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Stories of service from Catholic Volunteer Network volunteers.
Updated: 1 hour 9 min ago

I Chose Service - Jennifer Kennymore, Salesian Lay Missioners

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 3:25pm
After graduating from college, 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:Jennifer KennymoreVolunteer Program:Salesian Lay MissionersLocation: Mary Help of Christians Center, Tampa, FL Hometown: Ft. Collins, COCollege: University of Northern Colorado (BA, 2008), Colorado School of Public Health (MPH, 2010)
How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I learned about the Peace Corps in High School. I thought it sounded like an amazing opportunity to give a year or two of your life to others. Eventually I decided I wanted to do some type of service related to my Catholic faith. Serving for an extended amount of time was something I felt called to do for a long time.
What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Salesian Lay Missioners?For health reasons the Peace Corps was not an option for me but I still wanted to serve. I had applied to the Salesians when I graduated with my MPH but decided to postpone my year of service. Options at the time I joined were to stay at my current job, start a different job or do mission work.
Tell us about your service experience. Originally I wanted to go abroad but I knew my skills and experience would fit well with the needs in Tampa. It worked out for the best and I am so happy to be a part of the Salesian family now! My role in Tampa included being registrar at summer camp, tutoring at the boys and girls club, event coordination, retreat facilitation, socializing and helping retired Salesian priests and brothers, and more.
What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? For me the biggest benefits came in spiritual growth. Being surrounded by others with the same faith and stronger faith than my own had a significant positive impact. Without my time in mission I would not have known how amazing and vast the Salesian community is. I also wouldn't have known how much work and love it takes to make a place like Mary Help feel like a home to all who visit. I learned what I (along with the support and help from a wonderful team) am truly capable of while I was on mission and that will have positive repercussions on my life for years to come.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? Do it and do it now! I waited and it made it harder in some ways but nonetheless do it! It will be challenging and it won't be perfect but your efforts and time will be appreciated. Also, you will make connections and and memories that last long after your time of service. Those connections and memories will last longer than a year's salary and after your year (or two) of service you will know in your heart that you had an impact and made a true difference in the lives of others.
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: Gina Fleck, Project S.E.R.V.E.

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 5:31pm
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: Gina Fleck 
Volunteer Program: Catholic Charities Project S.E.R.V.E. (currently on staff of Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry)
Location: Catholic Charities of Baltimore 
Hometown: Kintnersville, PA 
College: Mount St. Mary’s University '15, International Studies major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? It was through word of mouth! I was interning at the Maryland Catholic Conference in Annapolis and expressed my desire to do a service year in Baltimore. I thought I wanted to go to law school at the time so I could do advocacy work on the state level. I felt like I couldn’t advocate on behalf of marginalized populations or people affected by injustice if I didn’t first get to know their stories and build relationships with them, so I started looking into different post-grad service programs that offered opportunities to partake in direct service. A colleague recommended Project S.E.R.V.E.! 

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Project SERVE? I was considering going directly into law school. I took the LSAT and started a few applications and then heard about Project SERVE. I decided to do a year of post-grad service because it just felt providential. The timing could not have been better and Project SERVE fit all I was looking for: it was a year of faith-based service in Baltimore, where I had previously done several service trips through college. Ultimately, the prospect of doing a year of service filled me with an excitement and hopefulness that no other post-grad options did. I wanted to find a way to integrate my faith with my work on a daily basis, and it seemed like a great opportunity to do so!

Tell us about your service experience. My service placement was at Our Daily Bread, the largest soup kitchen in Maryland. I helped to coordinate the 40 volunteers it takes to run the lunch service every day and helped with a plethora of odds and ends. I also got to tutor men in an 18-month residential employment academy for formerly homeless or incarcerated men called Christopher Place. The CP men and I may have looked like a funny match to outsiders, but we got along swimmingly! I was completely astounded by their resilience, humor, and get-it-done attitude. My year of service made evident my own privilege and how we can all learn so much from others who are different from us. I could never have imagined how much they would teach me—I just had to dive in and allow myself the chance to grow! The experience really opened up a whole new world; what I learned was equally frustrating and exhilarating! 

My experience living in community was fantastic—I think I would have crumbled in this environment of newness had it not been for the support and discussions with my community members and our awesome coordinator, Allison. They were great guides and friends all the way through! 

