Friday, February 28, 2014

Everyday Grace

One of our recruiters reflected on his trip to New York City.

By Mike Garcia

CVN Recruiter Mike here giving you a warm hello from the Big Apple. I am here in New York City taking in the lights, the life the everyday graces I have experienced recruiting on the road.

First of all I am thankful for one of my closest friends and fellow CVN Alumni Matthew Kenny who has graciously invited me into his Brooklyn bachelor pad while I stay in NYC. What a joy it has been reliving our hilarious antics from back in our volunteer days. I am truly thankful for this awesome bromance.

Second, I am thankful for the exceptionally welcoming stranger in the Times Square subway stop who kindly explained to me I was getting on the wrong train. Where in the world would I be if he hadn’t told me?  We talked for a good half hour before we realized the Q train wasn’t coming but who cares when you make a new friend. Thank you new friend.

Next I have to say thanks to a colleague and good friend of mine, Jenn Edwards Robinson, Coordinator for Campus Ministry and Social Action at Manhattan College. She is sort of a rock star at Manhattan and has done an amazing job of promoting service and volunteerism among students. Because of her, my visits to Manhattan have always left me with such a fire for service and ministry. I also cannot leave out the amazing students of Manhattan who never cease to amaze me with their eager and willing hearts. Thank you.

And lastly I want to thank my mentor, former Volunteer Coordinator and good friend, Luke Hanson S.J. for really showing me what this bustling city of life has to offer. From strolling around Rockefeller Center to eating the tastiest Indian food I have ever had on Broadway, he has made my trip all the better. What a great friend and mentor you have been over the past three years. Here’s to many more adventures. Thanks.

Hope you all are doing well and know that you are in my prayers. Thanks for being you.

Peace, love and dinosaurs,

Thursday, February 27, 2014

CVN AmeriCorps Member helped students dramatically improve reading comprehension

By Michael Capuran, Program Director at Dominican Volunteers USA

Dominican Volunteers USA members show their AmeriPride
Casa Juan Diego is a service site providing after-school activities in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago to keep youth off the street and out of gangs. Unlike many after school programs that have tremendous teachers but little parental involvement, Casa Juan Diego is different. The program was founded by parents involved in the neighborhood parish who's experience in education was limited.

When AmeriCorps member Angela Maiorano arrived, Casa Juan Diego was at the end of a transition to intensify its reading, comprehension, and fluency training for 1st to 6th grade students. Angela came with a Master's degree in Education and a desire to gain education experience, develop curricula and train teachers.

During the school day and before the after-school students arrived, Angela worked one-on-one with the Casa Juan Diego teachers. She taught them tools such as ways to use classroom posters for different learning styles. At the beginning of the school year, she pre-tested every student's reading level with the DIBELS instruments. She managed volunteers from local colleges that came in weekly to assist the program. Angela even took on the task of tutoring a class of 10 students herself - all of whom improved at least 1.2 grade levels in reading comprehension through the year.

When asked what she gained from the experience, Angela said an appreciation for the culture and dedication of the parents impacted her the most. Casa Juan Diego valued Angela so much they offered her a paid position, but she chose to renew her AmeriCorps position for a second year closer to family in California.

Angela's dedication to service, her flexibility in how it's provided and her compassion for the underprivileged exemplify what it means to be part of the CVN AmeriCorps.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Day of the "A": "I believe in these students"

By William Brown, AmeriCorps Teacher at Cristo Rey Boston High School

Will provides supplemental academic
and behavioral support for struggling students.
Fielding the go-to small talk question at social gatherings of “so what do you do for a living?” has yielded a breadth of fascinating conversations over the past year. Upon hearing that I am serving as an AmeriCorps Member at Cristo Rey Boston High School, people tend to light up and be brimming with questions. Each conversation is unique, but a striking point of continuity is the root question of “why do you serve?” that lies beneath amazement over hours, jobs, pay and work circumstances.

To some degree, I understand the incredulity. The day in, day out of service at Cristo Rey Boston High School is demanding, to put it mildly. The number of hats that my service asks me to wear in an average day seems silly from an outside perspective. Listing off a handful of daily duties like greeting our students with a smile in the morning, preparing them for their day at their Corporate Work Study Placements, networking with local partners to plan extracurricular events to offer to the student body,  analyzing behavioral data, teaching programming languages and organizing community service opportunities usually elicits anything from scoffs to shocked amazement. The thought of giving so much directly after graduating from a top university for no personal monetary gain is baffling to some and absurd to others. Almost without fail I have found that the more I explain, the more an outside observer visibly struggles with that basic question of “why?”

