Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Discernment Story: How one volunteer came to hear her life calling through service


By Kelly Schuster, former Salesian Home Missioner and current Aspirant with the Salesian Sisters

I believe that my two years of service had a 100% direct impact on my discernment process and decision to enter the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, more commonly known as the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco or just the Salesian Sisters.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that God sent me to volunteer at this particular High School to reveal my vocation.

I wanted to do a year of volunteer service right out of high school, but did not have the opportunity to do so.  I learned that I found great joy in serving others through my social outreach group in high school and had a strong desire to give more time, energy, and direct focus to volunteering. 

Kelly, along with two of her students, showing some Salesian pride!
Come April of my senior year in college, I found myself without a plan for the following year and the idea of doing a year of service re-entered my mind.  I visited the Catholic Volunteer Network website and found the online RESPONSE directory, which helped me to narrow down my search to the type of program I was interested in with the type of support that I needed. 

This is where I learned about the Cristo Rey Network of schools and truly the next chapter of my life began.

The Cristo Rey Network is a high school model that offers low income families the opportunity to send their students to Catholic college prep high schools.  How is this possible when most Catholic high schools are quite expensive, you might ask.  The school partners with local corporate businesses, organizations, universities, hospitals, law firms etc where the students will work five days out of the month to offset their tuition cost.  (Click here to learn more and see me in my classroom at minute 4:37.) 

It took a leap of faith to go to Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School (DBCR) in Washington, D.C. because I would be joining the Salesian Domestic Volunteers (now called Salesian Home Missioners) in their first year as a volunteer program and I would also be the only volunteer placed at DBCR.  I was going to be a pioneer both in my volunteer program and placement in the school.  DBCR was also only in its fourth year of existence and still responding to the challenges of being in the “start up” period.  It would be two years of learning and growing for all of us. 

Kelly and Fr. Abe facilitate a senior retreat.
During my first year of service at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School I worked in the Youth Ministry and Faith Formation Department while also teaching two sections of junior theology.  In my second year I taught a full course load, five sections, split between freshmen and junior theology as well as assisting the youth ministry team. 

Within those classrooms and the small youth ministry office God called me to be a Salesian Sister.  I learned a lot from working side by side with Fr. Abraham Feliciano, SDB (Salesians of Don Bosco).  In him, I witnessed the everyday charism of the Salesians and joyful service to the young who are most in need.  Fr. Abe loved those students with his whole heart and they knew it.  They knew that they could rely on him to crack a joke and brighten their day or that they could come to him with serious problems and he would lead them to Jesus.  

I learned that the heart of the Salesian charism is a daily encounter with Christ in and through our students and hopefully reciprocated as we open ourselves to be an image of Christ for them.  I spent countless afternoons in that youth ministry office, surrounded by young people, laughing so hard I thought I would burst! I also learned how to be with them in and through the struggles they encountered in their daily lives.  (Click here to see the class of 2014 reading excepts from MLK Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.  These are some of the many students who have overcome great challenges in their live and that I had the privilege to see Christ in everyday. )

Kelly celebrates Halloween with her community members.
While working with these students, I lived in community with volunteers from several different programs.  We were a mixed bag of Franciscans, Salesians (that’s me!), Columbans, and volunteers from the Catholic Volunteer Network.  Over the course of my two years there we ranged from a community as small as four to as large as nine. 

The Franciscan style of living in community is simplicity.  On an economic level, we made do with all second hand furniture and shopped frugally for our needs.  We usually did not buy Ziploc bags, for instance, because we could reuse Tupperware containers instead. As a part of my volunteer program, I did not have a car but I received a stipend each month for food and transportation.  

On the community level, simplicity meant that we relied on each other.  Sometimes that took the form of practical matters, such as grocery shopping or mopping up a flood in the basement.  Other times it took a more personal form as we relied on one another for support and friendship.  Now that I am living in community with the Salesian Sisters, I look back on my time in community as a formative period.  In learning how to live with different people of various personalities, I learned how to recognize the gifts that all members can bring to community and I was able to learn more about myself as well. 