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? The most wonderful gift I received from my year of service was a change of heart. A year of service afforded me the opportunity to cross over into territories and backgrounds formerly uncharted in my own life. I stretched and altered my opinions on so many issues. I was surprised and upended by the consistent generosity of people I met who were poor and in great need, but still wanted to make sure I had a good day and was doing well. I was astonished to uncover some of the gifts I didn’t know I had before the year and pleased to have a practical outlet for using them.  

My year of service also led me to my current job with a post-grad service program in Baltimore called Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry! It keeps me connected to my own year of service and helps me get others excited about the prospect of doing their own service year. I don’t think I would have found a job nearly as exciting or fulfilling if I passed up the chance to do Project S.E.R.V.E.  

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? It’s an unconventional choice for sure. Not many people you talk to will even know what it is when you describe your post-grad plans to them. Don’t worry about that! Do it, do it, do it because your heart will be forever changed. You just have to take that leap of faith. It’s a year of blessings on blessings that doesn’t end when the service year does. In the words of Mumford and Sons, “I ain't ever lived a year better spent in love.”

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: Lily Key, Maggie's Place

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 10:08am
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: Lily KeyVolunteer Program: MissionCorps Member at Maggie's PlaceLocation: Phoenix, AZHometown: Carlisle, PACollege:University of Dallas, 2014, Theology major
How did you first learn about post-graduate service? From a friend who served at a maternity home after college.
What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Maggie's Place?I had been not making long term commitments so that I could be free to discern and visit possible religious communities, but when I realized that it wasn't the right time for all of that for me, I looked in to doing something else. I was not attracted to working a job just for me, but wanted to use my time for others, so that's why I decided on service.
Tell us about your service experience: I served as a full-time, live-in volunteer at Maggie's Place, called a MissionCorps member, for two years. The unique thing about serving at Maggie's Place is that we live in the homes we run with the women we serve, so you get a lot of intimate contact with those you serve and are able to get to know them on a personal and human level. The actual work was very down to earth: helping the moms by holding babies, cooking, cleaning, being present, answering the phone, receiving donations, etc., but because it was all in a living environment, it stretched me more than anything I had ever done before. Being selfless and living the works of mercy was my job, and it was all the time! It has been the greatest privilege and the greatest challenge.
What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I have grown immensely due to my service experience. It was certainly the most challenging position I have ever had, with many responsibilities and a lot of independence and self-direction. I grew in my knowledge of people, how they change, how to give and receive difficult feedback, the need for open and non-defensive or judgmental communication. I grew in professionalism, the ability to not take things personally, and in healthy boundaries. I learned a lot about myself! Community life brought out my strengths and weaknesses for all to see, and so became an opportunity for greater self-awareness and also humility as I have to admit my own weaknesses or be exhausted by the pressure of hiding them. Spiritually, I have come to realize that all happens only by God's Divine Providence, and He is attentive even to our smallest needs. He will provide! I could not have done any of what I did on my own strengths or skills, but only by the gifts and graces God gave me to do it. Lastly, through living with the moms at Maggie's Place, I have learned so much about poverty and people experiencing challenges that were previously unknown to me, and it has changed by whole outlook on the world.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? Post-graduate service is an excellent preparation for whatever comes next. I would say that I learned more in my two years (even my first year) of service than I did in four years of college about people, about myself, and many of the soft skills that are the difference between average and excellent candidates for any job. The service I did was particularly intense, living and serving in community, but any service will stretch you, making your more self-aware, more generous, and more willing to grow and be stretched in future experiences, whatever they may be. It will change the direction of your life and your outlook on the world though, so if you're comfy where you are, be forewarned!
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 - Amanda Ceraldi, Franciscan Mission Service

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 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: Amanda Ceraldi
Volunteer Program: Franciscan Mission Service (FMS)
Location: Guatemala
Hometown: Pasadena, Maryland
College: The Catholic University of America '14, Theology major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I was first introduced to the possibility of post-grad service during my freshman year at Catholic U.  I saw a flyer for the long-term service fair and began thinking about having that as an option when I graduated.  After that first fair meeting different post-grad organizations I began meeting with my campus minister and dean regularly for the following three years to see how that could be my next step after graduation.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Franciscan Mission Service? During my senior year of college I knew that I wanted to do long-term service after graduation, so I wasn’t looking into any other options.  I decided to become a missioner with FMS because I knew I wanted to go international for at least two year and I feel in love with the Franciscan charism, especially their commitment to ministry of presence. 

