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Swimming toward a Healthy Future at Misericordia Home

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 10:11am

By: Caitlin Morneau, AmeriCorps Program Assistant
In the middle of Chicago is a campus of 18 buildings on 31 acres of land. On it sits Misericordia Home, an organization that “supports individuals with developmental disabilities in maximizing their level of independence and self-determination with an environment that fosters spirituality, dignity, respect and enhancement of quality of life”.

Misericordia Home has been responding to the needs of children and adults through residential, educational and medical services since 1921. Inspired by the example of other full-time, faith-based service programs in the Chicago area, Residential Administrator, Joe Ferarra, sought to create an AmeriCorps program at his place of work and turned to Catholic Volunteer Network.
This year Misericordia Home hosts five CVN  AmeriCorps members who serve in areas of therapy, direct care and fitness. Joe described to me that physical fitness is especially important to individuals with developmental disabilities. Joe explained, "[Our residents] struggle with healthy food choices and portion control. This leads to chronic heath issues just like the general population.  We face obesity as a huge issue with our residents and our AmeriCorps members in the fitness roles really are able to provide the direct one on one support our residents need to be successful and see results, which make them want to do more- to be healthier and live longer happier lives!"  

He also told me that for many years Misericordia Home had a fitness room and pool, but lacked the capacity to formalize a fitness program for their residents. AmeriCorps members Katie Komale and Debbie Gleason have taken charge of creating regular exercise routines for residents of all abilities.
Debbie and a Misericordia Home resident
using specialized fitness equipment.Debbie serves in the gym, coaching residents as they use equipment that was designed and donated especially with the residents’ needs in mind.  She says “We all know that there are many benefits to being fit and this is especially true for the population we serve. I believe exercise not only improves overall health, but it also helps reduce negative behaviors and thoughts. I have witnessed this with residents who have struggled with depression and then come to work out with us.  After coming to the fitness center on a regular basis they are more upbeat and social. Feeling good about how they look and being encouraged to meet new goals is a real benefit for those who lack a certain amount of self-esteem. There is a lot of congratulating going on in the fitness room and the feeling is incredible when I get to see how proud the residents are of all their work and the results!”
Through fitness activities, these young women gain keen insights into the lives of those that they serve. Debbie told me that, “… not everyone responds the same way, and in fitness we have to tune in to what motivates each one of our clients and determine which equipment may be best for that individual.  For a lot of our folks, music by specific artists helps; others like to have a one-on-one workout with staff, with all attention focused on them; still others prefer to dance; and some have to get on every machine or circuit for their work out to be complete. Finding what works for each resident has been very rewarding since it helps me get to know each of them on a more personal level.
One activity that both members loved to talk about was swimming. Katie was a competitive swimmer herself and spends every Wednesday morning in the pool with three ladies. She explained,These women used to swim often when they were younger, but have spent less and less time in the pool as they have grown older.  Having been a swimmer my whole life and a lifeguard for eight years, I am extremely comfortable in the water and I think that really helps the ladies feel comfortable in the water as well.  Collaboratively, we have come up with multiple fun games to play in the pool that all three ladies enjoy.  Everyone gets in a good workout (even me) without even realizing it is a workout.  I find myself looking forward to Wednesday mornings because I love seeing how excited the ladies are to get in the pool and play.”
Beyond the joy that all participants find in their fitness routines, Katie is keenly aware of the affect that her service has on the residents, as well as the affect that they have on her. “Knowing that if I had not done this program and got these ladies in the pool and moving they would not be improving their health, not only by exercising but also by increasing their happiness, I know God has chosen the best possible plan for me.  I know that years from now these Wednesday mornings with the ladies will have a huge impact on me and I would not change that for the world.”
Thank you Debbie, Katie and all Misericordia Home CVN AmeriCorps members for your commitment to healthy futures!



Giving and Receiving: Gaining the strength to serve through the Eucharist

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 9:27am


Catholic Volunteer Network, in partnership with Catholic Extension, is hosting Days of Service and Reflection all across the country in the dioceses where our Campus Recruitment Associates serve. As these events take place, we will share reflections from students who participate.
Reflection by Matt Christiaens, Carroll CollegeService at Carroll College is very community based.  Carroll is especially blessed to have the support of many community members who are always being asked for donations to fund various activities.  For this reason, we students think it is very important to remember all that the community has done when we plan any service.  

