Sunday, December 22, 2013

10 Tips for Completing Your Volunteer Application

By Michael Garcia, CVN Recruitment Associate

If you are considering starting a year of service in the fall and  haven't started the process of completing your volunteer application yet - now is a great time to get started. The task may seem daunting, but don't worry, we are here to help. Here are 11 tips to get your started...

1. Remember to Fill Out a Volunteer Profile: The Volunteer Profile form is designed to help our member programs get to know you. Once you complete and submitted your form, programs may contact you directly to speak about their opportunities. The Volunteer Profile form can be found here:

2. What is Your Ministry?: Ask yourself what type of ministry you want to serve in. With more than 220 programs, there are numerous fields you can serve in including hospital ministry, elderly outreach, social services and education.Spend some time in prayer to see how God is calling you to serve those most in need.

3. Discernment: Be patient with yourself in the discernment process. Figuring out an important life decision like this takes time. Volunteer opportunities are quite plentiful and it can be overwhelming finding the right one for you. In the process, trust that God is with you and has a plan for your life. For advice, talk to trusted friends, family members, and mentors. Likewise, bring the decision to prayer and ask God for guidance.

4. Know Your Needs: Ask yourself what you need in terms of support and nourishment during your time commitment (i.e. your own room, an intentional community, spiritual direction or nature). Additionally, be aware of your standing commitments - whether they are financial, family, or personal. When talking with the staff members of the programs you are applying for, be up front about these needs. They will often be happy to work with you to find the program or position that is the right fit.

5. Use Your Gifts: Everybody has gifts that they can offer to their volunteer program and service site. When looking for the right program for you, think about what you have to offer and what types of things you excel at naturally. For example, if you know you have a talent for working with kids you may want to consider programs that focus on education.

6. What is the Application Process Like?: At the very beginning, be sure you have a good understanding of the whole application process. Find out whether you apply to the program as a whole or do you apply for a specific position? What types of interviews will be involved? When can you expect to have a final decision about your acceptance? Knowing all this from the start will help you move through the process with ease.

7. Deadlines: Double check those application deadlines! Many programs have deadlines in March and April but some ask applications to be submitted as early as December, while other programs accept applications on a rolling basis. It is always helpful to apply as early as possible - programs do fill up quickly!

8. One-on-One: It is always a good idea to talk to a current volunteer if you are considering service. If you don't know a volunteer personally, ask the program if they would put you in touch with one. Or, you can always call the CVN office and talk to a staff member about their service experience (half of our staff is made up of former volunteers!) This conversation will give you a better sense of what the experience of serving in that program will really be like.

9. Bring Those Questions: When contacting a program to ask about their various volunteer opportunities, be sure to have a few questions prepared. Some might include: “What sort of spiritual commitment is there?” and “What does community life look like?” Rest assured that the application process is a two-way dialogue. Programs want to hear your questions as much as they want to ask their own.

10. Be Appreciative: It is always a good idea to thank your program after your interview. A well thought out email or letter can make a big impression in any opportunity you may be seeking.

Good luck with the application process and remember that we are always here to help!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Lifelong Impact of Service

To celebrate the sixth day of Catholic Volunteer Network’s Twelve Days of Christmas, six members of our staff are sharing the ways that service has changed their lives. 

“Service changed my entire understanding of love. Through service I learned that love is not an emotion, but an action that God calls us to choose every day, in every moment and every relationship. It is in making that choice that we build God’s kingdom, here on earth.”
-         Caitlin Morneau, alumni of Catholic Charities Project SERVE and Bethlehem Farm

“One way that long-term service changed me was through my experience of intentional community. I found that one cannot fully give of themselves in ministry without belonging to a community. Community, whether with those we minister to or those we live with, is vital to the mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. My community served as a source of support, laughter and love for me and taught me the importance of journeying with others in service.”
-        Michael Garcia, alumni of Cap Corps East and Red Cloud Volunteer Program

“My experience of serving as a lay missioner in Zambia helped me understand the importance of presence. In my service I encountered a lot of situations that I did not have solutions for. I couldn’t heal the children dying of AIDS, I couldn’t rebuild the homes that were damaged in a fire, I couldn’t restore the harvest that had been lost to drought. It took me a while to realize that I didn’t need to fix everything in order to be useful, sometimes I just needed to be there.  I learned to simply listen and offer a hand to hold, and it is in these quiet moments that I felt the gentle, healing presence of God working through me.”
-         Katie Mulembe, alumni of Franciscan Mission Service

