Friday, June 16, 2017

I Chose Service - Mike Bucaria, Augustinian Volunteers

After graduating from college, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.


Name: Mike Bucaria
Volunteer Program: Augustinian Volunteers
Location: Ventura, CA
Hometown: Rockville Centre, NY
College: Villanova University, 2014, English Major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I was always aware of the positive impact of post-grad volunteering since my mom spent a year with the Jesuit Volunteers in Omak, Washington, but I became more consciously aware during my sophomore year I went on a fall break service trip to Birmingham to work with their Habitat affiliate. There one of the construction site supervisors was a guy I went to high school with back on Long Island who was a few years older. We pieced our connection together and from there I learned that he was spending a year after graduating volunteering through AmeriCorps. This was the interaction that made me aware that spending a year volunteering post-grad was an option apart from going straight to work or grad school. Not only that, but that trip, sponsored by Villanova Campus Ministry, challenged and motivated me in ways that showed me I wanted to learn and do more to meet people and serve communities.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on your service program? I applied to a few jobs and a few volunteer programs to keep my options open, but none of the opportunities I had seemed at all like a better choice than going with the Augustinian Volunteers. I was ultimately convinced that a volunteer year was the right choice because, through talking with friends who had also deliberated a volunteer year and family as well, I gained the perspective that a one year gap in between college and work was not as daunting as I initially thought. How long is a year? For me, I knew that as long as I did something worthwhile with my time there was no rush to get a job and just move into the seemingly endless phase of working life. And since doing something worthwhile was the baseline, I wanted to something incredibly worthwhile. And the Augustinian Volunteers allowed me to do that by living in community with other volunteers and engaging a community with meaningful service.

Share about your service placement and volunteer community experience. Having a good time in Southern California is not challenging, but living in community with other 20-somethings can be. However, my community and I all fully leaned into this experience and knew that it was as instrumental to our service's impact as our individual effort. We all wanted to live the same simple lifestyle and dive in at our service sites, and living with other people of the same mindset (not to mention budget) provided a strong context to the volunteer work itself. Plus, we experienced the positive and fun parts of our community together and not just the sections and subsets needing a little TLC, which gave us a more holistic look at our host city and our place in it.

I worked at St. Bonaventure HS in Ventura, CA for their Christian Service program. I planned service projects, helped students find volunteering opportunities pertaining to their interests, and conducted reflections to help the students think about their experiences in different ways. But, volunteers always find new ways to get involved, and I also worked in Campus Ministry helping with retreats, with student events, and (my favorite) chaperoning trips and dances.

The most impactful facet of my year was with Many Meals, a weekly opportunity to reach out to the community with dinner and the community of a dinner table. Even beyond bringing students, I found this experience unique because of the relationships volunteers could build with guests over the weeks. When I think about the aspects of my year so essential to my overall experience - living in community, being useful to the school, and connecting with both students and those we served - I cannot think about any one apart from the other.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? The support of the Augustinian Volunteer program allowed my community and I not to be too bogged down in the challenges of moving to and living in a new city. Rather, we were able to work full time and treat our positions as they should be, with complete engagement. My first job was imbued with purpose, which is more than what a lot of people my age can say. My enjoyment also encouraged me to be more involved, which in turn increased my exposure to different professional areas of the work I was doing. But, most essentially, at three months out of college I was able to live with other young people but work in a diverse workplace, and that experience began my growth and prepared me for working alongside people other than other 23 year olds.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? Consider all the reasons for and against doing a volunteer and then weigh each of them against the impact it will have on you beyond just the year you spend and the year or two after. I worried about maintaining friendships while moving far away, and I thought that I would miss out on too much being far from where my friends and family lived. But, with so much time ahead to work toward your personal, educational, or professional goals, why not just take a year for a productive and intense way to do something different? It really is not that long, just think about everything that happened three years ago and what a distinct time capsule that seems like compared to what you are doing now. How can that one year head start on getting a job compare to the education, capability, and personal growth you gain from an experience like a post-grad volunteer year. It is easy for me to say this in hindsight, but the cost of a spending a year in an unconventional way against the benefit of a lifetime of lessons and memories would not even be a question at this point. Come to think of it, I kind of want to apply again...

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

I Chose Service - Claire Noonan, Apostolic Volunteers

After graduating from college, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Claire Noonan
Volunteer Program: Apostolic Volunteers (now known as Dominican Volunteers USA)
Location: Atlanta GA (1992)
Hometown: Orland Park, IL
College: Catholic University of America, '92, English and Religious Studies major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? Through my college campus ministers as well as students who graduated ahead of me.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Apostolic Volunteers?  I looked at several programs in the RESPONSE catalog and chose the program I did because of the speed of their placement process and the personal connections I had to the sponsoring religious community.

Share about your service experience. The most important part of my experience was the community life I shared with the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters.  These women taught me the deep and fundamental spiritual wisdom and truth—I am loved, not for what I do but for that I am.  

