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Stories of service from Catholic Volunteer Network volunteers.
Updated: 14 min 33 sec ago

I Chose Service - Cara Gonzalez Welker, Salesian Lay Missioners

5 hours 46 min ago
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.

I Chose Service - Laura Roch, Humility of Mary Volunteer Service

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 5:00pm
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

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 8:45am
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 GuoVolunteer Program: Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC) Location: Baltimore, MDHometown: 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.

I Chose Service - Sarah Harp, Christian Appalachian Project

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 5:03pm
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 HarpVolunteer Program: Christian Appalachian Project, Child Development CenterLocation: Rockcastle County, KentuckyHometown:Mayville, New YorkCollege: 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

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 6:00am
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 BergeronVolunteer Program: Salesian Lay Missioners (SLMs)Service Location: Yapacaní, Bolivia, South America from 2014-2015Hometown: Herndon, VACollege: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. 

I Chose Service - Lucy Miller, Maggie's Place

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 6:00am
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 MillerVolunteer Program: Maggie'sPlaceLocation: Phoenix, AZHometown: Phoenix, AZCollege: 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.

Jesus Amidst the Huddles Masses

Sun, 04/16/2017 - 6:30am
By Catherine Goggins, currently serving with Discipleship Year


Easter Sunday ReflectionJohn 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. 

Forever Touched By Nong Khai - A Mother's Perspective

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 6:00am
 By Elaine Magee, mother to current Good Shepherd Volunteer Lauren Magee

I am a worrier who hates to fly, so pretty much the only thing that would motivate me to travel halfway around the world, is seeing one of my daughters (I haven’t traveled outside the USA for 28 years.) Seven months ago my daughter Lauren began her second year of post grad service with Good Shepherd Volunteers in Nong Khai, Thailand with Hands of Hope and the Garden of Friendship program (serving a wonderful community of people with HIV).

We have stayed connected through texting and the occasional phone call but I knew I had to see and touch her around the mid-way point. I presented several tourist-friendly vacation options for us within Thailand but she insisted I come to the garden community to experience her life here and meet the people and staff that she has come to care so much for. I knew my daughter well enough to know that trying to talk her out of this was futile. So off I went on a 28 hour journey to see my daughter. We met first in the capital of Laos (very close to Nong Khai) for a few days.
My time in Nong Khai started with a memorial service for a beloved patient that had just passed. The next very fulfilling few days included assorted activities with the health care center patients and the producers at Hands of Hope, an informative tour of the truly amazing sustainable garden community and a delightful dinner with the Good Shepherd Sisters. I rode a bike down the same dirt road my daughter bikes down to get to her work site and went to the Friday night local market she visits each week. But I will take back with me two distinct memories; seeing for myself how the patients, staff and producers smiled and hugged my daughter after she had been gone with me in Laos for a few days, and the strong and inspiring sense of community that has formed with this program. People with no one to care about or be cared for have found a sense of family here.

I found myself tearing up repeatedly during my stay because my heart was touched too many times to count. After a smoothie-making session my daughter and I had with the patients, one of the lead staff said to me, “we are so lucky to have you here.” I answered, “Oh but I am the lucky one.”
This post first appeared on Good Shepherd Volunteer's blog "Just Love." Reposted here with permission. For more information about serving with Good Shepherd Volunteers, please click here
Follow along with Lauren's adventures in Thailand: http://www.handsofhopenongkhai.com 

A Palm Sunday Reflection

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 1:34pm
By Anna Jeide, currently serving with Lutheran Volunteer Corps


Palm SundayMatthew 26:14-27:66"Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name."
The Palm Sunday text has always struck me as a bit strange, but I remember as a child that Palm Sunday was one of my favorite days of the liturgical year. The children lead a big procession through the congregation, waving our palm fronds. Some years, we even followed a donkey carrying whoever was playing Jesus. It was always a joyous celebration.

Yet, the celebration of Palm Sunday is short-lived, followed quickly by the betrayal on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion on Good Friday. In my home church, we burn the palm fronds of Palm Sunday and use the remains for the imposition of ashes the following year on Ash Wednesday. This incineration of the palm fronds symbolizes, for me, how quickly this celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is forgotten. 

The author of Matthew tells us the crowds praise Him singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (2:9). At the same time “the city was shaken” (2:10). The NRSV version reads, “When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil” (2:11). If this is a celebration, why are the people uneasy?  Jesus enters on a donkey, not with the regal entrance that some may have expected. Does this humble entrance unnerve them? After He enters Jerusalem, Jesus immediately enters to temple and drives out those who were using it as a market place, reclaiming that the temple is meant to be a holy place. Does his explicit proclamation make the people uncomfortable? Perhaps they are confronted with their own complicity in sacrilegious action and would rather Jesus not call out their self-serving actions. 

At the same time that people are “shaken,” they are also excited claiming “Hosannas!” Were they swept up in being part of the crowd, caught up in momentum of such an exciting arrival?  Jesus knows that His entrance to Jerusalem will lead to His death, but what about the crowd? Where are we in that crowd of people gathering fronds? Are we excited for Jesus’ arrival on Sunday, only to demand His crucifixion on Friday? 


