Thursday, May 30, 2013

Finding Your Greatness: For anyone unsure of what's next

Dear friend,
I know what it feels like. The not knowing. The waiting on the precipice of uncertainty with only the certainty of wanting to step outside yourself and becoming truly great. At least, I think that’s what you want: to become great. I think that’s what we all want, really.

Here’s the truth: I can’t take away your uncertainty. I can’t take away that gnawing feeling of the unknown or tell everyone in the world to stop asking you what you’re doing next. I can tell you this: you wanting to become great is the first step towards getting there. But along with that, you also have to know it. You have to know, deep in your heart, that you yourself are great. You contain glimmers of the divine. You are a light in the world. Even if you fail sometimes. Even if your hair is a little funky this morning or if there’s a stain of strawberry jam on your button down shirt. You’re still great. Do a little dance in front of the mirror every time you go to a bathroom to remind yourself of this fact. Shake your hips and give yourself a wink until someone comes in. If they do, pretend you have something in your eye.

Repeat the phrase that says “Behold God beholding you... and smiling.” Marinate in that. Sit in that warm place for a little bit, feel the infinite love, but don’t get too comfortable. You have to act on it—this desire for greatness. It’s like a hunger isn’t it? The search for your vocation, for who you're meant to be. You want to figure it out so badly you could scream. Then you think, “where’s the fun in figuring it out right away, anyway?” 

Besides, it’ll change, you know. You vocation doesn’t always stay the same. It depends on the time in your life, your passions, your circumstances, your location, the people you’ve met...or haven’t. It unfortunately depends on money sometimes, too. Don’t get depressed. Don’t get overwhelmed. You’re still great, remember? But it’s time to do something. 

First of all, it involves other people. You knew that, right, deep down? Think about it for some time. Remember that no man is an island thing? That guy had a point. In fact, I think he was onto something. It sounds funny, but it’s true. To find yourself, you have to find the beauty of others. Look other people in the eye. See how real and rugged they are. Notice their scars. Listen to their stories. Accept their flaws. See that they’re trying to be great, too. See that they are beautiful. 
Second, think about your gifts and desires. God works through our desires, you know. Think about what makes you joyful. Think about what you're good at. You're supposed to share that. And in doing so, you bring even more profound levels of peace and joy into your life. Cool, isn't it? So listen to your thoughts and desires. Find your gifts and talents. Then lose them as you give them away to others. And lose yourself.

You probably didn’t want to hear that, did you? Should I have saved that for later? We spend most of our adolescence trying to find ourselves, why the heck would we want to give that up? I don’t mean go and get your own version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I mean think about yourself less often because you find yourself a little too busy thinking about others. In the “how can I help you?” kind of way, not the “what will they think of me?” kind of way. And guess what? Thinking of yourself less often is refreshing. It’s liberating, really. It takes a huge load off. It give you a lot more free time to spend on things that bring you joy. And once you realize that, you kind of want to get a little wild, let your hair grow out, wear the same three outfits, forget to shave, or possibly live in a hut or monastery somewhere. Maybe that’s for some people. But I don’t think that’s for you. Don’t go to the hut just yet. You can let your hair grow out or forget to shave every once in a while. 

Instead, stay with people. Marinate in them, too. In the world. It may seem a little depressing and dirty—what with the starving children, genocide, ambulances, hurricanes, cancer and all. But it can be a really cool place sometimes. Like have you ever been to Cinque Terre? Or Yosemite? Or the hill country? Or your backyard? Those are really cool places. So are Paris, London, New York, Tokyo and Prague—but those have more man-made stuff that’s cool. The other ones are pretty much gorgeous without even trying. They can really make you jealous sometimes. So can the sunset.

