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.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I Chose Service - Cara Gonzalez Welker, Salesian Lay Missioners

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: Cara Gonzalez Welker
Volunteer Program: Salesian Lay Missioners
Location: Hogar Sagrado Corazón, Montero, Bolivia
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
College: Vanderbilt University 2014, Biomedical and Chemical Engineering majors

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I had heard of people doing post-graduate service throughout my time as an undergrad and thought about the possibility, but it wasn’t until I participated in a study abroad program in Australia my junior that I really committed to it as something that I wanted to do. During my time abroad, I went on a retreat and felt God calling me to take a break from my studies for a year and just focus on service. When I returned from my study abroad program my senior year, I heard about the Catholic Volunteer Network through the Vanderbilt campus ministry and started exploring different options. 

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Salesian Lay Missioners? I was applying to graduate schools and service programs my senior year because I didn’t know if I would be able to defer the graduate programs and wanted to have a backup plan in case I didn’t find a service program right for me. After interviewing at a few different schools, I decided that I would be going to the Stanford for my PhD studies. Meanwhile, I had also found a few different programs on the Catholic Volunteer Network that met my requirements of being a year-long, having options to go to a Spanish-speaking site in South or Central America, and ideally having funds to help me get to and from my mission site. After getting rejected from the first mission program that I applied to, I went on an interview with the Salesian Lay Missioners and was accepted. Luckily Stanford let me defer my acceptance for a year to go do mission work, and because I liked what I had learned about the SLMs during the interview, I decided to stick with them!

Tell us about your service experience. My site was an orphanage of about 130 girls from the ages of 2 to 22 in the town of Montero, Bolivia (about an hour outside the major city of Santa Cruz). There were five of us volunteers at the site, three from my program and two from a German volunteer program. We all lived on site at the orphanage and had jobs that we decided on within the first few weeks of arriving. I was responsible for the library at the orphanage, which involved keeping all the books organized, helping the older girls with their homework, and planning and maintaining supplies for different activities. I also managed the sponsorship program, which meant finding a sponsor or “godparent” for each girl, collecting dues from the sponsors and using these to buy supplies to make sure that each girl could receive a birthday present on their birthday, picking up packages for the girls from their sponsors, and translating letters from the sponsors to the girls or vice versa. And of course, aside from our assigned jobs, an unspoken “job” for all of us was to just get to know the girls, and to love and support them. 

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I’m grateful that I was able to do a year of service between undergrad and graduate school and think that this opportunity gave me many benefits. First of all, the spiritual development that I received through the Salesian Lay Missioners was definitely unique. During our orientation, we were given the opportunity to live in community with the Salesian priests and brothers, and were able to go to daily mass and pray Liturgy of the Hours with them. The atmosphere was slightly different on-site because we were more integrated with the community of permanent employees at the orphanage than the community of sisters, and going to daily mass every day was difficult because of responsibilities with the girls. However, I did have more time for spiritual reading and obviously interacted a lot with the sisters that ran the orphanage, which was a fairly unique opportunity for my spiritual development. 

Another reason that I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking site was to improve my Spanish. My mom comes from a Mexican heritage and always encouraged me and my sister to learn Spanish because she regretted never learning Spanish growing up. I did take classes in high school and ended up minoring in Spanish, but you can only learn so much through classes. Living in a town where I only met one person who was not a volunteer and spoke English definitely helped me improve my Spanish! I think learning not only a different language, but also a different culture from what you are accustomed to is extremely valuable. Although there were plenty of things that frustrated me about the Bolivia culture, like their education system and how nothing ever started on time, there were also many beautiful things, like how the people there consistently took the time to listen to one another because they put people ahead of work.

Finally, my year of service allowed me to take a step back from the academic life and affirm my decision to pursue a graduate degree and hopefully become a professor someday. I did enjoy my time at the orphanage a lot, but spending a year away from university level academics allowed me to miss classes and research. I also think the experience tutoring the older girls has been and will continue to be helpful to helpful as I learn more about teaching, especially teaching different types of students. When I was applying to graduate schools and service programs, I talked with multiple people in admissions from various graduate programs who told me I was crazy for taking a year away from my studies to do something fairly unrelated, and that it would not look good on a resume or application in the future. But I would say that the experience didn’t negatively affect my career trajectory and has even helped me in academia, as I recently received a fairly competitive fellowship with one reviewer’s comments saying that my experience being bilingual and having international experience was something on my application that stood out.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? I’ll admit that it’s not for everyone, but if what’s holding you back is being worried about delaying your career trajectory or worrying that your colleagues will judge you for not following a more conventional path, don’t let that stop you! You learn so much about yourself and about the world doing a year of service and you will most likely be glad that you took the time to do it when you had the opportunity.