As my two years of volunteering came to a close, I decided to stay and accepted a full time paid teaching position at DBCR.  But I had an inclination, even then, that God was calling me to something more, something deeper.  God had gifted me with two wonderful and difficult years at the service of a school and students truly in need.  But His ultimate goal was not for me to stay at one school and with one group of students, He wanted to expand my horizons of service and the dimensions of my heart.  I had the opportunity, while Fr. Abe was at DBCR, to attend daily Mass in our school chapel.  This daily encounter with Christ in the Eucharist helped me to see Christ every day in the young people and opened my heart for the possibility of deeper relationship with Him. 

When the Salesian Sisters came for our vocations assembly I heard God’s voice speaking directly to me saying, “This is it!”  I must be honest, my first reaction was irritation.  “Oh very funny God!  Here I am sitting through the same vocation talk presented to all five of my Theology classes.  Aren’t you supposed to be speaking to the students right now?!  Leave me alone!”  But because our God is good and patient, He didn’t leave me alone.  After three years in Washington, D.C., He called me to move to New Jersey where the formation house of the Salesian Sisters is located.  

Kelly's visit to DBCR after joining the Salesian Sisters.
It took some convincing on God’s part to show me that it was not just DBCR where He wanted me to serve, but anywhere the Salesians are and with all young people tho whom He might send to me.  The Salesian Sisters dedicate their whole selves to God in the service of young people through education, parish catechism, youth centers, and anywhere young people may be found.  St. John Bosco and St. Mary Mazzarello (our founders) shared the joy of Christ with every young person they met providing for them a home to feel welcome, a school to prepare them for life, a Church to evangelize, and a playground for them to make friends and have fun!  

 For me, what started as just a year of service post college opened the doors of my heart for Christ to call me to my life’s vocation. I am now half way through my first year of formation and if I had to identify one overriding emotion, it would be deep a sense of peace.

You can learn more about Kelly, and her life as an aspirant on her blog, Nunsensical. And for more resources on discerning your vocation through service, click here.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Service with a Smile

Catholic Volunteer Network, in partnership with Catholic Extension, is hosting Days of Service and Reflection all across the country in the dioceses where our Campus Recruitment Associates serve. As these events take place, we will share reflections from students who participate.

Reflection by Gabriella, University of Idaho 

As a new student at the University of Idaho, located in Moscow, I wasn't familiar with the community service opportunities until I started paying attention to the Church's bulletin. Between
classes and studying there really isn't much time for college students to facilitate many community service projects. So with the help of the campus ministry, the collective effort of students and organizations like Catholic Volunteer Network doing community service becomes a frequent and efficient way to help others. 

This semester I had the opportunity to join in Catholic Volunteer Network's Service Day Project. I started off the day bright and early at 9:00am at the home of Maggie, a recently widowed elderly woman. I was joined by a couple of friends and Gordon Wong, a recruiter for CVN, and we helped clean Maggie's house. Not only I was I able to help this woman, do chores that she was now ill equipped to do, but I also got the chance to interact with her. We talked about her quilting and she offered to teach me the skill. Sometimes building new relationships is one of the best parts of helping others, and I know Maggie and I both enjoyed that part of our day. 

After cleaning Maggie's home, we all went to the nearby convent to rake leaves. There were over thirty students there helping out and in the end, we raked up a few truck loads of leaves. The Sisters were very delighted to have us there, especially Sister Delores who called us all angels. They fed us treats and we finished the job. 

Overall it was a great day, and what will always stick with me are the smiles of those we helped.


Gabriella is a freshman at the University of Idaho and a member of the St. Augustine's Catholic Student Community. She plans on taking quilting lessons from Maggie soon.
 



Monday, May 5, 2014

Breathing Life into a Community Through Service



Catholic Volunteer Network, in partnership with Catholic Extension, is hosting Days of Service and Reflection all across the country in the dioceses where our Campus Recruitment Associates serve. As these events take place, we will share reflections from students who participate.  

Reflection by Christopher Schmidt, University of Idaho

University of Idaho students came out in impressive number for a day of service and reflection!
I was recently granted a unique opportunity: I got to help almost thirty people in a community service project on a cold and dreary day. It may have seemed at the face of it that this would be a uniquely miserable experience, but in fact it was one of the best I have had in a while! 