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? Honestly, I have participation in this program to thank for almost every important part of my life today—my husband is also a alum of the program, and my ministry/job today is with another sponsored institution of the religious community that sponsored by program.  Also, I met many, many of my closest friends through the program and others like it.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service?  Do it!! And put your whole self into it.  It will be difficult, but worth it.

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Monday, May 22, 2017

I Chose Service - Jennifer Kennymore, Salesian Lay Missioners

After graduating from college, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Jennifer Kennymore
Volunteer Program: Salesian Lay Missioners
Location: Mary Help of Christians Center, Tampa, FL 
Hometown: Ft. Collins, CO
College: University of Northern Colorado (BA, 2008), Colorado School of Public Health (MPH, 2010)

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I learned about the Peace Corps in High School. I thought it sounded like an amazing opportunity to give a year or two of your life to others. Eventually I decided I wanted to do some type of service related to my Catholic faith. Serving for an extended amount of time was something I felt called to do for a long time.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Salesian Lay Missioners? For health reasons the Peace Corps was not an option for me but I still wanted to serve. I had applied to the Salesians when I graduated with my MPH but decided to postpone my year of service. Options at the time I joined were to stay at my current job, start a different job or do mission work.

Tell us about your service experience. Originally I wanted to go abroad but I knew my skills and experience would fit well with the needs in Tampa. It worked out for the best and I am so happy to be a part of the Salesian family now! My role in Tampa included being registrar at summer camp, tutoring at the boys and girls club, event coordination, retreat facilitation, socializing and helping retired Salesian priests and brothers, and more.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? For me the biggest benefits came in spiritual growth. Being surrounded by others with the same faith and stronger faith than my own had a significant positive impact. Without my time in mission I would not have known how amazing and vast the Salesian community is. I also wouldn't have known how much work and love it takes to make a place like Mary Help feel like a home to all who visit. I learned what I (along with the support and help from a wonderful team) am truly capable of while I was on mission and that will have positive repercussions on my life for years to come.


What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? Do it and do it now! I waited and it made it harder in some ways but nonetheless do it! It will be challenging and it won't be perfect but your efforts and time will be appreciated. Also, you will make connections and and memories that last long after your time of service. Those connections and memories will last longer than a year's salary and after your year (or two) of service you will know in your heart that you had an impact and made a true difference in the lives of others.

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

I Chose Service: Gina Fleck, Project S.E.R.V.E.

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Gina Fleck 
Volunteer Program: Catholic Charities Project S.E.R.V.E. (currently on staff of Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry)
Location: Catholic Charities of Baltimore 
Hometown: Kintnersville, PA 
College: Mount St. Mary’s University '15, International Studies major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? It was through word of mouth! I was interning at the Maryland Catholic Conference in Annapolis and expressed my desire to do a service year in Baltimore. I thought I wanted to go to law school at the time so I could do advocacy work on the state level. I felt like I couldn’t advocate on behalf of marginalized populations or people affected by injustice if I didn’t first get to know their stories and build relationships with them, so I started looking into different post-grad service programs that offered opportunities to partake in direct service. A colleague recommended Project S.E.R.V.E.! 

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Project SERVE? I was considering going directly into law school. I took the LSAT and started a few applications and then heard about Project SERVE. I decided to do a year of post-grad service because it just felt providential. The timing could not have been better and Project SERVE fit all I was looking for: it was a year of faith-based service in Baltimore, where I had previously done several service trips through college. Ultimately, the prospect of doing a year of service filled me with an excitement and hopefulness that no other post-grad options did. I wanted to find a way to integrate my faith with my work on a daily basis, and it seemed like a great opportunity to do so!

Tell us about your service experience. My service placement was at Our Daily Bread, the largest soup kitchen in Maryland. I helped to coordinate the 40 volunteers it takes to run the lunch service every day and helped with a plethora of odds and ends. I also got to tutor men in an 18-month residential employment academy for formerly homeless or incarcerated men called Christopher Place. The CP men and I may have looked like a funny match to outsiders, but we got along swimmingly! I was completely astounded by their resilience, humor, and get-it-done attitude. My year of service made evident my own privilege and how we can all learn so much from others who are different from us. I could never have imagined how much they would teach me—I just had to dive in and allow myself the chance to grow! The experience really opened up a whole new world; what I learned was equally frustrating and exhilarating! 

My experience living in community was fantastic—I think I would have crumbled in this environment of newness had it not been for the support and discussions with my community members and our awesome coordinator, Allison. They were great guides and friends all the way through! 

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? The most wonderful gift I received from my year of service was a change of heart. A year of service afforded me the opportunity to cross over into territories and backgrounds formerly uncharted in my own life. I stretched and altered my opinions on so many issues. I was surprised and upended by the consistent generosity of people I met who were poor and in great need, but still wanted to make sure I had a good day and was doing well. I was astonished to uncover some of the gifts I didn’t know I had before the year and pleased to have a practical outlet for using them.  