“Service taught me to appreciate the unexpected. I learned that I can’t always prepare or plan ahead for what I will face – at work, in my community, or in any other aspect of my life. My service taught me to enjoy and value this reality, instead of fear it. As a result, I became better able to grow from new challenges, learn from new experiences, and be grateful the new opportunities in my life.”
-        Emily Simmonds, alumni of Lutheran Volunteer Corps
"Through service, I learned that true freedom comes from doing small things with great love and faithfulness."
-          Barbara Wheeler, alumni of Vincentian Service Corps

“During my service year I learned the importance of recognition. The tenants I worked with had often been overlooked, pushed aside or ignored by passersby; however, these tenants were more than their housing situations and current addresses. These wonderful people I worked with were sports fans, family members, and engaged community members. Recognition in its many forms is a declaration of saying, ‘You are you.’ The recognition provided support and allowed my tenants to do incredible things – lobbying local elected officials for stronger community safety programs, teaching young adults the difficulty of finding affordable housing, and providing input on a citywide anti-homelessness campaign.”
-        Gordon Wong, alumni of Amate House

We’d like to hear from you – how has service made an impact on your life? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Alumni Speak: Moving into Action in the Philippines

By Crystal Catalan, Cabrini Mission Corps alum

Today, in celebration of International Volunteer Day, we share this story of one of our recent international volunteers. 

Keep us from just singing, move us into action, we must go.
In the summer of 2005, I journeyed with a group of hopeful, motivated, passionate college students to Manila, Philippines, as part of a Christian missions program, collaborating with global-minded students from all across the United States.  This was my first missions trip, and more specifically, it was to be my first trip as a young adult, back to my parents’ homeland.  In my heart, I had the desire to learn first-hand more about the injustices faced in the hidden corners of the communities in the Philippines, and I wanted to see these Filipinos that I had only heard about through stories from my aunts and uncles.  
I was assigned to serve at a foundation that served as a home to young girls who had been abused, trafficked, abandoned and/or neglected, many times by their own parents or close relatives. Here is where my life was forever changed – in listening to the stories of the girls, sharing meals with the girls, laughing with them, crying with them, and simply just, being with them. In that moment in time, nothing was expected of me, but to simply just be and to be in solidarity with my sisters in Christ.
To this day, eight years later, there are still a number of stories and experiences that still remain fresh in my mind from that mission, and it is those same experiences, which have greatly influenced where I am today. I will never forget one of the girls who had been a victim of sexual exploitation by her uncle. Listening to her openly speak with vivid details about the life she was forced to live, until help came her way, nearly broke my heart to pieces. But even more so, it made me angry. It was too, in that short missions trip, where I had first learned about the horrors of human trafficking.

In my yet-to-be-shaken college mind, I could not fathom what human trafficking was. I remember thinking to myself, “Why would anyone force people, especially children, to another country, beyond their own will? My mind could not fathom this reality. It was only upon educating myself with endless conversations with the social workers in Manila, and hearing first-hand stories from survivors of human trafficking and prostitution, that I slowly began to accept that this was occurring all around the world, unbeknownst to me. 
At times, I would find myself on the roof of the foundation, get an aerial view of the town and the neighboring communities, and just cry, sing, question, and pray – something I realized the majority of the girls, too, spent their afternoons doing. The difference I found, however, was that, my tears were to account for the sadness I felt from the social injustices that these girls experienced, but also for the countless others all around the world, that share these same horrific experiences.  The girls, on the other hand, cried many times because they missed their parents and wanted a place to call home.
I realized through my tears, that what I wanted most was for these girls to understand that they are God’s beloved daughters, and that God has not, and will never abandon them. I wanted the girls to never give up hope. Having this experience reminds me of the importance of treating others with the dignity that God has created them with, but further than that, to be a part of restoring the dignity of those who have been violated and mistreated, especially in abusive capacities.
After this experience, I decided to serve as a missioner with Cabrini Mission Corps in Baguio City, Philippines, where I worked with 150 indigent families through Save Our School Children Foundation, Inc. (SOSCFI), one of the missions of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (“Cabrini Sisters”).  Since my first trip to the Philippines in 2005, the Philippines had forever implanted itself in my heart, and so, my heart led me to serve alongside the Sisters at their mission here in Baguio City.
Aside from leading liturgies and bible studies in the communities and parishes, I specifically focused on working with the high school girls, who are vulnerable to influential societal pressures and vices. As a result, I was able to team up with an NGO in New York, LitWorld, to start a “Girls Club” here in Baguio City, with the focus on “women and girls’ empowerment through literacy learning.” 
I have since learned from my experiences in Manila, that education is key – both in and out of the classroom.  It is through creating these spaces for these young women, that I can then empower them to believe in themselves, to help them recognize the beauty they have within themselves, and for them to realize their dignity, strength, and courage that they have been gifted with. It is through spending time with these young women, being able to motivate them and share their joys and challenges with them, that I can too, remind them, to never give up on hope.

