Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Create Your Charism: Allison Reynolds - Good Shepherd Volunteers

Allie is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Allie and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!

The dictionary defines Charisma as “a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion to others.” I believe this definition is perfect to describe why I chose to serve. I was attracted to service because it was a world of unknowns and adventure, while devoting time and work to others. As I was applying to service organizations, the values of Good Shepherd Volunteers (GSV) stuck out to me. GSV has four core values of Social Justice, Community, Spirituality, and Simplicity while encouraging their volunteers to represent the Sisters’ core values of Individual Dignity, Zeal, Reconciliation, and Mercy. All these values of the GSV program can be broken down into the following words that, I believe, best describe Good Shepherd’s charism. 

C - Calling The dictionary defines the word vocation as “a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career.” I believe when the Good Shepherd Sisters received their calling towards this vocation, they knew they were in the right place. Sisters feel such a strong desire to help others, and they make a significant sacrifice to serve others. I have witnessed this work first hand, and it is incredible. Watching the sisters interact with every person that crosses their path with love and compassion influences me every day to be more open minded without pre-judgments. With this mindset I feel I have been able to reach more people, learn more, and take more risks without fear. 

Andrea and I attending the mass for the Sisters of Good Shepherd vow renewal.
H- Humbling Working with GSV has proven to be one of the most humbling experiences. Every day I learn something new, proving how little I knew about life before this experience. Living in Sucre, Bolivia has made me more humble than ever before. I have met people who need to walk 3 hours from their house to get to work, I have seen children wear the same clothes constantly- no matter how dirty they might be, and I have witnessed a corrupt political system full of civilian protests for laws and actions that I have never thought could exist. With these few examples in mind, I have learned how every country, group, or individual is different. If I believe something could be done in a certain way, that does not mean a Bolivian is accustomed to doing things my way. In these moments I truly have to step back, listen, understand and trust the process. I am constantly growing in appreciation and respect for the communities I work with. Learning every day about our communities is difficult and eye opening, but only creates more of a curiosity and attentiveness for what is out there and how we can help. 

Marching with our women to lift our voices against violence.
A-Amor Amor; love. Working in communities experiencing hardship, discouragement, violence, neglect, poverty, misunderstanding, and any other negative words you can think of... love is always the most important tool to have. I believe the staff, volunteers and Sisters who work with GSV have a strong belief that everyone is human, everyone has a story, and everyone deserves a chance. Knowing I am working with communities who the political, social, and economic systems ignore, oppress or discourage, I realize sometimes that second chances can only be shown through love and compassion. I am not in this work for the money, or for being the boss and making decisions. I am attracted to this work to be devoted to others and to just be there. The GSV slogan is "Just Love" which means love in justice, and to simply, just love. Playing games with children who come from homes that suffer from domestic violence and seeing their worry-free smiles is why I chose to volunteer. Being able to show these children, and women that someone believes in them and loves them, especially as a complete stranger, gives them hope and confidence they might not have had before. This part of GSV is one of the strongest pieces of the charism to include and inspire others. 

Teaching art therapy at a Good Shepherd Shelter in
Los Angeles, CA in my first year as a GSV (children's faces blurred for confidentiality).
R- Rapport Creating rapport is a phrase used in all jobs throughout GSV. From the beginning, I learned I would have to gain the trust of the people I might encounter throughout my year. The best way I have been taught to do that is through love and open-mindedness. Being able to observe the Sisters create rapport so easily has inspired me and taught me different ways to interact with others. Every time I encounter a new person, I know they have a story to tell, and every story is different. Learning how to create rapport has taught me not to assume that everyone has had the same experiences or beliefs. Keeping this in mind, I have been able to have open conversations with many different people by sharing opinions. Being able to accept and value every person’s difference has taught me many new things that I have to credit to my new friends along this journey. 

The Good Shepherd Sisters modeled the importance of having fun
with the kids on Halloween in my first year as a GSV in Los Angeles.
I-Intentional Intentionality is a huge part of GSV. Coming into a volunteer year would not have worked if I did not feel intentional about it. I have to want to be here; I have to want to be in it for the hard times and the good times. To live intentionally is to live with purpose, and to live with the idea that every choice you make has an impact on yourself and others around you. As a second year volunteer, I also have a better understanding of the meaning of intentional living. It means believing in your own happiness through a conscious attempt to live according to your beliefs and values. Living on a stipend, living in community, exploring different religious values, adventuring in new countries and cities, meeting new people, teaching my own students; every single one of these GSV experiences (and more) has taught me more about myself, my values and beliefs, and how to live intentionally. 