My year of service also led me to my current job with a post-grad service program in Baltimore called Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry! It keeps me connected to my own year of service and helps me get others excited about the prospect of doing their own service year. I don’t think I would have found a job nearly as exciting or fulfilling if I passed up the chance to do Project S.E.R.V.E.  

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? It’s an unconventional choice for sure. Not many people you talk to will even know what it is when you describe your post-grad plans to them. Don’t worry about that! Do it, do it, do it because your heart will be forever changed. You just have to take that leap of faith. It’s a year of blessings on blessings that doesn’t end when the service year does. In the words of Mumford and Sons, “I ain't ever lived a year better spent in love.”

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I Chose Service: Lily Key, Maggie's Place

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Lily Key
Volunteer Program: MissionCorps Member at Maggie's Place
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Hometown: Carlisle, PA
College: University of Dallas, 2014, Theology major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? From a friend who served at a maternity home after college.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Maggie's Place? I had been not making long term commitments so that I could be free to discern and visit possible religious communities, but when I realized that it wasn't the right time for all of that for me, I looked in to doing something else. I was not attracted to working a job just for me, but wanted to use my time for others, so that's why I decided on service.

Tell us about your service experience: I served as a full-time, live-in volunteer at Maggie's Place, called a MissionCorps member, for two years. The unique thing about serving at Maggie's Place is that we live in the homes we run with the women we serve, so you get a lot of intimate contact with those you serve and are able to get to know them on a personal and human level. The actual work was very down to earth: helping the moms by holding babies, cooking, cleaning, being present, answering the phone, receiving donations, etc., but because it was all in a living environment, it stretched me more than anything I had ever done before. Being selfless and living the works of mercy was my job, and it was all the time! It has been the greatest privilege and the greatest challenge.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I have grown immensely due to my service experience. It was certainly the most challenging position I have ever had, with many responsibilities and a lot of independence and self-direction. I grew in my knowledge of people, how they change, how to give and receive difficult feedback, the need for open and non-defensive or judgmental communication. I grew in professionalism, the ability to not take things personally, and in healthy boundaries. I learned a lot about myself! Community life brought out my strengths and weaknesses for all to see, and so became an opportunity for greater self-awareness and also humility as I have to admit my own weaknesses or be exhausted by the pressure of hiding them. Spiritually, I have come to realize that all happens only by God's Divine Providence, and He is attentive even to our smallest needs. He will provide! I could not have done any of what I did on my own strengths or skills, but only by the gifts and graces God gave me to do it. Lastly, through living with the moms at Maggie's Place, I have learned so much about poverty and people experiencing challenges that were previously unknown to me, and it has changed by whole outlook on the world.


What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? Post-graduate service is an excellent preparation for whatever comes next. I would say that I learned more in my two years (even my first year) of service than I did in four years of college about people, about myself, and many of the soft skills that are the difference between average and excellent candidates for any job. The service I did was particularly intense, living and serving in community, but any service will stretch you, making your more self-aware, more generous, and more willing to grow and be stretched in future experiences, whatever they may be. It will change the direction of your life and your outlook on the world though, so if you're comfy where you are, be forewarned!

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I Chose Service - Amanda Ceraldi, Franciscan Mission Service

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Amanda Ceraldi
Volunteer Program: Franciscan Mission Service (FMS)
Location: Guatemala
Hometown: Pasadena, Maryland
College: The Catholic University of America '14, Theology major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I was first introduced to the possibility of post-grad service during my freshman year at Catholic U.  I saw a flyer for the long-term service fair and began thinking about having that as an option when I graduated.  After that first fair meeting different post-grad organizations I began meeting with my campus minister and dean regularly for the following three years to see how that could be my next step after graduation.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Franciscan Mission Service? During my senior year of college I knew that I wanted to do long-term service after graduation, so I wasn’t looking into any other options.  I decided to become a missioner with FMS because I knew I wanted to go international for at least two year and I feel in love with the Franciscan charism, especially their commitment to ministry of presence. 

Tell us about your service experience. For the past two and a half years I have lived and worked at a boarding school for poor and marginalized children in Guatemala called Valle de los Angeles.  We are home to 215 boys and girls for 10 months of the year.  At Valle, I teach English to 3rd-6th graders, plan and lead short-term mission trips, tutor, volunteer with local communities throughout Guatemala, and spend as much time as possible with our precious children!  I live in a small community of FMS volunteers here at Valle, but my true community experience is with the local people I spend my days with here in Guatemala.  In addition to the 215 children I work with I have also developed deep communion-like relationships with many of their families, the staff here at the school, and other local volunteers. 