Prayer:

Prince of Peace, Draw us near to You.  Let not our hearts be bent by the whims of the crowds,  Of discouraging news, Of protests, Or false prophets. Keep our eyes and our hearts ever focused on you. Remind us that we belong to your loving community and that we adhere to a higher calling, Your kingdom come, Your will, not our will, be doneOn earth as it is in heaven.Amen. 
Focus on: Community: This passage prompts us to consider our commitment to Jesus. I think this text relates well to the pillar of community. I understand community to mean a commitment to one another, through the tough and joyous times. It can be easy to rejoice, but what happens when the going gets tough? Where are the crowds of praise when Jesus hangs from a cross at Golgotha? It seems to me that the people only want to praise Jesus when it is easy, safe, and popular.  This is may be an ancient text, but the question is ever-present, where do we stand? Are we in communion with Jesus? Will we move with the whims of the crowd, or will we learn to stay true to our God? Especially in challenging times when the voices of false prophets ring loud and demand our attention, we must choose to listen to the still small voice of our Lord. This season of Lent, what does it means for us to claim that we are followers of Jesus? How do we commit to Jesus, to make the kingdom come?

Service Inspiration: Whenever I need to see an example of a true follow of Jesus, I look to my grandparents. They have modeled what it means to rely on God in times of uncertainty, and in times of unpopularity. Their lives have been a witness of what it means to walk humbly with God. On Christmas morning this year my 87-year old grandfather preach about staying true to God’ call, affirming that only God can be our true savior, that no political system can provide us the true transformation and salvation that we need and seek. 


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: Anna Jeide is a Minnesota native, daughter of a female pastor, graduate of Luther College, now serving with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Washington D.C. at La Clinica del Pueblo. She loves to sing in choir, read, travel and explore the outdoors. She is looking forward to whatever adventures come next after LVC and is discerning how to be a committed Christian in the heart of the capitol.  

Resting in Brokenness

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 6:30am
By Greg Hamilton, currently serving with Jesuit Volunteer Corps


Fifth Sunday of LentJohn 11:1-45"I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord;whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die."
Today’s Gospel challenged my understanding of what it means to be compassionate. When Jesus learned that a loved one was ill, He responded in a peculiar manner. He didn’t rush to the sick one’s side or hurry to comfort His beloved’s family. Rather, He waited two days.

Why did He wait two days? I sure wouldn’t have done that. If He knew all along that He would raise Lazarus, why would He prolong the wounded agony of Mary and Martha? How could Jesus desert those He loved in their moment of need? It seems almost like a test, a cruel and unnecessary test. 

Yet I suspect Jesus had a different intention. By waiting two extra days He was not punishing or testing Mary and Martha but inviting them to examine their own brokenness. The idea of resting in brokenness, rather than avoiding it, has been a particularly challenging concept for me. I first encountered it in Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, in which Stevenson says “We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”

It seems that Jesus chose the former. When He finally arrived in Bethany and witnessed the woundedness of those He loved, He “became perturbed and deeply troubled.” Then, “Jesus wept.” Knowing that Jesus wept helps me reclaim my own brokenness and affirms that truly embodying compassion requires entering into the chaos of woundedness, both my own and that of the “other” person.

Prayer:

God of grace, help me rest in my woundedness. When I feel most alone and deserted, remind me of Jesus’ constant refrain “Do not be afraid.” Help me remember that Jesus Himself, the almighty Son of God, wept for the pain of His community. Let me never forget that one of Jesus’ greatest miracles of raising Lazarus from the dead was precipitated by His solidarity in suffering with those He loved dearly. Amen.
Focus on: Social Justice: How have you been wounded by the, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. puts it, “sickness of racism, excessive materialism, and militarism?” How can you – and your surrounding communities – enter into this brokenness and encounter healing compassion?

Service Inspiration: My mother, Sue, understands part of my volunteer experience, but struggles with other components. However, I recently babysat for a colleague’s children, a two-and-a-half year old and a six-month old. When I left, I was exhausted. I realized later that I watched two boys the same age difference as my brother and I, but only for a few hours. My mom did it for years, and then became my teacher and homeschooled us. She served as an enormous role model, never asking for thanks or recognition, silently taking on her children’s struggles. She is an inspiration and reminder of Jesus here on Earth.

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: Greg attended Saint Michael’s College in the grace-filled Green Mountain State of Vermont and is currently serving as a Jesuit Volunteer in Washington D.C. at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Most days, Greg finds a way to involve his favorite poet, Mary Oliver, in his routine.

From Brokenness to Healing

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 6:30am
By Molly Trainor, former Benedictine Volunteer


Fourth Sunday of LentJohn 9:1, 6-9, 34-38"I am the light of the world, says the Lordwhoever follows me will have the light of life."
Today John tells of Jesus healing a man born blind. When others learn that the man can see, they ask themselves, “Isn’t this the beggar who used to sit on the side of the road?” Then when the man tries to testify to the merciful power of Jesus, they cast him out, saying that he is just a sinner, unqualified to teach them.

Too often, it’s easy to be discouraged from serving others because we feel like the blind man in today’s Gospel. During my time of service with Benedictine Volunteers, I struggled with this a lot. I asked myself why I thought I could help others, when I myself struggled with so much, as if I had to be perfect in order to give anything. 