Catholic Volunteer Network gathered up a group of volunteers to help some of members of our local community with yard work that they were either unable to do or might find hard to do on account of their age or a recent injury. We met at 9 a.m., split into teams and got to work.

Helping those in need always brings peace of mind and a certain amount of spiritual comfort, but to see almost thirty college students give up their Saturday morning to work with such dedication and in such a cheery manner, despite the weather, was nothing short of inspirational. It was an insight into the living faith of our community and the fruit that such a faith can bear. To have so many people volunteer their time shows not only a valuable work ethic but dedication to God and his Church. The work that these volunteers did shows that they are willing to give up the free time of their weekend and the short notice gives testament to the fact that this is an interior disposition that has been nurtured into a natural response. 

When the community said they needed help there were workers ready and wanting to help in whatever way was needed. This is the kind of disposition that will breathe life into the Church in the modern era as in every other. Living the Faith cannot be restricted to an individual experience of occasional piety "for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."(1 Jn 4:20) It was truly a blessing to be involved in this service and I would heartily encourage anyone to seek a similar project in their own community. Christ came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. The least we can do is give a few hours.


Christopher is a member of the St. Augustine's Catholic Community at the University of Idaho. To learn more about the Catholic community at the University of Idaho please visit www.vandalcatholics.org.



Wednesday, April 30, 2014

AmeriCorps Member gets his hands dirty in service


By: Caitlin Morneau

When Jarrett Steffen arrived at Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper in the fall of 2013, he did not have a background in environmental studies, but he had a heart for service, a desire to learn and a natural talent for working with people. As a Buffalo native, he was familiar with the Buffalo and Niagara River ecosystems and how these waterways impacted the lives of the surrounding community. After studying philosophy at SUNY Buffalo and then beginning graduate school at Chicago Theological Union, his faith motivated him to take a break from his studies and get his hands dirty in service. Drawn back to his home state, Jarrett became an AmeriCorps member with Catholic Charities Service Corps. 

Jarrett’s service site, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, is a “community-based organization dedicated to protecting the quality and quantity of water, while connecting people to water.” (http://bnriverkeeper.org/) Riverkeeper provides direct charity by acting as a voice for not only the natural ecosystems and all their inhabitants, but for the citizens who have the right to clean water and an accessible waterfront. 


As Community Outreach and Education Specialist, Jarrett is responsible for engaging, training and working with volunteers for shoreline cleanups, habitat restoration, removing invasive plant species and other volunteer events for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.  He also assists with the environmental justice program focusing on education and community outreach to impoverished communities that are disproportionately affected by multiple environmental harms and risks. Specifically, he focuses on educating refugee and immigrant communities, on the harms and risks of eating contaminated fish caught in local waterways.

Jarrett and his site supervisor, Robbyn
In order to educate others about the surrounding environment, Jarrett dove in head-first to soak up as much information as he could about the needs and resources in the area. Guiding him along the way was his site supervisor, Robbyn Drake. Robbyn served herself as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Riverkeeper over 12 years ago, so she was thrilled when Catholic Charities Service Corps approached her about placing an AmeriCorps member there this year. When asked how the year was going, Robbyn said “Great! I’m very impressed. Jarrett loves working with people and has great communication skills. He has a lot of grace and calmness, which you need when working with a lot of different kinds of people.” 

In addition to overseeing education programs, Jarrett is the leading force behind recruiting and mobilizing local volunteers for city-wide clean up events. This past Saturday, Riverkeeper hosted its annual Spring Clean Up, for which Jarrett coordinated over 1,500 volunteers at 41 different sites throughout the Buffalo Niagara region. Jarrett ensured that volunteers were trained in planting trees, maintaining gardens and removing invasive species. Approximately 20 tons of trash were removed and 80 new trees were planted!

Afterward, Jarrett reflected, “I saw people become more connected to the environment and the people they were working with. It was a great event and I felt very accomplished for being able to coordinate something this big that had such an impact on our region. ” Buffalo, New York, is surely a safer and cleaner place to live because of the AmeriCorps service of Jarrett Steffen. 
Jarrett (far right) and a group of volunteers at the Spring Clean Up.