Saturday, December 16, 2017

"He Came for Testimony" Advent Reflection by Katie Delaney, Lasallian Volunteers & Good Shepherd Volunteers

In this annual series, current and former volunteers reflect on the Advent Gospels and the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: Social Justice, Simplicity, Community and Spirituality. Presented by Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network.

Third Week of Advent

Reflection by: Katie Delaney, Former Lasallian Volunteer & Former Good Shepherd Volunteer

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him. (John 1:6-8)

The first word that comes to mind upon reading this Gospel is humility. In response to questions from the priests and Levites, John explains that he baptizes not as Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, but as “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord’.” John is so quick to point out this distinction, so quick to give credit where he feels credit is due. Reflecting back to my years of service as a Lasallian Volunteer and Good Shepherd Volunteer, I think I could have used a slice of this humble pie. How often did I consider myself “the light,” taking on the responsibility to serve, or save, the communities I entered? How often did I fail to see the parts of myself that needed saving, and that this saving work was never really mine to begin with? 

Thanks to time, perspective, and most of all, the grace of God and those I have encountered, I continue to be humbled - moved beyond a sense of my self-righteousness, and into a space of more authentic listening, learning, and loving. These moments, in all their discomfort and vulnerability, become my testimony; through the gift of growth, I can “testify to the light.”

Katie Delaney (bottom right) serving with Good Shepherd Volunteers in Chile, delivering a Namaste blessing
with the Raìces de la Paz (Roots of Peace) women’s group she helped facilitate.
Focus on CommunityIn this Gospel, the questions posed by John’s community invite him to name who he is and what he is about. Community often provides this challenge and gift - holding a mirror up to our past, present, and future and reflecting how all these complexities meld and meet the world. How do your communities help you own your truth? In community, how can we help each other “testify to the light” within?

Service SuggestionSpend some time reflecting upon someone in your community who has helped you grow more into who you aspire to be. Write a note of appreciation, take them out to coffee, or find some unique way to affirm them and acknowledge the influence they have had. 

PrayerOur Power to Bless One Another by John O'Donohue (Excerpt from To Bless the Space Between Us) 

In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well. It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plenitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness. In the light and reverence of blessing, a person or situation becomes illuminated in a completely new way. In a dead wall a new window opens, in dense darkness a path starts to glimmer, and into a broken heart healing falls like morning dew. It is ironic that so often we continue to live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast. The quiet eternal that dwells in our souls is silent and subtle; in the activity of blessing it emerges to embrace and nurture us. Let us begin to learn how to bless one another. Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.

- Katie Delaney

Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Advent Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Advent resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Day in the Life: Jessica Vozella - St. Joseph Worker Program - Los Angeles, CA

Jessica is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Jessica and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!

It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Friday. I get in the driver’s seat of my volunteer community’s Toyota Corolla and wait until all of my fellow community members get in. Today is a program day; one of the special days that my program, the St. Joseph Worker Program in LA, provides its volunteers to experience service and formation in spirituality, leadership, justice, and community.

While each community member works in a different location throughout the year, on program days we go together to visit one of these locations. Today, as a group, we will drive to where I work every day in Venice, CA. I am the only volunteer from my program placed at the Homeless Service Center at St. Joseph Center, which was started by the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Every day I travel to the center and work alongside other case managers as we serve Los Angeles - the city that is home to the most individuals experiencing homelessness in the nation.

This program day will be focused on Bread and Roses, the restaurant-style meal site at the Homeless Service Center. As I drive, my community members sing and dance in the car to “What Lovers Do” by Maroon 5 feat. Sza - our new jam - despite the very early hour. It’s amazing to me that they can have so much energy, while I can barely keep my cool in the infamous LA traffic. However, I am excited to serve alongside them at my service site -- the site I have come to love over the past two months.

A table fully set at Bread and Roses Cafe.
As we pull up to Bread and Roses, we see our program director, Sister Judy, who is always ready to greet us with a warm hug before we get to work. At Bread and Roses, we serve the clients of St. Joseph’s- many of whom I am delighted to know by name- a hot meal with milk, juice, and fruit. Unsurprisingly, Sister Judy knows all of the support staff at the site, and with those she doesn’t, she is quick to introduce herself. In this simple way, she embodies community and care for the neighbor while inspiring me to do the same, especially at the Homeless Service Center.