It was not enough for me to just cry, sing, question, and pray on the rooftop on those countless days during my mission in Manila – it was important that my heart went to the root of what injustice I felt so strongly about ending, and move myself towards the next step: into action.

Crystal wrote this article towards the end of her two-year mission in the Philippines, and is now working at a college preparatory high school for women in northern California, moderating their community involvement program and coordinating their immersion trips. Her additional mission experiences may be found on her blog at

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How It All Got Started

Fr. George Mader, with his parents and siblings, on the occasion of his first Mass on May 24, 1959.

As Catholic Volunteer Network commemorates our 50th anniversary, the celebration would be incomplete if we did not take some time to recognize our founder, Fr. George Mader.

George Leonard Mader was born on November 28, 1927 in Irvington, New Jersey. He was the oldest of five children. After finishing his schooling, he spent a few years in the work force and eventually started his own company, GLM Corps Recording Systems, which made and sold recordings of drum and bugle corps. The unexpected death of a close friend caused George to seek more meaning in his life. In 1950, he decided to change paths and entered the School of Divinity at Seton Hall University, South Orange. He completed his seminary training at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington. Fr. George Mader was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Newark on May 23, 1959.

As a young priest, Fr. George was moved by the decision of his younger sister, Pat, to engage in full-time volunteer work. The year was 1961 and, after feeling the desire to “do more,” Pat began looking for an opportunity to serve. Despite initially feeling drawn to serve in Africa, she ended up in Farmville, North Carolina, serving with the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, as part of the “Mary Missioners” program. Soon after her return to New Jersey, Fr. Mader had the idea to form a central office that would serve as a catalyst for lay mission work. He knew that there had to be a better way to share the many opportunities for lay people to serve the Church. Together, he and Pat drafted a proposal for this office, which was eventually accepted by then Archbishop Thomas A. Boland. Thus, the Newark Liaison Foreign and Domestic Lay Missionary Apostolate (later to be renamed Catholic Volunteer Network) was born.

Fr. Mader served as the Executive Director of this organization from its start in 1963 until 1976. In the early days, the Lay Missionary Apostolate placed volunteers from Newark in service positions across the U.S. and abroad. Fr. Mader and Pat worked tirelessly to increase the awareness of these service opportunities, and placed over 400 volunteers in their first eight years. Around 1972, the decision was made to become a coalition of mission agencies, rather than focus on volunteer placement.

Even though it has been nearly forty years since his days as a full-time staff member, Fr. Mader has remained an important figure in the life of Catholic Volunteer Network. We continue to be inspired by his vision and passion for lay volunteer service. We honor his legacy with the annual distribution of an award in his name.

Other priestly assignments of Fr. Mader have included: St. Aloysius, Jersey City, parochial vicar; Archdiocese of Newark, clergy personnel; St. Catherine of Siena, Cedar Grove, parochial vicar; and Ramapo College, Mahwah, chaplain. Fr. Mader is currently retired, and lives in West Orange, New Jersey.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Yes, Send Me

“For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
1 Corinthians 9:16

Picture In a changing world, the Gospel does not change. The Good News always remains the same. Our vocation to be its bearers and our responsibility are always current. “The core of the proclamation always remains the same: the Kerygma of Christ who died and rose for the world’s salvation, the Kerygma of God's absolute and total love for every man and every woman” (Benedict XVI, Message for World Mission Day 2012).

I ask myself, what do we, sons and daughters of St. Vincent Pallotti, need in this era of the New Evangelisation?

Like everyone in the Church today, I need to re-examine, with courage and humility, my way of being an apostle, sent to evangelise, I need to understand the profound sense of insufficiency of my proclamation and my witness; otherwise, how can I explain the fact that so many people around me do not know God and live as if God did not exist?

“God created human beings in time only in order to lead them happily to eternity. His desire is to see all of them saved, enlightened by his graces and by the exercise of his Providence. For this reason, St. Dionysiusthe Areopagite says that the most holy, most noble, most august, most divine work of all of the Divine, august, noble and holy works is to cooperate with the merciful plans, wishes and desires of God for the salvation of human beings” (OOCC IV, 124).

