Tuesday, December 29, 2015

No Such Thing as a Silly Question

By Nya Brooks, Catholic Volunteer Network Recruiter

One great aspect of being a recruiter for CVN is the interactions with students. Often service corps are not a common topic of discussion for career development on college campuses (at least for my undergraduate experience.) Unless you participated in a service immersion trip, know someone who has volunteered, or are involved with your campus ministry, it makes sense that you might be unfamiliar with faith-based service programs.

As a very inquisitive person, I feel very comfortable asking questions. I believe they are the avenues to knowledge and always encourage others to do the same. My former history professor once said, “Please ask questions during class. If you have a question, chances are that the person next to you has the same question.” So I have included 5 questions that I have been asked during my recruitment season. Hopefully this will show you, the reader, that you are not the only person who has questions about faith-based service. Perhaps these questions will spark new questions for you. And if nothing else, for anyone who is insecure about asking questions, my blog will show you that there is no such thing as a silly question.

1. Do I have to be Catholic? 

Student: “I am not Catholic.”

Me: “Me neither! Now that that’s out of the way...”

All of the programs within CVN are not Catholic. For the programs that are Catholic, many will not require you to be Catholic, but may ask that you attend some religious events, such as mass or having dinner with nuns and/or priests.  If religion is a concern, I would talk to the program director because each program has its own religious requirements.

In my program, we attended mass once or twice a month and had weekly spirituality nights that consisted of almost anything that related to nourishing the spirit. One spirituality night we finger painted. Also, because my service site was a Catholic middle school, I attended mass once a week.

2. Can I put my volunteer experience on a resume?

Of course! Just because you are paid a small amount for your service, does not mean you will be doing small work. During my year of service, I served as a teaching assistant at an all girls middle school. Outside of my classroom and tutoring responsibilities, I started a speech club and wrote daily motivational passages to educate the girls on Black and Women’s History month. From this, I have developed my writing skills and possess the ability to initiate and carry out projects. With a passion for gender empowerment and hopes of working in higher education administration, I can say that I have experience with empowering girls in a school setting and providing student activities.  

3. Does Catholic Volunteer Network offer education awards like AmeriCorps?

Some programs have partnerships with AmeriCorps that allows their volunteers to receive an Education Award, a monetary award given to volunteers after completing their service term. The Education Award can be used to pay back student loans or be applied to tuition if you decide to continue your education. Some programs even fundraise on their own and give their volunteers an end of the year bonus similar to an AmeriCorps education award.

4. How are you able to live on $100 a month? 

The reason we call our volunteers “volunteers” is because they are not paid with a salary, but are compensated with many benefits, including housing, utilities, transportation, money for food, a very small living stipend, and health insurance. So all of your basic needs are provided. If I wanted new clothing, I would shop at thrift store and I did not have to pay back my loans because I was not earning any income. I used my living stipend for personal hygiene products and eyebrow threading.

What helps save money is free entertainment. One of my highlights from my year of service was going salsa dancing at clubs on nights where there was no cover. My program directors also provided my community with money to go on roadtrips, eat at restaurants once a month, and explore St. Louis. By living with this small stipend, taught me how to prioritize my spending and improved my eating habits/health because I cooked at home to save money.  

5. What has been a challenge and a reward from your year of service?

A challenge for me was living in intentional community. Unlike having a roommate(s), you do not just live with your community members, but are expected to share meals and do activities together in order to build relationships. It’s like a family. As someone who identifies as a bit of a loner, it was not easy for me to spend time with my community members because I enjoy doing things by myself. Living in intentional community challenged me to improve my relationship building skills and understand that people build bonds by doing things together.

A reward was the amount of love that I received from the people I encountered during my year of service. Being over a decade old, my former volunteer program, Vincentian Mission Corps, is well-respected amongst Catholic churches and social service agencies in St. Louis, MO. Because there is always a new set of volunteers each year, it felt as though my community members and I were newborn babies coming home for the first time. People were always excited to meet us; we were always praised for devoting a year to help others and often times given free food because they knew we were making little money.

What other questions do you have about full-time service? Type them in the comments section and we will be sure to answer them!

Want to hear more from Nya? Check out her recent webinar "What you need to know about faith-based service." 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Who is this pink baby?

A reflection by Connor Bergeron, serving with Salesian Lay Missionary in Bolivia

When I first arrived at my mission site, Yapacaní, Bolivia there were many things to grow accustomed to, some things which I never will get used to: non-stop sweating, attending morning prayer at 6:15am, eating rice for every meal, speaking in Spanish, not using seat belts, praying fervently until I leave any vehicle, carrying toilet paper with me everywhere, and so on. Now my eyes have grown familiar to the faces I work with and the scenery around me.

There is an image that has struck me more than others recently.  It follows me in taxis; in churches; it’s even on my own calendar.  Divino Niño Jesús, The Divine Child Jesus.  Seeing baby Jesus outside of Christmas, is well, foreign.  To see our Lord in pink, is well, different!
Child with Divino Niño Jesús
Two friends visited me recently and during dinner they asked me, “So like, what do you do?”.  I paused to think because there is so much.  Unlike jobs before, my work here requires me to bring my life into it. So I guess, a better question to ask me is not “what do you do?” but “how do you live?”

Days after I arrived, my fellow missionaries and I celebrated Thanksgiving.  It was a pleasure to catch up and speak English. Yet I couldn’t relate to my friends because they had been working for two months in orphanages.  Soon I learned I’d be working in a radio/tv station (because of my previous experience) and translating for a Canadian charity. Yet where were the children?

I have a weekly schedule, which rarely follows my plan: I update the Ichilo Radio/ TV station’s  website and maybe edit a commercial, then for lunch I serve the elderly in El Comedor (the soup kitchen), and in the afternoon translate as many letters I can from Spanish to English.  Sundays I go to Mass multiple times, where I play the local songs.  Life can become hard, removed from friends and family, and especially when you’re sick and believe that the medicine is actually making your bowel movements worse.  When I share my troubles with my site partner, Adam he gives me solid advice.  “You should reread your mission statement,” he suggested. When I did a gentle breeze passed through my mind and soul.  “To be molded into the man God longs for me to be through his children in Bolivia.”  But where were the children?