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I Chose Service - Laura Roch, Humility of Mary Volunteer 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: Laura Roch
Volunteer Program: Humility of Mary Volunteer Service
Location: Youngstown, Ohio
Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
College: Kent State University, May 2016, Human Development and Family Studies

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I learned about it after I graduated from Kent, honestly. I had gotten a job as a volleyball coach at my high school, and one of my previous teachers shared the opportunity with me. I went to Ursuline High School, so working with and giving back to the community of Ursuline Sisters seemed very fitting!

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Humility of Mary? I was planning to go get my Masters degree right away, but I was hesitant. I really, really wanted to take a year off, but finding a job with my degree, especially knowing I wanted to get my Masters within a year would have been VERY difficult. Stumbling upon AmeriCorps has been such a blessing because it ends just in time for me to work on a Master of Mental Health Counseling starting in Fall 2017!  

Tell us about your service experience. Being placed with the Ursuline Sisters has been a WONDERFUL experience. Not only have I learned a lot about myself through my service experience, but I've also learned more about my hometown than I would have ever known had I not taken advantage of this amazing opportunity. I have a wide array of experiences and work with a variety of different individuals. I get to work with underprivileged youth and help tutor them for their classes. I work with privileged youth who attend Ursuline Preschool. I work with older adults, teaching them about their social media devices (phones, computers, GPS's, etc.). I teach English to mothers who speak Spanish and Arabic as their first languages. Finally, I write letters to incarcerated individuals at Ohio State Penitentiary. The individuals I work with have made such an impact on my life, I can only hope I've helped them as well!

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I have learned how to better serve individuals of different races, socioeconomic status, and personalities. I've learned how to lesson plan, empower individuals, and run meetings about different topics and projects I'm working on. I have become much more aware of the environment around me, rather than being so naive of things going on in the town where I've spent 23 years. Through my service experience, I've also gotten a lot closer to God. I never really prayed, or felt that I needed to, however, after seeing the issues and things people right down the street from me deal with, I have not been able to turn a blind eye. I know that prayers will be answered and these people will be helped soon! 

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service?  DO IT. Service opens your eyes so much to issues and things going on that you don't really take the time to notice unless you're immersed in your community (or the community in which you choose to serve).  If you can't think of any reason to take advantage of this experience, consider that you'll be getting paid to do what you love...volunteer! Being paid to do service is unheard of, so that makes an experience like this even more enticing!

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 - Ling Guo, Lutheran 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: Ling Guo
Volunteer Program: Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC) 
Location: Baltimore, MD
Hometown: My family now lives in Atlanta, GA so I consider Atlanta to be my hometown. But I’ve lived in Fuzhou, China; South Carolina; and North Carolina.
College: University of North Carolina at Charlotte, May 2015, with a major in International Studies with minors in Psychology and Chinese

How did you first learn about post-graduate service?
I knew about LVC but didn’t consider it until I visited a friend from high school who was doing a LVC year in Berkley, CA.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Lutheran Volunteer Corps? I was working full time at a company for almost a year when I decided on a service year. I gained technical skills and was working with a great mentor but I felt a growing dissonance between where I was and what I felt compelled to pursue. I was ready to take a chance to strengthen the values (social justice, community, sustainability) I wanted to live out and to pursue a career in international relations.

Tell us about your service experience. I work at Lutheran World Relief, an international development organization. Working at LWR helps me process injustices and disasters that happen around the world in a better way. When Hurricane Matthews hit Haiti in October, there was a flurry of action to coordinate emergency response, communication with the LWR office there, assessment of existing project sites, etc. Being a small part of that and seeing the compassion and intellect that collaborating organizations put into the response provides me hope for a resilience recovery in Haiti.