At some point in the past, each one of us met Jesus, each one replied with love and courage, ‘Yes, send me’, to his invitation, ‘Follow me’. Each person lives out in their own state of life as mother, father, sister, brother, priest, young, sick etc., day after day, their being an apostle, sent by Jesus. All of us have the same desire, implanted in our hearts by our Creator, to be happy. As good Christians, we must desire the same happiness also for our brothers and sisters. We find the fullness of our happiness in Jesus Christ who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.

Without the renewing breath of the Holy Spirit there can be no New Evangelisation. Without a deep desire for the Holy Spirit on my part, “the new man, the new woman”, true witness of God, cannot be born in me. I already realize from my life experience how risky and unpredictable it is to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit and his action within us

But if we open our hearts and minds to the fire of the Holy Spirit who acted in the life and missionary activity of the first apostles, of St. Paul, of the saints of all times, including our holy Founder, we can experience unexpected change. Like the disciples of Emmaus, like the disciples who left the Cenacle after Pentecost transformed from simple chroniclers into passionate witnesses of the Risen One, from frightened apostles into courageous bearers of the Gospel to the very ends of the earth. It is the Holy Spirit who impels us to proclaim the great works of God.

I really find the need to be changed into an ardent witness of the Risen Jesus from whom life springs for me and for the whole world. Not to be simply a chronicler of facts, of events immortalised in the pages of the Gospel, but to believe strongly in the extraordinary power, and feel the life, which the Gospel possesses. The most difficult thing today for each of us, for every Christian, I think, is to take seriously the Gospel which we have in our hands, to try to translate into practise what Jesus says to us about simplicity of spirit. But this is precisely what is being asked of us with great insistence in today. The Good News of the Gospel is always the love of God for each human person; we are expected to give concrete form to this message and it is only then that those close to us will be able to understand the message of love and hope. A “theology of the face”, meaning meeting and welcoming the other in a personalised way, seems more relevant and necessary. It is very much needed today in human relationships. The most effective way to share the Good News with others is to communicate it heart to heart. Every person wants to feel themselves to be worthy of our attention, our interest, our love, and many want to see in us people of God.

This is a selection from an article titled, "The Year of Faith, The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, and the 50th Anniversary of the Canonisation of St. Vincent Pallotti" by Sr. M. Bozena Olszewska, S.A.C., who is a member of the General Council of the Pallottine Missionary Sisters

The original article was posted by Catholic Apostolate Center on April 11, 2013 and was re-posted with permission. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Spotlight on: DOOR

Opening a door to discussions on racial relationships
By Alyssa Sickle, Coordinator of Membership and Development

How can we help volunteers experience, engage, and embrace communities across racial and social classes? DOOR volunteers are encouraged to take these steps while they live and serve in inner-city communities. Krista Dutt, National Program Director and DOOR Chicago Director, shares how their volunteers are challenged to think about race relations in new ways and are encouraged to fully experience life in diverse cities.

Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection (DOOR) is a network of urban service-learning programs in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Hollywood, Miami, and San Antonio. Originating out of a Mennonite Central Committee project in Denver, the ecumenical program’s mission is to “expose, educate, challenge, and motivate participants to respond to the issues and concerns facing an increasingly urban world.”

DOOR’s motto is “See the face of God in the city.” Krista expands, “We believe that God is alive and working in the city. Therefore when volunteers come to us, the inner city stereotypes that they have often heard are challenged. They all will say, ‘racism is wrong, diversity is good,’ but when really confronted with it among people with whom they live and work, it’s harder to explain away.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Community and Relationships

By Monica Thom Konschnik, Catholic Apostolate Center

After living in community during your year or more of service, you probably have learned a thing or two about relationships and community.  Whether you just finished your term of service or you have been out for twenty years, there are many lessons to draw back on from that time and apply to your everyday life.

I feel very fortunate to have had a wonderful community experience of mutual respect and mostly strong communication when I did the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.  I do know that is not the case for every community, but even in communities where there wasn’t the best communication or healthy relationships, there is still a lot to take away.

Communication in Community

When you don’t choose who you are living with, you need to work a little harder to be able to express your needs as well as be there for those with whom you are living.  You need to step out of your comfort zone to be able to let the others see your quirks and shortcomings.  This helps everyone adjust to provide a healthy and safe living space.

During my year of service with the JVC, I learned how to really communicate with others.   As a very passive-aggressive person to start, I learned how to more appropriately communicate, and address conflicts head on.  Occasionally, I still resort back to some passive aggressive behaviors, but because of living in my community, I am able to recognize when I am not being as direct as I should and can adjust my behavior.

Because of the vulnerability and awkwardness I experience in my first few months of JVC, I feel I became a better community member to roommates after JVC and now to my current roommate, my husband.   I became more aware of the needs of others, sometimes setting aside my own wants and needs that got in the way of a successful community.