A picture before serving at Bread and Roses Café. Featured are some regular volunteers, as well as Chef James in the middle and Sous-Chef CJ on the left. Sister Judy joins us for the picture with her signature smile. While they usually don’t take pictures as much as Sister Judy does, the Bread and Roses volunteers and staff love where they work, and those smiles are as real as they get!

During the week, I meet with clients each day, orienting new members, and working to find housing for those who have already been through our doors. This program has thrown me head first into a new world of gray- where nothing is black and white, and I must lean on my coworkers for information, support, and encouragement daily. Clients deal with so many hardships that joy is difficult to find. The most impressionable experiences I have are listening to clients describe their lives, needs, or experiences, and watching them walk away just a little lighter. For example, one of my first clients was a single mother living in her car. She had a child with a medical condition and was recovering from trauma at the hands of an abusive partner. She shared her story with me with such genuine emotion that I found myself with wet eyes. It was hard knowing that I could only fill out more paperwork and explain the process ahead toward housing. However, at the end of this meeting, she hugged me and squeezed my hand with a “thank you,” reminding me that our interaction mattered.

Though my days at the center are always full of new experiences, this program day is unusually busy and exhausting. Working at Bread and Roses is fast paced, but allows me to engage with many clients in a different setting – they are not in the office, but sitting down to eat. They are treated with the dignity each person deserves, but which they seldom encounter in their daily lives, and smile and laugh with one another over the delicious meal. This is what the Sisters of St. Joseph talk about when they say that they “serve the dear neighbor without distinction.”

Various snapshots of the day with my community serving at Bread and Roses. I wish we could serve here together every day!

Left to right: Angelica and Molly setting the table for the second serving of the day, Michaella and Manny cleaning up after a full service, and me and Chef James.

After lunch, we head to St. Joseph’s main center, where Sister Judy has arranged for us to hear from Va Lecia, the Executive Director of St. Joseph Center. Va Lecia’s story is rich with faith and illustrates powerful female leadership that our program seeks to encourage and grow.

The presence of leadership, spirituality, and community doesn’t end as we complete our program day. We drive to the Carondelet Center, the center for senior sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Once we arrive, we are officially commissioned into our year of service through a communal prayer service and an introduction to the Sisters. We also pray for the other St. Joseph Workers across the country in our program, uniting us together.

We clean up nice (and quickly!) for our Commissioning in St. Joseph Chapel at the Carondelet Center.
Left to Right: Molly, Angelica, Michaella, Myself, and Anh
We are sent off into our year with a blessing and the gift of a Celtic cross necklace, the official symbol for our program. This symbol reminds us of our four pillars of our program - spirituality, justice, community, and leadership – as well as our strong faith in God’s vision for justice in our world. We end the day with the knowledge that we are continually held in prayer by the sisters, and head home to a long night of sleep after an incredibly busy day!

Blog update and prayer request: Since writing this blog, my community has been impacted by the fires in Southern California that have been burning close to Los Angeles over the past week. To date, our community remains safe and we have embraced the Sisters of St. Joseph's charism of caring for the dear neighbor by welcoming four sisters to stay with us. Their living facility was evacuated due to its proximity to the Skirball fire near Bel Air, LA. Amidst the challenge of this evacuation, we did enjoy lively dinner conversations and sharing stories with them over the time of their stay and are grateful for the connection our community has with the congregation. Fortunately, the sisters were able to return to their home on Sunday, December 12th. At this time, we would ask you for your prayers for safety and a quick end to this natural disaster as well as for those who have been immediately affected by the fires across California. We would also implore you to join our prayers for a global awakening to our earth's climate change and the need to take action. Thank you!

Jessica, a current St. Joseph Worker, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

"He Will Prepare Your Way" Advent Reflection by Patrick Hubbard, Sojourners Intern

In this annual series, current and former volunteers reflect on the Advent Gospels and the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: Social Justice, Simplicity, Community and Spirituality. Presented by Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network.

Second Week of Advent

Reflection by: Patrick Hubbard, The Sojourners Internship Program

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. 

