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."