The blind man shows us that this is far from the truth. The things that make us broken are those same things that Jesus uses to heal us, to make us instruments for others. The beggar’s blindness is the reason he finds Jesus and the reason he is so willing to preach about Jesus’ mercy. 

As I read this Gospel, I see that my blindness is not something that should hold me back from service. My imperfections are what make me realize the need for God in my life and give me the courage to address that need with gentle love in the lives of others. Instead of being ashamed of my brokenness, I should allow God to use it to help heal others. 


Prayer:

Lord, I believe. I believe that you have the power to heal. I believe that you desire to use me as an instrument, despite and because of my shortcomings. Do not let me remain blind to my shortcomings, but do not let my shortcomings stop me from accepting your plan for me. Give me the sight to see how you want me to grow in love with you. Give me the courage to testify to your mercy. Amen. 
Focus on: Spirituality: It’s difficult to beg, but it is only in begging that we truly realize our need. Ask yourself, in what ways am I avoiding healing in my spiritual life? Beg God for the sight to see what you might not want or be able to see on your own. Then beg for the help and encouragement to transform your weaknesses into strengths. Like the blind man, beg that your past struggles allow you a deeper faith in Jesus Christ. 

Service Inspiration: Someone who has allowed God to transform her wounds into a beautiful witness of faith is singer Audrey Assad. I had the privilege of hearing Assad’s testimony and she inspired me to allow God to use my brokenness. She helped me realize that in admitting our weakness, we allow others to see that all our strength comes from God. Her music gives me the strength to say that my weakness is a tool to serve others for the glory of God.

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: Molly was an English major at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Last March, she went on a Mission of Peace to Gallup, New Mexico with my her University. Formerly she served as a volunteer with Benedictine Volunteers, where she lived and served with the sisters of Mother of God Monastery in Watertown, South Dakota.  

Grace Meets Us Where We Are

Sun, 03/19/2017 - 7:00am
By Melissa Carnall, alumnus of Amate House



Third Sunday of LentJohn 4:5-15, 19B-26, 39A, 40-42"One does not live on bread along, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."
Writer Anne Lamott tells us, “Grace meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us.” Jesus demonstrates this truth about God’s grace in today’s Gospel reading.  Between the world and our own selves, we experience barriers to encountering God. Jews regarded the Samaritan woman as ritually impure, and she also would have been an outcast in her town, given her five failed marriages.  Those were some of her barriers. We too, experience the barriers that can block our experience of God’s living water; it could look like busyness, fear of the “other,” feelings of unworthiness, or unresolved hurts that close off our hearts to the fullness of love. But these barriers do not daunt Jesus, just like He was not daunted by the woman’s purity status, nor her shame. God is not daunted by our personal and societal barriers to encountering Him.  We can learn from the Samaritan woman as she allows Jesus to overcome barriers and break down her defenses. She lets God in, to meet her where she is. 

But Jesus also shows us something more in this encounter. God not only meets us wherever we are, but we are sent on mission to share the grace and freedom after our encounter. If we only read the abridged version of today’s Gospel, we miss that many of the Samaritans began to believe in Jesus “because of the word of the woman who testified.” She was met in the chaos of her life and transformed into a messenger of the Living Water. She was sent on mission to spread the good news. 

Prayer:

God of boundless life, You who quenched the true thirst of the Samaritan woman at the well, and offer us still the Living Water of Your Son, grant that we may be open to Your grace in the chaos of our lives and the world, undaunted by the barriers we experience. Encounter us in our messiness and send us forth to spread Your love, Your freedom, and Your peace to all those in need. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Living Water of our lives. Amen.
Focus on: Simple Living: And her mission continues today as she teaches us we can find abundance in simplicity. The woman lacked everything by most standards (status, stable marriage, equality), yet in her lack, she had room for the abundance of life that is the Living Water Jesus offered her in Himself. We find this in our years of service. When we remove the distractions of excess, when we learn from those who have fewer resources and less privilege, we create space for true abundance based on grace and relationship with God, instead of false abundance based on acquisition and status. 

Service Inspiration: My friend and “big sister,” Sr. Christa Parra, IBVM, is a motivation and encouragement to me as I strive to live a life following Jesus, serving others as He did, especially those on the margins. Sr. Christa inspires me because she lives a life rooted in the Love of God that extends to everyone she meets. She lavishes love upon everyone she encounters, without distinction, without regard for supposed worthiness or potential reciprocity. Christa is filled with the Living Water of God and she lets that love flow from her into all her encounters and relationships. 


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: Originally from Gainesville, FL, Melissa graduated from Furman University in Greenville, SC with majors in Religion and Economics. She moved to Chicago for her year of service with Amate House, the young adult volunteer program for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Melissa fell in love with the Windy City and stayed for her Master of Divinity degree at Catholic Theological Union. Melissa now ministers as a Pastoral Associate at Old St. Mary’s in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood. 