I love my community – within my LVC house and with Baltimore city. I try to attend as many (free) events in Baltimore as possible because the city has such a lively civic and arts scene. From meeting Baltimoreans to attending rallies and community discussion groups to “volunteer-ception” at different Baltimore organizations, I’m grateful for this year and hope to continue live around the area after this year of service.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? Six new friends and a support community! As well as training in anti-racism and peaceful communication, an opportunity to contribute to international humanitarian work, build upon my research and writing skills, explore sustainable lifestyle choices with others (such as relying on public transportation, composting, buying imperfect groceries at a discount), experience living in an area that I wanted to live at for a while, network with like organizations.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? Be open and talk through your concerns about a service year until you have enough information to make a leap. Learn what your needs and expectations are, and what you want to see in the world so that you can be ready to name it and advocate.


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

Monday, April 24, 2017

I Chose Service - Sarah Harp, 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: Sarah Harp
Volunteer Program: Christian Appalachian Project, Child Development Center
Location: Rockcastle County, Kentucky
Hometown: Mayville, New York
College: SUNY Fredonia, 2016, Public Relations (English Minor)

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? Throughout middle school and high school, I would often hear about the Peace Corps. I strongly considered this option, and even went through the majority of the application process. I did not want my first time away from home to be a two year commitment in a different country, so I decided to look at other options. I discovered AmeriCorps, which, in my opinion, is needed just as much as the Peace Corps, but is talked about much less. I explored the many options that AmeriCorps offers, and ended up in Kentucky!

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on the Christian Appalachian Project? I considered, and quickly dismissed, the standard post-grad options of either going to grad school or getting a job. I lived near a city where I could get some sort of job pretty easily if I was willing to do anything. And I thought about grad school, but it did not feel like the right time to do that for myself; I was not even sure if I wanted to work within my undergrad major or do something completely new. I decided to do service because helping others is an important part of life, and I strongly believe that giving time to an organization for an extended period of time is something everyone should consider. I knew that I would feel more fulfilled volunteering rather than having a job I was not sure about or making money, but not helping others. Service was the right choice for so many reasons, and I think I would regret not taking the time to do this work. Once you are settled down with a job or family, it makes taking time to volunteer a lot harder, so being a new graduate is the best time to do long-term service.

What has your service experience been like? I am working with the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) in Kentucky, and, more specifically, I am working in the Child Development Center, which is a preschool that serves children ages three to five. Working with these kids, and watching them make progress and succeed, is truly rewarding. Without this center, children in Rockcastle County would not have a preschool to go to, so this center, and myself as a volunteer, is truly making a difference in the lives of these children, their families, and the community as a whole.

All CAP volunteers live in a volunteer house, so we all have chores and take turn making dinner for one another. My house specifically has four volunteers, but there is another house across the street as well. Being a Christian organization, we are also required to do devotionals after dinner, which we eat together four times a week. On the weekends, we often do something as a community. I have done a lot more contra dancing than I ever thought I would, and we have also gone to the movies, dinner, art classes, or have simply driven the backroads of our town. I have made friends that will last a lifetime through my service here.
                               
What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise?  I have learned so much during my time in service, which has only been a little over three months so far. Working with children is not something I went to school for, or ever really pictured myself doing, but that is what I chose to do when I came to CAP. The teachers at the center have taught me so much. I have my own small group of children that I get to teach everyday and watch them learn. I have had moments that I like to call “teacher moments” when you are showing the children something and their eyes light up with excitement and intrigue. A specific time was when we were putting food dye into a pudding mix and they were all so amazed at the color changing as they each took turns stirring the mix. I have been through paid for CPR training as well as some online training for working with children. I have come up with lesson plan ideas, created bulletin boards, and, most importantly, I get to play with children everyday and help them learn and grow as individuals. 