Sharing Your Faith

A unique characteristic of doing a faith-based volunteer program is the opportunity to be able to grow in your faith.  There is something special about being able to share your spiritual experiences with those with whom you are living.  In community, everyone is coming from such different places, but everyone is also in the experience together and can support and challenge one another to grow.
Living in community provided the opportunity for me to be able to find different ways to share my faith.  With the weekly spirituality nights, I was able to find the words to articulate my faith journey.  I was also able to go beyond words alone to express my faith.  Simple acts of kindness or a smile became an essential way for me to live out my faith.

Right Relationships

Living in community provides the opportunity not only for growing as a person and growing in your faith, but also the opportunity to have fun and enjoy those with whom you are living.  It is not very often that you get the chance to live with a group of like-minded people, sharing money and resources, going through similar work experiences, living in a new city or country.

There is a special connection between your community members and yourself.  Even if you never want to talk to a particular community member ever again, you still have a connection to that person because of the experience you shared.  It is important, though, to be able to grow from those relationships even if they were not successful.  Figure out within yourself where you could have been a better person.  And maybe it is true that time does heal old wounds, and try to reconnect with that person once there is some space and more experience between you both.

The community I was a part of in New Orleans continues to communicate and support each other a few years after our year together.  We have seen each other through three weddings, two children, one successful battle with cancer, job changes, moves, breakups, and new relationships.  I’m grateful to have those six people in my life still and am thankful we had such an intense and wonderful experience together; an experience that has taught me to be a better communicator and a better person in relationships with those around me.

Monica Thom Konschnik serves as the Administrator for the Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington, D.C.  She is originally from Royal Oak, Michigan and is a graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy.  She did a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in New Orleans, LA in 2006-07.  While she was there, she served as a Teaching Assistant for 2nd grade at The Good Shepherd School.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Getting Things Done with Cristo Rey New York High School

Christian Arana graduated from Georgetown University after studying  International Politics and International Development. He spent two years working with Cristo Rey New York High School, a CVN-AmeriCorps program whose mission is to provide an affordable alternative to urban families for a small, quality, value-laden high school. Here, Arana reflects on what it means to be of service to others.

As the son of Guatemalan immigrants growing up in Los Angeles, I learned early on from my parents the value of being a person for others. From car rides to school to LA Dodger games, I was given the same speech over and over again: be of service to others. It wasn’t until my graduation from Georgetown University that I truly realized the significance of this message and how my parents had made sacrifices in order to help carry me to graduation day.
This notion of being a person for others has guided my service as a college counselor at Cristo Rey New York High School. For the past two years, I have attempted to create educational opportunities for my students, who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and provide sound advice and assurance to their families as well. Through a combination of long hours, creativity, and sometimes just pure luck, I believe I have made significant contributions to Cristo Rey and its students. The results are clear.

I leave behind the work and experiences of two successful college road trips that inspired students to attend schools like Franklin & Marshall College and Saint Joseph’s University. I also helped build new roads for Cristo Rey and its students by leading the planning of their annual college fair. It was here where I reached out to the University of Southern California to visit our school and talk to our students. It was here where one of my students found her dream school that she will now be attending. In two short years, I helped 100% of my caseload achieve college access to places like Georgetown, Colgate, Tufts, Holy Cross, and NYU. 

I often remember my first visit to Cristo Rey New York High School as a Georgetown senior and what I learned that day. Unsure of where my life was taking me and uncertain about the paths I wanted to pursue, I first visited Cristo Rey not really knowing what to expect. I went to two classrooms, an English and History class, where the focus that day was on vocabulary and writing a thesis statement for an essay. What struck me about these classroom visits was how the teachers spoke about college as a certainty, rarely using the word if. They repeatedly used phrases such as when you go to college and that demonstrated to me the confidence this school has in its students and in itself. The guarantee and expectation that Cristo Rey's students were going to college profoundly affected me and inspired me to serve at this school. 

That, above anything else, is the lesson that I will be taking with me as I move along in my life and in my career. For all of my students, it is never a question of if, but a matter of when. When our students go to college, when our students graduate from college, and when our students become leaders for others—those are the discussions that I was proud to be a part of for these past two years.
I hope that in these past two years, I have made Cristo Rey a place that is more welcoming, impressive, and awe-inspiring than when I first entered it. As I go on in life, I am comforted by the fact that I will carry with me the examples of courage that my students and their families have shown me to serve as models for many years to come. 