Tell us about your service experience. For the past two and a half years I have lived and worked at a boarding school for poor and marginalized children in Guatemala called Valle de los Angeles.  We are home to 215 boys and girls for 10 months of the year.  At Valle, I teach English to 3rd-6th graders, plan and lead short-term mission trips, tutor, volunteer with local communities throughout Guatemala, and spend as much time as possible with our precious children!  I live in a small community of FMS volunteers here at Valle, but my true community experience is with the local people I spend my days with here in Guatemala.  In addition to the 215 children I work with I have also developed deep communion-like relationships with many of their families, the staff here at the school, and other local volunteers. 

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? Outwardly, the biggest thing I have gained from my time on mission is the ability to speak Spanish.  Prior to my arrival in Guatemala I knew no Spanish!  Thankfully, after 2.5 years,  I’ve been able to pick up the language really well.  I love communicating in Spanish now!  Internally, the greatest thing I have gained is a new understanding on what it means to love and be loved.  I have loved harder and deeper than I ever thought possible and I am constantly surrounded by people who love me and call me to be my most authentic self.  Additionally, I have never felt closer to God then during my time on mission! 

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? My biggest piece of advice for someone considering post-graduate service would be to open your heart to going outside of your comfort zone.  I think that on mission and when doing service we are called to be uncomfortable and in those moments of discomfort we are able to experience God, to see His face, and love His children.  I am called outside of my comfort zone every single day and that has allowed me to experience God in ways I never thought possible!

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 - Faith Yusko, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 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: Faith Yusko
Volunteer Program: Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry
Location: Baltimore, MD
Hometown: West Islip, NY
College: The University of Scranton, Class of 2016. International Studies Major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I learned about post-graduate service through friends and role models of mine who have done post-graduate service.

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on your service program? I had considered jumping directly into the work force, but I definitely felt called to serve others through volunteering and I wanted to deepen my spiritual growth and development! 

Tell us about your service experience. I serve as a Child Care Aide in the Bon Secours Early Head Start Child Development Classroom. In my role I work as part of a team serving children ranging in age from two months to three years old and their families. This program helps support families and children so that they can develop a love of learning to carry with them throughout their lives.  My fellow volunteer community members and I live and serve in West Baltimore, and have been learning from the pillars of our program centered around practicing God's justice, learning through service with others, developing community, growing spiritually, and living simply. In addition to allowing me to share my gifts, my service year has humbled me through the community I am learning from and that I am a part of.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I am learning different ways to apply Catholic Social Teaching and spiritual well-being practices into my everyday life. It has helped me to continue to grow spiritually after transitioning out of a Catholic undergraduate institution. 

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? Take the leap of "Faith" and you won't regret it! There are opportunities to learn and grow through service each day!

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 - Emily Dumont, Christian Appalachian Project

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 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: Emily Dumont 
Volunteer Program: AmeriCorps Member with Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) 
Location: Jackson County, KY 
Hometown: Auburn, ME 
College: Stonehill College '14, Mathematics and Religious Studies major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? Stonehill College really values service and strongly encourages their students to participate in service in some form throughout their time at the school. Through Stonehill’s alternative spring break program (The HOPE Program) and post-graduate service fair I was able to get more detailed information about possible post-graduate service opportunities.  From my freshman year I heard a lot about post-graduate service and it was always floating in my head as an option for me.  

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on CAP? My senior year of college I was considering studying actuarial science or accounting. I had also spent a lot of time debating whether or not I wanted to be a teacher and I was considering trying to find a job working in a school.  I went on an alternative spring break trip to Christian Appalachian Project’s WorkFest in March of my senior year and after that service was really the only option I was considering anymore.  Everyone I encountered at CAP seemed so passionate about the work they were doing and about sharing their experience with others. The feeling at CAP was like no other I had ever experienced and it was definitely something I wanted to be a part of.  