Two Bebés of San Carlos
Mondays are Adam and my día libre (free day).  On those days we go to the children’s hospital.  It’s a beautiful place for mothers to learn how to care for their newborns, as they care for other babies.  Every time we go the children grow a little more. And every time, Cynthia cries the entire time. Maybe it’s us.  Yet there are others whose bright smiles entice us to return.  We talk about another baby, the pink Divino Niño Jesús.  We couldn’t understand where it originated—maybe it’s a Bolivian apparition?  We concluded that it is supposed to open our hearts more to Christ since it’s easy to love a baby.

Saturdays there’s oratory.  In the past I’ve been unable to go due to work in the TV station.  Yet one afternoon I realized there was nothing to keep me away. I just didn’t want to go because it was different.

I had just left the station. “Hola!” I heard a tiny voice.  I turned and saw a familiar face.  It was a boy of 5 years old who plays with the keyboard that I use for Mass.   “Are you coming to oratory?” he asked me in Spanish.  I tried to give him an excuse.  But I couldn’t.  “Sí,” I said, thinking I would buy some toiletries first then return. “Okay!” he shouted with a grin.  Before I could leave to buy more toilet paper Padre waved me over. While he was explaining the essence of the Salesian charism – the youth - I suddenly felt something grab my hand.  I looked and saw that little boy.

“¿Vamos?” he asked me.  I laughed.  “Sí, vamos,” I said and let him lead me into oratory.  My little angel.  I was silly to be afraid. He guided me through and quickly I found myself surrounded by children.  Their faces grew, crowding me with laughter and smiles. I turned to look for my guide.  He was gone and I was fine.  Ever since that Saturday I have returned to oratory; readying myself to open my heart a little more.  Since then more opportunities to interact with the children of Yapacaní have appeared.  Tuesday nights I teach a confirmation class and more recently Fridays morning I teach a religion class.

One year.  It’s a small amount of service.  To answer the question “how do I live?” it’s simple. Trust.  I fail at it consistently, but from what it was before, it’s significant. God puts people, sometimes a baby in pink, in our lives to aid us in this sojourn toward Him.  I pray that whatever little service I do here will aid these children in their path toward Him.

Kids of Okinawa

To learn more about Salseian Lay Missioners, click here!  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Recruitment Wrap-Up: Common Questions About Service

By Rosa Segura, Catholic Volunteer Network Recruiter

The past few months have gone by so fast! It seems like just yesterday that I walked into the CVN office, excited about the bagels at our welcome party, worried about how sweaty I was after walking to the office. It has been such a rewarding experience to be a part of the CVN team as a recruiter. I have loved every minute of it. I am sad to be leaving, but am thrilled to embark on a new adventure.

Along the road, I’ve received a number of questions about post-graduate service. I’d like to impart some of my knowledge and answer some of the most common questions. I would also like to take a moment to emphasize a point: service is for everybody. We focus our recruiting efforts largely on universities, but that doesn’t mean we’re only looking for students. Our programs have a variety of needs that can be met by a variety of people. Married couples, single parents with children, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities. All are welcome to serve for a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years. So without further ado, here are the top five questions I’ve been asked as a CVN recruiter.

1. How much does it cost?

We have 198 different programs and they each raise funds differently. Many will ask volunteers to fundraise a certain amount of money to help offset the cost of running a volunteer program. (And many programs will let you fundraise while you are doing your year of service!) I have not heard of a program that has turned away an applicant for lack of financial resources, so don’t let that hold you back!

2. Where can I volunteer?

Our programs operate all over the United States and all over the world. There are placements in 47 of the United States and in 114 countries abroad. We’ve got options on every continent except Antarctica. (But there’s not really a population that needs to be served there…)

3. Where did you do your year of service?

I served at Amigos de Jesus Home for Children in rural Honduras. It was one of the most challenging and amazing years of my life.

4. How do I apply to a program?

The application process varies from program to program. It can be similar to applying for a job or graduate school. It usually involves a written application, letters of recommendation, a background check, and a series of interviews.

5. Can I still volunteer if I have student loans?

Absolutely! Our programs often have an option for loan deferment, but even if they don’t, you can sign up for an income-based payment plan. (You’ll be making $0 so you’ll pay $0!)

What other questions do you have about full-time service? Type them in the comments below and we will be sure to answer them.

Would you like to hear Rosa speak more about service opportunities? Tune in to her recent webinar "What you should know about international service."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent, A Season of Service: Focus on Spirituality

This is the fourth blog post of our Advent series. Every Sunday we will feature a reflection by one of our current or former volunteers. You can download the entire reflection guide here

Fourth Sunday of Advent

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Luke 1:39-45

Reflection by Elisa Raubach, current Maggie’s Place Volunteer

At the Annunciation, Mary agreed to do the will of God. Her Fiat brought about our salvation when the God of the universe was knit together in her womb. Soon after Mary begins to ponder this mystery in her heart, she goes in haste to her cousin Elizabeth. The two women did not expect or plan to be pregnant at this time—one after many long years of barrenness and the other at a mere fourteen years old and without a husband. Mary is young, poor, and afraid, yet she goes to her cousin to console, be consoled, serve, and celebrate. She is met with the embrace of Elizabeth who sees Mary’s pregnancy as a source of joy and exultation. Before Mary even explains what has happened, Elizabeth knows in her heart and in her womb Who is present. The mother of her Lord has come, He is hidden as an unborn child. 