The Cristo Rey New York Volunteers aspire to demonstrate the Christian values of social justice, community and simplicity by serving Cristo Rey students in all aspects of their spiritual and intellectual growth. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Caring for Others: Getting Things Done with Amate House

By: Lindsay Williams, Amate House

AmeriCorps Service Site: Erie Family Health Center

This year I served as the Oral Health Educator for Erie Family Health Center.  Erie is a community based healthcare clinic that serves low-income residents of Chicago. Most are under-insured or not insured, and the demographics of our patients are 80% Hispanic, 10% Black, and 10% other.  As a health educator my main role was to go out into community centers, schools, and Head Start programs to present on the importance of good oral health.  Because of this outreach, I have driven all over the city of Chicago.  This has given me a very diverse perspective of the city.  I have worked with classes of 15 and classes of 45.  I have seen kids with mouths full of silver teeth and parents that have not been to the dentist in five years.  I think that I have a much more holistic view of the neighborhoods and people of Chicago now than I did last year.  

Throughout my time I have been both inspired and disheartened.  I have only begun to understand some of the deeper root causes of the poor oral health of so many Chicago natives.  Kids tell me over and over again how they love soda pop, eat McDonald’s, and have a bag of hot chips after school every day.  The nutrition messages I am sending sometimes seem completely lost on these kids because their parents are not reinforcing good behaviors.  I am also disheartened as I talk with parents and realize that important oral health messages are sometimes completely foreign.  So, I am helping a few parents learn more, but I am just one small person.  There are so many more parents who do not attend parenting meetings and will continue to buy McDonald’s weekly.  Or, maybe this is all they can seem to have time for or afford, despite what they might want.  Many people also lack dental coverage. There are so many reasons behind the poor oral health of many Chicago families. 

I am inspired, however, by the parents that I work with.  They ask important questions and tell me that they have learned so much.  I am inspired as the kids I teach begin to answer my nutrition questions correctly, and give me huge smiles and hugs as I leave.  Lastly, this year has inspired me to continue my work to improve the health of others.  Next year I am going to begin medical school, and I hope to continue working in the neighborhoods that are most in need of medical care.  Because of my time as an AmeriCorps member with Amate House, I will continue a life of service.  

Lindsay Williams is from St. Paul, MN and is now living in Omaha, NE.  She is currently finishing up her first year at Creighton University School of Medicine.  Last year, she served as an Amate House Volunteer and AmeriCorps member as an Oral Health Educator at Erie Family Health Center in Chicago.  This summer, she led a medical service trip of 7 students to the rural Northeast region of India as well as Calcutta for 5 weeks.   

Amate House, the young adult volunteer program of the Archdiocese of Chicago, fosters the transformation of its volunteers by providing experiences of full time service to people in need, community living, and faith formation. Amate House develops future leaders for the church and world who are committed to building a more just and loving society. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Discernment Story: Making a Lifetime of Difference

By Sr. Meg Kymes, D.C.
Former Vincentian Service Corps volunteer
Daughters of Charity

The Vincentian Service Corps motto was “A year of service makes a lifetime of difference.” I know that motto is true for me. When I came to VSC, I was hoping to find a career path and meet some new people along the way, but I did not count on one year making as big a difference in my life as it has. In a letter to Sister Elisabeth Hellot, one of the first Daughters of Charity, St. Louis de Marillac tells Sister Elisabeth, “If you place yourselves often in the presence of God, His goodness will not fail to advise you on all that He asks of you…” As I look back at my journey from a VSC volunteer to a Daughter of Charity for three years now, this line comes to mind.

My journey began during my first weekend at the VSC house. We invited over the Daughters of Charity who lived in St. Louis along with other volunteer groups in the area. When the Daughters came to the house, there was an instant sense of joy that permeated the house. Everyone was laughing and smiling. I thought to myself, “I wish I could be happy like that.” Immediately, I heard a small quiet voice inside me say, “You could…” I tried to push that voice away, answering it with a strong, “NO!” But, the more and more I pushed, the bigger this feeling got. I realized I could not avoid this, so I met with our volunteer coordinator who was also the vocation director for the Daughters. I told her I felt called to religious life and she guided me on what my next steps could be. She guided me towards my next steps of retreats and meeting more of the Daughters.

During this discernment, I still continued to work at my service site and to enjoy my time with my community members. I prayed that God would help me find a way to continue my life of service because I was finding that happiness that I saw in the Daughters in this life. I enjoyed community life with my fellow volunteers. We were blessed that we simply enjoyed being with each other. I looked forward to coming home and having dinner with my fellow volunteers and offering our reflections on our experiences. Even to this day, we still try to keep in touch with each other. Through my service, I was beginning to understand the differences between a ministry and a job. I found I was building relationships with my clients and getting to know them as people rather than simply consumers of services.