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? Outwardly, the biggest thing I have gained from my time on mission is the ability to speak Spanish.  Prior to my arrival in Guatemala I knew no Spanish!  Thankfully, after 2.5 years,  I’ve been able to pick up the language really well.  I love communicating in Spanish now!  Internally, the greatest thing I have gained is a new understanding on what it means to love and be loved.  I have loved harder and deeper than I ever thought possible and I am constantly surrounded by people who love me and call me to be my most authentic self.  Additionally, I have never felt closer to God then during my time on mission! 

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? My biggest piece of advice for someone considering post-graduate service would be to open your heart to going outside of your comfort zone.  I think that on mission and when doing service we are called to be uncomfortable and in those moments of discomfort we are able to experience God, to see His face, and love His children.  I am called outside of my comfort zone every single day and that has allowed me to experience God in ways I never thought possible!

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Monday, May 8, 2017

I Chose Service - Faith Yusko, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Faith Yusko
Volunteer Program: Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry
Location: Baltimore, MD
Hometown: West Islip, NY
College: The University of Scranton, Class of 2016. International Studies Major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I learned about post-graduate service through friends and role models of mine who have done post-graduate service.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on your service program? I had considered jumping directly into the work force, but I definitely felt called to serve others through volunteering and I wanted to deepen my spiritual growth and development! 

Tell us about your service experience. I serve as a Child Care Aide in the Bon Secours Early Head Start Child Development Classroom. In my role I work as part of a team serving children ranging in age from two months to three years old and their families. This program helps support families and children so that they can develop a love of learning to carry with them throughout their lives.  My fellow volunteer community members and I live and serve in West Baltimore, and have been learning from the pillars of our program centered around practicing God's justice, learning through service with others, developing community, growing spiritually, and living simply. In addition to allowing me to share my gifts, my service year has humbled me through the community I am learning from and that I am a part of.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I am learning different ways to apply Catholic Social Teaching and spiritual well-being practices into my everyday life. It has helped me to continue to grow spiritually after transitioning out of a Catholic undergraduate institution. 

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? Take the leap of "Faith" and you won't regret it! There are opportunities to learn and grow through service each day!

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Friday, May 5, 2017

I Chose Service - Emily Dumont, Christian Appalachian Project

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.


Name: Emily Dumont 
Volunteer Program: AmeriCorps Member with Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) 
Location: Jackson County, KY 
Hometown: Auburn, ME 
College: Stonehill College '14, Mathematics and Religious Studies major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? Stonehill College really values service and strongly encourages their students to participate in service in some form throughout their time at the school. Through Stonehill’s alternative spring break program (The HOPE Program) and post-graduate service fair I was able to get more detailed information about possible post-graduate service opportunities.  From my freshman year I heard a lot about post-graduate service and it was always floating in my head as an option for me.  

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on CAP? My senior year of college I was considering studying actuarial science or accounting. I had also spent a lot of time debating whether or not I wanted to be a teacher and I was considering trying to find a job working in a school.  I went on an alternative spring break trip to Christian Appalachian Project’s WorkFest in March of my senior year and after that service was really the only option I was considering anymore.  Everyone I encountered at CAP seemed so passionate about the work they were doing and about sharing their experience with others. The feeling at CAP was like no other I had ever experienced and it was definitely something I wanted to be a part of.  

Tell us about your volunteer experience. I can’t say enough great things about my service placement.  From September to May I work with children in the local elementary schools. I teach fourth graders practical living classes. I teach lessons on anti-bullying, conflict resolution, consumerism, and career education. I get to work with my fellow AmeriCorps members to create lesson plans and come up with creative and engaging ways to work with our students. I also am able to do a lot of in classroom assistance helping mainly in math classes. Because math is what I am really passionate about I have been able to start a math club at one of our schools to give small groups or students a little extra attention and practice. I love the way our work in the schools is set up because each AmeriCorps member has an opportunity to work in an area that is most suited to them.  

The other major aspect of my service experience happens from June to August, although we talk about and prepare for it all year round. I work with Camp AJ, so a large part of my service is about helping to run a summer camp. My first two summers at Camp AJ I worked as a counselor. I got to learn a bunch of games and songs and cheers and my job was to play with (and supervise) children for seven weeks. I now help to plan schedules, register children for camp, train counselors, and communicate with parents. For many of our children their week at summer camp is their favorite week of the entire year.  Being a part of that experience is absolutely amazing and has definitely made the seven weeks of summer camp my favorite of the year. 

One of my favorite aspects of CAP is that the participants in their programs are all interconnected.  In my community I live with other camp volunteers as well as volunteers from the housing and elderly services programs. I love living in community and hearing about what is going on in other programs and also seeing how our programs are all weaved together.  Some of our children’s grandparents are in the elderly program and my housemates might be putting a new roof on one of our camper’s houses while they are with us. Community is a great built in support system and it also helps me to see the bigger picture that my service is a part of.  

