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Stories of service from Catholic Volunteer Network volunteers.
Updated: 2 hours 23 min ago

Share Your Wisdom: Melissa Feito - Loretto Volunteers, Washington DC

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 3:15pm


Melissa's reflective, fun, and expertly produced podcasts come full circle in this final piece, as she celebrates a year of service with three other Loretto Volunteers. Many thanks, Melissa, for bringing so much life and energy to CVN's  #servingwithsisters Ambassador series. Blessings as you continue your journey as a second year Loretto Volunteer!
The 2017-2018 Loretto Volunteers and our program director Mallory Daily, on our last day of closing retreat, at the Loretto Motherhouse.From left to right, Mallory (Loretto program director), myself, and Mary Louise at the UN in New York, where she worked this year. From left to right, Jackie, Hannah, and myself, at a demonstration protesting Wendy's in New York City. You can read why here.Melissa, a current Loretto Volunteer, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Share Your Wisdom: Jessica Vozella - St. Joseph Worker Program - Los Angeles, CA

Thu, 07/19/2018 - 10:00am
Jessica is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. This is her last post as her volunteer year comes to a close - thank you for following Jessica and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!

So here we were, driving through the entirety of the state of Kansas, having started our journey that day at 7 AM in Denver, CO. It’s the end of our program, and my community member Anh and I are on a road trip from Los Angeles to my home city of Boston, Massachusetts. One of the perks of driving so long is that you have plenty of time for reflection, which Anh and I did as we barreled down the highway. I told Anh about this blog and together we traveled back through our year, ruminating on wisdom we’d share with someone else interested in this opportunity.

My community. This picture was taken on our opening retreat in Lake Gregory, CA and remains one of our favorite group shots.
Community is truly a “you get what you give” situation. In our discussion, Anh and I remarked that there really isn’t a proper way to prepare for community living, but some take aways are as follows:
  • Try to let go of expectations. There is no standard against which you need to compare, but know what you want in community and know that to ask for it is the only way you will achieve it
  • Build in structure for your community; time together is really important!
  • The reality is that community is really hard. No one really told us that going in, but it is a hard part of this year, rewarding as it may be. It is okay to admit that it’s not always amazing, but it can become one of the best things about the program if everyone works on it.
My community member Molly and I after we ran the Homeboy Industries 5k. We originally were going to walk it, but we saw an opportunity to get outside of our comfort zones and ended up running part of our first 5k!“Make this a year of ‘yes’” - Anh
The first thing that came up when we were brainstorming wisdom was the notion of being open to new opportunities. This year presented a lot: different work opportunities, new places to explore, chances to get outside ourselves and our community. Be reflective and kind to yourself; don’t take on more than you can handle! But try pushing yourself a little; you might be amazing at what happens!An LA sunset photo taken on a solo stroll on the beach.Take time to be reflective and process your experience
For me, talking with community members and mentors, journaling, and going to the beach were methods of reflection and processing my experiences. Taking time out of the week to think about your work is really important. Similarly, I would encourage taking some time to think about what you need out of your year, especially things outside of work and community. And then go get those things!
Me signing clients up for services at my work site, St Joseph Center, Homeless Service Center.Keep your purpose at the heart of your year
It can be easy to get caught up in the difficulties of the year, of work, and of community, but keeping in mind the justice that your year is made for helps focus you and keeps your eyes on what matters. Keeping in this line of thinking, it’s important to try to remain in solidarity with the population you are serving by living simply and keeping up with the justice issues in the world. This year is a great chance to try out simple living challenges and more sustainable ways of life.
Me hiding in a cave on a beach trip I took with my community member Michaella in Malibu!Be true to yourself
I feel like I grew up a lot in this year. I was confronted with confusing questions about who I was and what I believed, what social justice looked like, and what growing into an adult is like. In the midst of all that, I encourage any person to stay true to who they know they are. For me, reaching out to mentors in the program as well as a spiritual director was really important in my journey. There is not a perfect volunteer, a perfect job placement, or a perfect experience in this year. Instead, it is a perfect jumble of life that God helps us navigate and grow in. 
My community with Fr. Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, and our program coordinator, Sr. Judy Molosky CSJ. Pope Francis made a special appearance, too!I am so grateful for the opportunities that came my way this year and for all that I learned. This year has given me amazing tools to use in the world after my volunteer year and I look forward to where the world takes me. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to write this blog and thank you all in a special way for accompanying me on my journey in service.A picture of the Los Angeles skyline I took on a reflective walk after spiritual direction.
Jessica, a current St. Joseph Worker, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Share Your Wisdom: Allison Reynolds - Good Shepherd Volunteers

