-long commitment are employed by the end of their service. I immediately thought, how do you not lead with this? It’s important to share your mission and vision, but things like job security or geographic location can shift a student’s perspective of post-grad service with your organization. They will listen more attentively to what you say to them.
  2. Students appreciate when you affirm them for feeling overwhelmed or confused. In some cases, I have met students who know exactly what they want to do and where they want to go. But many still have that look of “I have no idea!” You know, that girl who clenches her RESPONSE directory and all other program collateral a healthy distance from having to actually communicate with a recruiter. Part of this comes from a fear of being locked into a program. The other part comes from an overwhelming lack of direction and 20 tables in a room isn’t their ideal situation for exploring options. This makes recruiter affirmations that much more invaluable. A simple “it’s ok if you have no idea what you want to do” or “you don’t have to make your decision today” goes a long way and creates a comfortable space for students to ask questions.
  3. Read their non-verbal signs. Body language is my guide to starting a conversation with a student. There are some who walk right in, grab a directory and start talking to each and every recruiter or stand by your table even when you are talking with another student. There are others who slowly move from table to table grabbing information and observing conversations from a distance. These students won’t make eye contact or they will keep their body turned away as they prefer to independently explore options.

Every student is different with her or his goals when attending a career fair. Recruiters find the flow that works for them and their program’s needs. These three tips are sure to get you on the right track to finding your recruitment.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Living Simply So Others Can Simply Live

By Olivia Elswick
Salesian Lay Missioner
CVN 2014 story contest winner

This is the story of one girl living with 25 little men. No, it isn’t an account of Snow White and her dwarf friends; rather, it’s the tale of the time I spent in rural Davangere, India, working as a caregiver, English teacher and tutor at the Don Bosco Children’s Laborers Rehabilitation Center. Though this story isn’t a fairytale, it is a story that I hope will result in a happy ending for the children who have touched my life.

These boys, along with the 25 girls from the convent down the road have been rescued from child labor and are being rehabilitated for a year before going to school for the first time. These children have resumes longer than most people my age—construction worker, servant, brick maker, trash collector, factory worker—yet one would never know their past of abuse, addiction, slavery, and abandonment from spending time with them. Before beginning my time in India I kept in mind Mother Theresa’s words, “living simply so others can simply live.” When reflecting on my favorite moments at the Children’s Center, I’ve found that most of them stem from our simple moments together. 

 Armed with only a jumbo pack of crayons, I was asked to lead art class for the kids on weekends which took some invention. Instead of drawing on paper we colored the rocks and leaves we found in the school yard. These quickly were stowed away in their lockers with their prized possessions which included anything sparkling or glittery they found (usually this was bits of candy wrappers) and bottles of crusty nail polish that they loved to paint their nails with. Though the nail polish was in short supply the boys loved to give me manicures so we could all have matching turquoise fingers. The polish was short lived however, as our right hands served as our utensils. 

One day Lokesh, a quiet little boy with no family, who had once asked me if I would be his mother, handed me a scrap of paper and asked me to do a magic trick with it. I turned the scrap into a paper crane and from that moment on the kids begged and begged for cranes of their own—the solution was 50 cranes made of pages ripped from my India guidebook. 

 These children are the most devout, joyous and caring people I’ve ever been blessed to spend time with. In their short 7-13 years of life they’ve gone through more turmoil than most have in a lifetime. Their unwavering faith, despite all obstacles they’ve overcome, is truly inspiring. One day I gave the kids my camera to play with during their free time. They returned it to me an hour later, its memory card filled with hundreds and hundreds of photos of crucifixes, Don Bosco images and Mary statues that filled the compound. They fought over who would hold my hand, eagerly stuffed balls of rice from their dusty hands into my mouth and would pick flowers to adorn my hair.  What floored me most is the day a woman walked by with a basket of oranges to sell; each child has but a few cents to their name but they raced over to her goods and eagerly bought oranges to give to me.

The most remarkable thing I was struck by when spending time with these kids is how incredibly smart and hardworking they are. Each day at seven their beaming faces raced towards me to be first in line for English tutoring, shouting, “Hello sister!” or “Sister I-love-ya!” - since my name “Olivia” proved difficult to pronounce. The kids would forgo bedtime T.V. in favor of more studying; every moment of freedom they tried to fill to the brim with new information. Each meal I was bombarded with “Sister! English!” as they pointed to objects around them, asking me to translate for them. The difference between “eyes,” “ice” and “rice” was a difficult lesson to master.

 Though I was there to teach the children English and art, the kids ended up teaching me more than I could have imagined. They taught me how to wash my clothes on a massive rock and beat them on the ground to ensure their cleanliness. The boy who had been saved from a leper colony (where he was assigned the job of stealing coconuts) taught me how to select the best coconuts depending on what I was in the mood for—tender coconut to drink, dehydrated coconut to munch on, or the gooey coconut to use for hair oil and eating. The boys showed me how to chase down and capture pigs and chickens. The girls taught me how to properly fix my hair, make brooms out of palm fronds and how to crack coconuts. I learned more than just survival skills, however. They taught me perseverance, faith and love.