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I feel that in my service I have learned many, many tangible skills. I have learned to write lesson plans, and use an electric drill, and just the other day I learned how to fix a fishing pole. I definitely am happy I learned those things, but I think the biggest benefits have come from the children I work with. I have learned a lot from them about perseverance and gratitude. I don’t think I ever fully appreciated all of the opportunities that were provided for me to get me to where I am today. Seeing the situations that some of our children live and learn and grow in has made me so grateful for the childhood that I had. It also has shown me how strong and resilient children are. I really believe that serving here has taught me to look at the world and my life through a different lens.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? I think my biggest piece of advice would be to be willing to take risks. If you told me a few years ago that I would be living in Eastern Kentucky working at a summer camp I would have told you that you were crazy. I never went to summer camp as a kid and probably would have cried the entire time if someone had tried to make me. I remember lying in bed the night before I was going to fly to Kentucky. I was horrified. I couldn’t figure out why I thought moving away from my family and friends was a good idea. I was scared, but I went anyway.  It was definitely the best decision I have ever made.  At CAP there have been lots of opportunities for me to do new things and step outside of my comfort zone.  I won’t say that I have taken all of them, but I try to as much as I can and I have never regretted taking a chance and trying something new.

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

I Chose Service - Rory Magargee, Augustinian Volunteers

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Rory Magargee
Volunteer Program: Augustinian Volunteers 
Location: (Southside) Chicago, IL
Hometown: Bryn Mawr, PA
College: Saint Joseph’s University ‘14, Finance, Risk Management and Insurance

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I first learned about a post-graduate year of service during my formative years in high school through several role models who I looked up to that decided to do a year of service upon graduation. These individuals shared their remarkable experiences with me. In high school, I made a promise to myself that I wanted to do a year of service after graduation, more specifically with the Augustinian Volunteer Program. 

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Augustinian Volunteers? In today’s society, the majority of college students are aware of two options upon graduation: to go back to school and earn an a graduate degree or to secure a job and build a career. There is however a third option, which is definitely the road less traveled, and has an extremely profound impact on not only your life, but all of the lives around you, this option is to dedicate yourself to a post-graduate volunteer program. Upon graduation, I had a job offer with a major insurance carrier located in Philadelphia. I went back and forth for a few days deciding between taking the job or executing the promise I had to myself to join the AV program after graduation as I had always gravitated towards the Augustinian Order as a result of attending an Augustinian High School. I ultimately decided to join the AVs for the simple reason that I knew it would be the biggest regret of my life had I not joined. To this day, the decision to join the AVs is by far the best decision I have ever made in my life because it forced me out of my comfort zone and I learned to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, which is such a powerful tool I carry with me wherever I go.

Tell us about your service experience. I was placed  at St. Rita High School in the South Side of Chicago. St Rita is an Augustinian High School in which over 80% of the student body is on financial aid and is located in a very rough neighborhood in Chicago. I wore many different hats at St. Rita, I worked in the Campus Ministry Department and oversaw the christian service program; I led a group of students to a local soup kitchen every Wednesday night, I was the curator for the St. Rita Shrine Chapel, I coached Flag Football and Lacrosse, I organized and oversaw multiple retreats; I led a service trip over spring break to North Carolina, however, my primary role at the school was to get to know each of the 635 students on a personal level and to support each of them as they navigated high school, the formative years of their lives. 

A major charism of the Augustinian Order is to live in community, a form of intentionally living that fosters growth in each community member through sharing every facet of day-to-day life with the members of your community. The Augustinian Volunteer program expects its participants to live in an Augustinian Community similar to each clerical Augustinian Community. My community consisted of two other Augustinian Volunteers; one coming from Minnesota and the other was from California - which led to a very unique circumstance because on a fundamental level we were all from different parts of the country with very different perspectives and childhoods. Community life was very challenging and forced each member to sacrifice things that we took for granted our entire lives. Community life forced us to truly understand each other and to support each other through our year of service and as a result, was extremely rewarding as I came out of the year as a product of my community.  

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I believe that in today’s society many people tend to forget to analyze their lives and situations. The biggest benefit of my year of service was that it was a year of reflection and self-examination. I feverishly worked towards improving myself in so many ways: spiritually, professionally, emotionally and mentally. I approached my year of service as a year of “yes”, meaning that I would say yes to anything anyone asked of me. This forced me into so many indescribable situations that I was never prepared for, but I was able to learn from these experiences and lend a helping hand to someone in need. This mentality has trickled into my personal and professional life, and I picked up a plethora of experiences with knowledge and skills that I would not have had I continued to divert these requests.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? The biggest piece of advice I can lend to someone considering a post-graduate service is to understand a few ideas all revolve around having an open mind and an open heart.