Serving with Sisters: Emily Guilbert

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 7:00am
Throughout National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network has shared interviews with volunteers currently serving alongside sisters. In each post you can learn a little more about how the volunteers found their program and what they’ve learned from the sisters they work with. Today we feature Emily Guilbert from Roswell, Georgia, a graduate of the University of Georgia, volunteering with Redeemer Ministry Corps in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  


How did you find your volunteer program? What appealed to you about it?
After reading an article in a national newspaper about members of a Catholic service organization in Washington, D.C., I quickly found myself on the Catholic Volunteer Network looking at different programs. I wanted to serve in the healthcare field, and, when I searched through the programs, the Redeemer Ministry Corps was the first one which caught my eye. The description of the program emphasized how volunteers would act as a “caring, comforting, and healing presence” to others as they experience vulnerable times in their lives. This statement of purpose spoke to me and my belief about caring for the whole person, not just their disease or issue they face. Knowing that this instruction is difficult to come by, I quickly applied to the Redeemer Ministry Corps and accepted a position in this program sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer!

Where do you serve?
I currently serve as Patient Support in the Charles A. & Betty Bott Cancer Center and the Women’s Health Center, two specialized locations within Holy Redeemer Health System. In both of my placements,  I accompany those who have been affected by a diagnosis of cancer and serve as a comforting, friendly face to see as they go through this difficult time. I work in the medical oncology unit of the outpatient cancer center, where patients often spend an average of six hours receiving a blood transfusion or medication, to make them as comfortable as possible while there by spending time with them and providing personalized assistance and care. In my second placement, I work in the practice of three breast care surgeons to provide that same comforting presence to patients in their practice. My position is fondly referred to as “Professional Hand-holder” because I join people in their biopsies, consults, surgeries, and other steps along their journey with breast cancer. 
How has service strengthened your faith and your understanding of vocation?
Each day I spend in my ministry brings me closer to my faith and my call to serve others as my vocation. When I join patients in these vulnerable moments, I draw upon my faith to help me convey the moment of peace and comfort the person and their family need. . As a result of this year, I will be able to continue to grow in my vocation and share it in my personal and professional life.

What have you learned from living and working with the sisters?
The Sisters of the Holy Redeemer have taught me so much about community life and caring for others. My time in this program has shown me that community life is not an easy task; however, the relationships made as a result of dedicated community life are invaluable. Through their charism, they have shown me the importance of caring for each person they meet in their daily lives and ministries as much as they can for as long as the person needs. Life with the sisters may not be like Sister Act, but the joy, faith, and compassion they have for others has taught me (and will continue to teach me) lessons which I will take with me after this year of volunteer service.

What advice would you give to someone interested in full-time volunteer service?

My advice to someone considering a year of service is to trust in the process. Service as a long term volunteer and community life are not simple tasks. As obstacles in work or community arise, it is essential to trust in the staff and sponsors who support you, as well your own abilities, to solve them. The challenges you face as a volunteer will teach you something as long as you are open and willing to learn the lesson.

To learn more about CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative and discernment resources for volunteers, please click here.


For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week, including details about events taking place all over the U.S. please click here

Serving with Sisters: Adanna Adaka

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 7:00am
Throughout National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share interviews with volunteers currently serving alongside sisters. In each post you will hear a little more about how the volunteers found their program and what they’ve learned from the sisters they work with. Today we feature Adanna Adaka from Port-Harcourt, Nigeria, a graduate of Canisius College, volunteering with St. Joseph Worker Program in Orange, Ca.


How did you find your volunteer program? What appealed to you about it?
I like to say that this program found me, rather than the other way around! Through the Catholic Volunteer Network I was able to connect with the program director and formed a relationship that led me here. Not only was I drawn to its mission of service in under-represented areas, but I also discovered that they have a campus focused on mental and behavioral health – something I am very passionate about – and this discovery basically sealed my decision. I realized that volunteering with the SJWP would mean I would grow in spirituality, leadership, justice awareness, and communal understanding and so here I am!

Where do you serve?
I serve in the Mission Integration department at Mission Hospital. I create and implement education and formation experiences for physicians, employees, and volunteers at both Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach campuses. I also work with the Interpreter Services team to provide resources for our non-English speaking patients. In my ministry, I aim to improve patient satisfaction and increase cultural intelligence within the hospital community by making sure every encounter is a sacred encounter. 

How has service strengthened your faith and your understanding of vocation?
This program has certainly been a blessing to me. Not only do I wake up each morning knowing that I am about to positively touch someone’s life, I have also come to understand how big a role ‘community’ plays in service and vocation. I am in an environment where the women who surround me every single day share the same goals and values as I do. This means that I have the opportunity to develop friendships that reinforce my spirituality and faith while eliminating the bad qualities. I know that I am where God wants me to be. 
What have you learned from living and working with the sisters?
One thing I have learned from the sisters is the spirit of letting go and embracing trust. It is so easy to worry about everything – what will I do after this year? Where is my life heading? Will this ministry be enough for me? However, the sisters have taught me through their actions and in their words that God is always with me and He has a plan for my life if I just let go and put my faith in him. According to Sr. Joanna, my program director, “It is amazing how much young women can learn when they are led by the Holy Spirit” and I couldn’t have said it better myself!

What advice would you give to someone interested in full-time volunteer service?
Small changes make a huge impact and being adaptable makes the experience so much more enriching. No matter where you are placed, you ARE making a difference and being open-minded will certainly make for a fulfilling experience! You got this!

To learn more about CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative and discernment resources for volunteers, please click here.