But if the sun can set every day in the midst of all the egoism, greed, inequality and so on, you can give off some beauty too. That's why you should keep on keeping on in this journey for your own version of greatness. Just like the sun, you can illuminate the world. And just like its setting, you can leave beauty in your wake. You can also be great, even if you have to rely on others sometimes or if you don't always have it all figured out. Being great just involves opening your heart a little bit, becoming vulnerable to your uncertainty, and overcoming it in the process. You know, it’s that easy. Fine, maybe it’s not. But you become stronger when you do. So open up your heart. Cultivate your gifts. Love other people. Breathe every once in a while. Practice gratitude. There’s a freedom in our liberty, you know? And that’s something that should be celebrated. 

You’re alive, after all. Aren’t you? 

Are you?

All the best,

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Desire to Serve: Getting Things Done with Christian Appalachian Project

By Caitlin Baummer, AmeriCorps Program Assistant

Over 15 years ago, Illinois native Erika Arthur attended a mission trip to the Appalachian region of Virginia and began to understand the great need in the area. A few years later, she was looking to do something that brought a new sense of meaning to her life. Erika decided to serve her country by enlisting in the Army National Guard and spent six years in an administrative unit working in the personnel services detachment. Upon finishing her assignment, Erika obtained her undergraduate degree from the University of Phoenix in accounting and then remained in Illinois where she worked two jobs—one in a factory and the other in a distribution center. Again, Erika began to feel a void and desire to serve.

This time, she heard a call to return to Appalachia and she was ready to respond. Erika began her AmeriCorps service with Christian Appalachian Project in January of 2013. Erika looked into secular Appalachian service programs, but wanted an opportunity that would strengthen her faith.

“CAP really facilitates spiritual and personal growth,” she explained.  

As a Housing Crew Member, Erika currently leads groups of short-term volunteers in building and repairing homes. These homes allow Appalachian residents to obtain and maintain safe and affordable housing.

Erika (right) at graduation from AIT in Fort Jackson, South Carolina

“We [recently] built a new house for a family with three little girls. I also worked on the home of a single man named Michael, who was disabled and lived with his grandmother. We repaired his kitchen and bathroom floors and cabinets,” Erika explained.

Each day, Erika gets up at about 7:00am to prepare and travel to her AmeriCorps construction site. Upon returning home around 5:30pm, she joins with her six community members for dinner and devotions.

“Because of the setting of being in the Guard and going to basic training, community living didn’t really phase me. Life in the barracks is a lot like living in community. My community members at CAP […] are very inclusive. I really feel like I belong here,” Erika said.

When asked what she would say to individuals, particularly U.S. Veterans, considering AmeriCorps faith-based service with Catholic Volunteer Network, she stated simply: “It’s worth it. In my eyes, being in the military is like being an AmeriCorps Member because it is all about serving others and being a part of something bigger than myself.”

Last year Christian Appalachian Project directly served over 36,000 individuals through 24 human service programs in 30 Kentucky Appalachian counties. Erika Arthur is one of 33 current CVN AmeriCorps Members serving the needs of individuals throughout Appalachia.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Jim Lindsay Celebrates 17 Years as Catholic Volunteer Network’s Executive Director

By Kate Flannery, Communications

James Lindsay walks into Suite 820 a little after nine in the morning. His uniform is standard: classic button down shirt carefully tucked into pressed dress pants, a black shoulder bag and a grande skim vanilla latte and muffin from the bakery down the street. Stacks of papers dot his office floor. They form neat rows, like a life-size crossword puzzle, but serve an ultimate purpose: helping the executive director organize a wealth of information and make sure it’s all attended to. He stays at the office most days until after 6pm.

Pictures decorate his file drawers. The formal one of his parents shows them in their age, several show his two dogs, which he walks every morning, and on his wall hangs a collage of photos of staff from a birthday celebration. They are just glimpses into Lindsay’s life of service and some of the people that have contributed to it—from childhood, to the seminary, to Christ House, to Catholic Volunteer Network. 