As a campus we made the decision a year ago to complete one day of service per semester to give back to our community.  Since then, with the help of Catholic Volunteer Network and Catholic Extension, we have expanded this desire to twice a semester, and next year we want to increase to once a month service days.  One major reason we hope to add to the number of days is because of the amount of student participation we have involved in service! 

 Last semester Carroll Students combined for just under 35,000 hours of service, and in our last service day sponsored by Catholic Volunteer Network and Catholic Extension we had 75 students participate which was also during a very large snowstorm. Some projects students served for on our day of service were collecting toiletries for a women’s shelter, serving meals at the homeless shelter, visiting the elderly, cleaning a single mother’s shelter, and various organizational work for Good Samaritan Ministries.     

My day of service began with Mass because reflection is necessary for us to accomplish what God truly intend our work to accomplish.  We must first receive God’s love through the Eucharist, thus, filling our hearts, then in order to keep God’s love we must give it in service to others, emptying all that we have been given.  Through service, more room is created in our hearts for His love to enter again. The more we serve the sooner this cycle becomes a continuous flow of giving and receiving.   

For this reason I, along with many Carroll Students attend Mass before serving.  Mass reminds us of the great “Why” of our lives because God loves man our purpose is to love Him back.  This cycle makes even the most tedious of jobs meaningful because we have oriented our lives to the “Why.” My day of service was filled with scrubbing the walls of a women’s shelter for pregnant teens. That is all I did for five straight hours, and though I would have preferred to work with people in a more direct way, God gave me everything that was necessary for me to fulfill the giving of His graces in service at that moment.  I am always surprised how I am affected after serving because it is never how I expected.  God’s gifts always exceed our expectations.   

Service is direct participation in God’s creation in which we allow God to break into our hearts because we are open to giving without expecting anything in return.  This is what it means to me to serve and this is why I find it necessary to serve whenever possible.    

Matt serves as a Campus Recruitment Associate, through Catholic Volunteer Network and Catholic Extension. His role is to help Carroll College further expand it's service outreach and encourage more students to get involved.  

“Watersheducation”: Protecting the Future of Commencement Bay through Youth Stewardship

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 10:17am

By: Karen Gogins, CVN AmeriCorps Member with Lutheran Volunteer Corps
Our waters are threatened by polluted runoff washing down our rivers and streams into Puget Sound.  The polluted water - carrying phosphorus, nitrates, fecal coliform and oil and grease - harms marine life, disrupts native ecosystems and poses health dangers to people.  Unfortunately, students don’t learn about this in their science classes.
Currently, there are not adequate environmental education opportunities for youth to become engaged in watershed issues or to feel empowered to make positive changes. Environmental education for most youth is limited to classroom textbooks.  Young people need to experience actual environmental stewardship work in the field so they can understand the impact we have on our environment.  

There are nonprofits that have strong stewardship programs for youth in this area; however they only serve a small number of students due to limited resources. Students in under-served communities have no opportunity for experiencing environmental science in the field or to see how small changes in their life can make a big difference in water quality. Hands-on education is vital for developing an understanding of the environment and developing a passion to protect our bay now and in the future. Through hands-on science, I am motivating and preparing future leaders who will steer the direction the health of our bay takes in the future.
Third grade students learn how to prevent polluted runoff
with Enviroscape, a watershed model that allows them to
simulate pollution using chocolate sauce and sprinkles.
I am serving as a CVN AmeriCorps member in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps at Citizens for a Healthy Bay, a small nonprofit in Tacoma, Washington. Our mission is to represent and engage citizens in the cleanup, restoration and protection of Commencement Bay, a part of Puget Sound, the surrounding waters and our natural habitat. As the Outreach and Education Coordinator, I have gotten the opportunity to be involved with several exciting educational stewardship programs.  Working as a team with CHB staff, I run environmental education programs that extend far beyond the classroom. Students learn about concepts such as wetland ecosystems and the importance of clean water, and then use what they have learned in the field. Hands-on projects like planting native plants, removing invasive plants, sampling for water quality and measuring macroinvertebrate populations, helps to solidify their understanding of the role that natural habitat plays in improving their community’s water quality and in enhancing wildlife.Middle school students plant native trees
at a local wetland habitat restoration site.