  • It will be the biggest challenge of your life, you will encounter many difficult scenarios that will help define the person you are and lay the foundation for who you want to become. 
  • It is important to have expectations of the experience, but understand that your expectations will not always align with your service. I had such a wonderful idea in my mind of what my year was going to look like prior to flying out to Chicago and within the first week, that idea got flipped upside down. Instead of complaining about the circumstance, I decided to be present in my placement and to meet each person I served with where they were in life. This was such a wonderful gift because it allowed me to change my perception of the person I am and what my mission is.
  • You will not have all of the answers- but you can always be part of the solution. So many times I was forced into scenarios that I was not prepared for, but through graceful service and working with others, I found ways to make it work.
  • The impact that you have on the individuals and communities you serve will pale in comparison to the impact that the individuals and communities have on your life. Not a day goes by when I don’t revisit a memory from my year of service.


To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I Chose Service - Emmy Smith, MercyWorks Volunteer Program

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Emmy Smith
Volunteer Program: MercyWorks Volunteer Program
Location: Chicago, IL
Hometown: Mitchell, South Dakota 
College: University of South Dakota '16, Criminal Justice and Political Science major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? For me it all started with a google search. I knew I wanted to give a year devoted to service, I just did not know where to start. Google brought me to the Catholic Volunteer Network where I was able to narrow in my search. 

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on MercyWorks? When I was deciding what was next I was between graduate school, a full-time job, and a year of service with MercyWorks. I chose MercyWorks because I wanted the chance to be challenged through experience. I was excited to live in a community invested in values that I cared about. Mostly, the professional development that a year of service offered was monumental to any other opportunity I had. 

Tell us about your service experience. My placement with MercyWorks was rooted in the heart of Chicago where I got the opportunity to work with young men age 11-14 at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. My role as a youth care worker allowed me to meet youth where they were at to give them the best possible therapeutic treatment for them and their families. I got put on a team of hard working, dedicated men and women who were truly inspired by the mission of Speh Home, “ to give wings to Chicago’s children.” Throughout my experience I walked with youth through their daily struggles, successes, and moments of growth. Placement wise, I could not be more thankful for choosing service. There is a certain joy that comes with working with middle school boys that is only available through experience. I got to experience this joy every single day while serving in Speh home. One of my favorite examples of this joy was when one of my youth would ask for a bedtime story and to be tucked in every night. Another when another wanted to create a secret hand shake that has now grown to be 215 steps long. The boys I served made it easy to want to continue coming to work every single day. 

As for my volunteer community experience, I could talk forever about how fortunate I am to have experienced this service year with eleven of the most courageous, dynamic, and servant leader companions. Moving far from home, I did not know what to expect. It was evident from our opening ceremony that we were going to have an amazing year. The men and women I served alongside challenged me daily to grow into my best self. They encouraged me always to shoot for my dreams. Mostly, they supported me through any struggled that happened throughout my year. I am so thankful I chose MercyWorks for giving me a community for life, not just for the year we were serving. 

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? Through this experience I gained monumental personal, profession, and spiritual growth. Mercy Works truly cared about us as individuals and set me up with a network of support. I was giving a professional mentor, spiritual director, as well as the ability to network in the heart of Chicago. MercyWorks made sure to set me up with any opportunity that could help me grow or challenge my perspective, it was my job to say yes to their invitations. I look back at this year and did not know what to expect for professional growth. I am finishing this year with a better understanding of who I am professionally, and what my aspirations are as well as a network to utilize as a begin to search for what to do next. 

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service?  Do it! Do it because every single service program will allow you to flourish in ways you never thought possible. I know that it is scary the idea of not getting paid, especially with the external pressure to make money and pay off debts. However I want to challenge you and ask, how many things worth doing haven’t had a component of being scared? Any program you pick will be paying you in a priceless experience, professional growth, and personal development. You owe it to yourself to be stretched, changed, and to experience God through service.

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

I Chose Service - Diana Lockett, Lasallian Volunteers

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.



Name: Diana Lockett
Volunteer Program: LasallianVolunteers
Location: Maria Kaupas Center, Chicago, IL
Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee
College: Christian Brothers University '16, Psychology major

I first learned about Lasallian Volunteers my freshman year in college. Initially, I could not think about living in another city without family or some type of support system. So, I never gave the program another thought until the end of my junior year. I never made a concrete decision to be a part of the program until the first semester of my senior year. If I had not become a Lasallian Volunteer I would have continued my job at Creative Life, a faith-based non-profit organization assisting with low income families in South Memphis. Also, during that process I would have been trying to figure out what my next step, which is Graduate School. However, I chose a year of service. The big thing that caught my attention was being able to live in a new city. I have been in Memphis all of my life living in the same house since I was born. I just could not pass up on an opportunity that allowed me to live in a new environment with a huge amount of support during the process. It was difficult for me to leave my grandma behind and the non-profit organization that I have been a part of since I was in the 8th grade. I knew deep inside that if I had stayed in Memphis that I wouldn't be happy and that it was time for to branch out and experience some things. 