Tell us about your volunteer experience. I can’t say enough great things about my service placement.  From September to May I work with children in the local elementary schools. I teach fourth graders practical living classes. I teach lessons on anti-bullying, conflict resolution, consumerism, and career education. I get to work with my fellow AmeriCorps members to create lesson plans and come up with creative and engaging ways to work with our students. I also am able to do a lot of in classroom assistance helping mainly in math classes. Because math is what I am really passionate about I have been able to start a math club at one of our schools to give small groups or students a little extra attention and practice. I love the way our work in the schools is set up because each AmeriCorps member has an opportunity to work in an area that is most suited to them.  

The other major aspect of my service experience happens from June to August, although we talk about and prepare for it all year round. I work with Camp AJ, so a large part of my service is about helping to run a summer camp. My first two summers at Camp AJ I worked as a counselor. I got to learn a bunch of games and songs and cheers and my job was to play with (and supervise) children for seven weeks. I now help to plan schedules, register children for camp, train counselors, and communicate with parents. For many of our children their week at summer camp is their favorite week of the entire year.  Being a part of that experience is absolutely amazing and has definitely made the seven weeks of summer camp my favorite of the year. 

One of my favorite aspects of CAP is that the participants in their programs are all interconnected.  In my community I live with other camp volunteers as well as volunteers from the housing and elderly services programs. I love living in community and hearing about what is going on in other programs and also seeing how our programs are all weaved together.  Some of our children’s grandparents are in the elderly program and my housemates might be putting a new roof on one of our camper’s houses while they are with us. Community is a great built in support system and it also helps me to see the bigger picture that my service is a part of.  

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I feel that in my service I have learned many, many tangible skills. I have learned to write lesson plans, and use an electric drill, and just the other day I learned how to fix a fishing pole. I definitely am happy I learned those things, but I think the biggest benefits have come from the children I work with. I have learned a lot from them about perseverance and gratitude. I don’t think I ever fully appreciated all of the opportunities that were provided for me to get me to where I am today. Seeing the situations that some of our children live and learn and grow in has made me so grateful for the childhood that I had. It also has shown me how strong and resilient children are. I really believe that serving here has taught me to look at the world and my life through a different lens.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? I think my biggest piece of advice would be to be willing to take risks. If you told me a few years ago that I would be living in Eastern Kentucky working at a summer camp I would have told you that you were crazy. I never went to summer camp as a kid and probably would have cried the entire time if someone had tried to make me. I remember lying in bed the night before I was going to fly to Kentucky. I was horrified. I couldn’t figure out why I thought moving away from my family and friends was a good idea. I was scared, but I went anyway.  It was definitely the best decision I have ever made.  At CAP there have been lots of opportunities for me to do new things and step outside of my comfort zone.  I won’t say that I have taken all of them, but I try to as much as I can and I have never regretted taking a chance and trying something new.

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 - Rory Magargee, Augustinian Volunteers

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 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: Rory Magargee
Volunteer Program: Augustinian Volunteers 
Location: (Southside) Chicago, IL
Hometown: Bryn Mawr, PA
College: Saint Joseph’s University ‘14, Finance, Risk Management and Insurance

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I first learned about a post-graduate year of service during my formative years in high school through several role models who I looked up to that decided to do a year of service upon graduation. These individuals shared their remarkable experiences with me. In high school, I made a promise to myself that I wanted to do a year of service after graduation, more specifically with the Augustinian Volunteer Program. 

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Augustinian Volunteers? In today’s society, the majority of college students are aware of two options upon graduation: to go back to school and earn an a graduate degree or to secure a job and build a career. There is however a third option, which is definitely the road less traveled, and has an extremely profound impact on not only your life, but all of the lives around you, this option is to dedicate yourself to a post-graduate volunteer program. Upon graduation, I had a job offer with a major insurance carrier located in Philadelphia. I went back and forth for a few days deciding between taking the job or executing the promise I had to myself to join the AV program after graduation as I had always gravitated towards the Augustinian Order as a result of attending an Augustinian High School. I ultimately decided to join the AVs for the simple reason that I knew it would be the biggest regret of my life had I not joined. To this day, the decision to join the AVs is by far the best decision I have ever made in my life because it forced me out of my comfort zone and I learned to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, which is such a powerful tool I carry with me wherever I go.