For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week, including details about events taking place all over the U.S. please click here

Savoring the Graces by the Light of the Moon

Sun, 03/12/2017 - 6:30am
By Celina Roybal, alumnus of the St. Joseph Worker Program of Orange, California


Second Sunday of LentMatthew 17:1-9“From the shining cloud the Father’s voice is heard:This is my beloved Son, hear Him.”
In today’s Gospel, the mountain is a place of prayer outside of the everyday world where a luminescent encounter with God takes place.  It is high up on this mountain where the face of Jesus “shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Savoring the grace of this experience, Peter says, “It is good that we are here.” Then the disciples became fearful at the sound of a voice saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid and they come down from the mountain. 

I have always admired the night sky and the moon. I have often found myself in awe as I gaze at the light of the moon, especially a full moon. The moon lights up because its surface reflects the light from the sun like a mirror. In our quest to follow Jesus more closely, we must be like the moon by serving as a mirror reflecting the light onto the Earth…Christ’s light. 

Working as an Education Assistant, I was often challenged with motivating disadvantaged young adults to study and perform well academically. I sometimes questioned if I was serving as a reflection of Christ’s light when working with specific young adults who exhibited more struggles than others. Sometimes it felt as if my efforts were not making a difference, but observing the light in their eyes as they became excited about learning spoke otherwise. The light in the faces of those around me was a reminder that Christ’s light was indeed shining brightly through my service. In prayer and service I was often invited to have my own transfiguration. As we show love for God and our neighbor, personal transfigurations occur when we mirror God in our daily lives in good works and faith. Like the moon, be a reflection of Christ’s face shining on us like the sun this Transfiguration Sunday!

Prayer: 

God of Light, As we continue our Lenten journey together, we thank You for the gifts of encounter on the mountaintop with You. Thank You for inviting us to our own transfigurations with the divine light of Your face. Help us to be aware of the radiance You bring into our daily lives so that we may be a reflection like the moon.  Let our faith and good works light a new light in the hearts of our community and those we serve. Amen.

Focus on: Community: One of the highlights of living in community is praying together. This is a time when the community has the opportunity to journey up the mountain together just like the disciples did in today’s Gospel. As a community, find your mountaintop to pray, listen deeply, and savor the graces you have received together. Your mountaintop may be a special place in your home or a beautiful place out in nature. Wherever your place of encounter may be, remind each other daily of the beautiful encounters with God you all have experienced on your mountaintop. Come down from your mountaintop poised to change the world! What’s your mountain? What’s your place of encounter with God? 
Service Inspiration: Sr. Mary Rogers is a Sister of St. Joseph of Orange and is a beautiful example of what it means to reflect the light of Christ on the world with faith and good works. She motivates me to serve others because her dream has always been to serve in communities and schools of great need. She is an educator who has always taught with energy and enthusiasm while showing great compassion and love for students. I currently find myself teaching in a community of great need and I often reflect daily by asking myself this question: Did I show students love and compassion today like Sr. Mary would?  
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: Celina Roybal grew up in the rural community of Medanales, New Mexico just north of Santa Fe. In 2015-2016, she served as a St. Joseph Worker of Orange as an Education Assistant at Taller San Jose Hope Builders in California. She currently teaches Physical Education at Abiquiu Elementary School and Hernandez Elementary School in New Mexico. Her favorite books are My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Campbell and Sum It Up by Pat Summitt.Celina enjoys the outdoors, playing and coaching sports, and cheering on the Denver Broncos.

Serving with Sisters: Aubrey Kimble

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 8:00am

Throughout National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share interviews with volunteers currently serving alongside sisters. In each post you will hear a little more about how the volunteers found their program and what they’ve learned from the sisters they work with. Today we feature Aubrey Kimble from Zebulon, North Carolina, a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, volunteering with the Franciscan Mission Service in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia. 

How did you find your volunteer program? What appealed to you about it?
I knew that I wanted to do mission work after I graduated from college, so I started researching different international programs on the Catholic Volunteer Networksite. Franciscan Mission Service (FMS) particularly stuck out to me because of their emphasis on ministry of presence and accompaniment, their 2-year international commitment, and because they offered a 3-month formation program that sounded extremely well thought out (it was!).

Where do you serve? 
I am currently serving in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, which is in the department of La Paz. I am volunteering at the Catholic University of Bolivia at their Carmen Pampa site. I am currently the director of the English department of the university. I’m responsible for coordinating English classes, exams, and activities. I teach 2 English classes – an English I class for agronomy and education students, and an English II class for tourism students. I also open the children’s library on campus. There is a primary school in the area, and the kids come to the library after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
How has service strengthened your faith and your understanding of vocation?
Although I am “serving” here in Carmen Pampa as a lay missioner and volunteer, when I talk about my time here I prefer to use the word “presence.” In fact, this is what I believe makes missioners different from regular volunteers who come to serve. I specifically chose a 2-year program because I wanted to live in solidarity with my community and accompany them. Everything I do on a daily basis is based on being present to my students, the kids who come to the children’s library, and my community members. This ministry of presence has strengthened my faith because it helps me to reflect on what love really is, and how my actions and words reflect the love that I have to give – which comes from God. The ministry of presence that I intentionally try to live out has also changed my understanding of vocation. I’ve realized that we all have a vocation to love others and to show them God’s love. I believe that our individual vocations must all start there – we must find where our specific gifts and abilities lay and where they intersect with the love we have to give.