What does it mean to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”? The images it conjures, as well as the expectation it sets for those of us anticipating Christ’s coming, are those of restoration and justice. Isaiah follows his initial exhortation with a description of a grand even-ing of the world; the hills lowered, the valleys raised. As God approaches, everything equalizes before Him. Isaiah calls this good news, a sure sign of God’s presence. God descends to Earth, gathering His flock and removing the physical barriers between Himself and those He loves.

His presence is so powerful that all else fades away; the elements are dissolved by fire and even the heavens pass. All else diminishes, leaving only God and His flock. We see that John, the emissary tasked with preparing the way of the Lord, kept to the wilderness, letting others come to him, away from the city and the busyness of life, their homes and their cleanliness and their comforts. He cried out in the wilderness, signifying that God’s arrival carries weight independent of human society. His cry shows us that God’s arrival draws us away from where we are settled, into a place where all that matters is His Advent. In the wilderness, we see the true significance of God’s glory, revealed as dominion over and restoration of the world and its people.

Focus on Simplicity: The call to prepare the way of the Lord rings with the imagery of simplicity. God is described as flattening out the entire earth, laying low the mountains and raising up the valleys, until all that remains is His presence. John the Baptist lived in the desert, keeping to the simplicity of insects and rough garments. When God’s people yield to Him and make straight His paths, they see nothing but Him, and celebrate the wondrous simplicity of what it means to depend on the Lord. The simplest lifestyle is the removal of all superfluities, until all that is left is the presence of God our savior. Making straight His paths, in its truest form, is the distillation of life unto its most essential quality: the encounter with the divine. In all His complication, beauty, and incomprehensibility, God is really quite simple. He brings healing and redemption, and all else fades away.

Service Suggestion: If we are to truly make straight a highway for the Lord, then it is paved with our acts of service and love. Justice shall walk before Him, the scripture says—we are that justice, the foretaste of the truth that shall spring out of the earth. Those who flocked to John received healing and baptism, inclusion into the community of God. This Advent, we should seek out ways to welcome others into our communities, those who may not share our luxuries of warm homes, family reunions, or lavish feasts. We can open our homes to acquaintances, non-family members, or strangers, and listen to the needs and sorrows of our neighbors who may not see any reason to celebrate. We should make sure that no one spends the season in isolation, in such small ways we are able, by offering things from encouragement, to food, to a place to sleep, to a listening ear

Prayer: God, help us to rest in your presence, and celebrate rather than supplement your simplicity. Instill in us the desire to prepare your way—to love, to heal, to be healed, and to celebrate the reduction of life until all that remains is you. As we await your coming this Advent season, let us go out to you in the wilderness to see your glory together. Transform us into followers who mimic you in your redemption of the world you so lovingly brought into being, and even now sustain. And may all this be for your glory, so that all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Amen.

Patrick Hubbard

Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Advent Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Advent resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Day in the Life: Allison Reynolds - Good Shepherd Volunteers

Allie is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Allie and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!

Our new "frenemies," the parrots, at
the Mariposario in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
The sound of a parrot mimicking its sounds at a sheep, who “bahs” back, is my alarm clock every morning around 6:30 AM. I get out of bed, go to the bathroom, and check for water. I turn the faucet handle - no water. This is the outcome at least three times a week. I know this means I have to use the bucket of water, which my community member, Andrea Gaitan, and I fill on other days when we are privileged with water. We use this bucket to brush our teeth, wash our hands, fill the septic tank so we are able to flush the toilet, clean clothes, our faces, floors, and walls, and to boil for drinking water. The water is not safe to drink from the sink, which leads us to spend our Sunday nights recycling the water bottles we acquired from the week before to fill them with boiled, healthy drinking water for our upcoming week. Starting our mornings in this discouraging way can lead me to think: why did I choose this life? Why did I choose to live in a place where the water is not safe to drink, and the air is so thin from the 9,000 ft. altitude that I lose my breath going up stairs?

As these thoughts and questions cross my mind after leaving our apartment, we enter a bus, paying the driver 1.50BS (Bolivianos) for the ride. The journey to work takes about 30 minutes, as we pick up many children catching a ride to school. As the ride continues, it gets very crowded with people hanging out the door and windows. You quickly learn there are no bus stops or stop lights. This leads to the honking language heard everywhere; HONK from the taxi to let you know they are available, HONK HONK from the car going through the intersection to let other cars know they are there, HONK from a car while you are walking on the side walk so you know not to cross the street at that time. "Vamos a bajar," we tell the driver as we come to our stop, to let him know we will be getting off. As we exit the bus, I’m still wondering why I left the world of luxury the United States easily provides. Then we enter our workspace, and I am answered with why I am here. 