Andrea and I having fun being GSVs at Orientation last summer, where
I had the chance to reflect on my first year as a GSV and prepare for my second.
S- Spirituality I believe Spirituality is one of the best ways GSV is different from other volunteer programs. While GSV is a Catholic based organization, it accepts all religious and spiritual backgrounds. This shows GSV does not discriminate against other religions and is willing to see their volunteers discover their own spiritual journey, allowing me the freedom to express and explore my spirituality the way I want. Admittedly, working with Catholic Sisters at the beginning made me nervous. When I entered a religious world I was unfamiliar with, I pictured having to pretend to be something I wasn’t. I did not attend mass constantly, and I did not understand most of the Catholic world. When I first met the Sisters, I thought I would have to act religious. However, right away I learned that the Sisters love hearing and learning about religious, spiritual values and the backgrounds each new volunteer brings. This has motivated me and showed me how religion can be expressed through personality and curiosity, and that there is more than one-way to express the way you feel spiritually.

Hermana Consuelo and I after renewing her vows! 93 and she
still shows an amazing amount of love towards everyone!
M- Moral GSV has showed me what my morals are and what I believe in. I have realized my heart is with helping others. Being in this profession has helped me recognize human character, and how morals can be learned at a young age, but can also be rediscovered and made your own as you grow older. The families and communities GSV works with come from harsh homes, where the morals that have been taught might be considered inhumane. What I love about my job is being able to reteach these children new morals, new values, and how a person should be treated. Watching the violence leave their lives with tiny successes is the most rewarding part about my job. This has been one of the most attractive parts about GSV throughout my experience: the need and want to continue to have these successes with the families I serve, and the curiosity of how I will continue this work when my volunteer career ends. 

Allie, a current Good Shepherd Volunteer, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Day in the Life: Ada Lee - Vincentian Service Corps West - San Francisco, CA

Ada is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Ada and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

This year has brought changes to my life in all aspects- physically, mentally, and emotionally. One of the biggest changes has been learning to live in solidarity with the communities I am serving. Oftentimes and unfortunately, we can get so preoccupied with the hustle of our own lives, that we become prone to seeing those who are different from us as a “stranger." The interactions we have with others then become inauthentic and muddled and can even take away from the basic human experience of compassion and human dignity. Pope Francis says, “To welcome the stranger is to welcome Christ," and this has been my personal aphorism for the year.

I am serving at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep High School through the Vincentian Service Corps and have the opportunity to lead some sophomores on their service immersion trips. These trips are mandated for the students’ English class, but are meant to provide insight into the infamous Tenderloin community right next door, offer opportunities for direct service, and reveal the issues of social injustices in society. Through the St. Anthony’s Immersion program, students serve clients in the dining room, clothing store, or homebound food delivery systems, have lunch with the people they’re serving, and hear a firsthand experience directly from a current member of the Father Alfred Drug & Alcohol Rehab Program.

Going on this experience with high schoolers blesses me with the opportunity to help shape the minds of young people. Prior to the service trip, many students are not aware of the Tenderloin and its resources. In fact, there is a stigma among many young people about this area and the people who live there; while the Tenderloin does have its unique trials and tribulations, there are preconceived notions that the homeless there are just lazy and have no motivation. It is seen as a hopeless place that is better ignored. The students brought these preconceived notions forward prior to starting our service experience. I knew then that it was my role to help break down the stereotypes.

While leading morning prayer, I incorporated activities that revealed to the students the bias and prejudice that we are often so unaware of in our daily lives. First I gave random descriptions of people, and students wrote down their first impressions. We had an in depth discussion afterwards about why we thought certain things about people and how we can better our service experience by breaking down those preconceived notions and entering with an open mind and heart. My students and I formed a community with each other, unique from any other kind of academic experience, because we were able to reveal our hearts to each other. 