When Lindsay arrived in 1996, the organization was called the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service. About 4,200 volunteers served in CNVS’ programs, website creation had only begun months before and the RESPONSE directory had yet to go online. Today, the 10 story office building in Takoma Park is Lindsay’s fourth office location, about 18,000 volunteers serve within the organization’s member programs and the name has been changed to what is currently Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN). Lindsay has seen a lot in 17 years.

 “This has been Jim’s life,” said Fr. George Mader, who co-founded what is today known as CVN with his sister in 1963. “He hasn’t given certain talents, he’s given himself.”

Early Beginnings
It started with a crayon and a blank piece of paper. Ten year old Jimmy began to draw a picture of a priest next to a thatched roof hut in Africa, indicating what he was going to be when he grew up.

“The only thing I ever really truly wanted to be when I was a boy was a priest,” Lindsay remembered.

Years later, in the August of ’76, the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia must have seemed like Lindsay’s version of heaven. The civic center was filled with row after row of what seemed like every Catholic organization on the continent. The plastic bag in his teenage hand got heavier and heavier with each vocations brochure he picked up. But one stuck out— that of the Friars of the Atonement. It sat on the top drawer of his desk for two years before Lindsay made the call. After a discernment weekend with the friars, the Psychology major at LaSalle University decided he would join them after graduation. He liked that they were Franciscan, that they were founded in the States and that their charism focused on ecumenism and Christian unity—a charism he still finds important today. 

“I pretty much just fell in love with them,” Lindsay recalled, leaning forward in his office chair. “I felt very drawn to the pastoral work.” 

But there were still many unanswered life questions. Lindsay had never had a full-time job, for example, or lived on his own. So after postulancy, novitiate and renewal of first vows, and after six and a half years discerning his priesthood dream, Lindsay left the Friars of the Atonement with every intention of exploring the world and then coming back. 

In the six years with the friars, Lindsay got a Masters of Divinity from The Catholic University of America, worked as a hospital chaplain, did parish work, helped out at a youth summer camp and had weekly apostolates working with the young adult ministry office of the Archdiocese of Washington, St. Elizabeth’s hospital with patients of mental illness, and Sarah’s House for homeless women. These experiences were like a rich-soil that allowed Lindsay to have a deep-rooted understanding of service and its role in his faith by the time he began overseeing daily operations at Christ House. 

Christ House was and is a 24-hour residential medical facility for homeless men and women, though it was only for men at the time Lindsay joined the team. His position there was his first full-time job. 3am calls to rescue patients stuck in elevators were exchanged for morning prayer, talking to patients and helping in the kitchen became Lindsay’s pastoral care, mopping up a spill replaced daily mass. The staff of about 45 and the six or so volunteers that Lindsay shared a house with became a new type of friary—one he would devote himself to for the next nine years. 

“I really saw [my work] as a ministry -- as a continuation of my seminary experience,” Lindsay explained. 

After a couple years, Lindsay helped start the formal Christ House volunteer program. In the summer of ‘89, the staff bought a house in Adams Morgan that he spent the next three months furnishing. Lindsay inadvertently lost 10 pounds putting up brochures, checking bulletins, collecting second-hand furniture and driving all over the district to fill the four story house.

“We didn’t buy one thing,” Lindsay chuckled.

They called it Emmanuel House—a place where inhabitants could hope to feel the presence of God. The volunteers lived upstairs while Lindsay inhabited his own basement apartment. Cooking with young adults several nights a week was probably a breeze compared to the 20 roommates he had back in the friary. Yet there was always something going on.  

“It really felt […] like a ministry to me because we worked with homeless people that had medical needs. A lot were mentally ill, a lot had drug and alcohol addictions,” Lindsay said.  “You couldn’t help but get involved in some of the pastoral work.” 

Christ House was where Lindsay first heard about Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN). The medical facility advertised their volunteer program in the network’s annual RESPONSE directory of faith-based service programs. In ‘96, Lindsay got a call from a CVN board member asking if he knew of anyone who would be a good candidate as their Executive Director.