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 11:07am
Allie is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. This is her last post as her volunteer year comes to a close - thank you for following Allie and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 


What advice would I give to future full time volunteers? Simply: to keep an open mind, and to just love. 
First, keep an open mind. There are so many things that can happen to you within your year of service, so many new opportunities, so many new people you will meet, and different professional responsibilities will be expected of you during different times of your year. My advice during all these times is: do not be afraid, and be open to the new experiences being presented to you. You felt called to this position as a volunteer, and you were chosen to be part of your program for a reason. You must have faith in yourself that you can do anything that will be put in your path. All the challenges you will face is the best way you will grow throughout your entire year. 
This is an art project I did with my students at the Shelter!During my first year of volunteering I worked at the Good Shepherd Shelter for domestic violence as a teacher’s assistant. Then around two or three months into my year, our population of children had increased where they needed another teacher. They asked me if I would be willing to teach Language Arts for 4th and 5th grade. In my mind I was thinking how unprepared I felt - I was not trained for teaching! I was nervous, however, I felt it was a growing opportunity and I knew the Good Shepherd Shelter staff would be supporting me the whole time. It was well worth the risk, and now I know new skills such as lesson planning and grading. During these difficult and new times, always be willing to try new things with an open mind, and if you do not feel comfortable or do not like it, then at least you tried it!
This was a class we hosted for 100 women, and the main language spoken was Quechua. We had interpreters to help us with the language barrier. Secondly, Just Love. Just Love everyone you come across during your service year. Everyone you serve will have a story. All they will want from you is love and acceptance, which are two things they might not have had before coming to you. For example, during my second year of volunteer work I have lived in Sucre, Bolivia where the two main languages are Quechua and Spanish. Quechua, I do not understand at all. Spanish, I understand now, but at the beginning was quite difficult to find the words to express myself. During these times of communication difficulties I chose to smile, give hugs, handshakes, head nods, and say what I could to show them I valued them and was willing to help them. These little gestures of effort can make someone else feel loved and noticed, which is something I had to learn by not being able to talk. This part of my second year has proven to be a beautiful experience, my Bolivian clients and I come from very different cultures, however, we have been able to communicate through love.
Mr. Erik (my supervisor) and I in front of our newly made bulletin board for our shared classroom. In conclusion, Love where you work and Love your coworkers. Their constant support towards you will amaze you and make you very thankful.  Love the work you do, put forward all your efforts, thoughts, and ideas with confidence and take out as much positivity as you put in. Love everything you do and do your best not to have any regrets, as this experience working as a volunteer comes only once in a lifetime and you will miss it when it is over.


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

Share Your Wisdom: Catherine Nguyen - St. Joseph Worker Program, Orange, CA

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 9:10am
Catherine is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. This is her last post as her volunteer year comes to a close - thank you for following Catherine and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

All is Grace – The Gift of Presence

The photo is of the current St. Joseph Workers (in the back, from left to right - Katie, myself, Yadira, and Sarah), with (in the front) Sr. Joanna (program director), Fernanda (a 2016-2017 SJW), and Gena (a 2015-2016 SJW and current program manager).  We took this photo in October when we went to Northern California to visit the places where the CSJ sisters serve.   


As my service year comes to an end, I slowly realize how it will actually never end.  The spirit of the St. Joseph Worker Program, and all that I have received through it, has become a part of me that I will carry throughout my life.  Upon college graduation, our formal education in a school-setting ends, but the learning and growth in our area of expertise (and beyond) is a lifelong experience.  All of these moments are opportunities to explore the unknown and challenge ourselves to grow.  Thus, I am grateful for the experiences I have had in my year of service.  Whether it was a pleasant undertaking, or one that proved to be difficult and challenging, all is a grace from God and has helped transform me into the person I am today.  Through it all, this year has taught me to simply be present, and to embrace the present moment rather than dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.  It is in being present to my journey and those I have been blessed to encounter, that I am able to soak in all the graces God pours upon me.  