I continued to listen to where God was calling me; I tried to sense where I felt the peace that only God could give. I spent one evening a week with the Daughters who lived near the volunteer house. We prayed together, ate dinner together, and watched the news. It was a great opportunity to get a glimpse of what the day to day life was like for the Daughters. My vocation director invited me to retreats with other women who were looking into religious life. It was a time to set aside and listen deeply for God’s voice and meet people who were also interested in religious life. It also helped me to know I wasn’t alone. The more time I spent in prayer and the more time I spent with the Daughters, the more I felt God was calling me to spend my life serving Him and His people.

If you make room in your life for silence and prayer, God will show you where He wants you to be - whether that be religious life or not. He will send you little hints along the way, in your daily life or in your time of prayer. If you pay attention, God will give you the chance to make a lifetime of difference.

Sr. Meg Kymes, D.C. served as a Vincentian Service Corps volunteer in St. Louis before answering the call to join the Daughters of Charity.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Call to Holiness

The call to holiness and the mission presented to the Church from Jesus Christ is certainly a challenging one. The fact that God created us with the ability to freely choose not only between right and wrong but between varied truths allows the members of Christ’s body, the Church, to live out the freedom given by God by our birth and baptism. The Catechism defines freedom as “the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility ... Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude” (1731). The ‘mission,’ so to speak, of Catholics in this day and age is to live the Gospel message and to promote a New Evangelization.

This does not mean that everyone is called to any particular vocation. However, everyone is called to a vocation. It is up to the individual, because of their freedom, to choose and discern where they are being called by God and for what purpose. Thomas Merton, in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, eloquently puts it:

Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity.

Concrete personal reflection has never come easy for me, and there is a reason that people tend to hide their emotions. Reflecting on the meaning of vocation and what God is calling me to do conjures up memories of high school retreats of discovering where God is found in daily life. While structured experiences of faith exploration and formation are important in shaping the broad spectrum of faith, I have learned that is not all of what my faith encompasses. 

At the very first meeting with my spiritual director, he asked, “Who is Alex?” I began to spew answers such as student, friend, brother, and the like. What I wanted to avoid was the internal reflection on the self because I didn’t want to have to address the underlying feelings regarding vocation and personal identity. If we are indeed called to shape our own identity, then we very often have a choice. This could be a choice between choosing the truth over a falsehood or even between particular vocations. In discernment, it is my task to look forward, to look to the future. If I dwell on the things of the past, I will never adequately be able to say that I have done what God is calling me to do, whatever it may be. It is the Christian’s responsibility, my responsibility, to discern this vocation, whatever it may be, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If we must seek the Creator “spontaneously,” as the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes puts it, on their own accord and out of impulse, then it becomes clear that the mission of the baptized Christian is to seek God always and in all things. The Italian priest Saint Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, wrote, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things, and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.” I have often found consolation in this prayer of Saint Vincent. It serves as a reminder to attune my heart and mind to God, in all things and at all times. Out of this freedom of choice and seeking comes a responsibility to act out of instinct and to lead others closer to Jesus Christ by first seeking the very God who created us.

Alex R. Boucher is the Program & Operations Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.

*This article was originally posted by Catholic Apostolate Center on January 15, 2012, and was re-posted with permission. Click here to view the original article. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Getting Things Done with Border Servant Corps

Bree Gallicchio served with Border Servant Corps, a CVN-AmeriCorps program that provides support staff for established social service agencies that serve the marginalized population of Las Cruces, N.M., Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, in particular. Originally from Branchburg, NJ, Gallicchio studied Spanish and Education at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD. In her reflection, Gallicchio talks about her time working specifically as a coordinator of Peace Camp. 

As an AmeriCorps Member, I had the opportunity to plan a three-week summer program called Peace Camp.  Peace Camp is a day camp for students in grades K-12 where the topics of social justice, non-violent conflict resolution, cultural awareness, and working cooperatively are covered in a fun and engaging way. 

When I first heard that I would be planning three weeks of summer programming for kids spanning the ages of 5 to 18, I’ll admit that the task seemed a little daunting.  I had written lesson plans and delivered those lesson plans before.  I had even written and graded tests, graded group projects, and improvised a few lesson plans while student teaching.  But creating fun and yet meaningful programming for all of these age groups? – I was a bit anxious.  Fortunately, with the support of the community members who had been a part of Peace Camp in the past and new international community members, the task proved to be well worth the effort, even being fun at points. 