During one immersion experience in the beginning of October, I met John David, one of the members of St. Anthony’s Father Alfred Drug & Alcohol Rehab program. John narrated his addiction/ recovery story to the students and even gave us a taste of his spoken word pieces and his original poems. Afterwards, I thanked him for his service to us and wished him well. Last week, while walking through the Tenderloin, I stumbled upon a familiar figure- it was John David again! We stopped, looked at each other, recognized one another, and hugged each other in excitement. I asked him how his poetry was going and where he was getting his inspiration from. With a look of sincerity, he replied that he was honored that I remembered him and his work. “Of course, John!” I responded. “I would never forget someone as talented as you!” John David’s face lit up in happiness. I continued, “Thank you so much for your service to our school and for speaking with and inspiring our students.” John David looked me in the eye and replied, “No, thank YOU for your service to bettering this community and our lives.” 

It is one thing to serve for a day. We can go to a soup kitchen and give someone a sandwich, with absolutely no true intention, zeal, or passion. But to truly make an impact on those being served, it must be as St. Vincent DePaul once said, “with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” My hope is that I had enough of an impact on my students so that they can do just that. By serving with an open heart and mind, their perceptions of those in need can start to change. By changing negative perceptions, we can start to truly do good in this world. In doing so, we can show those in need the human dignity and compassion they deserve. 

I implore anyone doing a year of service now or in the future, to be present to all that they’re doing. It is so easy to ignore “the other” in the midst of our own lives, but it’s also easy to be open in receiving and understanding the lives of those we’re serving. In following the words of Pope Francis and by “welcoming the stranger” into our lives, we can begin to understand each other, to really make an impact in this world, and to work towards systemic change and social justice. 

Ada, a current volunteer with Vincentian Service Corps West, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

"Do not be afraid" Advent Reflection by Taylor Gostomski, Augustinian Volunteers

In this annual series, current and former volunteers reflect on the Advent Gospels and the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: Social Justice, Simplicity, Community and Spirituality. Presented by Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network.

Fourth Week of Advent

Reflection by: Taylor Gostomski, Former Augustinian Volunteer

Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:26-38)

“The journey is better than the inn,” was written by Miguel de Cervantes in his famous work Don Quixote. Former UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, used to use that phrase to describe how he liked the practices or “the journey,” better than the actual games or the “inn” in his work. Many of us want to get to the destination or result right away – whether it’s
an actual trip or a goal we have set – that we forget the hidden treasure than can be the journey or process itself.

Take time to intentionally think about one of your favorite accomplishments. Was the only good part the moment you actually got your reward? Or was the process of getting there also satisfying? That’s not to say there isn’t hard work, sacrifices and suffering, but we can learn to take joy in that part too. 

In today’s Gospel reading, Mary has, what I would imagine, a very human reaction to being visited by an angel of God and being told something big is about to happen and that she’s going to be a part of it. “Troubled”, “pondered”, being told to “not be afraid” and asking “How” are all pretty human responses. I wonder, if like many of us, Mary wanted to skip to the end of her story and know what was going to happen and whether or not she would be okay.

But ultimately, it seems Mary accepted the value of the process, the journey, when she trusts God’s will. Bearing God’s child, perhaps the “inn”, is a wonderful thing, but maybe the journey is also wonderful—the trust, courage and inner strength that was required of Mary to bring Jesus into the world.

Taylor walking during his journey in Chulucanas, Peru.
Focus on SpiritualitySpiritually, I struggle greatly with some of the classic big questions in life. Why is there suffering in the world? I also struggle with more practical questions like, what is my next career step going to be? I really want to know the answers to both of those, but maybe this passage about Mary can help remind us a) it’s okay to have questions and b) it’s also okay to not know the answers and wherever we are in life right now, we need not the answers or to know for it to be enjoyable.

Service SuggestionIf Christmas is our inn, then Advent is our journey. Let’s not only wait this Advent, being stagnant, but prepare, being active. Let’s prepare ourselves so that when the big day arrives, we will be able to more fully enjoy it. Maybe it’s preparing ourselves to have a better attitude when things don’t go our way in life, so that when the holidays come and, likely, something doesn’t go our own way, we are able to take it in stride and maintain our joy during this special time of year and share it with others.

Taylor (right) teaching his Peruvian students.
PrayerGod, teach us patience in the journey of life. For we often want to get to the destination so eagerly, we forget to appreciate what happens along the way. Although the journey has its hardships, help us to see the value in those challenging times. Give us the strength to continue on the path set before us and to strive to seek moments of joy in situations where it may be sparse.

- Taylor Gostomski

Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Advent Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Advent resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.