While in Kentucky, I have learned a lot about myself and how I interact with other. I have also shaped my opinions on life and helping those in need from experiencing the need, and I have eliminated several stereotypes from my mind about poverty and what causes it. I have become more self-aware, and a little less ignorant to the needs of those around me and the possible causes for those needs. Also, working and living within a Christian organization has really helped me with my walk with God. I have learned a lot from my housemates, some ideas I agree with along with some that I do not, but everything I have learned has made my faith stronger. I have met some of the strongest Christians and I have learned a lot about God and faith through their testimonies. This was a huge relief coming from a secular college where God either was not talked about at all, or talked about in a negative way.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? I would tell anyone even slightly considering post-graduate service to do it. Do not worry about what seems to be normal after graduating, and do not worry about the money. It is rewarding in so many other ways. When serving, loans can be differed, and it is not hard to find volunteer opportunities that provide some sort of housing or a stipend to live off of. Giving what you can should be a practice in life for everyone, and doing so while you are young is beneficial: it builds character, you are not tied down anywhere yet, you do not have as many bills to pay for yet, you do not have a job to give up; you do have the time, the energy, and the ability to serve, so do it! Once you have a job, family, house, etc., it becomes a lot harder to do long-term volunteering, so doing it directly after graduating is really the best time for most people.


Through volunteering, I have already accumulated so many skills that you can use in the future. I have new skills that will look great on a resume, and I have gained general skills that will simply help me throughout the rest of my life. I have traveled out of my state, and have learned about a new culture: there are so many different cultures that make up America, we can not just pin America to one culture. This town, county, state, has opened my eyes to so much more than my town in New York. I am glad I chose to do service instead of getting a job right away. It has been an extraordinary experience that has helped me grow as a person and has opened my eyes and heart to serve for the greater good. I would like to end up with a job that is working with a non-profit or doing something to serve others, but even if I do not, I will continue to make service a part of my life long after the year I have committed to 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 - Connor Bergeron, Salesian Lay Missioners

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: Connor Bergeron
Volunteer Program: Salesian Lay Missioners (SLMs)
Service Location: Yapacaní, Bolivia, South America from 2014-2015
Hometown: Herndon, VA
College: DeSales University, Center Valley, PA. Graduated in May 2011 with a BA in Television & Film

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I was unlike most of my peers in my program, I had applied for post-graduate service positions three and half years after college. Perhaps there were opportunities of service at college, and if so I probably would have ignored them as I wasn't ready for it yet. While in college, I had a desire to develop an imitate relationship with God through silence and solitude. How to pursue that was a complete mystery to me. After college I worked as a video editor in D.C. for three years. During this time I grew tremendously in my faith and the longing to be in a imitate relationship with God resurfaced. Again, I didn't know how to do this. I overheard a peer say she was going to teach English aboard. That resonated with me, but I had many doubts. Somehow, I found myself in a bar with a Franciscan friar from my parish. When I told my plans and concerns about teaching English aboard, he suggested I do missionary work. The thought never occurred to me, but it resonated deeper than teaching English aboard. In addition, he suggested I search the Catholic Volunteer Network, where I found the Salesian Lay Missioners.

What other options were available to you, and why did you choose to serve with Salesian Lay Missioners? Having sought missionary service after college, I don't know what was available to me during my undergraduate. Several years after college, I had applied to two language programs. One was the Language Corps, and eventually I turned them down because I wanted to a missionary and have my abroad experience to have spiritual foundation. When I came down to it, there were two programs: the Salesian Lay Missionary and the Passionist Volunteers.

The Salesian Lay Missioners stuck out as I went to a Salesian college, though I didn't know what that really meant. When I began to apply with them, more things began to click. While completing my application, I serendipitously met a former missionary from the Salesian Lay Missioners, who gave me complete confidence in the program. In meeting the organization with other potential candidates in a "discernment weekend," I walked away with hope, love of their devotion to Mary and their mission to the youth and trust in God's will. In addition, the Salesian offered a mission site in South America, where I wanted to go. They fraternity was encouraging, and they seemed to have a solid system to help while we were in the thick of mission life.