One of the Sayariy Warmi participants making a scarf.
We work at Sayariy Warmi, a name written in Quechua - an indigenous language that a majority of people here speak. Quechua is extremely different from Spanish, which can lead to difficulties in communication at times. Translated to Spanish, Sayariy Warmi means Lavantate Mujer, and roughly translated to English it means Rising Woman or Woman Rise Up. Sayariy Warmi is a place where women suffering from domestic violence can come claim their independence. The program provides classes ranging from sewing to computer skills, and I am currently helping the program create a group of women leaders to learn about women's rights in politics. Andrea is working with the psychologist and helping with the social work of this program. I have spent most of my first month learning the language, politics, economics of my new country, and other various helpful skills in order to do my job. Because I am still learning Spanish, when I am presented with a woman who speaks Quechua the communication level becomes even more difficult. 

Andrea (left) and I exploring Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
While learning about my job, the work environment in Bolivia has proved to be quite the opposite from the work place in the United States. Here, there is not always internet, sometimes there is no water, with transportation difficulties people tend to be late (where as the United Sates culture is to try to arrive 15 minutes early), the lunch break is two hours long and the most important meal of the day, and every day around 3:00 PM it is cultural protocol to have tea and bread with jelly. Andrea and I are lucky to eat lunch with Sisters of the Good Shepherd every day. Working in different conditions than I am used to has taught me to be flexible, to understand that this is the way Bolivians know how to do their jobs, and that there is always a way to figure out how to do something in Bolivia. 

While I am learning how to deal with new ways to work, there are also the communities we serve. Along with the women's center, our other Sayariy Warmi communities are in various places. One is in a place called Barrio Bolivia, in the mountainside. These families live in tiny square houses with no water, electricity, or bathrooms. In order to own a house, the family has to have at least five children; I know of family who has a Mom, Dad, Grandma, and nine children sharing a home without basic necessities and different farm animals running around. In Barrio Bolivia we have a Comedor, dining room, for 47 children from the Chalice program to have a safe place to eat and complete their homework. Chalice is a program where families from Canada sponsor children to help provide for their needs. This dining room provides lunch and dinner, and other volunteers offer homework help and games. 

The Sayariy Warmi team planning.
A different children's center, which also happens to be where Andrea and I live, provides an educational care center for other children of the Chalice program. Right now there are around 50 children ranging from ages two to eight who come every week-day from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM - a day filled with different lessons, games, snack, lunch, and of course, tea time. These children are not always clean, might come from tight living conditions (most houses in this area have seven families in one building, with one bathroom to share), and might have to wear the same clothes day after day. It’s clear that they are poor. But, I learn so much from them as they generously share with me their tiny, fun personalities and laughter. Serving these communities helps me realize at the end of the day how lucky and blessed we are for the days we do have water and other little successes here, and for the life I have been privileged to live in the United States.

When I get home from my workday, I reflect on the day we just had. There are days where I feel a lot of anger, sadness and shock; other days are filled with success and joy. Either way my workday ends, it leaves me thankful for the way my life has been and wish we could do more for these families. It is hard for me to understand how at home in the United States, I can order a new pair of socks on Amazon Prime expecting them in the same day or the next without ever leaving the comfort of my bed, while these families walk miles to go to stores for basic necessities such as socks, water, food, school or any other thing you might think of. These people are working so hard just to live the simplest life. As my nights close with these new mind-boggling thoughts, they tend to end early as I go to sleep around 9:00 or 10:00 PM to be able to wake up to the parrot the next day, awaiting my next Bolivian adventure.

Allie, a current Good Shepherd Volunteer, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

"Be Alert!" Advent Reflection by Shaina Glasgow, Cap Corps Volunteer

In this annual series, current and former volunteers reflect on the Advent Gospels and the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: Social Justice, Simplicity, Community and Spirituality. Presented by Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network.