So often Christ is hidden in our lives: in the poor, the elderly, the sick, the immigrant, the imprisoned, the unborn child. Just as Mary and Elizabeth embraced in order to encounter the hidden Christ, we too must embrace and serve others to encounter Jesus. He is hidden beneath disguises of poverty, fear, and loneliness. At Maggie’s Place, we strive each day to recognize the hidden Christ in the pregnant women and babies we serve—it’s not always easy to do, but there is much joy, hope, and love. Like Elizabeth, we seek to welcome moms who have given their own Fiat to life and love. 

Focus on Spirituality

“In the mystery of the Annunciation and Visitation, Mary is the very model of the life we should lead. First of all, she welcomed Jesus in her existence; then she shared what she had received. Every time we receive Holy Communion, Jesus the Word becomes flesh in our life…Thus, the first Eucharist was such: Mary’s offering of her Son in her, in whom he had set up the first altar. Mary, the only one who could affirm with absolute confidence, “this is my body,” from the first moment offered her own body, her strength, all her being to form the Body of Christ”—Mother Teresa

A Season of Service

It can be so easy to go about our day without ever pausing to recognize Christ hidden in the people around us. Where can you embrace Christ in the hidden and the ordinary? Maybe God is calling you to reach out and serve your roommate, your grandmother, or a total stranger at the grocery store. Offer words of consolation or an act of kindness to someone who may be in need. Today, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and be attentive to His promptings—be ready to welcome the hidden Christ with joy.


Come, Lord Jesus. Thank you for coming to us so vulnerable and needy, as an infant in the womb and arms of Mary. Grant us the grace needed to prepare more room in our hearts for You. May we seek after You hidden in others as we prepare for Christmas.  Help us to see You in the poor, know You in the lonely, and love You in the fearful. May our hearts always be open to encountering You in the unexpected. Amen.

How has your faith grown during this season of Advent? 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Interfaith Dialogue in Practice

By Jotti Aulakh, Lasallian Volunteers

Jotti is a second year volunteer serving with Lasallian Volunteers at the Brother David Darst Center in Chicago, IL. She is a graduate of Saint Mary's College of California.

Coming from a Sikh background and going into a Catholic volunteer program was a pretty tough decision to make. I knew that I wanted to do a year of volunteer work and I knew that I wanted it to be faith based because I had been struggling with my faith for a while. The problem was that there weren’t any Sikh volunteer programs. I went to a Catholic college, but it wasn’t until my last semester that I got involved in the service side of things at the mission and ministry center. From there, I thought why not do a Catholic program? There was an abundance of them after all, and at the end of the day I would be doing good work no matter what religious affiliation the organization had. Lasallian Volunteers was aimed at making a difference and I was too, and at that point, that was all that mattered to me. 

I think working and living with people of other faiths is one of the most important things someone can do to gain better understanding of a life and religion that is perceived to be completely different from their own. When it comes to interfaith interaction, I don’t think we need to necessarily talk about how similar one religion is compared to another and how they are all pretty much saying the same thing; which is to love one another and do good in the world. I think it is important to take note of the differences and embrace them. These differences are what make us unique, and learning about these differences helps us understand a culture and lifestyle from a different perspective.

This past year and a half has actually made me grow closer to my faith. Before joining the program, I went to the temple once in a while. I did the things I was supposed to do without giving them much thought and not much else. If anything, I was questioning whether religion was something that I wanted as a part of my life at all. All it seemed to do was bring a great deal of trouble to the world and pit one group against another. But by living in a Catholic community and working at a Catholic ministry, I was forced to learn more about myself and where I come from, what my history is and what it means to be a Sikh. Co-workers and community members were constantly asking me about my faith because it was one that they did not know much about, and I was someone they could ask directly. I was disappointed in myself when I didn’t know the answers right away.  Going to my parents and asking them the questions I was asked and doing my own research online helped me understand something that had evaded me before. The more I learned the more I wanted to know.

Hopefully, this experience can be the same for others as well. Sometimes interfaith dialogue doesn’t have to take place in a formal setting. Simply going up to someone and asking a question can be enough. I know that I personally felt appreciative that people were even showing an interest and it’s through this simple back and forth dialogue that a relationship can be built to learn more about someone and their background and history. It’s easy to surround yourself with people who share your beliefs and think the same way you do. But life can present you with interesting opportunities and interesting people, and it is up to us to the make the most of that experience.

To learn more about Lasallian Volunteers, please click here

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent, A Season of Service: Focus on Simple Living

This is the third blog post of our Advent series. Every Sunday we will feature a reflection by one of our current or former volunteers. You can download the entire reflection guide here

Third Sunday of Advent

“The crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘What should we do?’ He said to them in reply, ‘Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.’”

Luke 3:10-18

Reflection by Michael O’Neill, former Jesuit Volunteer Corps volunteer

“What then should we do?” After my time in Jesuit Volunteer Corps, this question has been seared onto my heart. As many FJVs might say, I have been “ruined for life” (the unofficial slogan of JVC). Being ruined is being aware of the injustices in the world both far and near (sometimes far too near). Knowing of these injustices I constantly find myself challenged with so many questions, “How should I be living my life?” “How do we conquer injustice and build up the Kingdom of God?” “How does my vocation play into this?” “How do I dialogue with others about these injustices?” “Am I doing enough?” “What does ‘enough’ look like?” All these questions always lead back to the question the crowds asked John the Baptist, “What then should we do?”

While I have no answers that bring a piece of mind I do find some solace in today’s Gospel. While the answers aren’t clear, the direction is. And sometimes that is what is needed and nothing more. Jesus simply said, “Follow me” not “Follow me with these specific details so you know exactly what the way will look like.” The direction I see John pointing us in is adorning a woven fabric of living a life that focuses on community, faith, social justice, and simplicity. These values are so tightly interwoven that one cannot help fully live one without the others. What John calls the crowds to do is live simply so that they may focus on one another as a community and work together for justice and ultimately, remove all distractions between themselves and an all-loving, merciful, and very mysterious God. So, “What then should we do?” I’d say let us pick up this cross together and head in the direction John is pointing. Reminding ourselves that we are merely workers building the Kingdom and to have faith in the God that leads us.