What have you learned from living and working with the sisters?
The sisters here at the university have taught me so much, both implicitly and explicitly. First, even though I never personally met Sister Damon or Sister Jean, their spirits are very much alive on campus and in this community. Sister Damon founded the university in Carmen Pampa with a vision that rural, impoverished students would have the ability to receive higher education and take back the skills they learned to their communities. Sister Jean ran the Pastoral group on campus, which is a religious youth group. Both of these Sisters were beloved – everybody in the community still talks about their love and generosity. This has taught me the importance of caring for others and fighting to make opportunities possible for those people who are marginalized in society.I have, however, had the privilege of meeting and working with Sister Chris in Carmen Pampa. She has taught me the true meaning of presence and accompaniment. She dedicated her life to serving God, and lived in Bolivia for more than 50 years. She was a steady, strong presence in Carmen Pampa that everyone looked up to and admired. She worked hard for the benefit not only of the university, but also for the community of Carmen Pampa.
What advice would you give to someone interested in full-time volunteer service?

I would absolutely encourage them to do it. There is no doubt that this is hard work – it is incredibly challenging, and there are times when you will want to give up. However, being present to others and sharing God’s love is always worth it. Your volunteer experience will also stretch you and force you to grow in ways you never could have imagined – and that is an amazing gift to receive!

To learn more about CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative and discernment resources for volunteers, please click here.


For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week, including details about events taking place all over the U.S. please click here

Serving with Sisters: Ashley Guanzon

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 8:00am
Throughout National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share interviews with volunteers currently serving alongside sisters. In each post you will hear a little more about how the volunteers found their program and what they’ve learned from the sisters they work with. Today we feature Ashley Guanzon from San Diego, California, a graduate of Creighton University, volunteering with St. Joseph Worker Program in Los Angeles.

How did you find your volunteer program? What appealed to you about it?                I told myself that my last service and justice trip at Creighton would be fall semester of my senior year. On that trip, the St. Joseph Worker (SJW) Program in St. Paul, MN hosted our service trip group. We stayed at one of their community houses, Rita House, for the week while we learned about the policy side of implementing justice. There I found out about the SJW Program, that it was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJs), and that they had a program Los Angeles. My high school was actually founded by the CSJs as well. I really wanted to go back to CA after graduating and I loved reconnecting with the CSJ ideals that really transformed me in high school. Everything just fell into place and I knew God was telling me to do this year of service. That service trip was not my last service adventure after all!
Where do you serve? 
I currently serve at an elementary/middle school in Downtown Los Angeles. Immaculate Conception School (ICS) is a private, Catholic school that has been providing children from predominantly lower income, immigrant families excellent education for over 90 years. I serve as a teacher’s aide for all grades, PE teacher for middle school girls, and pianist for the school choir. A significant part of my duties as a member of ICS faculty is providing one-on-one tutoring for students who are struggling academically. It is extremely rewarding service to watch these kids grow academically and socially.
How has service strengthened your faith and your understanding of vocation?
Service has made me more aware of “the call”. I truly believe that God called me into this year of service. I am so happy I listened. I think connecting my service with my faith gives my service so much more meaning. Throughout this year of service I am constantly trying to keep my mind and heart open to God’s call as I discern what I am meant to contribute to this world.
What have you learned from living and working with the sisters?
I have learned the true meaning of who the “dear neighbor” really is, of what “intentional community” means, and of how to “achieve all that women is capable of”. The sisters have been so supportive and inspiring throughout my year of service. They have challenged my old view of who the “dear neighbor” is by making me more accepting and tolerant of people that have views drastically different than my own. No matter how much I disagree with a person, that person is still my neighbor. They have showed me what it truly means to be a member of an intentional community. They have taught me how to be a present and supportive member of a community through compromise and by simply being an active participant in the house, whether it’s through cooking and cleaning or by being there for conversation. The sisters inspire me to “achieve all that women is capable of” through their leadership. They are amazing and inspiring role models. Being in the SJW Program has improved my leadership skills significantly by teaching me to take initiative and really make this year of service my own.
What advice would you give to someone interested in full-time volunteer service?

Don’t be afraid to say yes. Even if it is something you have never done before, say yes to the opportunity and try it out. God could be calling you to a vocation that you have never given much thought before. By saying yes you open yourself up to a whole new realm of possibilities for the future. I said yes to a year of service with the SJW Program and I have not regretted a single moment, no matter how challenging.


To learn more about CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative and discernment resources for volunteers, please click here.


For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week, including details about events taking place all over the U.S. please click here