“Well actually now that you mention it,” he remembers saying without hesitation. But if the board member had not happened to call him that day, Lindsay probably would never have taken the initiative to apply. 

Several interviews, individual meetings and a recorded question and answer session later, Lindsay stood before the Catholic Volunteer Network Board as the Executive Director.

Expanding the Network
As the new Executive Director, Lindsay was in charge of a budget, was more frequently traveling, maintained and promoted CVN’s mission and oversaw the staff. This was the first time he did not live in community and had no one but the board to answer to. It took about six months, at the organization’s annual conference, for Lindsay to really begin to get the hang of his new position. 
“The shock of leaving Christ House and coming [to CVN] was so much more dramatic than when I left the seminary,” Lindsay explained. 

He succeeded Sister Ellen Cavanaugh, who had served as Executive Director of the network for eight years. The Sister of Mercy had stabilized the network, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, when she arrived in 1986. Her dynamism brought the attention of the Church hierarchy to the role of lay volunteers, and her passion for the mission helped strengthen the foundation of the organization. In March of 1992, she and two others met with Pope John Paul II in Rome, where he told them to “continue, continue, continue” the work. Two years later, Sister Cavanaugh received the annual CVN Mader Award, honoring her contributions to faith-based service.

“The reason why the office has survived and the work has grown [..] is because of directors like Ellen and Jim,” said Patricia Mader Stalker, co-founder of CVN. “It seems as though with each passing year, the directors that have taken charge have fitted in with the times.”

Lindsay’s was the time of the digital revolution. With internet use flourishing, the new executive director wanted to make sure CVN went online as quickly as possible. He also came at a critical time in the Church when the laity were reaching out more and more as active volunteers—a role traditionally “reserved” for priests and religious. 

“Very quietly but strongly, I watched CVN grow, stabilize,” said Sister Cavanaugh, now in her 80s. “I could see from my very first involvement with Jim that he understood what the Network could do and would do.”

In 1998, the organization’s first website went live. Later that year, CVN received a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service to administer AmeriCorps Education Awards. By 2000, 200 programs were part of the CVN coalition. By 2001, 20 percent of CVN members represented other Christian traditions. Three years later, a record number of 10,379 volunteers served with their member programs. 

“I’ve always thought of us as a kind of bridge that helps people find each other—helps programs and people find each other,” Lindsay said.

Catholic Volunteer Network –The beginning
The bridge began to be built in the late ‘50s when Patricia Mader Stalker said she wanted to “do more” as a lay person. People would look at her with raised eyebrows. Shouldn’t she be thinking about getting married? Did this mean she wanted to join religious life? It was Mader’s family that offered her support. Her older brother, Fr. George Mader, helped her find the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart volunteer program in North Carolina. Little did the siblings know how much Pat’s year of volunteer work would change their lives. 

“George was always very innovative. He started different programs himself early on in his priesthood with people in the parishes that he was in,” Mader Stalker recalled. “He was always looking for new ways to help other people out and he came down to visit me in North Carolina a couple of times.” 

On a trip to visit his sister in a segregated tobacco community in North Carolina, Fr. Mader realized the relative anonymity of Pat and the other female volunteers. No one really knew about their work, not even the Archdiocese. Seeing a need for more effective communication, Fr. Mader and his sister decided to start an organization that would connect lay people looking to do volunteer work with service programs. In doing so, they planted the seed of Catholic Volunteer Network. 

“God wanted his people to be involved with helping other people. It’s as simple as that.  There’s nothing really complicated about it,” Mader Stalker said, reflecting on CVN’s origins.

Celebrating Fifty Years
Fifty years after the Mader siblings excitedly began their plans in the Archdiocese of Newark, Lindsay sits down at his dining room table, his dogs at his feet, and opens the draft. His right hand holds his favorite blue pen as his well-trained eyes scan each of the over 200 program descriptions. 136 pages and countless hours later, he has proofread the entire RESPONSE directory, cover to cover. This is Lindsay’s favorite part of his job. Going program by program, state by state, age by age, ministry by ministry, Lindsay is reminded of the breadth and depth of the Network. 