Bree at Peace Camp (campers cropped for privacy)
Every day at the beginning of camp, I was so nervous that things would not go as planned—that a volunteer would not show up, that a camper would not enjoy an activity, that a material we needed would be forgotten. Yes, those things did happen.  However, with the help of the numerous passionate volunteers and the positive attitudes of the kids, everything worked out.  The kids left every day with big smiles on their faces after singing “The Moose Song,” learning a new handshake from Ghana, or working together to cross an imaginary lava pit.  Not only did the kids laugh and have fun, but they learned as well. They learned about cultures from all over the world, that diversity is all around them, that people around the world maybe are not all that different from them, and that there are effective ways to deal with conflict that do not involve violence. 

While to some the objective and message of Peace Camp may seem a little unreachable or unrealistic, the truth is that I saw a completely different group of kids at the end of the week than at the beginning.  I saw kids who were speaking new languages and learning new ways to interact with their peers. I saw kids who maybe one day will become peacemakers in their own communities. 

The goal of the Border Servant Corps is to provide support staff for established social service agencies that serve the marginalized population of Las Cruces, N.M., Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, in particular. We seek to serve those living in poverty, the homeless or near homeless, immigrants and youth. Volunteers are encouraged and supported in exploration of a simpler lifestyle, life in community and spiritual growth. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Day in the Life with Lay Mission Helpers: Lauren Linck

Lauren Linck and her husband Justin are serving as Lay Mission-Helpers in the Diocese of Mtwara, Tanzania. Lauren earned a BA in Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma and is a member of St. Thomas More University Parish.  She teaches Bible Knowledge and is in charge of the library at Aquinas Secondary School in Mtwara.

At 7:15 a.m. I begin my mile walk to school.

By 7:30 a.m. I am at school. Our school day lasts from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

On Monday and Friday we have morning assembly from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. where we read the gospel for the day with a short prayer, sing the national anthem and hear announcements. After midterms and finals, we use this time to reward students who have done well on their tests.

Most of my day is spent in the library. We have one of the nicest libraries in the region, with about 8,000 books. Most of the books are textbooks, but we do have a few novels to read for fun. Many of the students love to read, and will read anything they can get their hands on.

The library is open to students from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and from 2:50 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. The students are also welcome to come if their teacher is absent.

10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. is tea time (Tanzania was a British colony). At school we call it uji break after the thin porridge that is served with the tea. During this time you can buy various fried snacks such as a chapati (like a fried tortilla) or vitumbua (fried rice cakes).

On Thursday and Friday, I teach classes after uji break. I teach Bible Knowledge for Form One and Three. My biggest challenge is teaching the Form One students English (primary school is taught in Swahili while secondary school is taught in English). I have about 80 Form One students. In the beginning, I was confident that 10 of the students understood the majority of what I said in English. I have tried to incorporate artwork with the Bible stories we are reading in class to help them better understand.

From 12:40 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. we have a lunch break. For lunch we get a vegetable, beans or meat and rice or ugali (flour and water mixed together, that looks like mashed potatoes but has no taste). My favorite combination is cabbage, beans and rice.

On Thursday and Friday I teach classes after lunch break. My Form Three class is much better at speaking English, and we are able to have discussions in class. At this level, we cover The Gospel of Matthew and Acts of the Apostles.

On Wednesday we have clubs from 2:50 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Many of our students are very artistic, but they do not get many chances to express themselves. There are no art classes and art supplies are very limited. This semester I have started an art club. The last couple of weeks we have had a former student come and teach us how to draw Tingatinga, an African style of abstract animals.

By 4:00 p.m. we are headed home from work. When we get home we have some time to just relax. I enjoy spending a lot of that time reading. The Kindle was one of the best things that I brought to Tanzania. Now I will always have a book to read. In the last ten months I have read seventy-eight books. It is nice to have the free time to read. In the past, I had always been busy with my own school work and didn’t have much time to enjoy reading things that were required for class.

Around 6:00 p.m. I start making dinner. I have not learned how to cook any Tanzanian foods, so our meals are Western style. Pasta dishes are the most common meal.

After dinner I get on the computer to check my email and Facebook. We are fortunate to have a USB internet stick that works most of the time. It tends to work best if we raise it on our lantern.
Around 9:00 p.m. I am getting ready to go to bed so that I can start all over again tomorrow.

Lay Mission Helpers is comprised of Catholic lay people, single men and women, married couples, and families, called through baptism to mission. They seek to walk with the poor of other countries sharing their gifts, living their faith, and learning from one another. Lay Mission-Helpers serve in a variety of different professions and strive to live a simple life close to the poor. For more information, click here.