What was your service experience like? When I left my video editing position to serve as a missionary in Bolivia, I didn't know what kind of work I'd be doing. There seemed to be a wide-range of tasks, and because of the Salesian's charism is to the youth, teaching would probably be my labor of love. However, about two months before I flew to Bolivia my mission site was change. I was still going to Bolivia, but another site, Yapacaní. Yapacaní, was where I would serve for a year in Bolivia. God is mysterious and quite funny, because I would learn that my main priority would be at the Salesian owned radio and television station in Yapacani, called Radio Televisión Ichilo. There I directed a cooking show and a young adult show, as well record coverage for nightly news, edit commercials and train their editors on advanced techniques. In addition, I translated more than 900 letters from the youths in the village who were sponsored by the Canadian charity Chalice. Thirdly, I taught weekly religion for 1st-6th grade as well as high school catechism. Lastly, I did whatever was asked of me, which included painting images for churches and chapels, serving lunch to the homeless and visiting the sick.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? Every challenge brings opportunities for growth. That being said, there were many challenges in my mission experience, and as a result I've found many blessings. An obvious one is my grasp of the Spanish language. Before I retained some fragments from high school, and having been forced to speak Spanish daily (no matter how broken and silly I sounded) it humbled me. It has also benefited me at my current position at the Arlington Catholic Herald, where I frequently write stories for our Spanish page, covering events and topics in the Hispanic community. My prayer life became more disciplined as I lived with Salesian priests and watched their dedication to their parishes and vocation to the priesthood. My love for the Bolivians, Latinos and all people grew. I learnt that when our loved ones or peers or a stranger is suffering we may not have any readily available advice or relief to give. In those occasions, we can love by being simply present and listening. Within my prayer life I became aware of how little I trusted in God, and depended upon myself. As I began to throw myself at His mercy, I realized how much I needed to stop talking over God, and listen. One of the greatest gifts that I've gained from mission was a fiancé. No, I didn't propose to a native, but I met a beautiful woman in the States months before mission. It was difficult to depart after starting a relationship. I'm happy to say, that we managed to grow, stick out a long distance relationship and be married soon!

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service?  My advice for someone considering post-graduate service is to pray. Missionary life is phenomenally rewarding and arduous. Having a regular commitment to Our Lord in prayer will help sustain you in those difficult moment and give reasons to be joyful. While searching for a program, ask yourself, "What do I want? What does God want? What will make me authentically happy (aka a saint)?" Then pray, "God, mold me into the man/woman you so long for me to be." Hopefully, this will guide you to find what kind of mission work you're being called. God won't put Africa in your heart if you dread going there. He's wants you to be happy, we just need to be willing to listen. He knows us better than we do ourselves.

Once you've found your program and site, do plenty of research: what does the US State Department say about this country? What preventive shots do I need? (bring tons of probiotic pills), how will I stay in touch with family/friends? And set some realistic expectations. And just trust in God.


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 23, 2017

I Chose Service - Lucy Miller, 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: Lucy Miller
Volunteer Program: Maggie'sPlace
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
College: Gonzaga University, 2013, English/Creative Writing

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I actually wasn't looking for a post-grad service opportunity. I had plenty of friends who were applying for JVC and the Peace Corps but I was initially drawn to Maggie's Place because of the mission: serving homeless pregnant women in crisis. The Pacific Northwest Students for Life Regional Coordinator originally got me in touch with Maggie's Place when I asked her about places I could work full-time with women in crisis pregnancies after I graduated.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Maggie's Place? I had also applied and been accepted to ASU for a Master's degree in Education. I ultimately decided on serving with Maggie's Place for two reasons: 1) the Master's degree was going to be very expensive, and 2) my interview with Maggie's Place involved a visit to the homes, and I felt almost immediately upon my arrival that that was where I supposed to spend the next year or more. I felt at home, at peace, and excited about the opportunity. I knew it would be hard but I was ready for the challenge, and the community was incredibly supportive.

What was your service experience like? I often tell people that my years of service with Maggie's Place were some of the most formative in my life. It was an intense, immersive experience of giving of self, living simply, being in community, and just loving others. Over the length of my service, I lived and worked with over 50 pregnant women and their babies and around 20 other volunteers (not all at once!). I was given the immense privilege of loving these women and their families during some of the hardest times in their lives. Sometimes this love was heartbreaking, like when a mom fell back in to bad habits or made poor choices during her stay, and sometimes it was full of joy, like when one of my contact moms told me that living at Maggie's Place had been a little slice of heaven.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I grew in leadership, assertiveness, compassionate boldness, conflict management, my understanding of poverty, professionalism, my Catholic faith, and so much more. I thank God every day that He brought me to service at Maggie's Place because of the woman I am today because of it. I certainly never thought I would have to do some of the things that I did at Maggie's Place, like taking moms drug testing; having conversations with grown women about sex, healthy relationships, and natural family planning; rocking babies to sleep at 2am so their moms could get some much-needed sleep; living in community with 10 other women, over half of them pregnant or parenting an infant, and all the daily struggles that accompany that; literally running a home; supervising my peers and helping them grow into the best versions of themselves; and so much more. I think my years of service were like having an internship, entry-level position, and missionary role all at once and multiplied by 1000. Sometimes I look back and wonder how on earth I managed so many responsibilities at once and at the age of 21.