Focus on: Simple Living

In today’s Gospel, where hear about John the Baptist responding to the question, “What then should we do?” John the Baptist’s response in short is two-fold. First, go forth doing what is just and honest. He calls the crowds to give away any excess to those who lack and being present to others rather than taking advantage of them. Being John the Baptist, this is a challenge to embrace simplicity. Simplicity helps when living a just and honest life but that is only the half of John’s message. The second part is preparation. Simplicity prepares our hearts to be open to God by re-aligning our focus on what is important in life by removing what distracts us and in the process lifting up others in authentic love.

A Season of Service

Engage in simplicity! Unbound yourself from things that distract you from others and God. Do you tend to fill up your time? Untangle your schedule to pray and spend time with God. Then go out and serve (perhaps in a food pantry, or in your local parish, temple, mosque, etc). If you find yourself attached to some material possessions, try to practice distancing yourself from them by giving them away. Donate things you find yourself most attached to either to those you know are in need or to a thrift shop, parish clothing drive, etc.


Mysterious God, you call us to be your humble workers. To simplify our lives and remove those things that distract us from our brothers and sisters; that distract us from You. Help us amidst the struggles of bringing about your Kingdom, to trust in you. To trust in the love you have for us and console us with some direction when we ask “What then should we do?” Amen.

In a season often filled with consumerism and excess, how are you living simply? 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent, A Season of Service: Focus on Social Justice

This is the second blog post of our Advent series. Every Sunday we will feature a reflection by one of our current or former volunteers. You can download the entire reflection guide here

Second Sunday of Advent

“The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” 
Luke 3:1-6

Reflection by Paul Stage, Director of Campus Ministry at Saint Xavier University, and Former Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) Volunteer

“Why did they make that poor, unfortunate priest stumble his way through so many silly names in today’s reading? What does it matter whether Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene or playing Tetris with his sister Abbey? Let’s get to the good part of the story!”

Sometimes I find myself throwing accusations like the one above at the biblical writers. Accusations saying that the story would get along fine without telling us what the year was, or who was in charge, or where the particular location was, because it’s the happy ending and moral that I’m looking for. 

But it is in those exact moments of accusation that I most need to be reminded when and where these things happened, because we aren’t reading just another story today. We’re reading about John the Baptist, a particular man in a particular time, who laughed and ate and didn’t shower quite as often as his parents might have liked, just like me.

Because, like John the Baptist, I am a particular person in a particular time. And, like when “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert” (3:2), the word of God comes to me regularly in small movements within my life to ask for great things. If “the winding roads shall be made straight” (3:5), I had better get started; there is a lot of crookedness in the world around me!

Focus on: Social Justice

John went to the desert to lead a simple life. He didn’t want to change the world at first; he was, after all, a religious hermit for most of his young adulthood. I find myself in John’s shoes a lot; not so much his diet of bugs and honey, but his desire to leave behind the troubles of the world. Sounds great, doesn’t it? To give up distractions? To focus solely on God? What better way is there than to retreat! How wonderful would it be, except that the fruit of retreats is so often the Word of God calling us to action? Not a big, booming command, but a simple daily whisper: “proclaim; prepare; repent; forgive.” Just like John the Baptist heard his call in the desert, we must likewise follow God’s message when we are called, even if we are in the midst of our own desert.

A Season of Service

We prepare for the holidays in many ways: by decorating with festive greens and reds; buying gifts for family; getting plane tickets home. Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ as well - both a remembrance of his birth to a virgin, and a hopeful longing for his second coming in full glory and splendor. Have you spent as much time in spiritual preparation as you have in holiday preparation? Make the time this week and hear God’s particular calling to you: proclaim; prepare; repent; forgive.


Lord, I am ordinary. Today is ordinary. This place is ordinary. It is on this ordinary day that you called me to do something extraordinary- to announce your coming and to make straight your path. Give me the words to share your presence in our midst. Give me the strength to make your way straight. St. Paul says that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Give me the ears to hear your calling: “Proclaim. Prepare. Repent. Forgive.”

This Advent, how will you work for social justice?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Solidarity and Simple Living

By  Rebekah Miller, Covenant House Faith Community Volunteer

Covenant House is the largest non-profit organization in the Americas that supports homeless youth. Faith Community is a program that offers a small stipend for spending  a year of service in one of four cities. We embrace three pillars: Service, Prayer, and Community. I am currently doing my year of service in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I am a Youth Advisor in the crisis shelter, meaning I am a resident advisor in the building and on the floors, and I do case management work with the youth.

How does your program support at-risk populations during the winter and holiday months? 
The first thing we do is meet immediate needs, through food, clothing, showers, and a bed. We allow former residents to come in and shower, grab a warm cup of tea, wash some laundry, and eat a warm meal. We take in new youth and returning youth sometimes for an emergency overnight or other times residential services.

Donors bring in zip lock bags full of toiletries, hats, gloves, clothing, anything new and essential to staying warm and clean. Covenant House International has also been doing a blanket drive to obtain blankets to give out for the winter months coming up. On November 19th there was a Candlelight Vigil and Sleep Out. Through the sharing of personal stories about the struggles of living on the streets, lighting candles in memoriam, and sleeping outside in the cold and the rain, people across the county raised money to keep Covenant House doors open.

For Thanksgiving, turkeys were cooked and prayers of thanksgiving said. This month, we will hold services for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas along side a variety of parties with lots of food and gifts from lots of donors. We try to keep the merriment going throughout the holiday season so we plan a full schedule with Santa, presents, staff vs youth football games, craft nights, and so much more! 

How do volunteers express solidarity? 
We are present. The best things that a person can do at a homeless youth shelter is show up. The second best thing is listen. During the holiday months especially, the youth just want to know that the
staff are sticking around for the long haul; that we are there to share in laughter, joy, and life together through the cold and dark days. Sharing a meal together and laughing over corny jokes before stepping into an office to hear them cry about the stress and worry back home goes a long way for someone who was not supported, loved, or cared for while growing up. Then on some days we show up in crazy costumes and dance to the cha cha slide and give out candy until they are bouncing off the walls. 