“When you sit and you read every detail of every service opportunity, every geographical location, the age groups, all the different types of placements that are possible, the length of service, it’s just overwhelming. And that’s when I feel like we’re doing something that’s just incredible,” Lindsay said. 

Today, Catholic Volunteer Network celebrates fifty years as a leading non-profit association for domestic and international faith-based volunteer programs. Currently, more than 18,000 volunteers serve in its member programs throughout the U.S. and in over 100 other countries worldwide. Through a partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service, Catholic Volunteer Network supports over 1,000 AmeriCorps members annually. 

“I’ve been able to live out these last 26 years really doing ministry, every day coming to a job that was about making the world a better place and helping people,” Lindsay said, his hazel eyes shining through his glasses. “I can’t really ask for more than that.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Problems to Solutions: Getting Things Done with Good Shepherd Volunteers

Member: Lori Hendrickson, Good Shepherd Volunteers
Service Site: Safe Homes Project
Position: Self-Sufficiency Coordinator

One afternoon, a new client walked into my office and introduced herself to me. 

“Hi, my name is Jane, and I heard you are the one to talk to about resumes and job searching?”  she said.

Delighted that my role as the Self-Sufficiency Coordinator was finally starting to circulate through the shelter, I invited Jane into my office. From there, our relationship began to grow.  Jane sat down and told her story to me. She shared with me how she was being mistreated emotionally and financially by her boyfriend. When the abuse became physically violent, she knew she had to leave. Jane said that she had never been in a shelter before and that she was ashamed to tell her family about her situation. After talking with her for awhile, we made a plan together to get her back on her feet.

The next time that Jane and I met, she told me that she has a master’s degree and that a long term goal of hers was to get her certification to teach. As I encouraged Jane to follow her dreams, she reluctantly admitted to me that she was unsure that she could pass the certification exam because of her fear of math. I offered to work with her to help improve her math skills, and she agreed to meet with me to learn algebra.  The next few weeks we spent a lot of time together going over equations, proportions, exponents, and many other mathematical functions. Jane caught onto the material so quickly that I was surprised that she was afraid of math. Jane admitted that her math phobia might have been mostly a mental block. When she was in school, no one ever really took the time to explain things to her in a way that she could understand. Jane was very grateful for the time I spent going over math problems with her. Little by little, her confidence about learning and practicing math had grown a great deal. I could tell that Jane’s confidence had not only grown in her math skills, but that she was also beginning to believe in herself again.
As time went on, Jane secured a part-time job tutoring troubled youth, and our meetings together slowly waned.  One day, several weeks later, Jane came to me with an air of excitement. She told me that one of the youth she was working with needed help with his math, and that she had helped him! She told me that before she worked with me she would have not been able to help him and that she would have been afraid of the situation. Jane told me that she now feels confident and empowered. She gave me a hug and thanked me for the time that I had dedicated to helping her.

Through my work with Jane, I learned that it is important to go above and beyond for our clients. Going that extra step to help Jane not only helped her to gain a new skill, but also helped her to feel empowered. Showing clients that you care about their personal passions and their interests helps them to be able to trust you and creates a safe space for them to open up about other needs that they might have. 

Lori was born and raised in Blue Springs, Missouri. She attended the University of Central Missouri, where she received her Bachelor's Degree in Social Work. During her undergraduate experience, she developed an interest in working with women who have experienced domestic violence, which led her to working in domestic violence shelters over the past few years. Currently, she is attending Washington University in St. Louis to obtain ger Master's Degree in Social Work.

Good Shepherd Volunteers provides full-time volunteers with the opportunity to work in social service ministries and to use their talents serving women, adolescents, and children affected by poverty, violence, and neglect. Learn more