During the Lasallian Volunteers orientation, I saw a quote that said, "A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there." That quote has stayed with me this entire service year because it summed up how I felt when I decided to make this big decision to move to Chicago. I do not regret at all deciding to be a part of this program, I have met so many different types of people from different backgrounds. I am learning more about different cultures from listening to fellow LVs, De La Salle Christian Brothers and the staff at my placement, the Maria Kaupas Center. I have learned about Restorative Justice Peace Circles and how it is useful in helping students gain effective listening skills and allowing them to feel that they are being heard. I have seen beautiful scenery in Albany, New York during our Midyear retreat. I have a lot of interesting stories to tell about the encounters I have had on the public transit here in Chicago. 

I would say to anybody that I have definitely grown as a person in this program and I never plan to stop growing as a person. If anybody is considering doing service after college I would say do it. There is so much to gain from a year of service. You are not only gaining an interesting experience but you are also giving your talents and time to people that may have never received anything from anyone. It feels good to do the best that you can to make a person's day better because you never know what they are dealing with on the regular basis at home. That beautiful place that you had in our comfort zone is definitely beautiful but you will never grow there. In the process of growing outside of your comfort zone you are helping others to grow with you. Now that is beautiful!

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

I Chose Service - Kalene Weber, Mercy Volunteer Corps

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.


Name: Kalene Weber
Volunteer Program: Mercy Volunteer Corps
Location: Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD
Hometown: Park Falls, WI
College: Viterbo University '16, Nursing major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I first heard about Mercy Volunteer Corps on Facebook.  

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Mercy Volunteer Corps? I could have gotten a job right out of college, or I could have done a different service program. I knew in my heart that I was being called to volunteer, and after looking into MVC more, I knew that I was being called to serve with this organization.

Tell us about your service experience. I am a nurse at Mercy Medical Center on the mother/baby unit. I work as a nurse in the clinical setting, but I also help with other projects such as car seat education and a NICU parent support group. I live in community with three other volunteers. We spend the evenings and weekends together exploring Baltimore and the surrounding areas. It is a blessing to have my community members by my side through this experience because they are living out the Mercy values with me, and we can encourage and support each other through the good and bad times.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise?  I have gained a lot of personal development in having to learn to advocate for myself. Not everybody understands what I do as a volunteer or why I volunteer (especially as a nurse), so I have to explain myself a lot and hold true to my values even when people question me.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service?  I think that post-graduate service is something to really pray and contemplate about. It is not always easy, but it is rewarding to know that you are helping in ways that are, at times, unknown to you. Plus, it is a great way to experience a new city, culture, and meet new people!  


To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Friday, April 28, 2017

I Chose Service - Maika Hefflefinger, Red Cloud Indian School Volunteer Program

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Maika Hefflefinger
Location: Pine Ridge, South Dakota
Hometown: Ukiah, CA
College: U.C. Berkeley '12, Molecular & Cellular Biology major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I was researching volunteer opportunities that would have given more meaning and purpose to the current comforts of living in San Francisco at the time. I came across the Catholic Volunteer Network website and the urgent request for teachers on an indian reservation in South Dakota, which is where I discovered the Red Cloud Indian School Volunteer Program. Little did I know at the time, it would change my life.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on serving with Red Cloud? After I learned about the program from the volunteer coordinator, Maka Clifford, I would have just a few days before I would need to decide if I would pursue this volunteer opportunity and put in my two-week notice at the health company I was working for in downtown San Francisco. I've always wanted to work on an indian reservation with having Cherokee roots myself, and after I found out how much need there was on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, with both the hardships of poverty and rural living, I wanted to join in Red Cloud's mission as a Lakota and Jesuit Catholic School as a Middle School Math Teacher.

Tell us about your volunteer experience. Initially with my background in Biology and Health, I was placed as a Middle School Science Teacher, but since rural teaching positions can be difficult to fill especially by teachers who are certified and with the first day of school fast-approaching, I was asked to help as a Math Teacher in the Middle School. Teaching math and the volunteer experience had it's challenges, but many of which were outweighed by the daily reward of providing a safe and joyous space for the students to come and learn each day. Some of our students may face challenges in their home and personal lives, so to keep that in mind when teaching is so important in keeping your instruction, agenda, and affinity to control - flexible - depending on the day.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? This experience has been life-changing and character-building. Through this experience, you truly learn TO GIVE to your students in the faculty of teaching, bussing them to and from school, facilitating after school programs, and maybe even coaching;. Additionally, you give to your house community through housekeeping and making a weekly meal alongside your greater volunteer community (22 volunteers this year and many more school staff) through support and encouragement in friendship. Living rurally and being in such a close-knit community at Red Cloud, I was able to develop spiritually and personally through attending daily mass, forming friendships with the Jesuit Fathers and Notre Dame, and experiencing the Lakota ceremonial traditions such as Sweat Lodge.  Overall, this experience has really helped me to practice and make concrete the values of selflessness, community, and service as I look forward to the upcoming years. I'm very glad I decided to take time away from the city to experience South Dakota and the Red Cloud Community, and remember what truly matters - giving in friendship and community.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? I believe that everyone would benefit from volunteering or doing service at least once in their life. This experience is not easy physically nor emotionally. But if you keep the mindset that you will have hard days, but you also have a community here that loves you and will support you in friendship, you can get through those hard days and rejoice in the good ones. If you want teaching experience, while picking up other skills that you never thought you would (like getting a CDL license), this may be the volunteer experience for you! The trip out here is definitely worthwhile if you are seeking growth personally, spiritually, and in community. We foster giving here and believe me, you will learn that! With an open mind and an open heart, this experience can be life-changing and life-giving for you too, just as it was for me. :)