Faith Community volunteers are far away from home; I'm about 2,973 miles from my parents house, but who's counting? So just like the youth, I find myself feeling lonely and isolated from the warmth and care of home. Luckily I found a home and a family at the shelter. That is why I chose to work a 16 hour shift on Thanksgiving, not for the glory of being deemed a hard worker, but to have a place to go, a place to belong. All the youth want are to be seen and to find their place in the world. During the holidays we open our doors and hearts to say that their temporary home is Covenant House and we can share in the struggles and joys together. 

What have you learned through living simply?
We live simply in our house through buying things with lots of coupons and sales, bulk sections are one of my favorite things. We live with less “stuff”, we recycle, we share food and household items, we cut down on electricity use, and we walk a lot of places or try to utilize public transportation. Living simply is not just a way of living with less things though, it is a mindset. 

I have come to see that simple living is embracing the humble mindset that I am nothing without God. I find significance in the quality of moments over the quantity of stuff. God is in the simple and sweet moments of life. I often stop to remember the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-17. God was not in the fire, wind, or earthquake; rather He was in the still, soft, whisper. To me that means that God is in the small stuff like a kind smile, a high five, a shared meal, a brief conversation, or a silly dance. To live simply is to seek joy and follow passions through the daily routines and small things, remembering that God is ever present. When life gets chaotic or stressful, I take a walk on the boardwalk or I open my Bible, and I let the gentle whisper brush against my ears. 

For more information about becoming a member of the Covenant House Faith Community, please click here

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent, A Season of Service: Focus on Community

Note: This is the first blog post of our Advent series. Every Sunday we will feature a reflection by one of our current or former volunteers. You can download the entire reflection guide here

First Sunday of Advent

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Reflection by Anna Hester, current NPH USA volunteer and former Jesuit Volunteer Corps volunteer

Remember the good memories, learn from the bad ones, and laugh at the mistakes. My year as a JV was full of countless surprises. Living with just three other girls in a tiny apartment caused me to constantly ask the question - what have I gotten myself into?  I was in no way prepared for the difficult challenges that my community would experience nor did I anticipate that those same challenges would make us stronger, that it would solidify our friendship. My community, these former strangers, had suddenly became my friends. We grew together as JVs, still laughing today at our various silly memories. They helped me to focus on the good on the days that I was struggling. They loved me when I needed it the most. We were all outsiders, moving to a new city, a tiny apartment, and four very different jobs that we were all very nervous to begin.

As I look upon today’s reading I am reminded of hope, of the goodness of Christ’s return. The challenge is to focus upon that hope and to not let daily distractions get in the way of it. As a volunteer I felt that I was more susceptible to those distractions and without my community I would have fallen into that trap.  During this Advent season, let’s set aside the frenzy that comes along with holidays and take time to focus on the loved ones around you.

Focus On: Community

Today’s reading relates to community in terms of accountability. While we are waiting together for the second coming of Christ, we need to utilize each other so that we are not distracted from missing out on this miraculous event. Take a moment out of your day to acknowledge how you are feeling - is your heart heavy? When was the last time you took a moment to reflect with your community? Chances are if you are struggling, they might be too.

A Season of Service

Challenge yourself to join a new community, do something new. Volunteer for a local food bank, raise donations for newly arrived refugees, tutor at a local community center. Whatever service you choose, sit and be present with whomever you are serving. Just listen and serve. Step out of your comfort zone. Sometimes those new experiences are the most rewarding.


Dear God, I pray for strength, patience, and balance for myself and those around me. Help me to not get lost in the trails and be my legs when they are weary. Open my eyes and my heart to the goodness around me. Help me remain steadfast and guide me back when I waver. Lord, thank you for being my light during the times when all I see is darkness. Thank you for loving me.  Amen.

How are you utilizing this season of Advent to draw closer to your community?

Advent: A Season of Service is a collaborative effort of Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Finding Christ in First-Year Teaching

By Kevin Cacabelos, PLACE Corps Volunteer serving in Los Angeles, CA

About a month and a half into my experience with PLACE Corps, a feeling of happiness engulfed  me. As I knelt and prayed, I looked up at the cross while the choir sang “One Bread, One Body.” I glanced at my students who were squirming, whispering to each other and waiting for the cue to finally sit down.

Suddenly, an uncontrollable smile abruptly ended my state of prayer. I looked at my class of fifth graders and I saw myself in them. The power of empathy transformed my service experience into a spiritual experience. At that precise moment, I knew, I belonged exactly where I was and I belonged with the people around me.

Partners in Los Angeles Catholic Education (PLACE Corps) is a teacher service corps based out of Loyola Marymount University. The program, built upon the pillars of Professional Development, Community and Spirituality aims to serve under-resourced Catholic schools of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Throughout a two-year commitment, teachers also live in community, striving to experience and strengthen their own personal spirituality.

Kevin Cacabelos and his class of fifth-graders pose for a picture during their class Christmas party 
After attending Catholic school for the entirety of my life, I unconsciously entered PLACE Corps thinking I knew it all – I experienced it all. Instead, I quickly learned that first-year teaching would be the most difficult endeavor I have ever undertaken in my life. Yet, despite its challenges, teaching continues to reveal the numerous blessings in my life.

At times I struggled with the question, “Where is Christ in the midst of all of this adversity, stress, and inexperience?”

How can someone grow closer to God during an 8-hour work day with no breaks, followed by six hours of graduate-level course work? Where is God in the educational inequalities that exist in the community I serve in? Where is God in the student who constantly misbehaves and refuses to listen to authority?

That moment of unrestrained happiness, at our school’s weekly Friday Mass, provided me with a stark reminder. There was no reason for me to be looking for God. Simply put, God is right in front of me. He is everywhere.