First Week of Advent

Reflection by: Shaina Glasgow, Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps - Cap Corps

Jesus said to his disciples: "Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”

In my current service placement in the Emergency Room at St. Vincent’s Charity Hospital, it is crucial to be alert and aware of your surroundings. There are indeed dull, lagging moments—but in less than two minutes you can have every room filled, EMS bringing in a full cardiac arrest, and a handful of patients streaming into the waiting room. If you aren’t aware of what is going on around you, it becomes difficult to jump in and assist fellow staff in caring for patients.

When reading this Sunday’s Gospel, I am reminded that this same awareness is crucial for growth in our personal relationship with Christ. It is important to be mindful of Christ’s presence in the midst of everyday busyness. If we are not watchful to the point of being expectant of an encounter with God, then it is easy to miss opportunities to deepen our relationship with Christ. 

Yet how can we listen to, or speak with, God amidst the craziness of our workday? Within each interaction we encounter with those around us lies an invitation from God. He may invite us to respond with love, compassion, gentle correction, understanding, or patience, for example. I believe the secret to becoming attentive to God’s voice is silence. In the mystery of silence, we become aware of the ever-present God and train our hearts to more easily recognize Him internally even when our external world is not silent. Prayer is a great way to practice silence. We can simply acknowledge that God is with us, and allow ourselves to rest in that—no thoughts, just us and God.

Focus on Social Justice: How can we use this awareness to better serve the poor or those in our community both this year and in the future? Many of us closely encounter populations (refugees, addicts, the homeless, etc.) that daily face the consequences of social injustice. It is important for us who serve these populations to be aware of the sociopolitical situations currently affecting their lives. If we choose to do this, to become educated about the ways others are underserved or mistreated, then we can become more attentive and sensitive to their physical and emotional needs. We may even become an example to our coworkers, or others, of how to better interact with and serve those who are often misunderstood in our society.

Service Suggestion: One important aspect of being watchful is to get rid of distractions. A practical way to do this, aside from prayer, could be to silence cell phones when at work. This is tough, especially if nothing particularly stimulating is happening. Instead, try to be alert and present. Ask your coworkers (or those you are serving) if you can do anything to help. Look around for little odd-jobs that sometimes get neglected (for example, cleaning up a messy area). Perhaps you can simply start a conversation with someone sitting or standing near you by asking “How is your day,” and genuinely listening to their response. You’ll get to know your coworkers and those you serve more intimately, and open a lot of doors for yourself (and others) to encounter Christ.

Prayer for Silence, by Thomas Merton
Lady, Queen of Heaven,
pray me into solitude and silence and unity,
that all my ways may be immaculate in God.
Let me be content with whatever darkness surrounds me,
finding him always by me, in his mercy.
Let me keep silence in this world,
except in so far as God wills and in the way he wills it.
Let me at least disappear into the writing I do.
It should mean nothing special to me,
nor harm my recollection.
The work could be a prayer;
its results should not concern me.

- Shaina Glasgow

Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Advent Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Advent resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Day in the Life: Melissa Feito - Loretto Volunteers

Melissa is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Melissa and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!

The famous green cabinets of the Junia House kitchen.

Our host Maureen, our senior producer Laura, and myself watching the solar eclipse on my very first day of work.

The view of our street from my bedroom, early in the morning.

Myself and my two housemates on a hike on our fall retreat day. That's not our dog, we just know the owner and took her with us. 

This is a screenshot of what this entire piece looks like on the software I used to make it. This is called a multitrack. Each little green box is a sound clip that I have isolated from all the tape I collected, labeled, and as you see have arranged into what you hear in the final piece. The zig-zag lines within each box are the volume levels which have to be manipulated. The first row is mostly dialogue, the second row is music and sound effects, and the third row is more music.The red needle down the middle marks where you are listening to the multitrack. Everything on the right hand side are all the files I've used in this multitrack.

Melissa, a current Loretto Volunteer, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Introducing our Serving with Sisters Ambassadors!

Many CVN programs offer volunteers the chance to live and work alongside men and women religious. This experience, whether one week or one year in length, is a unique opportunity to experience the rich charism of religious communities, grow in faith through prayer, lend a hand to their ministries in service to the poor, and develop long-lasting relationships. CVN's Serving with Sisters Ambassadors bring awareness to current volunteers’ journeys of spirituality, social justice, community, and simplicity in CVN member programs sponsored by Catholic sisters. Through creative reflection, conversation, and experience, Ambassadors share the joy, energy and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters. Stay tuned to hear from CVN Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

Meet our 2017-2018 Ambassadors! 