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

I Chose Service - Carson Stevens, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Carson Stevens
Location: Honduras, Central America
Hometown: Gloucester, MA
College: Clark University, '13, History major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I knew that Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos served a lot of its functions with post-grad, international volunteers and met several people who had served in Peace Corps and that sort of work.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on NPH? I did not look or consider anywhere else. I felt a calling to be at NPH for a year.

Tell us about your service experience. I had the impression that most people applying to be a volunteer with NPH prefer countries besides Honduras due to the public perception of safety concerns there.  Because of a personal connection, I wanted to go to Honduras.  That being said, NPH tries it best to put someone WHERE they want, doing WHAT they want to do. However, some of the most successful experiences are doing SOMETHING SOMEWHERE one does not request/expect to find success in.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise?  I was able to improve my Spanish speaking skills from very low to pretty competent, work with wonderful kids of different ages and abilities and learn about a culture completely different than my own. I found myself somewhere where religion (Christianity, though as Catholic as I had grown up thinking Central America was) is central to almost everyone´s life...something quite new for me.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? DO IT. I believe that post-graduate service is the best thing one can do immediately after graduation for several reasons. One, service in a new, preferably foreign, environment forces one to leave their comfort zone. The departure from one´s comfort zone will create growth that is not easily acquired in any other experience. A foreign language is a great example: you adapt to your environment because you HAVE to. Not having a choice in the matter has a certain charm, and it actually takes the pressure off. Two, service to OTHERS can be very rewarding. Doing something that is asked of you instead of what you want to do can be quite humbling as a Westerner...making it that much more valuable. Three, do it now because it can lead you to your "CAREER" a lot better informed and skilled than if you had not done it.

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

I Chose Service - Abigail Cerezo, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry

When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.

Name: Abigail Cerezo
Volunteer Program: Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry
Location: Baltimore, MD
Hometown: Barrington, RI
College: Stonehill College, 2016, Biochemistry with a concentration in the pre-med track

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I’ve always known about the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps through people I grew up with, but I was really introduced to more opportunities in post-grad service when I went to Stonehill. I was very active in my campus ministry’s service immersion program (HOPE) for 3 years. Before students could leave on their trips we had months of education, conversation, and reflection about what Christian service is. During that time we always had one seminar about the “O” in HOPE, organizing for justice. In that space our campus minister had alumni come and talk to us about post-grad service and how we could organize for justice after our HOPE trip came to an end.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Bon Secours? I only applied to one post-grad service organization, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry.

Tell us about your service experience. I was placed as a patient liaison within the acute in-patient unit of Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital in West Baltimore. I practice a ministry of presence with my patients. I did not realize how difficult this would be. Hearing my patients’ stories of their struggles and pains pulls at my heartstrings every day. Despite the challenge of simply being a witness to their suffering, I feel God’s presence strongly when I create and nurture these relationships. My patients have taught me so many lessons about life, faith, and hope, and they make me want to come back to work every day.

Community life has been one of the most difficult parts of my year of service. Putting six people with different upbringings, cultures, and personalities sounds like a recipe for disaster. But in my experience, all the struggles are worth the laughs, smiles, and growth the community shares throughout the year. My community helps me through my difficulties at my service site, my fears for the future, and any other obstacle that may come my way. They have become my Baltimore family and I am extremely grateful for them.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I believe that I have grown in my listening and interpersonal skills. The main part of my job involves meeting and interacting with new people, and to listen to my patients with compassion and understanding. Sometimes it can be difficult, but I have developed a lot of patience and understanding from difficult circumstances.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? I think people considering post-graduate service should take the discernment process slowly and seriously. Doing a year of service has been the most difficult feat in my life thus far, but with that, I have grown volumes in the time I have been in Baltimore. You need to be okay with constantly stepping out of your comfort zone, breaking down your walls to become vulnerable with others, and allowing yourself to receive. It has been a challenging journey, but if you’re open to the experience, you won’t regret it.

To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.