I come home every single day to a community of nine other teachers who support me. Sometimes they have answers to my problems, but more often than not, they just listen and nod their heads. After a long day of work, that is more than enough to keep a person going.

Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking I lack a connection with my students. I’m not from Los Angeles and I grew up in a comfortable middle-class household my entire life. But then, I remember my Catholic school education, my parents' sacrifices, and my own inability to stay still during Mass.

When I look at my students, I envision their great futures. Whenever I struggle reaching them, I remember what one of my former teachers told me when I began PLACE Corps, “Require excellence from your students. Be present to your students. And always remember that teaching is a journey."

Almost halfway through this journey, one special memory stands out to me. I have one student, let’s call him “Jack”, who gets on the nerves of his classmates and continually tests the patience of the faculty and staff of my school. Beneath his exterior behavior, though, is a kid who wants to fit in. He struggles socially, and desperately wants the attention and love of his peers. Despite his learning disabilities, he shows up to school every single day with an enthusiasm to learn.

Jack often gets nervous and resorts to giving up or misbehaving when he is put into uncomfortable situations. During our school’s annual Living Rosary prayer service, every student is asked to say a “Hail Mary” in front of the entire school. When explaining the procedure to my class, Jack came up to me in private and said, “Mr. C, I don’t want to do this, I can’t do this. Can you get someone else to go up for me?"

I wouldn’t let him bail out of this. For the next few days, I made it a point to practice the Hail Mary with Jack. Even then, he still expressed discomfort and resistance towards leading the entire school in prayer. When it finally came time for our class to say a decade of the rosary, Jack stood up and looked at me. He shook his head vigorously, put his hand in front of his face and said, “I don’t want to do this."

With a stern look on my face, I replied, “You’re doing it."

And when Jack’s turn was up, he effortlessly led the entire school in a “Hail Mary." When he finished the final line of the prayer, he looked up at me with a blank stare of shocking surprise. The other teachers mirrored Jack’s countenance.

After realizing what just happened, another smile overtook my face.

Jack returned to the pew and looked up at me and said, “Why are you so happy Mr. C?"

Words could not describe the pride and joy I felt for Jack at that moment.

I just smiled and chuckled. All of my struggles and all of Jack’s struggles simply did not matter at that moment. Christ was right in front of us – all it took was some encouragement and a little prayer.

To learn more about PLACE Corps, click here

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A day in a life of... A Salesian Volunteer

My name is Linda Vanessa Zalapa Rojes. I am 20 years old and from Downey, California but am currently a volunteer at Oratorio Don Bosco in Tijuana, Mexico. This here is what I do on a daily basis.

At 7 am we have morning prayer where all the community comes together to begin our day with God and each other.

Following morning prayer we all come together for breakfast which is one of the most important meals of the day.

After breakfast Father Miguel and I head to Oratory Don Bosco which is approximately 30 minutes away. Once we arrive the students are usually in their classes so we make sure everything is done in the office.

At 10am the kids are on break time so I go outside and participate in their playing, we play many things such as soccer, football, basketball, or maybe sometimes just sit and talk with the kids. They love to ask me how to say words in English and it also helps me practice my Spanish. After a half hour break time is over and the kids go into their classrooms again.

At noon all the kids and teachers come together for prayer and then Father Miguel also spends some time talking to the kids about upcoming events or other announcements. Then the kids head off to different extra-curricular activities. I myself am in charge of juegos (games) so depending on the grade we might play basketball, football, or even just tag. Whatever it is we play they all love to be next to me.

School is over at 2pm, so that is when we have dinner. Father Miguel and I often visit the homes of families in the parish and we have dinner with them. I always love this time of the day because it’s so much fun to be able to get to know adults in the parish.

After dinner we get ready to celebrate Mass in the neighborhoods. This I love doing, even though sometimes the walk is killer! We walk through the streets saying the rosary and then stop at a family’s home to have Mass there.

Next we head back to Castillo where we will and have evening prayer and spend time together with all the other volunteers and fathers, and get our rest for the next day. And that wraps up an ordinary day here in Tijuana!

Click here to learn more about Salesian Volunteers!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Where Are They Now? Former volunteers working in homeless ministry

“Where Are They Now?” highlights volunteer alumni who carry out the spirit of service in different professions and ministries. This month we are getting to know some alumni who have dedicated their lives to work with the homeless.

Hi! My name is Kurt Runge. I served as a Quest Volunteer in Gros Morne, Haiti in 2004. Now, I am a social worker and the Director of Advocacy at Miriam's Kitchen, a non-profit working to end chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C. 

What did a typical day of service look like for you? In the first few months, much of my time was spent among people in Gros Morne learning to speak Haitian Creole. Some days were spent teaching English to students, other days I ran an after school program for teenagers. I spent a lot of time at a church-run facility for people who are elderly, have little money, and lack the ability to care for themselves. In the summer, I was joined by American and Irish volunteers who helped to plan and manage a camp for kids in the area. In the afternoon I would often play with kids in the neighborhood or visit with people in their homes.

What is one memory from your time of service that has stuck with you? Why? I was touched by the generosity of the people I met. There were several students in my English class that I got to know well. One student in particular invited me to his home.  When I arrived, they gave up their only chair for me to sit, and although they had very little, they insisted I share a meal with them. This stuck with me because it taught me that even among deep poverty, generosity has no limits. The experience serves as a constant reminder to live simply and share the gifts that have been given to me.

How has your service experience impacted your career path? Although it sounds cliché, one thing my service experience in Haiti cemented into my mind is that unbelievable inequality exists in our world, but together we have the power to change it step at a time.

In what ways did your time of faith-based service better prepare you for the work force? My volunteer experience taught me to question the systems and policies that perpetuate poverty and inequality and work to change them.