Serving with Sisters: Cheryl Rozinski

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 8:00am
Throughout National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share interviews with volunteers currently serving alongside sisters. In each post you will hear a little more about how the volunteers found their program and what they’ve learned from the sisters they work with. Today we feature Cheryl Rozinski from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, a graduate from St. Joseph's University, volunteering with Good Shepherd Volunteers.
Cheryl, with fellow foster care advocates, staff, and former foster care youth meet with New York State Senator Marisol Alcantara, on advocacy day for funding for foster youth to go to college.  
How did you find your volunteer program? What appealed to you about it?
While attending the year of service fair hosted by Campus Ministry, one of my college mentors pointed out the Good Shepherd Volunteer staff and suggested that I ask about their public policy volunteer position. As I listened to the recruiter share about the government relations position in New York City, and the advocacy work that the current volunteer was involved in, I felt the Holy Spirit tug on my heart. She went on to share about the four tenets of the program—community, spirituality, simplicity, and social justice—and the tagline “just love.” I connected with everything she described and inwardly I could feel the excitement well up as I thought “yes, this is it,” while outwardly I calmly thanked the recruiter for her time, shared that I anticipated applying, and looked forward to getting to know the program further.
Cheryl and a facilitator stand in front of the answers that a group of youth generated, when asked “why a job is important?” These sessions were held to prepare young people to speak with legislators on Youth Action Day. Where do you serve? 
My office is located in mid-Manhattan, which makes the simplicity tenet a unique challenge. My title is “Public Policy Fellow,” and I serve in the Government and Community Relations department, which is a small but mighty team of three, committed to changing the city and state political landscape to benefit our participants. Day-to-day I represent the agency at coalition meetings, plan and attend advocacy meetings with elected officials and their staff, and update my colleagues on key policy or government developments. My greatest accomplishment thus far was planning Youth Action Day, an advocacy day in Albany attended by 300 youth and staff, to ask for more funded slots for the Summer Youth Employment Program. Because I serve in the home office, and the 6 other New York City volunteers serve in our programs, I view it as my personal mission to share information, events, and resources with my counterparts so that we all can be engaged in the agency’s advocacy mission.
Cheryl hard at work coordinating meeting logistics for 300 youth and chaperons participating in Youth Action Day in Albany, NY. 
How has service strengthened your faith and your understanding of vocation?
Before beginning this year of service journey, I knew whose I was, and for whom I work—God. This year, I have been given the space to pray as I walk by men and women experiencing homelessness or hunger, to practice Lectio Divina with my spiritual director, and to foster deep connections in my church community. I have found a field that I love, and want to commit my career to, and I have gained a vocabulary to define my dreams. For the first time, I have found my identity in both work and faith, and discerned my calling to use my God-given talents to advocate for justice in our society.
Cheryl and her coworkers at a press conference to support raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York City. Currently, New York is one of two states automatically adjudicating 16 and 17 year olds in adult court and sentencingthem to adult prisons. They work to raise the age to 18.What have you learned from living and working with the sisters?
Sr. Paulette, the Executive Director of the nonprofit that I serve, is incredibly patient and disciplined. She attends church every morning before coming to a busy and full day at work, and always takes time to say good morning and check in with individuals. Despite the many demands of her role, she maintains a person-centered approach, which is a practice that I try to emulate. From her and the other Sisters that I have had the pleasure of meeting, I have witnessed intense devotion to God, beautiful commitment to community, and incredible love for all people. The sisters lead by example, and have shared and shown great wisdom, which has offered me countless life lessons applicable now and as I go forth to continue serving.
What advice would you give to someone interested in full-time volunteer service?

As a Myers-Briggs affirmed thinker, I was naturally hesitant about living with less. However, I’ve found that by giving up my conventional desires, I am actually living with more. I see, smell, hear, taste, and feel more deeply, which subsequently, gives me more to think about. This year, I am developing intentional practices that will guide me throughout my life, while having the opportunity to impact the community that I am placed. I would advise you to enter your experience with an open-mind and an open-heart, expecting that unexpected changes and growth will occur.


To learn more about CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative and discernment resources for volunteers, please click here.


For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week, including details about events taking place all over the U.S. please click here

Serving with Sisters: Natalie Suzuki Pentkowski

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 8:00am
Throughout National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share interviews with volunteers currently serving alongside sisters. In each post you will hear a little more about how the volunteers found their program and what they’ve learned from the sisters they work with. Today we feature Natalie Suzuki Pentkowski from Los Angeles, California, a graduate from California Polytechnic State University of San Luis Obispo, volunteering with Vincentian Service Corps West.Natalie and her volunteer community.How did you find your volunteer program? What appealed to you about it?
During my last undergraduate year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I attended a Come & See Retreat with the Daughters of Charity at their provincial house in Los Altos Hills, California. I was discerning religious life at the time, and I felt a deep connection with the Daughters of Charity and their work, dedicating their lives to serve the poorest of the poor. On the second night of the retreat, I had a conversation with Sister Marie Rachel, who asked me about my plans after graduation. I shared with her my desire to give back to the church through a year of service. She then informed me about the Vincentian Service Corps West (VSCW). It was an answered prayer, and I felt tremendous peace after that evening. Among the various service programs I researched, VSCW stood out to me because of its focus on the Vincentian charism (service to the poorest of the poor) as well as its emphasis on community living, service, spirituality, and a simple lifestyle.