During my year of service, I am blessed to have the opportunity to begin my days with Jesus in the Holy Celebration of the Mass.  It is in this celebration, particularly the Celebration of the Eucharist, that resonates with my own journey in the St. Joseph Worker Program.  In my day-to-day ministry, I work with small groups of students who need more one-on-one instruction because of their different learning styles.  I also watch over all of the students during lunch and recess times, coach Decathlon, and remind track runners of how powerful the human will is.  Now it can seem almost mundane, if only looked at only from the surface.

So too, before consecration, the host is merely a wafer - so simple and insignificant.  Yet it is in the consecration, that we pray the words that implore the Holy Spirit to come down to transform the “wafer” and “wine” into the Real Presence of Jesus - The Body and Blood of Christ.  And so I’ve learned...Though the works I do at St. Anne and in other program activities are not too difficult nor have a major impact on the world as a whole, I strive to offer all my students and the works entrusted to me to God, so that He may sanctify them and fill in where I am lacking.  This has taught me to be free to serve without being so concerned about the results of my works. After all, it is not my work, but God’s work.  So trusting Him, I have learned to love and care more about my students’ growth in character and as beloved Children of God, rather than results such as passing and temporal grades (though education and knowledge are important).

In a year of service, it can get to a point when I feel so burned out that I wish to reserve my energy and focus solely on my own needs.  It is in these sometimes too often moments when I feel out-of-touch with my dear neighbors - be it my students, those experiencing homelessness in our neighborhoods, or even my SJWP community.  However, looking at Jesus, I see that He, in the most loving and compassionate way possible, always made Himself available to those in need - from the lepers to the tax collectors, from the crowds of 5,000 to the one woman at the well. And He still does make Himself available, especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  He says, “This is my Body…”  so to remind me of His sacrificial love for His Universal Body - the Church - the dear neighbors that are my own brothers and sisters.  Jesus as well says, “This is my Body, which will be given up for you.”  Following His example and invitation, I too experience “giving up” myself.  From the external comforts of being home with my family, having a salary, and focusing solely on my own needs and ambitions, to the internal comforts of following my own will...this year of service has allowed and nurtured within myself a more compassionate presence - a presence to the needs of others, a presence that is simply open and available.

It is in being broken, that I am able to be given out to others.  Therefore, perfection is not my goal, but rather to love as Jesus loves.  Despite my weaknesses and faults, God can still somehow use me as an instrument of His love, peace, and joy.  Being with the students at St. Anne’s has proven the fact that I am no savior.  I cannot magically make their struggles disappear, be it academics or familial.  However, I can journey with them by simply listening and being available when they need me.  Despite being an instructional aide, the irony is, I have learned and received much more from the teachers and students at St. Anne’s than I have given. In and through their sharings, and even from their smiles, everyone brings to life Christ’s unconditional love to me. The students are the image of what Scripture refers to when calling us to be like children - so pure and totally trusting and dependent on God the Father.

The word Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving,” and to live a Eucharistic life means to live with gratitude.  This year of service has taught me to always be present, being aware and responsive to God’s invitations through my dear neighbors.  In knowing that God is in all persons and situations, I am grateful for all the experiences and the graces received this year. I pray that imitating Jesus in the Eucharist, I may continue to give myself to the Church and to my dear neighbors, even in the most simple form of presence.  
 Catherine, a current St. Joseph Worker, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Share Your Wisdom: Ada Lee - Vincentian Service Corps West - San Francisco, CA

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 10:23am
Ada is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. This is her last post as her volunteer year comes to a close - thank you for following Ada and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 