Little arms tattooed with names of past owners and return addresses (in the event they escaped) now lovingly embrace new brothers and sisters. Little feet once raw from working in the fields barefooted now race from class to class. Little bellies all too familiar with going without food are now filled with unending laughter.

My job duties in Davangere, joyfully singing and dancing throughout the day like Maria Von Trapp with the children, or walking the girls in two straight lines to and from their home at the convent a la Madeline and Miss Clavele have renewed my faith and strengthened my relationship with God. My favorite moments with these children came from living simply with them, and by living modestly I have been able to more fully appreciate the children’s presence and better see the handprints they have left on my heart. Living simply means enjoying the gifts God gives us, and these children, whom I now consider my brothers and sisters, have been the greatest gift of all.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Day in the Life with the Volunteer Missionary Movement USA: Kristin and Billy Byrnes

Enjoy this treat from the archives!

Kristin Byrnes is originally from Yakima, WA, and her husband, Billy Byrnes, from San Jose, CA. Prior to serving as volunteers with Volunteer Missionary Movement they worked as Associate Campus Ministers and Religion Teachers for seven years at rival Catholic high schools in San Jose, CA. Currently they teach English at the Instituto Publico Carolina Camas Araúz and support the work of the Catholic parish in rural San Nicolás, Nicaragua. Billy also works twice a week in the nearby community of La Garnacha, where they are famous for their organic garden, livestock, and Nicaragua’s best swiss cheese. Read more about their joys and struggles at

Our days begin early, and not just because our dog likes to pounce on our bed at 5:30am, challenging the strength of our mosquito net and pleading with us to help him welcome the new day. All arise early in the campo. We must get a start on the day and take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures to take care of daily chores.

Water only comes on for a few hours a day, in the morning, so we have to fill the appropriate buckets and water tank that has a prominent place in our backyard, to ensure that we have water throughout the day. We then take turns sweeping away the layer of dust, dirt, and dog hair that has inevitably accumulated overnight and blankets the floors. Often we wash clothes in the morning so that the blazing sun can beat down on them throughout the day, drying them easily by mid-afternoon. We take turns finishing other chores and when one of us has a free moment, we head across the street to chat with Doña Victoria and buy her fresh, right-off-the-grill tortillas. It’s a challenge not to sample this steamy treat as we walk back to our house, but they must last for lunch and dinner.

By 8am, we are at the school preparing for the classes ahead. Billy teaches the first and second year classes; Kristin the upper three grades. Resources are thin to non-existent, so we have been challenged to grow as teachers in both our flexibility and creativity. We compete for the students’ attention, but there are rare days in which a struggling student finally grasps a concept or another student shares what is really going on at home. These are the days we treasure. 

After the school day ends, we are back home around 1:30pm to make a quick lunch and launch into various afternoon activities. Twice a week, we hold English classes in the afternoon at school that open to anyone who is interested in coming. Our class is primarily current students, a few teachers, and alums. There is always a family to visit and numerous tasks to complete on our computer, such as preparing lessons. Most recently, we've been hunting down the “perfect” English song for each class to learn and compete with in the upcoming months at the department level. 

Word has spread through town that Kristin likes to cook, so numerous pizza and bread-baking parties have taken place in our tiny kitchen. 

Billy travels on Thursdays to La Garnacha to help prepare and then sell vegetables at the Farmer’s Market held in the neighboring “big” city of Estelí on Fridays.

Our weekends only differ in that we teach Theology instead of English, and it is done at the parish instead of the school. Sometimes we will make a trip out to a more rural community, walking over an hour to share in their Sunday prayer services with them. Mostly we worship with the community in San Nicolás on Sunday mornings at the church.

As the sun begins to set each day and the temperatures start to cool down, the town comes alive. We will walk through town, greeting neighbors, perhaps buying a few things to cook for dinner, and catching up with friends. Often we will pray after returning from our walk and then begin dinner preparations. Billy is usually the master-mind behind dinner and Kristin does a great job cleaning dishes afterwards. Catching up with family and friends at home, the most recent world news, or burying ourselves into our current book is usually how we spend the evenings. 

We eventually head to bed, knowing that the smiles of our students await us the following day. 

The Volunteer Missionary Movement USA is an international organization of lay Christians based in Milwaukee Wisconsin. VMM USA recruits volunteers from across the country in the Catholic social justice tradition to collaborate with partners in Central America working in a variety of occupations for peace, social justice, and human empowerment of the poor and marginalized to promote equality, empower sustainable human development and challenge unjust and oppressive social structures.