My work brings me joy because … I get to be part of an effort to end veteran and chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C. Ending homelessness means preventing homelessness whenever possible. If someone does become homeless, it means ending it quickly so no one is homeless for years. It is exciting to see many of the people Miriam's Kitchen serves get a home of their own for the first time in many years. In the near future, D.C. will join other cities across the country like New Orleans and Houston, and end homelessness among veterans. Those cities are proof that ending homelessness is possible. I'm honored to be a small part of this effort in D.C.

How do you stay connected to your program or service site? Staying connected can be challenging. Now that I am a father of three, I am not always able to keep connected to the people I served with. However, I have many reminders of my experience there, from photographs, to artwork that serve as constant reminders of the people I had the pleasure to know and the lessons I learned.

Why serve? Marian Wright Edelman said it best: "Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time."

The fun stuff:

If you could get on a plane and travel to one place you’ve never visited where would you go and why? I would go to Ecuador. My wife studied abroad and volunteered in Ecuador and fell in love with the country. I have heard so many stories about it that I would love to experience it with her.

If you could be either a dog or a cat which would you be and why? A dog of course!

Hi! My name is Jordan Skarr. I served with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in Tacoma, WA from 2004-2005 and the Magis Program at Loyola University Chicago from 2006-2008. Currently I serve as the Director of Programs for the Ignatian Spirituality Project, a Jesuit ministry dedicated to sharing the gift of the Spiritual Exercises with those persons experiencing homelessness. 

What did a typical day of service look like for you? I worked at an agency called Nativity House. Its mission is to provide a place of refuge for persons experiencing homelessness during the day. My placement there was a wonderful composite of responsibilities including making 25 gallons of soup, learning how to play spades, and most importantly building a ministry of presence with the guests, many who found their time at Nativity House the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak day.

What is one memory from your time of service that has stuck with you? Why? The average day at Nativity House was loud, busy and chaotic. Hundreds of people would walk through our doors in need of a place to sit out of the rain, a warm cup of coffee, and a chance to enjoy the company of their community in a safe place. One day a young man, a few years my junior, pulled me aside and asked for a quiet place to talk. We pulled a couple of chairs together in the corner of the modest chapel and closed the door. He was shaking as he began: “I’ve been off heroin now for three days and I'm nervous I’m going to use again… will you pray with me?” We said a quiet prayer together and went to get some lunch. That moment, so humble and so honest, has stayed with me because it clarified for me what my service “year” was all about: building relationships that make a difference. It galvanized my conviction that I wanted to continue in this ministry.

How has your service experience impacted your career path? We collaborate across the country with 12-step based transitional housing facilities to offer folks a retreat experience that is life changing. That moment in the chapel, where the small flicker of recovery first was found, is in my mind, kindled throughout our retreats.

In what ways did your time of faith-based service better prepare you for the work force? We spent a lot of time “debriefing” at the close of the workday – we would intentionally take the time to process our time together. In a lot of ways, this was very similar to the Jesuit tradition of praying the “Examen,” a practice that invites mining one’s experience for the presence of God. Some days, both then and now, it is easier that others to see or to feel God’s presence; yet these quiet moments help sustain, inspire and energize for the next.

My work brings me joy because … It’s a great privilege to bear witness to some incredible transformations. This ministry is powerful not just for our participants, but for the volunteers as well.

Do you have any advice for volunteers who are wrapping up their year and transitioning out of their time of service? Any time of transition can be a minefield and I found it helpful to simply name and recognize the time for what it was. Keep in touch with your communi and find alumni, any way to keep connected to folks who have “been there.”

How do you stay connected to your program or service site? My wife Megan, a fellow FJV, and I were invited to be support people for our local community; this was a great way to stay connected.  We invited them over for dinner, explained what snow was for the southern natives, and prayed together during spirituality nights.

Why serve? In addition to deferring student loan payments, you can see a new part of the country, develop friendships that will last a lifetime, and put your faith into action.

The fun stuff: 

If you could get on a plane and travel to one place you’ve never visited where would you go and why? Barcelona has been on our bucket list for a while.

If you could be either a dog or a cat which would you be and why? I’d probably go dog because I like to run – but, cats also seem to be really good nappers, and as a young father, look for any opportunity to do that.

Hi! My name is Maureen Burke. I served with the Franciscan Capuchin Corps East (aka Cap Corps) in Washington, D.C. from 2010-2012. I now work with an organization that has pioneered the "Housing First" model, which has proven that placing individuals in housing first, then providing supportive services is the most effective way to end chronic homelessness.

What did a typical day of service look like for you? I was placed at Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington, D.C., an organization that works with men and women experiencing homelessness. Miriam’s Kitchen serves fantastic meals every day, getting fresh produce from farmer’s markets and the White House garden. Miriam’s Kitchen also provides case management, art and writing therapy, yoga, guest-lead advocacy groups, and permanent supportive housing. I served as a case manager and every day was a new day. Whether I was writing out a clothing referral for the hundredth time, listening to a man talk about his “bedazzled” necklaces, handing out toiletries, testifying in front of the city council, or advocating for more affordable housing, I rejoiced in the tasks at hand.

What is one memory from your time of service that has stuck with you? Why?At Miriam’s Kitchen, when we felt our hearts overflowing because of the strength, resilience, and courage we found in the work of our clients,  we would bring our hand to our chest and call that moment a “heartpat.” One day, a client who I had been working with for months, and who was particularly challenging to engage, reached into my bag and pulled out my grandmother’s rosary. I attempted to set boundaries, as a good case manager should, and told the client that he was not to go into other people’s belongings and that the rosary was mine. The client was not receptive and proceeded to place the rosary around his neck, look me straight in the eye, and say, “No, Maureen! It’s mine!” He walked out of the office and I was sure I would never see my grandmother’s rosary again. Months later, the client returned, walked up to me and said, “Hey Maureen! You know that necklace you gave to me?” [patting his heart where the rosary fell] “I still got it.” That moment, that heart pat, will always remain with me because it was a time that brought me out of my “clinical, case management-self” and made me recognize that this client and I were on the same journey and that perhaps we both needed a little assistance from my grandmother’s rosary to get home.

