This is the prayer that I said silently to myself each time I climbed into my rental car to attend a campus event. This past week, I completed my first recruitment circuit in Tennessee and Kentucky, visiting the University of Tennessee, Eastern Kentucky University, Belmont University, Tennessee State University, Fisk University and Meharry Medical College. I got to talk to students of all backgrounds, interests, ages and future plans. To each student I asked, “What are your plans for after graduation?” Some had clearer ideas than others, but my hope is that after speaking with me, each student will now consider “service” as an answer to that question.
You see, that is what we are really about, planting the seeds of contemplation about faith-based service and giving prospective volunteers the tools to find the program that is right for them. Since I knew so many people who had pursued service with Catholic Volunteer Network, I sometimes assumed that all students were familiar with our programs. This week, I learned that this is not necessarily the case. It was such a gift to see the faces of individuals who had been searching for faith-based service opportunities, but simply didn’t know where to look. After receiving a RESPONSE book a couple of days before, one EKU student told me “I spent hours reading through it! I love it so much!”
Several seniors told me about their discernment processes and programs to which they were planning to apply. While freshman and sophomores told me that they had just started getting involved in service and were interested in learning more and many had questions to ask.
One of the most common questions that I heard was, “Do I have to be Catholic to participate?” The answer to that is “no”. All of our programs are faith-based, but not necessarily Catholic. While programs vary in level of expected religious or spiritual commitment, programs ask that volunteers express an openness to those varying levels. If you are curious about the prayer life of a particular program or community, give the program director a call and they will be happy to tell you more.
Another concern that many students have pertains to the financial end of volunteering and paying off student loans. My response to those questions is that 90 of our programs are AmeriCorps programs. As an AmeriCorps member, you have the ability to put your loans into forbearance and receive money at the end of your term to apply toward past loans or future education. If you are not an AmeriCorps member, you will most likely be able to defer your student loans. As you consider post-grad service, it is best to know what kinds of loans you have and what your options are. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to talk to your Financial Aid office.
Other students asked about application deadlines. While deadlines are different for various programs, most deadlines for domestic programs is around March 1st. International programs are typically a bit earlier. Some have rolling admissions. What I typically recommend to seniors applying for post grad service is to complete your applications over Christmas break. This gives your references time to send in their letters and it gives you time to enjoy your last semester of college.
A non-traditional question that one student asked was “What is the biggest pitfall that an applicant may encounter?” This one took me a second because program applications do not really have right or wrong answers. They are more of a tool for discernment than anything else. But, CRA Scotty Biggs helped me out in answering this student. We agreed that the biggest “pitfall” in the application process is not being open. Many times we get caught up in wanting to be in a certain location or do a certain type of work and forget to be open to God’s will for us. After all, sometimes God has a way of putting us in the place we least expected, but most needed to be.
I was reminded of this fact as I lie in my hotel room late one night and I prayed, “Thank you, God. Thank you so much for this opportunity. To grow from the energy and enthusiasm of those that I meet and to continue reflecting on the experiences that give me life. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Amen”