Tell us about your service experience. I was placed  at St. Rita High School in the South Side of Chicago. St Rita is an Augustinian High School in which over 80% of the student body is on financial aid and is located in a very rough neighborhood in Chicago. I wore many different hats at St. Rita, I worked in the Campus Ministry Department and oversaw the christian service program; I led a group of students to a local soup kitchen every Wednesday night, I was the curator for the St. Rita Shrine Chapel, I coached Flag Football and Lacrosse, I organized and oversaw multiple retreats; I led a service trip over spring break to North Carolina, however, my primary role at the school was to get to know each of the 635 students on a personal level and to support each of them as they navigated high school, the formative years of their lives. 

A major charism of the Augustinian Order is to live in community, a form of intentionally living that fosters growth in each community member through sharing every facet of day-to-day life with the members of your community. The Augustinian Volunteer program expects its participants to live in an Augustinian Community similar to each clerical Augustinian Community. My community consisted of two other Augustinian Volunteers; one coming from Minnesota and the other was from California - which led to a very unique circumstance because on a fundamental level we were all from different parts of the country with very different perspectives and childhoods. Community life was very challenging and forced each member to sacrifice things that we took for granted our entire lives. Community life forced us to truly understand each other and to support each other through our year of service and as a result, was extremely rewarding as I came out of the year as a product of my community.  

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I believe that in today’s society many people tend to forget to analyze their lives and situations. The biggest benefit of my year of service was that it was a year of reflection and self-examination. I feverishly worked towards improving myself in so many ways: spiritually, professionally, emotionally and mentally. I approached my year of service as a year of “yes”, meaning that I would say yes to anything anyone asked of me. This forced me into so many indescribable situations that I was never prepared for, but I was able to learn from these experiences and lend a helping hand to someone in need. This mentality has trickled into my personal and professional life, and I picked up a plethora of experiences with knowledge and skills that I would not have had I continued to divert these requests.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? The biggest piece of advice I can lend to someone considering a post-graduate service is to understand a few ideas all revolve around having an open mind and an open heart.

  • It will be the biggest challenge of your life, you will encounter many difficult scenarios that will help define the person you are and lay the foundation for who you want to become. 
  • It is important to have expectations of the experience, but understand that your expectations will not always align with your service. I had such a wonderful idea in my mind of what my year was going to look like prior to flying out to Chicago and within the first week, that idea got flipped upside down. Instead of complaining about the circumstance, I decided to be present in my placement and to meet each person I served with where they were in life. This was such a wonderful gift because it allowed me to change my perception of the person I am and what my mission is.
  • You will not have all of the answers- but you can always be part of the solution. So many times I was forced into scenarios that I was not prepared for, but through graceful service and working with others, I found ways to make it work.
  • The impact that you have on the individuals and communities you serve will pale in comparison to the impact that the individuals and communities have on your life. Not a day goes by when I don’t revisit a memory from my year of service.


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 - Emmy Smith, MercyWorks Volunteer Program

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 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: Emmy Smith
Volunteer Program: MercyWorks Volunteer Program
Location: Chicago, IL
Hometown: Mitchell, South Dakota 
College: University of South Dakota '16, Criminal Justice and Political Science major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? For me it all started with a google search. I knew I wanted to give a year devoted to service, I just did not know where to start. Google brought me to the Catholic Volunteer Network where I was able to narrow in my search. 

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on MercyWorks? When I was deciding what was next I was between graduate school, a full-time job, and a year of service with MercyWorks. I chose MercyWorks because I wanted the chance to be challenged through experience. I was excited to live in a community invested in values that I cared about. Mostly, the professional development that a year of service offered was monumental to any other opportunity I had. 

Tell us about your service experience. My placement with MercyWorks was rooted in the heart of Chicago where I got the opportunity to work with young men age 11-14 at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. My role as a youth care worker allowed me to meet youth where they were at to give them the best possible therapeutic treatment for them and their families. I got put on a team of hard working, dedicated men and women who were truly inspired by the mission of Speh Home, “ to give wings to Chicago’s children.” Throughout my experience I walked with youth through their daily struggles, successes, and moments of growth. Placement wise, I could not be more thankful for choosing service. There is a certain joy that comes with working with middle school boys that is only available through experience. I got to experience this joy every single day while serving in Speh home. One of my favorite examples of this joy was when one of my youth would ask for a bedtime story and to be tucked in every night. Another when another wanted to create a secret hand shake that has now grown to be 215 steps long. The boys I served made it easy to want to continue coming to work every single day. 

As for my volunteer community experience, I could talk forever about how fortunate I am to have experienced this service year with eleven of the most courageous, dynamic, and servant leader companions. Moving far from home, I did not know what to expect. It was evident from our opening ceremony that we were going to have an amazing year. The men and women I served alongside challenged me daily to grow into my best self. They encouraged me always to shoot for my dreams. Mostly, they supported me through any struggled that happened throughout my year. I am so thankful I chose MercyWorks for giving me a community for life, not just for the year we were serving. 

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? Through this experience I gained monumental personal, profession, and spiritual growth. Mercy Works truly cared about us as individuals and set me up with a network of support. I was giving a professional mentor, spiritual director, as well as the ability to network in the heart of Chicago. MercyWorks made sure to set me up with any opportunity that could help me grow or challenge my perspective, it was my job to say yes to their invitations. I look back at this year and did not know what to expect for professional growth. I am finishing this year with a better understanding of who I am professionally, and what my aspirations are as well as a network to utilize as a begin to search for what to do next. 

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service?  Do it! Do it because every single service program will allow you to flourish in ways you never thought possible. I know that it is scary the idea of not getting paid, especially with the external pressure to make money and pay off debts. However I want to challenge you and ask, how many things worth doing haven’t had a component of being scared? Any program you pick will be paying you in a priceless experience, professional growth, and personal development. You owe it to yourself to be stretched, changed, and to experience God through service.

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 - Diana Lockett, Lasallian Volunteers

Sun, 04/30/2017 - 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: Diana LockettVolunteer Program: LasallianVolunteersLocation: Maria Kaupas Center, Chicago, ILHometown: Memphis, TennesseeCollege: Christian Brothers University '16, Psychology major
I first learned about Lasallian Volunteers my freshman year in college. Initially, I could not think about living in another city without family or some type of support system. So, I never gave the program another thought until the end of my junior year. I never made a concrete decision to be a part of the program until the first semester of my senior year. If I had not become a Lasallian Volunteer I would have continued my job at Creative Life, a faith-based non-profit organization assisting with low income families in South Memphis. Also, during that process I would have been trying to figure out what my next step, which is Graduate School. However, I chose a year of service. The big thing that caught my attention was being able to live in a new city. I have been in Memphis all of my life living in the same house since I was born. I just could not pass up on an opportunity that allowed me to live in a new environment with a huge amount of support during the process. It was difficult for me to leave my grandma behind and the non-profit organization that I have been a part of since I was in the 8th grade. I knew deep inside that if I had stayed in Memphis that I wouldn't be happy and that it was time for to branch out and experience some things. 
During the Lasallian Volunteers orientation, I saw a quote that said, "A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there." That quote has stayed with me this entire service year because it summed up how I felt when I decided to make this big decision to move to Chicago. I do not regret at all deciding to be a part of this program, I have met so many different types of people from different backgrounds. I am learning more about different cultures from listening to fellow LVs, De La Salle Christian Brothers and the staff at my placement, the Maria Kaupas Center. I have learned about Restorative Justice Peace Circles and how it is useful in helping students gain effective listening skills and allowing them to feel that they are being heard. I have seen beautiful scenery in Albany, New York during our Midyear retreat. I have a lot of interesting stories to tell about the encounters I have had on the public transit here in Chicago. 
I would say to anybody that I have definitely grown as a person in this program and I never plan to stop growing as a person. If anybody is considering doing service after college I would say do it. There is so much to gain from a year of service. You are not only gaining an interesting experience but you are also giving your talents and time to people that may have never received anything from anyone. It feels good to do the best that you can to make a person's day better because you never know what they are dealing with on the regular basis at home. That beautiful place that you had in our comfort zone is definitely beautiful but you will never grow there. In the process of growing outside of your comfort zone you are helping others to grow with you. Now that is beautiful!
To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

I Chose Service - Kalene Weber, Mercy Volunteer Corps

Sat, 04/29/2017 - 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: Kalene Weber
Volunteer Program: Mercy Volunteer Corps
Location: Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD
Hometown: Park Falls, WI
College: Viterbo University '16, Nursing major

How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I first heard about Mercy Volunteer Corps on Facebook.  

What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Mercy Volunteer Corps? I could have gotten a job right out of college, or I could have done a different service program. I knew in my heart that I was being called to volunteer, and after looking into MVC more, I knew that I was being called to serve with this organization.

Tell us about your service experience. I am a nurse at Mercy Medical Center on the mother/baby unit. I work as a nurse in the clinical setting, but I also help with other projects such as car seat education and a NICU parent support group. I live in community with three other volunteers. We spend the evenings and weekends together exploring Baltimore and the surrounding areas. It is a blessing to have my community members by my side through this experience because they are living out the Mercy values with me, and we can encourage and support each other through the good and bad times.

What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise?  I have gained a lot of personal development in having to learn to advocate for myself. Not everybody understands what I do as a volunteer or why I volunteer (especially as a nurse), so I have to explain myself a lot and hold true to my values even when people question me.

What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service?  I think that post-graduate service is something to really pray and contemplate about. It is not always easy, but it is rewarding to know that you are helping in ways that are, at times, unknown to you. Plus, it is a great way to experience a new city, culture, and meet new people!  


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

I Chose Service - Maika Hefflefinger, Red Cloud Indian School Volunteer Program

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 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: Maika HefflefingerVolunteer Program: Red Cloud Indian School Volunteer ProgramLocation: Pine Ridge, South DakotaHometown: Ukiah, CACollege: U.C. Berkeley '12, Molecular & Cellular Biology major
How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I was researching volunteer opportunities that would have given more meaning and purpose to the current comforts of living in San Francisco at the time. I came across the Catholic Volunteer Network website and the urgent request for teachers on an indian reservation in South Dakota, which is where I discovered the Red Cloud Indian School Volunteer Program. Little did I know at the time, it would change my life.
What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on serving with Red Cloud?After I learned about the program from the volunteer coordinator, Maka Clifford, I would have just a few days before I would need to decide if I would pursue this volunteer opportunity and put in my two-week notice at the health company I was working for in downtown San Francisco. I've always wanted to work on an indian reservation with having Cherokee roots myself, and after I found out how much need there was on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, with both the hardships of poverty and rural living, I wanted to join in Red Cloud's mission as a Lakota and Jesuit Catholic School as a Middle School Math Teacher.
Tell us about your volunteer experience. Initially with my background in Biology and Health, I was placed as a Middle School Science Teacher, but since rural teaching positions can be difficult to fill especially by teachers who are certified and with the first day of school fast-approaching, I was asked to help as a Math Teacher in the Middle School. Teaching math and the volunteer experience had it's challenges, but many of which were outweighed by the daily reward of providing a safe and joyous space for the students to come and learn each day. Some of our students may face challenges in their home and personal lives, so to keep that in mind when teaching is so important in keeping your instruction, agenda, and affinity to control - flexible - depending on the day.
What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? This experience has been life-changing and character-building. Through this experience, you truly learn TO GIVE to your students in the faculty of teaching, bussing them to and from school, facilitating after school programs, and maybe even coaching;. Additionally, you give to your house community through housekeeping and making a weekly meal alongside your greater volunteer community (22 volunteers this year and many more school staff) through support and encouragement in friendship. Living rurally and being in such a close-knit community at Red Cloud, I was able to develop spiritually and personally through attending daily mass, forming friendships with the Jesuit Fathers and Notre Dame, and experiencing the Lakota ceremonial traditions such as Sweat Lodge.  Overall, this experience has really helped me to practice and make concrete the values of selflessness, community, and service as I look forward to the upcoming years. I'm very glad I decided to take time away from the city to experience South Dakota and the Red Cloud Community, and remember what truly matters - giving in friendship and community.
What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? I believe that everyone would benefit from volunteering or doing service at least once in their life. This experience is not easy physically nor emotionally. But if you keep the mindset that you will have hard days, but you also have a community here that loves you and will support you in friendship, you can get through those hard days and rejoice in the good ones. If you want teaching experience, while picking up other skills that you never thought you would (like getting a CDL license), this may be the volunteer experience for you! The trip out here is definitely worthwhile if you are seeking growth personally, spiritually, and in community. We foster giving here and believe me, you will learn that! With an open mind and an open heart, this experience can be life-changing and life-giving for you too, just as it was for me. :)
To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

I Chose Service - Carson Stevens, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 4:30pm
When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.
Name: Carson StevensVolunteer Program: Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH USA)Location: Honduras, Central AmericaHometown:Gloucester, MACollege: Clark University, '13, History major
How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I knew that Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos served a lot of its functions with post-grad, international volunteers and met several people who had served in Peace Corps and that sort of work.
What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on NPH? I did not look or consider anywhere else. I felt a calling to be at NPH for a year.
Tell us about your service experience. I had the impression that most people applying to be a volunteer with NPH prefer countries besides Honduras due to the public perception of safety concerns there.  Because of a personal connection, I wanted to go to Honduras.  That being said, NPH tries it best to put someone WHERE they want, doing WHAT they want to do. However, some of the most successful experiences are doing SOMETHING SOMEWHERE one does not request/expect to find success in.
What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise?  I was able to improve my Spanish speaking skills from very low to pretty competent, work with wonderful kids of different ages and abilities and learn about a culture completely different than my own. I found myself somewhere where religion (Christianity, though as Catholic as I had grown up thinking Central America was) is central to almost everyone´s life...something quite new for me.
What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? DO IT. I believe that post-graduate service is the best thing one can do immediately after graduation for several reasons. One, service in a new, preferably foreign, environment forces one to leave their comfort zone. The departure from one´s comfort zone will create growth that is not easily acquired in any other experience. A foreign language is a great example: you adapt to your environment because you HAVE to. Not having a choice in the matter has a certain charm, and it actually takes the pressure off. Two, service to OTHERS can be very rewarding. Doing something that is asked of you instead of what you want to do can be quite humbling as a Westerner...making it that much more valuable. Three, do it now because it can lead you to your "CAREER" a lot better informed and skilled than if you had not done it.
To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

I Chose Service - Abigail Cerezo, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 8:17am
When you are preparing to graduate, you have lots of options. This series highlights people who chose service, and how the volunteer experience has made an impact on their lives.
Name:Abigail CerezoVolunteer Program: Bon Secours Volunteer MinistryLocation: Baltimore, MDHometown:Barrington, RICollege: Stonehill College, 2016, Biochemistry with a concentration in the pre-med track
How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I’ve always known about the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps through people I grew up with, but I was really introduced to more opportunities in post-grad service when I went to Stonehill. I was very active in my campus ministry’s service immersion program (HOPE) for 3 years. Before students could leave on their trips we had months of education, conversation, and reflection about what Christian service is. During that time we always had one seminar about the “O” in HOPE, organizing for justice. In that space our campus minister had alumni come and talk to us about post-grad service and how we could organize for justice after our HOPE trip came to an end.
What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on Bon Secours?I only applied to one post-grad service organization, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry.
Tell us about your service experience. I was placed as a patient liaison within the acute in-patient unit of Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital in West Baltimore. I practice a ministry of presence with my patients. I did not realize how difficult this would be. Hearing my patients’ stories of their struggles and pains pulls at my heartstrings every day. Despite the challenge of simply being a witness to their suffering, I feel God’s presence strongly when I create and nurture these relationships. My patients have taught me so many lessons about life, faith, and hope, and they make me want to come back to work every day.
Community life has been one of the most difficult parts of my year of service. Putting six people with different upbringings, cultures, and personalities sounds like a recipe for disaster. But in my experience, all the struggles are worth the laughs, smiles, and growth the community shares throughout the year. My community helps me through my difficulties at my service site, my fears for the future, and any other obstacle that may come my way. They have become my Baltimore family and I am extremely grateful for them.
What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? I believe that I have grown in my listening and interpersonal skills. The main part of my job involves meeting and interacting with new people, and to listen to my patients with compassion and understanding. Sometimes it can be difficult, but I have developed a lot of patience and understanding from difficult circumstances.
What advice do you have for someone considering post-graduate service? I think people considering post-graduate service should take the discernment process slowly and seriously. Doing a year of service has been the most difficult feat in my life thus far, but with that, I have grown volumes in the time I have been in Baltimore. You need to be okay with constantly stepping out of your comfort zone, breaking down your walls to become vulnerable with others, and allowing yourself to receive. It has been a challenging journey, but if you’re open to the experience, you won’t regret it.
To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

I Chose Service - Cara Gonzalez Welker, Salesian Lay Missioners

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 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: 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.