What inspired you to serve? “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.” After receiving a solid education, grounded in social justice and community at Saint Mary’s of Notre Dame, I was inspired by the lives and works of individuals like Dorothy Day, MLK JR, Saint Francis, and other saints.

How has your service experience impacted your career path? After two years at Miriam’s Kitchen, I was inspired to get my Masters in Social Work and continue working with men and women experiencing homelessness in D.C.

In what ways did your time of faith-based service better prepare you for the work force? As I continue on my career path, I am grateful for the skills and practices I picked-up in Cap Corps, including living a more intentional life-style, occasionally stepping back and reflecting on what I am doing in order to be more purposeful and effective in my work moving forward. This strength from faith gives me the confidence to show up each day for work, knowing that progress is being made, even if we can’t always see the fruits of our labor.

My work brings me joy because … I get to walk with people on their journey home. Nothing makes me happier than spending time with others and hearing their stories and hopes and dreams. My clients make me laugh, make me cry, and inspire me every day.

Do you have any advice for volunteers who are wrapping up their year and transitioning out of their time of service? Think of the values and practices that you learned in your program this year and take them with you wherever you go. Stay in touch with your community members and remember that you all survived the year together and are that much stronger because of it. You will be faced with many challenges after this year. You were labeled as a “volunteer” this year, but remember that every day, you have a choice in how you live and offer your life: You can hate something, or love every moment of the process. Find what brings you joy.

How do you stay connected to your program or service site? I work with the same client population and thus, am very lucky to be partnering with Miriam’s Kitchen in continuing to end chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C. I’m also very blessed to be near the Franciscan Brothers who supported me during Cap Corps and am always excited when I reconnect with my housemates and Cap Corp’s fearless leader, Margaret McIntyre.

Why serve? We’re all here by the grace of God and should be overwhelmed with gratitude for the joy and struggle that comes with each day. How do you want to show your thanks?

The fun stuff:

If you could get on a plane and travel to one place you’ve never visited where would you go and why? Where Saint Francis made his name of course – Assisi! I would love to walk the steps that Saint Francis walked, see the sights that made him burst into song and smile, and to feel where he found his perfect joy.

If you could be either a dog or a cat which would you be and why? Easy. Dog. Dogs are loyal and so eager to be with people AT ALL TIMES. They don’t care what society thinks of them and appear to enjoy doing really goofy things. They’re quick to forgive and will make you smile in a second. Plus, I admire their ability to take power naps and eat each meal like it’s their last – take nothing for granted. Dog is God spelled backwards and both bring joy to the world in a special way.

Final Score? Dogs - 3, Cats - 0

This article first appeared in our Staying Connected newsletter for Former Volunteers, a project done in collaboration with the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Click here to visit the Staying Connected archives.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

National Vocations Awareness Week: Resources for discernment

Catholic Volunteer Network aims to support current and former volunteers in their vocational discernment process. You may find the following organizations helpful in your personal discernment journey.

  • AVE - After Volunteer Experience Program 
    This program, sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, is an outreach to young adult women who have participated in a post-college year of volunteer service, domestic or international. AVE will provide a reflective space to integrate the volunteer experience and discern future directions in life and ministry. From August 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015 we initiated the AVE program with two women returning from volunteer service. The length of the program will be one to three months, the start and finish dates to be determined according to the needs of the participants and availability of space at Casa de Caridad in southern New Mexico. The program includes basic elements of intentional community life, weekly volunteer service experience, spiritual direction, and counseling (vocational, mental health, career). For further information and an application, contact Sister Janet at janetsc@juno.com.
  • VISION Vocation Network
    This site offers one of the most comprehensive resources available in print and online for those seeking information on Catholic religious vocations and men’s and women’s religious communities. Since 1987 VISION has been providing hundreds of thousands of readers each year with information on the broad spectrum of Catholic religious life through first-person accounts, profiles, photo stories, and articles about discernment, community life, vows, ministry, and Catholic teachings. Online features include a Community Search, Vocations Calendar, and Vocation Match.
  • Catholics on Call 
    Catholics on Call supports Catholic young adults (ages 18-30) as they strive to discover God’s call in their lives, and explore the possibility of a life of service in the Church. A national vocation discovery program of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union, Catholics on Call is dedicated to helping young adults from diverse backgrounds explore a call to ministry in the Church and to learn about leadership roles as lay ecclesial ministers, men or women religious, or ministry as ordained deacons or priests.
  • A Nun's Life
    A Nun’s Life Ministry was founded by Catholic Sisters Julie Vieira and Maxine Kollasch in 2006. This online faith community and nonprofit ministry reaches out with a pastoral presence to thousands of people worldwide each day. The website at aNunsLife.org is a place where you can talk with Catholic sisters and nuns and lots of other people on topics such as spirituality, prayer, community, ministry, and more.
  • The Catholic Apostolate Center
    Visit this site for plenty of helpful resources on vocational discernment, including Pope Francis' reflections on vocation and resources specifically for men, women, and those discerning marriage.
  • ¡OYE! 
    This website and annual publication provides many resources for Hispanic young people who are seeking to learn more about how to live out their faith. ¡OYE! seeks to initiate a dialogue to start building a vocational awareness and culture, a safe space where questions can be asked and where the conversation about radical and crucial issues such as commitment and relationship with God can take place. ¡OYE! is a resource provided by Claretian Publications.
  • Vocation.com
    Vocation.com offers a wealth of resources to young people considering vocations and all Catholics interested in promoting and fostering vocations.The site features video testimonies of priests and consecrated men and women and their unique vocation stories. Texts on the basics of prayer, a collection of meditations, and a discernment checklist provide further guidance through the discernment process. One of the key features of this site is its interactive nature. Inquirers can receive help in locating a vocation director in their area as well as type in their questions and have them answered by a priest.
We've also compiled a list of discernment resources recommended by former volunteers and friends of Catholic Volunteer Network. 

We hope these resources help you follow the life that God is calling you to!