Melissa Feito
Hometown: Miami, FL
College: Tufts University
Volunteer program: Loretto Volunteers
Placement site: Interfaith Voices- Washington, D.C.
One word to describe your service year: Gumptious 

Ada Lee
Hometown: Queens, NY
College: St. John's University (B.S.; M.B.A.)
Volunteer program: Vincentian Service Corps West
Placement site: Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep - San Francisco
One word to describe your service year: Creative

Catherine Nguyen
Hometown:  Annandale, VA 
College:  George Mason University
Volunteer program: St. Joseph Worker Program – Orange, CA
Placement site: Saint Anne Catholic School
One Word to describe your service year:  Renewal 

Allison Reynolds
Hometown: Penfield, NY
College: Le Moyne College
Volunteer program: Good Shepherd Volunteers
Placement site: Sayariy Warmi - Bolivia
One word to describe your service year: Humbling

Jessica Vozella
Hometown: Boston, MA
College: College of the Holy Cross
Volunteer program: St. Joseph Worker Program - Los Angeles, CA
Placement site: St. Joseph Center - Homeless Service Center
One word to describe your year of service: Inviting

The Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

To Give Fully of Oneself

By Ali Kenny, Amigos de Jesus

This particular experience took place five nights before my return from Amigos de Jesus to the United States, during my last night of turno (the term we used for the shift when the caretaking staff had to spend a night sleeping with the kids in their dorm).

“Ok ladies,” I started. “I want to make sure that you all know what these next few days are going to look like. Tonight is my last night of turno. On Saturday, the hogar (home) is having a going away party for us volunteers. Monday will be my last night here and then on Tuesday morning, I’ll be leaving…for a long time.” There was a titter of disapproval as a few girls began processing out loud.

“Girls, girls,” I called out, “we can talk more about this tomorrow morning. And remember what I said about crying? We can’t do it yet because we have so many fun things to do before I go.”

“When can we start crying Ali?” asked Savana.

I smiled and said, “On Monday Susie Q. We can all cry on Monday.”

I walked to each of the girls’ beds, handing out the gummy vitamins that I brought each time I had turno. “And because it’s my last turno,” I announced, “everyone gets two vitamins tonight!” A cheer of tiny voices rang out against the cement walls of the dorm.

Once everyone had their second gummy vitamin in hand or mouth, I proceeded to read a bedtime story. Girls started drifting off to sleep, with the sounds of whispers and giggles fading into the night. I began the second book only to see less and less heads peep out of the bunk beds to look at each page’s pictures. I finished reading, turned off the dorm lights, and laid down with a sigh. Within seconds, four girls approached the bed. Elena literally jumped on top of me, snuggling into my right side, Ariana slipped into the bed on my left, Francisca started stroking my hair, with Natasha next her, leaning into my face with a goofy smile. Four seconds flat.

My mind started racing. I just got rid of my last bout of lice…Elena and Ariana definitely have it. I don’t want lice again! I’m not going to get any sleep. Shoot. Tomorrow is going to be a very long day. Ariana could wet the bed, she hasn’t been doing very well with the pee chart lately. Oh Francisca, your hands are so dirty. I hope they all don’t make too much noise and wake the other girls. Then suddenly, all those thoughts simply stopped. I felt like God had given me the energy and the desire to take it all on; to let these girls have me in the way that they needed me in that moment. I did make Elena and Ariana scoot down so they wouldn’t be sleeping on my pillow, and I did ask Ariana to use the bathroom. But then after that, I just laid there, on my back with both arms around these two girls I had given my life to for the past year, crying as Francisca caressed my face and as Natasha rested her head on my shoulder.

I felt like a gaping chasm, so vulnerable in its openness, but so free in it too, as if I could swallow anything with my self and manage it just fine; thinking that the selfish ways by which I had guarded myself against these girls seemed so foolish. I wanted all of them in this moment, I wanted these girls to fall into me and land safely in the special place that I had been preparing for them all year.