My community members and I took a trip to Alcatraz and Angel Island last weekend. With the year winding down, we want to spend as much time together as possible! Trips like these are always special ways for us to bond and connect with each other...as well as be a tourist in San Francisco!Dear future volunteer,
I know you’re probably having excitement and joy, but also doubts and worries as you contemplate the opportunity to serve. A little more than a year ago, I was in your position. In 2017, I would never have thought that I would be moving across the country, serving alongside incredible people, forming compassionate relationships with the marginalized of society, and living in intentional community. I had no idea how much I would change and grow as a person. I had no idea how much a year of service would change my life in all aspects.
Of course, there were times I struggled- and not just financially. There were moments I felt discouraged and had doubt in my faith or in the reason why I was placed here. There were instances of strife and trouble. But in the end, it has all been part of a greater journey of finding myself and being happy with who I’ve become.
And so, wide eyed and eager friend, here are three pieces of advice to take with you as you discern this amazing and life changing opportunity:
1) Dare yourself to use your faith in any and every way possible.
Before I embarked on my adventure with Vincentian Service Corps West, I struggled with my faith. I was unsure about where I was in my relationship with God. Going to church was the least priority in my mind, and I did not have a faith community with whom I felt comfortable. This year, I wanted a change and so I dared myself to try to see God in all aspects of my life.
The moment I let God become the main factor of my life, my eyes were opened and I started to sense His presence everywhere. I no longer see God only at church service. Now, I see God in the everyday, in every moment, and in every person. I see God in the people I’m serving- a God of mercy and truth. I see God in my community members and the support system I have developed here- a God of service. I see God in the moments of being happy and in the beautiful nature of San Francisco- a God of love. By opening myself to seeing God everywhere, I truly do see Him everywhere.
But I also see God in those not- so- nice moments. I see God with me as I struggled to connect with a person I was serving. I see God as I made the hard decision to switch service sites mid-year. I see God in the times my community members and I did not get along. Despite those moments being ones of difficulty, knowing I had God with me in each one gave me utmost inner peace and clarity.  I have been able to find God working in me- transforming my heart and molding me into the person I’m meant to be.
Future volunteer, I dare you to use your faith in every way possible. I dare you to see God in every moment, in every person, and in every day, too.

One of the biggest things I have learned through my time at The Epiphany Center is the power of compassion- for others and most importantly for myself. We all make mistakes and we all have struggles- we are only human and no one is perfect. To admit you are vulnerable and need help is one of the most empowering and bravest things you can do. We live in a time where we are often told that we must stay strong, we can’t express our feelings, and we need to hold in our emotions. The clients of The Epiphany Center have shown me that to admit you’re in need of help and to not be afraid to seek it, is one of the first steps in healing. The clients all have various backgrounds- many from trauma, self-doubt, and fear. But holding in these worries prohibit you from becoming your full, beautiful self. I have been touched by the determination of these clients. They express tenacity in becoming the best women they can be. They have forgiven themselves and learned from their mistakes to move on to become better people. 

Future volunteer, I ask you this: to above, all trust in the work of God (whether or not it is the pace we desire). Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, has said, “Give Our Lord the benefit of belief that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Believe that He is leading you in the right direction and see this as an opportunity to trust in your faith more.


2) The power of (self) compassion
Before I embarked on the adventure that is a year of service, I was facing a lot of personal issues. I felt lost and confused and unsure of the direction my life was going. This left me very frustrated. When it came time to move across the country and start over in a new city, I was hard on myself when I couldn’t automatically make new friends or get adjusted to the directions and finding my way around. I was living with new people I’ve never met before and readjusting the way I lived.
Forgiving yourself for the missteps in your life journey is the way to achieve your whole self. Taking it easy on yourself through the struggles that this year brings will allow you to see God in even the most difficult of moments. Future volunteer, I implore you to know that good things take time to come to fruition. The best is yet to come. Take it easy on yourself. That’s the best we can do in this one life we are given.
3) The courage of ‘letting go’- let go, let God
Before I went on the adventure that is living on the other side of the country, I found it hard to let things go. I used to keep every single paper I’ve ever received since 1st grade (really!). When my program informed me that I was only allowed to bring two suitcases and a bookbag to stay in solidarity with the act of living simply and with the people we were serving, I made the sporadic life-changing decision to live a life of minimalism. I thought to myself, “If I’m going to be living simply this year with the intent on it influencing my whole life, I might as well take the steps to make this happen.”
I donated 90% of my stuff to charity the summer before I left for California. This was the hardest, but first, step for me on this journey. I struggled, cried, complained about letting go of my possessions- to the point where my friends had to forcibly take things away from me. But once I let them go, a huge wave of relief settled over me. How much of those things that I owned affected a huge part of my life? By letting go of the material possessions that I once thought owned me, I was stripped down to my basic and simple core. Now, I can focus on myself and the work God has planned for me. Let go of the things weighing you down, of worldly items, and let God provide and work through you.
And so future volunteer, I end this letter with a choice at the crossroads of your destiny. The decision is yours now. The power to decide is at your fingertips. But whatever happens, I got your back. May God bless you on your decision.

Love,Ada
Ada, a current volunteer with Vincentian Service Corps West, blogged  about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.