I am passionate about incorporating watershed and pollution prevention education in school curriculum, because it leads to collective change in our treatment of the environment as well as equitable access to hands-on environmental science education, including its inherent academic benefits and job skills.
One of the most important elements of my position is the active engagement of all kinds of citizens, including those that are historically under-served. Students who engage in restoration, water testing and pollution prevention activities will be inspired to continue learning about their responsibilities as stewards of their environment.  As they grow to be adults, they will have a lifelong appreciation for the benefits of clean water and natural habitat and they will continue to take action to protect these resources.

Students collect water samples from the Puyallup River
and test for dissolved oxygen, an important indicator
for the health of aquatic life.
One of my accomplishments this year has been expanding CHB’s educational capacity beyond environmental science by creating and implementing a watershed-wideenvironmental art and poetry contest designed to promote environmental literacy through the arts and place-based education. Science is an important avenue for instilling a sense of stewardship in youth, but the arts are just as powerful and often forgotten.
My AmeriCorps service with Citizens for a Healthy Bay has been deeply rewarding. My position is intellectually stimulating and allows me to use my background in Environmental Studies and Anthropology and experience with environmental education in a summer camp setting.  I have gotten to be involved in all aspects of environmental education from planning to implementation and evaluation, and have gained firsthand experience with how an environmental nonprofit functions.

Pulling a water sample for class analysis and trying not to fall in!

CVN AmeriCorps members turn a food desert into a thriving community garden

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 9:27am

By Mo Copeland, PULSE AmeriCorps Program Director
PLUSE Garden Coordinators Lydia Yoder
and Leah Thill. (Photo: James Souder)In the fall of 2012, four gun-related incidents occurred within the 2 block radius of a vacant lot in the Garfield community of Pittsburgh, PA. Two were fatal, killing a 23 year-old man and a 17 year-old innocent bystander. Furthermore, Garfield is a food desert, where 40.6% of households live below the poverty line. Due to lack of transportation, many residents have to shop at convenience stores where there is no option to buy produce.  When they do make it to a bigger grocery store, sometimes they still cannot buy produce because it is too expensive and doesn’t have a long shelf life.  Unwilling to see these trends continue, Garfield residents got creative with how to transform these vacant plots of land, with two urban farmers leading the way. Now, the neighborhood of Garfield is quietly becoming a local food mecca.
When CVN AmeriCorps members serving with PULSE (PittsburghUrban Leadership Service Experience) moved into their Garfield home in July of 2013, they understood that while it is great to observe experienced farmers, getting your hands dirty is often the best way to learn. Shortly after arriving, they helped clear land behind their house and to create the Kincaid Street Community Garden, a place where AmeriCorps members and and their neighbors to dig in the dirt and grow their own food side by side.
Since the debut season, the community garden has grown. Last summer, 18 raised beds were tended by 13 families and a dozen children. This year, the gardeners plan to build 20 more beds to allow more residents of Garfield the opportunity to grow their own food. With the coming expansion, AmeriCorps members plan to create a space for children to collectively care for the “Discovery Garden”, an edible garden for kids only. Roughly 1,250 children live in the neighborhood of Garfield (39.9% of the population). The education that AmeriCorps members provide at the garden will teach children about the importance of fresh and healthy food. It will include vibrant and aromatic plants and flowers to attract beneficial insects and pollinators for the whole garden, to teach the important role that bugs play in growing our food.
This spring is extremely busy for PULSE’s Garden Coordinators and CVN AmeriCorps members Leah Thill and Lydia Yoder. They have scheduled a number of days for local volunteers and gardeners to build additional garden beds, exchange seeds and prepare soil for growing. They are working closely with the Garfield Community Action Team to make it all happen, with support from the local Community Development Corporation and, of course, from PULSE.
CVN AmeriCorps members and the Garfield community work together to clear a vacant lot. Thill describes the Kincaid Street Community Garden as “an opportunity to be self-sufficient as a community.” Experienced gardeners grow vegetables beside new gardeners, sharing knowledge and best practices, until everyone is a seasoned gardener. The formerly overgrown lots where the garden now grows were eye sores to the surrounding neighborhood. Yoder appreciates “the satisfaction of taking that first step of clearing a vacant lot” and how that can immediately make a neighborhood feel more safe and inviting.
Even though Garfield is technically a “food desert” with no grocery store in the neighborhood, it is now an oasis for fresh, healthy, low cost produce. Through the community garden, PULSE AmeriCorps members empower residents to grow their own food, educate children about nutrition and engage and strengthen the community as a whole. Plus, meeting some new friends in the process allows for a fun time for all!