What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? I think if you are considering post-grad service, then think about when else in your life you will be able to commit to something so immersive and so worthwhile. It is a time to be challenged and stretched and to give of yourself completely to others, and you honestly receive so much in return for those sacrifices. You will learn a lot about how to work with people, manage high-stress situations and responsibilities, and balance a big workload. I think most volunteers come out of their service with very employable skills and experiences that others who immediately entered the workforce don't have. Plus, I have made life-long friends who share my same values and have gone through those hard experiences with me, and those relationships to me are priceless.

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 16, 2017

Jesus Amidst the Huddles Masses

By Catherine Goggins, currently serving with Discipleship Year


Easter Sunday Reflection
John 20:1-9
"Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed;
let us feast with joy in the Lord!"

When Mary Magdalene first arrived at the tomb she had every reason to be fearful. Days before she had watched a friend be executed by the state and was now alone, certain His body had been taken. I can only imagine what thoughts must have been racing through her head as she ran to tell the others! They had all heard Jesus speak of the resurrection but did not yet understand. 

A few months ago I gathered with hundreds of Catholics outside of the White House for a Mass for Muslim refugees. A child held a sign, “Our huddled Mass welcomes your huddled masses.” Aptly describing the formation of our group, we crowded together, not just for warmth, but to hear the Gospel proclaimed. 

When it came time for the Eucharist, the presider asked all to stay where we were. “Jesus will come to you,” he said. And so it happened. 

That is Jesus’ way. He came to Mary Magdalene in the tomb and comes to us today. She didn’t recognize His face at first, thinking that He was a gardener. We too often fail to see Him, truly present in the Eucharist and in his people, especially in those that suffer from poverty, violence, environmental destruction, incarceration, displacement, and illness. But He comes to us all the same.

When Jesus called Mary by name she immediately recognized her friend and then went forth to announce the good news, becoming the Apostle to the Apostles. Today as we celebrate our resurrected Lord, we pray for the grace to recognize the many ways in which He comes, calling us, like He did Mary Magdalene, to announce the good news.


Prayer:

As we rejoice in your resurrection, help us to be witnesses to creation testifying to your love! May the mountains You’ve shaped and the sea You’ve filled teach us of Your majesty, the rain remind us of Your desire to wash away our sin and may buds of spring fill us with the hope of heaven. May the sparrows, whom You promise to provide for, help us not to worry for ourselves, but to seek a just and sustainable allocation of resources for all. As the days grow longer, remind us that You are the light of the world! Amen.

Focus on: Simple Living: "Think of what is above, not of what is on earth,” Paul’s challenges in today’s second reading. But I do think (and often worry) about the things of this world. Our call to think of “what is above,” should lead us to respond to the cry of the earth and of the poor with great love, reflecting that of our creator resurrected Lord. It is good news indeed that in addressing environmental degradation, and the spiritual crisis that Pope Francis points to at its root, we can live more simply and work towards justice, growing closer to others and God!

Service Inspiration: Dorothy Day’s spiritual life sustained her selfless service and prophetic writing. Radiating hope for the kin-dom of God, her witness challenges me to be faithful, patient, and bold in my work alongside faith communities, as we seek to be more faithful steward of “our common home.” The outcomes of sustainable changes go far beyond reducing the severity of climate change’s impacts. The necessary changes invite us into deeper relationship with our neighbors, creation, and God. We are called to live differently, as Dorothy would say, in order to “build a new society within the shell of the old.”


Forty Days with the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: This reflection is part of our annual Lenten Reflection Guide, a collection of reflections written by current and former volunteers. We are pleased to offer this resource through our partnership with the Catholic Apostolate Center

To download the Lenten Reflection Guide, please click here. 





About the Author: Catherine Goggins is a DC and Northern Virginia climate organizer, serving at Interfaith Power & Light through Discipleship Year. She grew up along the beautiful James River and loves potlucks, gardening and going for runs in the woods.