Francisca left fairly quickly. I was surprised she had even shown me that much affection as we weren’t particularly close. Elena immediately fell asleep; she must have been even more tired than I was! Natasha darted around the bed every few minutes, only to spring up right next to my face again. At one point she circled the bed with her arm touching my body, outlining me with her little fingers. After a few minutes I beckoned Natasha close and told her that I love her. She told me that she loved me too, and then quietly climbed into her own bed.

That left me with Ariana, who was clearly still awake, as she was cooing and wriggling around next to me. I pulled her in close, this little girl who taught me the importance of sensitivity, affection, and patience; this little girl who showed me what kind of mother I wanted to be for my own children; this little girl who God made perfect.

“Usted es mi mami,” Ariana murmured as she fell into her own dreamland, as she fell into her own place within me. And for the first time, I felt like I could, perhaps, be worthy of the name.

To learn more about service opportunities through Amigos de Jesus, please click here.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Who knew cornflakes could make you cry?

By Kimmie Fink, NPH USA International Volunteer Program

Who knew cornflakes could make you cry? Upon my return from my year as a volunteer teacher at El Rancho Santa Fe (Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos’ home for orphaned and abandoned children in Honduras), I remember visiting my hometown grocery store and feeling completely overwhelmed. The sheer number of choices on the shelf left me in tears. I gained more than I gave as a volunteer, becoming enriched in friendships I still hold dear and learning about myself, but what I value most is what volunteering taught me about humility and gratitude.

When I left for the Ranch, I’d been teaching for seven years. Already National Board Certified and Teacher of the Year, I was a bigshot teacher and figured I had this year in the bag. When my supervisor in the Montessori school shared that the previous coordinator had not wanted me to come because I was a “know-it-all,” I was horrified. In that moment, I decided that I couldn’t let my pride be an issue. I jumped in willingly to all my teaching duties, including sweeping and mopping the floor, distributing watermelon for snack, and checking heads for nits. When I got back to teaching in the U.S., I swore I would never again utter the words, “That’s not my job.”

The part of my role I enjoyed most was being a mentor to the teenage girls. I spend my evenings and every other weekend in hogar, getting my hair braided, helping with homework, and just listening. After spending the night there, I contracted lice. I was embarrassed, but I was soon overcome by the kindness my girls showed me. They washed my hair with special shampoo, dried it with their towels, and combed it with their brushes. It was an incredibly humbling experience, and it gave me a great deal of perspective about how other people live, and the dignity with which all people deserve to be treated.

Spending a year in Honduras certainly made me a better teacher, but perhaps more important, it’s made me a better parent. When you volunteer for NPH, you learn to live simply. I used one plate the entire year, and I could delight my girls with a new bar of soap for each of them. I worry that children in this country are over-stimulated and even entitled. As I raise my daughter, who turns 2 next month, I want her to appreciate what she has. I hope she’ll grow up to be like my friend’s 8-year-old, who on her birthday, asked for bags of cat and dog food to be donated to the local animal shelter. We’re a military family, and we hope that our travels take us abroad so that our daughter can learn from diverse experiences and perspectives.

Volunteering abroad also made me confront the privileges bestowed upon me as a citizen of the United States. I have a passport that can take me anywhere. A Honduran friend struggled to get a visa even though he’d been accepted to a college program here. I have reliable access to emergency services. The year I served, a young pequeña died on the way to the hospital in Tegucigalpa. I am relatively safe walking around the streets of my city. Friends of mine have been assaulted and mugged in the streets of the capital. There’s nothing quite like coming home to make you realize how good you have it.

I am thankful for the life with which I’ve been blessed, but I don’t think gratitude is enough. I would argue that it is with privilege (as well as power) that comes great responsibility. It’s why I’ve continued to be involved with NPH. I’ve helped at fundraisers and galas, organized a read-in at my school to benefit the kids of NPH, and now I serve on the Diversity Task Force, which seeks to recruit and support volunteers of color. I am in regular contact with my five godchildren. As a family, we have more than enough, and so we give.

If volunteering taught me anything, it’s how very lucky I am. I’m perhaps most fortunate in that I had the opportunity to be a volunteer. I held the hand of an injured child at the clinic. I made bread for 500 people. I sang Little Mermaid songs as I tucked a toddler in bed. Each moment was a gift, and I carry those gifts with me -- from the classroom to the nursery and yes, even to the grocery store. 

To learn more about service opportunities through NPH USA, please click here.