Where did you serve?                 
I serve as an Infant and Toddler Teacher at the Epiphany Center in San Francisco. The Epiphany Center is a non-profit organization that serves women, children, and families. They provide residential recovery, childcare, pediatric care, family treatment, in-home services, and family enrichment. I specifically work in their Parent-Child Center, caring for at-risk toddlers ages 1-3. As an Infant and Toddler Teacher at the Epiphany Center, an Early Head Start Program, I implement a comprehensive, developmentally appropriate education program for children ages 1-3; participate in the growth and development of the young child; maintain client confidentiality in all circumstances as required by professional ethics and legal requirements; and participate in program meetings, training workshops, and conferences.  
As a VSCW Member, I have the privilege of living in community with three others who work at the Gubbio Project, the Riley Center, and DeMarillac Academy. Our service year is 11 months long (August – June), and we receive a monthly stipend that helps pay all of our necessary expenses.
How has service strengthened your faith and your understanding of vocation?
Consecrated Life Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the
Assumption, where Sister Estela Morales was honored for
fifty years of service. By giving a year of my life as a VSCW Member, I have been challenged physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. My faith has gone through ups and downs, and I have had to trust God more than I ever have. I have never been more honest with God than I have now, and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I will forever cherish this year of service because of how it has shaped me as a person.
A year of service transforms you, whether you want to or not. It changes your perspective on life and the world around you. It challenges you to be selfless and to serve others: your brothers and sisters. It allows you the opportunity to learn more about yourself: challenges and strengths. And it also gives you an opportunity to discover your heart, soul, desires, and passions. Because of this service year, I have developed a better understanding of why we are all here on this earth: to love as Jesus loves.
What have you learned from living and working with the sisters?
Sister Estela Morales, MSW, is a Daughter of Charity and the Executive Director of the Epiphany Center. She has been working for Epiphany Center since 1989 and has been the Executive Director since 2008. In addition to her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Wayne State University, she brings 30 years of supervisory experience in social service agencies to the program
I recently attended a Consecrated Life Mass that honored and recognized her for 50 years of service, and I was in awe. Here I am, a 23-year-old giving a year of her life to give back to the Church, and there’s Sister Estela celebrating her 50th year of service to the Church. It was inspiring to witness such a beautiful and significant celebration.
To say that Sister Estela is selfless, dedicated, and committed is an understatement. She has given her life to serve God and His Church, and I am so grateful to be able to work alongside her. Because of this year of service, I have developed a deeper sense of appreciation for sisters. They are incredible role models for young women, including myself, and I am very grateful to know and work with sisters such as Sister Estela Morales.
What advice would you give to someone interested in full-time volunteer service?
Be open to what God has in store for you, and trust in Him. While it may seem crazy to commit to something so counter-cultural, you will not regret it. Believe in yourself, and trust that He is always with you.



To learn more about CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative and discernment resources for volunteers, please click here.


For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week, including details about events taking place all over the U.S. please click here

Jesus Did, So Can We!

Sun, 03/05/2017 - 7:30am
By Adanna Adaka, serving with the St. Joseph Worker Program in Orange, California


First Sunday of LentMatthew 4:1-11"One does not live on bread along, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."
Being raised in a Catholic household, I grew up hearing these Bible verses over and over again – at Sunday school, in religion classes, at prayer times, and even around the dinner table. However, no matter how many times I’d heard them or how well I could recite them, I could never stop thinking about how physically weak Jesus must have been. Think about going for forty days and forty nights without any food or water! He must have been so exhausted. Yet, when Jesus is presented with three different scenarios to demonstrate to the devil and to the world how powerful He is, Jesus humbles Himself and makes a conscious decision instead to glorify God through His words and actions. And He invites us to do the same.

Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that temptation is part of our humanity. What matters is how we respond to these temptations. Jesus’ experience in the wilderness shows us that we can overcome them because we are children of God equipped with Scripture, with faith, and with the love of God. But that’s not all! The Bible goes on to tell us that after Jesus’ ordeal, “…behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.” This closing line serves to reassure us that there will always be a silver lining for whatever clouds we encounter. And that if we can fight on through our temptations, they’ll eventually come to an end and He will be right there to congratulate our triumph over the devil. How beautifully encouraging!

Prayer:

Dear Lord, Thank You for showing me that I can be strong especially in moments when I feel so weak. Please teach me to always put my faith in You Lord, because You will always be at my side. Please grant me the courage to stand up for what is right and for what I believe in. Teach me to make decisions that glorify God for it is only through Him that I can gain everlasting life. I humbly ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Focus on: Social  Justice: In our world today, we have witnessed several cases where our leaders, political or otherwise, have faced the choice of using their newly acquired power to promote selfish interests or to work for the good of the community. How often do I find myself in similar positions? How do I respond? Do I contribute to the injustices I see around me instead of standing against them? We have been equipped with what we need to fight the good fight, so let us reevaluate our faith, offer up a prayer, or sing a song in tribute to those who have been victimized by such prejudices. 

Service Inspiration: I met Gena Gadient on my second day in California. She had served as one of the pioneer St. Joseph Workers in Orange the year before, and returned to work as a Program Assistant for incoming volunteers. In other words, she was going to be our mentor extraordinaire. I have known GG for approximately six months now and in this short time, she has quickly become a role model in my life. GG is a woman whom I have come to genuinely admire. Her love for/of others, her constant joy in service, her selflessness, and her constant willingness to connect people and lend a helping hand encourages me each day to be the best woman I can be at my placement site and to all whom I encounter. I am truly thankful for Gena and to God for placing her in my life. 


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: Adanna Adaka was born and raised in Nigeria. Upon her graduation from Canisius College in 2016, she began a year of service with the St. Joseph Worker Program of Orange. She works in Mission Hospital devoting her time to serving the underserved population and advocating for social change. In her spare time she loves to read romance novels, watch movies, and play soccer!