The answer to that root question of “why do you serve” is deceptively simple: I believe in these students, and I believe that the world becomes more just by affording them the opportunity to realize the culmination of their potential. Every student that comes through Cristo Rey’s doors is playing from behind in a systemic sense. Many come to us as freshmen with 6th or 7th grade reading, writing, and math skill sets. An average family of four makes less than $26,000 per year, qualifying a vast majority of our students for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program. The student body consists overwhelmingly of minorities, with a notable number of students being the children of immigrants. Although not quantifiable with a crisp number, this population grapples with issues present in both home and neighborhood life that I struggle to wrap my head around given my background as a white, upper-middle class male from California. Statistically speaking, the very same students that we deliberately choose to accept are the ones that are vulnerable to succumbing to the socioeconomic pressures that perpetuate a cycle of poverty.

Will meets with his advisory group where
students discuss character traits like resilience,
openness to growth and perseverance.
And yet, every student that graduates from Cristo Rey is accepted to a four year college. Although we are a young school, 70% of our graduates have graduated or are in line to graduate from four year colleges.

Through this unique educational model that blends academic rigor, development as professionals, and deliberate care for each and every student, these young adults are given the opportunity to take control of their own destiny; to grasp the American Dream where their hard work and dedication is rewarded with success and prosperity.

In light of such an understanding, service is not a burden, with demanding hours, overwhelmingly varied job responsibilities, no monetary gain, and a challenging work environment. It is an opportunity, in my own small way, to contribute to a movement that is opening a door for a new generation of leaders to realize their potential and shatter the cycle of poverty. By acting as a teacher, a mentor and a trusted adult figure, I am able to walk with these students on a daily basis as they struggle through the bitter work required to better realize their dignity and worth as human beings. Serving allows me to go to this margin and witness firsthand the world as it turns towards justice.

As one would expect, piecing through this root explanation of why I serve in a casual conversation is not the most realistic response. Instead, I point inquiring minds to keep an eye on these students and their futures. Watch what they do, what they achieve. See where they are in a decade, two decades. Keep an eye on them as they translate their education into an opportunity to break free of the cycle of poverty and turn the world towards justice. Then come to understand why I, and so many others like me, choose to serve.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reflecting With My Head in an Oven

Catholic Volunteer Network, in partnership with Catholic Extension, is hosting Days of Service and Reflection all across the country in the dioceses where our Campus Recruitment Associates serve. As these events take place, we will share reflections from students who participate. During the first event, held in South Carolina, fifteen students from seven campuses came together to serve with Home Works, an organization that supports homeowners and communities in need.
Reflection by Shelby Irvin, College of Charleston was getting hot in there.
(No, just kidding!)

Today, I was part of a group of volunteers, coming from several colleges in South Carolina, working with a charity called Home Works. We were supposed to paint a woman's house today...but the rain caused a change in our plans and we took up some jobs around the warehouse instead. One group prepared a garage sale - arranging and cleaning items to be sold; like light bulbs, arm chairs, and appliances. Another group cleaned up an area outside - an environmental hazard caused by improperly disposed paint. We worked for a few exhausting and exhilarating hours, then took a break for food and a reflection on the day. 

Photo courtesy of Catholic Volunteer
Network Recruiter Gordon Wong
Eating my sandwich, and listening to Hank, the founder of Home Works, talk about the origins, purposes, and impacts of his work, it occurred to me the wonder of little projects like the one we did today. We only worked a few hours; when we wrapped up for the day, the area my group had worked on clearing still had a great deal of clearing left to do. We were not finished, by any means.

Yet, it occurred to me while chomping on my savory Italian sub - work that is unfinished is the very essence of missions. The work to be done of this earth is never finished - there will always be pain, and poverty, and sin, and wounds to heal. And when we are in the thick of it, it is difficult to believe that what little work we are doing could ever make a difference in the face of so much left unfinished. 

Caitlin, one of the volunteers today, exemplified this perspective. Her task today was to clean an oven to be sold later at the garage sale. Now, I personally never saw the oven, but by Caitlin's description, it must have been the dirtiest oven to ever occupy a warehouse. She said it seemed that oven would never be clean; no matter how much she scrubbed, it would always be grimy. And with her head in the oven, close-up to that seemingly permanent mess, it was hard to believe that her scrubbing made any difference at all. But, once she backed up and saw the whole thing, it was obvious that her hard work had made a great difference. No, the oven was not pristine…but it was much better than it was at the start.

Such is the truth of God's work - humans will never be pristine, but with constant love, outreach, and effort, we can make an enormous difference. As Gandalf, the wise wizard of The Lord of the Rings series, would say, "It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.” With those small acts of love, we can show God's love, and spread the kingdom of heaven to the farthest corners of the globe.

Photo courtesy of Catholic Volunteer Network Recruiter Gordon Wong

Shelby Irvin is a Sophomore Geology major at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, but was actually an opera major when she was a freshman. To learn more about the Catholic Campus Ministry at the College of Charleston visit website: