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From Brokenness to Healing

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


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

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

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

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


Prayer:

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

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

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

To download the Lenten Reflection Guide, please click here. 





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

Grace Meets Us Where We Are

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



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

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

Prayer:

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

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


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

To download the Lenten Reflection Guide, please click here. 





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

Serving with Sisters: Emily Guilbert

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Serving with Sisters: Adanna Adaka

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Savoring the Graces by the Light of the Moon

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


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

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

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

Prayer: 

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

Focus on: Community: One of the highlights of living in community is praying together. This is a time when the community has the opportunity to journey up the mountain together just like the disciples did in today’s Gospel. As a community, find your mountaintop to pray, listen deeply, and savor the graces you have received together. Your mountaintop may be a special place in your home or a beautiful place out in nature. Wherever your place of encounter may be, remind each other daily of the beautiful encounters with God you all have experienced on your mountaintop. Come down from your mountaintop poised to change the world! What’s your mountain? What’s your place of encounter with God? 
Service Inspiration: Sr. Mary Rogers is a Sister of St. Joseph of Orange and is a beautiful example of what it means to reflect the light of Christ on the world with faith and good works. She motivates me to serve others because her dream has always been to serve in communities and schools of great need. She is an educator who has always taught with energy and enthusiasm while showing great compassion and love for students. I currently find myself teaching in a community of great need and I often reflect daily by asking myself this question: Did I show students love and compassion today like Sr. Mary would?  
Forty Days with the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: This reflection is part of our annual Lenten Reflection Guide, a collection of reflections written by current and former volunteers. We are pleased to offer this resource through our partnership with the Catholic Apostolate Center

To download the Lenten Reflection Guide, please click here. 





About the Author: Celina Roybal grew up in the rural community of Medanales, New Mexico just north of Santa Fe. In 2015-2016, she served as a St. Joseph Worker of Orange as an Education Assistant at Taller San Jose Hope Builders in California. She currently teaches Physical Education at Abiquiu Elementary School and Hernandez Elementary School in New Mexico. Her favorite books are My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Campbell and Sum It Up by Pat Summitt.Celina enjoys the outdoors, playing and coaching sports, and cheering on the Denver Broncos.

Serving with Sisters: Aubrey Kimble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Serving with Sisters: Ashley Guanzon

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

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

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


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


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

Serving with Sisters: Cheryl Rozinski

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

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


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


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

Serving with Sisters: Natalie Suzuki Pentkowski

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

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



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


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

Jesus Did, So Can We!

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


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

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

Prayer:

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

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


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

To download the Lenten Reflection Guide, please click here. 





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

Ash Wednesday Reflection: Expect the Unexpected

Wed, 03/01/2017 - 8:00am
By Katie Mulembe, Catholic Volunteer Network Staff and Franciscan Mission Service Returned Missioner


My mission in Zambia turned out to be nothing like I expected. Before I left, I had spent a lot of time researching the country, learning about the current status of abject poverty and HIV/AIDS in the region, deciding on the best regime for malaria prevention, even carefully choosing the items that I would pack in my suitcase. I thought I knew what I was getting in to, and I truly believed that I was going to make a difference in the lives of the people I was there to serve. My ministry site was an orphanage for young children, and I was put in charge of fifteen 2-3 year olds. All it took was one botched attempt to change a cloth diaper to help me realize that I still had so much to learn. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a welcoming community of fellow caregivers who not only helped me clean up the mess, but also patiently re-explained the correct folds and pin placement. I had many moments like this – where I found myself overestimating my own aptitude and in need of help from the very people I was there to serve. This was a big lesson in humility for me. I began to spend more and more time in prayer – asking God to help me understand why I was called to a job I felt so under-qualified for – and I started to see that it was my pride that kept getting in the way. Only when I learned to slow down and trust that it was not about my own abilities, but rather my openness to God working through me and through those around me, that my mission began to have meaning.  

I think that the Lenten journey is a bit like the experience of starting a volunteer program. You enter the season with lofty aspirations and good intentions. You know there will be some sacrifices involved, but you trust that God is going to show up in your life and that will bring meaning to your work. Daily prayer and reflection can help you become more aware of the presence of the Divine surrounding you every day. Take these next forty days to hear how God is speaking to you in unexpected ways.

Introducing the 2017 Lenten Reflection Guide

Catholic Volunteer Network, in partnership with the Catholic Apostolate Center, welcome you to journey with us through this season of Lent. We have put together a collection of reflections written by current and former volunteers to help you draw close to the experience of service rooted in faith during this important liturgical season. Download the 2017 Reflection Guide here

Catholic Volunteer Network is comprised of more than 180 different volunteer programs, covering a variety of types of work, service locations, and time  commitments. Each program has a unique ministry to serve the needs of the poor, but they are all united by a common commitment to the four pillars of faith-based service: Simplicity, Social Justice, Community, and Sprituality. These four values explain how and why our volunteers take on this important, but sometimes challenging work. Throughout this Reflection Guide, current and former volunteers will share about their personal experiences with  the four pillars. Here is an overview of what each one means:

Simplicity: Many volunteers receive a small monthly stipend to cover their expenses, but living simply is not only about spending as little money as possible, it is an intentional choice to focus on relationships rather than material goods, and to learn to be better stewards of the gifts that God has given us to enjoy. 

Social Justice: As volunteers work alongside people experiencing some of the most dire forms of poverty, they challenge themselves to learn more about the underlying structural and social factors. For many programs, Catholic Social Teaching is the foundation of their understanding of social justice.

Community: Our volunteers do not take on this work alone, they live in intentional communities where they share meals, household chores, and learn to make decisions together. This daily presence in one another’s lives is a source of support, accountability, and friendship for volunteers. 

Spirituality: For many volunteers, their time of service is also a time of profound spiritual growth. Many programs facilitate regular community spirituality nights, host several retreats throughout the year, and encourage volunteers to seek out a spiritual director.Volunteers often find that their faith comes alive while they are living out these four pillars and engaging in volunteer service.

We are thankful for the opportunity to accompany you during this holy time. May God speak to you through these reflections over the next forty days!


About the Author: After graduating from the University of Dayton, Katie Mulembe journeyed to Zambia, Africa, where she served as a missioner with the Franciscan Mission Service for three years. Soon after completing her mission work in 2007, Katie was drawn to the mission of Catholic Volunteer Network and joined the team. She now serves as the Director of Operations.



An Oasis Within the Chaos

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 9:59am
By Kassandra Villarreal, Good Shepherd Volunteers
Kassandra and fellow Good Shepherd Volunteer Allie exploring Los AngelesIt’s so great to be back at the Good Shepherd Shelter after the 3-week long holiday vacation. Although it’s been a cold and rainy start to 2017 here in Los Angeles, that only means that we are slowly but surely exiting our 5-year long drought! The rain has never been my favorite thing but I definitely appreciate it at the moment.
I’m about halfway finished with my year of service through Good Shepherd Volunteers at the Good Shepherd Shelter in Los Angeles and I honestly cannot believe how the weeks fly by when you love what you do! The Good Shepherd Shelter is a year-long residential shelter where women with children who are fleeing domestic violence get the chance to physically, spiritually and mentally heal. The shelter has a trauma-informed on-site school for children ages 0-10 and a Learning Center where the mothers receive yoga, cardio, nutrition, parenting, ESL, GED, advanced career prep, typing, math, life skills, DV therapy, and art therapy classes.  I have several different roles at the shelter: I am a toddler classroom teacher with Ms. Sally, I teach ESL, math, typing, life skills to the mothers in addition to translation in the Learning Center with Ms. Lara, I coordinate the afternoon homework club for the children with Ms. Allie (my fellow GSV-er) and lastly, every Thursday I work with DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team) as an advocate at the LAPD West LA division station.
Although at times it can be a bit demanding, I love that I get to work with everyone who we serve at the shelter! The toddlers at the shelter are the cutest and so incredibly bright. At the moment, Ms. Sally and I are pushing them to learn their colors and letters. We have one toddler who we believe is ready to move on to T-K at the school, so that should happen in the next month or so. Another one of our toddlers is almost ready but her mother is still not 100% on board so we are going to have to work on getting her on board because her child is almost ready for the next step. The rest of the little ones have some time to go but they are such a joy to teach. They are guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face!
From the Toddlers’ classroom, I go to the mothers’ classroom in the Learning Center with Ms. Lara who is the Learning Center Coordinator. I started off my year of service in the Learning Center doing something I had never done professionally before; translating for a Codependency class with a therapist. Every Wednesday for about 10 weeks, I would translate this important topic in domestic violence for the mothers. Although it wasn’t an easy task, I am so happy I did it because I have gained so much from it. I got to learn about a different area of domestic violence that I had not learned about before and on top of that, I got to learn a lot about our mothers’ individual DV stories. The women at the Good Shepherd Shelter are such incredible women and I look up to them in terms of strength and resilience. Many of them have experienced homelessness, violence or verbal abuse because of the DV and somehow still had the strength to get up from that and ask for help. Although translating for the Codependency class was probably one of the harder things I’ve done mentally, it was so rewarding for me to understand where our women were coming from.
Another task I have in the Learning Center is to teach basic beginning ESL to some our Spanish-speaking mothers. I currently have two students; one is at the beginner level and the other is in between beginner and intermediate. This semester Ms. Lara and I thought it would be a great idea to start them both on the Rosetta Stone program for English, and so far, it has been going super well. I have been helping them a bit with it, and so far it looks like they have learned a lot through my ESL class which is so exciting! One of my ESL mothers/students, who is at the beginner’s level, said she was on the bus with her sons one day and could understand that they were conspiring to throw trash out of the bus’s window. When she told her sons not to do that, they were so surprised that she could understand them. She was so proud of herself and when she told me I was so proud of her too! It’s the simple stories that put a smile on my face and reassure me that what I am doing is worth it.
In addition to the ESL class I teach, on Fridays Ms. Lara and I teach computers/typing and math to the mothers. I consider this as more of a relaxed day for the moms because we touch up on a lot of skills that the moms really have fun with. In the computers segment, they are currently working on the Mavis Beacon typing program where they learn to correctly and quickly type. Even though some of the mothers came in with no typing/computer background, they have made so much progress from when they first started. In the math segment, we review some basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals, fractions, and percentages. The math is great for the mothers because not only is it a way in which we can teach and support them in helping their children with homework but also a great job skill to have. The mothers really enjoy this time and many of them have said that it is therapeutic and helps with their healing process. Since Fridays are more relaxed, we end the day with some fun games with the mothers. Two Fridays ago, we decided to play kickball outside on the lawn and rather than have teams, Ms. Lara and I decided to just have us all rotate from position to position. It turned out to be a great idea because rather than worry about the score, the mothers just had fun playing outside in the beautiful post-rain sunny weather.
So far, my experience as a Good Shepherd Volunteer at the Good Shepherd Shelter has been sublime. I never have the exact words to describe how amazing this place is and how much I love what I do, but what I can say is that this place is an oasis within the chaos. Not only is it an oasis in terms of how it’s hidden within the chaos of the city of Los Angeles, but also because of the meaning it has for the families we serve. For our mothers and their children, the Good Shepherd shelter is their home and refuge. Although the mothers arrive at the Good Shepherd Shelter from domestic violence experiences that have stripped them of who they are, once they finish the program they leave as empowered confident women ready to pursue independent life with their children. I am honored to be part of such a remarkable and empowering program.
Just love,Kassandra VillarrealGood Shepherd ShelterLos Angeles Community 16-17
This blog originally appeared on the Good Shepherd Volunteers blog, and is reposted here with permission.
To find out more about Good Shepherd Volunteers, please visit their website by clicking here.

Bloom Where You're Planted

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 9:58am
By Katherine Maloney, Dominican Volunteer

“Bloom where you’re planted” is a phrase that no teenager with a lot of angst wants to hear. Yet, looking back, my mom was right - as she often is - about the necessity of and the joy that comes from immersing yourself in wherever it is that you are, rather than resenting that place. At age 16, I wanted nothing more than to be far from Long Island and New York. Fast-forward to age 22, and now I can’t imagine where I would rather be. My time in Dominican Volunteers has given me an enriched and renewed appreciation for the amazing city and state that I grew up in.

It’s no secret that I moved the smallest distance for my service year. While some volunteers moved across the country, I did not. On a good day, I can drive across just two counties from my parents’ home to my new community in the Bronx in about 45 minutes. By public transportation, I would cross four counties, take one Long Island Railroad Train, the 1, 2 or 3 subway line up one stop to 42nd St, then the S or the 7 to Grand Central, and then the 6 all the way to the end, and end up in my community in about two hours. At my ministry site, I’m about 21 miles from my parents’ house, and my community is roughly 19 miles from where I grew up. I may be close to home, but the past few months have been a world of difference that I never could have expected.


Katt speaking at the Migration and
Immigration ConferenceGrowing up in New York, one would think that I would have at least visited the United Nations once in my life, yet I had not! I wouldn’t have been able to find the UN if I was walking around Manhattan, and I certainly did not understand even a fraction of the work that goes on there every day. Yet here I am, every day being transported around the world without ever having to leave midtown Manhattan, learning about situations and conflicts that seem so distant yet are inextricably tied to our collective human condition and global narrative. Every day I attempt to be hope for people with whom I may never come in contact, living in conditions that I can hardly imagine. Every day I enter what is often a bulwark of bureaucracy, and every day I leave not having solved all of the world’s problems, but having hopefully provided the tools to both policymakers and ordinary citizens to get more engaged, be more aware, and make changes that reflect the human faces behind the world’s crises.

I am so often reminded of the immense privilege that I have to be from the United States. I would imagine that many of my fellow volunteers are realizing how fortunate they were to grow up in the families or areas that they did, and I am realizing that as well, but the awareness of my privilege as an American has never been so stark. Worldwide, there are roughly one billion people who live on less than $1USD per day. Approximately 800 million people are suffering from lack of food security.  In many countries, girls and women still do not have adequate access to education, and around 15 million girls per year enter into a child marriage. There are people dealing with little to no infrastructure, corrupt regimes, lack of clean water, and tremendous income inequality. Every person, at every corner of the Katt with the President Mahama of Ghanaglobe, is facing the difficult challenge of global warming and climate change, and how to mitigate these risks. However, for some in Small Island Developing States, the reality is that with rising sea levels, thousands of people might very quickly find themselves quite literally stranded on desert islands, without homes and without land to live, farm, or build businesses on. While difficult economic and social problems persist in our own country, we are guaranteed certain securities by our government and are often afforded opportunities that those in other countries do not have access to. Across the globe, there are people coping with realities beyond my wildest imagination, and yet every day I seek to represent them in the Dominican Leadership Conference advocacy space. Every day I “show up” for people who cannot do so for themselves. What a true and immense privilege, honor, and responsibility this is, and how lucky I feel every day that Dominican Volunteers has afforded me it.

Community life has also been an experience unlike any other. First and foremost, I am living in the Bronx. When people mention “the Bronx,” images of the era of the “burning Bronx” in the 1980s are conjured. There is a certain nervousness with which people approach the Bronx. I myself, despite living on Long Island for the majority of my life, had only driven through the Bronx, and never made an effort to explore it. I had been missing out on so much! Not only is the Bronx the largest of the city’s five boroughs, it is also the most diverse, with over 200 cultures represented. There are distinctly Italian sections of the Bronx, there are Caribbean sections, Latin American, Irish – any culture that one can imagine is likely represented here. High in the Northeast corner of the Bronx, a stone’s throw from Westchester County, is my home at Our Lady of Assumption Church, where I have been able to grow in my faith and learn valuable life lessons from women who have seen and done it all. From sharing stories about growing up in the Bronx, to deep and thought-provoking discussions on poverty or the true nature of what it means to be “pro-life,” my community has shown me the beauty of life well lived in pursuit of the truth, and has taught me lessons that I know will stick with me long after the year is over.  

So, yes, bloom where you are planted. In my case, it could be that I am challenged to consider the plight of migrants and refugees in the morning, and then asked to consider what role women should have in peace negotiations in the afternoon. It has involved helping to plan a forum, volunteering for the International Day of the Girl Child Summit, drafting a proposal for an event on indigenous women in agriculture, writing statements for a social development commission, taking an active role on six NGO committees, collaborating with great people, and being tasked with professional responsibilities that I never thought would be possible as a recent graduate.  It has involved cooking for my community, which I was terrified of doing. It has involved waking up at 5:50AM for prayer, which seemed daunting at first, but has carried many personal rewards as well as strengthened my relationship with my community. It has involved finding a new home in an unexpected place, but still being so close to the home I’ve known since childhood. It’s involved giving a place I was ready to leave a second glance, and definitely not regretting it at all. It has involved traveling around the world without ever leaving New York, and it’s involved being in a center of global diplomacy every day, but returning to my quiet corner of suburbia every night.

It’s been about five months since I formally said “yes” to the Dominican Volunteers journey at our Orientation Retreat. While I don’t know what the rest of the year will hold, or what the future beyond this year of Dominican Volunteers looks like, I have learned that having faith in the fact that all things happen as they are meant to, I will never be disappointed, and will always be in for a new adventure, even if that adventure is just 20 miles away from Long Island.

This post first appeared on Dominican Volunteers USA blog, Disputatio. Reposted here with permission. To learn more about Dominican Volunteers USA, please click here.  



Little Reminders

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 11:35am
By Jenette Vogt, Christian Appalachian Project Volunteer

It's funny how God can work in your life sometimes. Just when you think you are starting to figure things out, he opens up all of these other paths and opportunities. Usually they are good surprises. Most of the time they just make me roll my eyes and laugh. But most importantly they remind me that I am not and can not be in complete control of my life. I think God likes to send these reminders that he is still there and that he has these plans for my life. Great plans that will bring me true happiness as long as I am willing to follow and trust in him.When I first came down to my prospective volunteer interview at CAP, God hit me with one of those reminders. First off, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to give up my first year out of college to serve in this community in Kentucky. Most of my friends were moving on to graduate school or their first job. Was I willing to give all that up? That question was quickly answered. My prospective interviews went great, almost too great!First I interviewed with the Home Repair Program. The only reason I was interested in this program is because I knew nothing about construction and building things. Once, I tried building a night stand and my father ended up taking the entire thing apart because it wasn't square. Apparently only having two of the legs touch the ground at the same time is a problem. I went into my housing interview not expecting much. Boy was I surprised and in a good way! I had the opportunity to go to a job site and work for the day. I LOVED it.When I got back to the volunteer house that evening, I remember calling my mom in a panic. I wasn't supposed to like the Home Repair Program that much! Before the interviews I already had my mind made up that I was going to volunteer with the Summer Camp Program so I could be a camp counselor. I knew I would enjoy working at a summer camp. I interviewed for the Camp AJ position the next morning and that interview was better than I expected it to be as well. I had the chance to eat lunch with a few of CAP's employees, and we ended up singing camp songs while making lunch. I am not a super outgoing person so the fact that I sang a song called "Bessie the Heifer" during lunch was a big deal to me. I knew that I would love camp and that I would be happy working as the Camp AJ volunteer.On my way home, I called my mom to tell her about another great interview. She had me give her a run down of the positives and negatives of both programs. One huge negative for the camp position was the in school work at four of the local schools. I was an elementary education major for a few semesters in college, and I did NOT want to be back in the classroom. I knew that teaching was not my calling, and I could learn so much more in the housing program. Plus, the housing program works longer days so they get Fridays off in the summer!This is when God sent me one of his little reminders. Eventually it hit me that this year of service was not about me. I wasn't going to serve in Kentucky for myself, so why would I pick a program based on what I wanted for myself? The pro/con list had to go. I waited for about a week to see how I would feel and I could not get the Camp program out of my head along with the thought of all of the little kids that I would have the chance to work with. So what if I was going to be in a classroom for most of the year? God had opened up one of these opportunities that would make me happy. I only had to listen.So I did. I have been a Camp AJ volunteer for the past four months. While there are days that it can be rough to be in a classroom with 20 third graders, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else! Working in the schools has been wonderful. The students have brought me more joy and laughter than I could have ever imagined.
Jenette is an AmeriCorps Camp Educator/Summer Camp Counselor living in the Jackson Volunteer House. She is a 2016 graduate of Eastern Illinois University. Christian Appalachian Project’s mission is building hope, transforming lives, and sharing Christ’s love through service in Appalachia. To learn more about the volunteer opportunities they offer, please click here. This post first appeared on CAP's blog.  

The Mystery of Mission: A Letter to a Future Missioner

Tue, 12/27/2016 - 8:00am
2016 Volunteer Story Contest WinnerBy Teresa Villaruz, Maryknoll Lay Missioner
Dear friend,
Relax. Breathe. Welcome to your new life as an overseas missioner. If you are anything like I am, you may be experiencing heaps of excitement with a dash of panic and a good dose of “Good Lord, what did I just get myself into?” Prepare to be enveloped in a cloud, or perhaps even a storm, of unknowing. Things you thought you knew – what is considered edible, how you cross a street, how you wash a mango – well, friend, those days are gone. Never fear, you will learn because you will have people walking alongside you who will show you how to get the dead gecko out of the water tank and how to negotiate the correct price on a minibus. 
You will see the silky comfort of wealth juxtaposed next to the crushing reality of poverty. In fact, you will probably live in the safety and comfort of this wealth, or at the very least, you will dabble in it from time to time when going to restaurants with exotic fare or on safaris to see living national treasures, but your work will likely be with the 99%, those who do not have running water or electricity in their mud and stick homes. And you will feel guilt. Lots of it.  While as missioners, we’re called to walk with those on the margins, the truth is that we can easily leave those margins whenever we choose.  As a missioner and a teacher, I often ask myself why I have 12 pairs of shoes at home under my bed while my student has only one pair of broken flip-flops; why I can gleefully spend $4 on a Frappuccino when that will pay for three months of my student’s feeding program. If you are like I am, you will toe that thin and almost invisible line between self-care and being part of the machine that imprisons people in poverty. 
Many visitors are impressed by how people can live in such dire circumstances and yet seem so outwardly joyful. But please, dear friend, do not idealize their poverty. Do not deny them their complexity and humanity. If you are able to meet them as they are with all of their contradictions and imperfections, you might be able to start sitting in the midst of the questions and the mystery that connects us all.
This is what mission is all about.  It’s about serving others and wrestling with the questions surfacing that you didn’t even know were inside you. It is the ability to look in the mirror and see yourself with stark and almost terrifying clarity because the truth is, when you pluck yourself from your everyday familiar and intentionally put yourself into what is uncomfortable and foreign, the landscapes of your soul begin to rumble and shift. And you begin to realize that these questions, no matter how painful to hold, are a gift. Your soul, though it may fall into temporary darkness, will bloom and your heart will expand because you had the courage to allow the tragedy around you to shatter it. You had the courage to stand with your hands open and empty, waiting for God to fill them. 
The reality, dear friend, is that you will need God more here. When you’re in a western country, you can rely on the doctor when you’re sick, go to a friend’s house when you need comfort, escape distress with a good movie. Here, hospitals do not have enough blood and people frequently die of preventable diseases. You can go to a friend’s house here, but that friend might not speak English, may have different boundaries about crying or expressing emotions. And watching a movie would be great…if you have electricity that night. These are the adventures, the challenges, and the gifts of everyday mission. You will see just how simply you can live, just what food you can stomach, just how much your culture has shaped your version of reality. And believe it or not, you will be surprised by how a place so foreign to you can feel so much like home. 


So often, we go into mission with plans about how we are going to transform lives, not realizing that in the messy process of learning how to serve, we ourselves will be transformed. You will be evangelized by the tragic beauty of the place you’re in, the struggles and the heartbreaks of the people you are accompanying, and the hope that is held anyway. And you will be evangelized by your own doubt, made to feel the breadth of your humanity and the fear and wonder of your unique journey. By putting yourself in such a vulnerable place, by allowing yourself to be broken and blessed, you nourish not only others, but yourself. So be gentle with yourself; you will learn the language and the culture and the customs with time. But for now, just thank God for the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of another and to draw just a little bit closer to the person you’re meant to be. 
With love, Teresa 
Want to know more? Visit Teresa's blog!Would you like to make a donation to support Teresa's mission? Click here to visit her donation page!

Christmas 2016 - The Gift of Light

Sun, 12/25/2016 - 9:55am

The Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote in WWII Germany, said of Advent: “The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.”Over the past four weeks, we have lit candles on the Advent wreath. This ritual engages us with the darkness of the season, as well as the symbolic darkness of our world. In the circle of night we make a four-point square of light – a burning sign of our hope for the new life promised by God.Today, our Christmas Gospel reveals God’s fulfillment of this promise:What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:3-5)We celebrate anew the birth of Jesus Christ – a gift we can hardly comprehend. In the refuge of the manger (which is located in every heart) we rejoice in the eternal Son of God, who is born for man, by the power of Holy Spirit and the willing service of Mary, his mother.As a community founded in faith and service, we can rejoice doubly, for as God’s Angel told Joseph in the Fourth Week of Advent, “…they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23) As Christ is the light of the world, he is also the light within all who receive him. We are each made little lights in His name. We are each to glow, and as St. Francis of Assisi reassures us, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”  We pray that you have peace and joy on this Christmas Day and beyond. We pray that you will carry your light forward into the world. The new earth has not yet come, but Christ has, illuminating the dark. Rejoice! In joyful spirit, we share now a few lines from author Madeleine L’Engle (herself a little candle of Christ):
First Coming (excerpt)
He came to a world which did not mesh,to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.In the mystery of the Word made Fleshthe Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is saneto raise our songs with joyful voice,for to share our grief, to touch our pain,He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Advent, A Season of Service - When God Turns Your World Upside-Down

Sun, 12/18/2016 - 9:15am

Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center are pleased to bring you this Advent reflection series to support your growth during this important season. We welcome you to journey through these weeks of Advent alongside several of our current and former
volunteers who serve as contributors for this series. We are constantly inspired by their courage to step outside of their comfort zones and their commitment to serving those most in need. They have remarkable stories to share, filled with light and hope. Each week, a different writer reflects on the Sunday Gospel reading through the lens of their volunteer experience. Their insights on the four pillars of faith-based service; Community, Social Justice, Spirituality, and Simple Living, call us back to the true meaning of Advent. Click here to download the complete Advent 2016 Reflection Guide

Fourth Sunday of Advent“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home.For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”Matthew 1:18-24
Reflection by Danielle Goddard, Former Rostro de Cristo volunteer, Current Resident Minister at John Carroll University 
When I was young, I thought there was a script of how my story would unfold. It was combination of the life I had known growing up, along with the expectations others held for me, and the dreams I had for myself. I clung pretty tightly to that plan; that is, until I spent a year in Ecuador with Rostro de Cristo. My world was shaken and turned upside-down as I fell in love and shared life with people who were vulnerable and on the margins. I realized that although the plan I had for my life was very good, God’s call for me to respond to the needs of the world might be even more important.
It is because of these experiences that I resonate with Joseph in today’s gospel reading. He is a righteous yet caring man, determined to make the “right” decisions for his life based on other’s expectations and his plan for his future. Yet through a dream, he has his world turned upside-down by the realization that God is working through his life in ways he had not seen before. In his dream, the angel tells him “do not be afraid” to put God before the “righteous” decision.
This reading challenges us to not be afraid of the ways God is working around us and through us. Joseph gives us an example of trusting God’s will above our own plans or expectations. It urges us to listen to God speaking through those most vulnerable, or through the stirrings of our own heart. And it is a reminder that no matter how lost we feel, God is with us.
Focus on: Simplicity
I think of simplicity as putting God first. To me, this means putting Love before material things, before our own agenda, or before what others think we should do or say. It means listening to God’s voice stirring in our own hearts despite fear, just as Joseph responded to the angel in his dream. God calls us to love others, because all people are made in God’s image. This is what Jesus came to proclaim: “Emmanuel, God is with us.” So by putting God first, we strive to prioritize and choose to celebrate the Love alive in the people surrounding us, and in our own hearts. This is simplicity: letting go of the things, ideas, and distractions that create barriers between us and others, and ultimately between us and God.
Service Suggestion
Our lives are full of distractions, especially in the holiday season. Challenge yourself to embrace simplicity. Intentionally drop the barriers you create between yourself and others: focus on people instead of technology, material things, or expectations you put on yourself. Take time to engage with family and friends, or spend time building relationships with those on the margins in your community. Most of all, don’t be afraid to engage with your own heart in prayer to hear how God is stirring within you. 
Prayer
Dear God, We thank you for the ways you surprise us and challenge our expectations. Help us to simplify our lives in order to draw closer to those around us, and to ultimately grow closer to you. Give us courage to hear your call, spoken through those around us and from our own hearts. Give us peace to know you are with us, through the gift of your son Jesus, Emmanuel. Amen.

To learn more about Rostro de Cristo Volunteer Program, please click here. 

Getting a Head Start on Your Application

Wed, 12/14/2016 - 10:39am
What are you doing after graduation? If you are a college senior, this is sure to be a question you will hear a lot from friends and family during your winter break. Instead of dodging those tough questions, we recommend that you utilize this time to get a head start on your post-grad service applications. Many of the most competitive programs have priority deadlines starting in January, so this is the perfect time to begin the application process. We've put together these tips to help you get started...
Looking for more? Be sure to visit our Facebook page between now and Christmas day to check out CVN's Twelve Days of Christmas series. This will be a great way to learn more about many of the programs in our Network, while also gaining some great advice for the application process. 

Let us know if you have any specific questions about faith-based service in the comments section below! We are here to help, and look forward to answering your questions!

Advent, A Season of Service - Seeing the Face of Christ in Ecuador

Sun, 12/11/2016 - 9:33am

Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center are pleased to bring you this Advent reflection series to support your growth during this important season. We welcome you to journey through these weeks of Advent alongside several of our current and former
volunteers who serve as contributors for this series. We are constantly inspired by their courage to step outside of their comfort zones and their commitment to serving those most in need. They have remarkable stories to share, filled with light and hope. Each week, a different writer reflects on the Sunday Gospel reading through the lens of their volunteer experience. Their insights on the four pillars of faith-based service; Community, Social Justice, Spirituality, and Simple Living, call us back to the true meaning of Advent. Click here to download the complete Advent 2016 Reflection Guide
Third Sunday of Advent“When John the Baptist heard in prison the works of the Christ,he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,'Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?'”Matthew 11:2-11
Reflection by Meghan Dietzer, Former Rostro de Cristo volunteer, Current Coordinator of Local Service Programs for Villanova University Campus Ministry
In this gospel, John questions whether Jesus is truly the one that he and countless others had been waiting for.  In many ways, what John has heard about Jesus does not quite match up with the kind of person he had expected Christ to be.  I look back to my year of service and remember thinking similar thoughts while living among the poverty and great suffering that so many of our neighbors faced.  
I went to Ecuador in hope to always see the face of Christ in others and to do my utmost to be the face of Christ to all those I encountered.  In many ways, I had started my year thinking that recognizing and encountering Christ meant finding joy and goodness, no matter how difficult the situation. However, as we journeyed through our year, my community and I experienced many situations when Jesus seemed unrecognizable and completely hidden.  We came to know so much injustice, hurt, and suffering in the lives of our friends there that at points I, like John, also questioned who Jesus was.  
After some time passed, much prayer, and many discussions with my community, I came to understand that Christ was in fact looking at me, straight in the eye, each day.   For the first time, I recognized that He was Jesus Christ on the cross.  That Face of Christ that suffers with us, that knows pain and sorrow, but also that face that rises from the dead and brings us unimaginable hope of the kingdom of heaven and eternal life with Him.  

Focus on: Community
Living in community can be hard and so challenging at times (generally, most of the time!) Unfortunately, if we are struggling with our faith or other such things, we, unlike John, cannot simply send a member of our community out to go ask Jesus the big questions and return with answers. However, we must remember that by praying together and journeying with one another, Christ is in fact there guiding us along each step of the way.  For, He told us, “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in their midst.” Living in community with an openness to be vulnerable, to lean into discomfort, and to pray together holds so much potential for encountering some of Christ’s purest love.

Service Suggestion
Think about John the Baptist in this Gospel.  He was in prison and unable to go out and find Jesus himself.  Without the gift of his friends, he may not have been able to know if Jesus truly was the Christ.  This week, let us recognize those in our community who don’t seem to have anyone to bring them Christ’s love and peace.  Do your best to be like those friends of John and bring that person the good news of Christ.  Whether that means visiting the sick or imprisoned or sitting down with a co-worker who is having a hard day, there are countless people who need the gift of a friend that can share with them the love of God.

PrayerDear Jesus,
As I anticipate your humble birth in that small stable in Bethlehem, Help me to further humble myself and to give with a selfless heart.Grant me the openness to receive you into my heart in a new way this Christmas that truly transforms me.Guide me as I continue on my journey in community with others, grounded in love.Help me to recognize you in those that I serve, even when it is most difficult.Let me truly hear your words of healing and hope, and enable me to spread your message to those who need to hear it most.Amen.
To learn more about Rostro de Cristo Volunteer Program, please click here.