Serving with an Open Heart

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 3:44pm


Catholic Volunteer Network, in partnership with Catholic Extension, is hosting Days of Service and Reflection all across the country in the dioceses where our Campus Recruitment Associates serve. As these events take place, we will share reflections from students who participate.
Reflection by Jessica Arias, University of Redlands
For our community service we visited the Waterman Nursing Center here in San Bernardino, Ca. My fellow students from the University of Redlands put on various activities for the elders. We made valentine cards, some played card games, and we also had nail painting for the old ladies. It was a lot of fun!
Jessica spends time with the residents of Waterman Nursing Home.This was actually our third time visiting the Waterman Nursing Center as a group. I was really excited to see familiar faces from previous occasions. What is so significant about our service at the Center is that we are able to experience Jesus’ presence just by being there and sharing time. It’s quite a humbling experience. Sometimes it may be hard to communicate with some of the residents because of their health condition, but that doesn’t mean that there is no connection. On the contrary, I feel like there is a greater connection that goes beyond the superficial level. I don't really know how to explain this.
I say this because there is this particular lady who I always see. She loves to get her nails done and her favorite color is red. Every time I see her I get the chance to spend some time with her and do her nails. On this day, since we had the opportunity to make valentine cards I decided to make her a card, and as I was making her the card she was telling me how she recognized me when I said my name and that she was really happy to see me again. This was significant to me because it reassures that there is a special connection even though we may not say much. For example, sometime it is hard for me to understand what she is saying so we may just exchange a few words and smiles and not really have much conversation but, I can still feel joy and love just by being there with her. When she told me that my presence was appreciated, it was reassuring to know that she felt the same way. It’s truly a blessing to visit these people. I think it is amazing how we can all experience God's presence (love) through service. They may not all be that same experiences but, you can definitely see God through them.
Service to me means having an open heart to serve others in whatever their needs are, and it can be as simple as sharing time with the elders.   
Jessica is a sophomore studying at the University of Redlands. She also plays a leadership role in her campus ministry, serving as a Campus Recruitment Associate through CVN's partnership with Catholic Extension. 

Healthy Futures for Wounded Veterans: Project INVEST and CVN AmeriCorps

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 12:31pm

By: Mark Mann, Summit Institute Program Director
CVN AmeriCorps members, Sean Busse and
Danielle Goldman, play wheelchair basketball with
Project INVEST participants.The Summit Institute partners with Texas Woman’s University to place students as CVN AmeriCorps members serving through adapted physical education initiatives. One such initiative is Project INVEST (Injured Veterans Entering Sports Training).
Project INVEST was founded in 2012 as a response to the growing needs of veterans in the Denton, Texas area. The goal of the program is to “...offer a variety of individual and group programs for servicemen and women and their families. These programs are designed to improve and promote overall well-being and independence resulting from a physically active lifestyle.” (http://www.twu.edu/project-invest/services.asp)
Studies from the U.S. Department ofVeterans Affairs show that adaptive sports help to reduce stress as well as dependency on pain and depression medication. They also promote independence and achievement in education and employment, thereby helping veterans through the difficult transition back into civilian life.
Last year, Captain Norma Cabanas of the North Texas Army Reserve Unit wished to start a Warrior Games program to engage local wounded veterans in the U.S. Paralympic games. Captain Cabanas called on the expertise of Summit Institute for guidance and assistance. Answering this call for help, CVN AmeriCorps members at the Summit Institute stepped up to coach participants in how to play paralympic sports such as goalball, sitting volleyball and wheelchair soccer.
Summit Institute AmeriCorps member, Krystal Paul, has really enjoyed her time serving with the Warrior Games initiative. She said, "Working with veterans who are disabled has truly been an inspiration to me. Through all adversity they prevail, teaching us that life goes on as normal regardless of our appearance."  
One veteran who has benefited greatly from the leadership of CVN AmeriCorps members at Project INVEST is retired Army combat medic Clint Musgrove. He says, "All thumbs up, I really see how the application of these programs is helping us. Before getting involved here, I didn't know there were games or activities like this. This has been a really great experience." 
In total, CVN Americorps members have served nearly 500 servicemen and women through Project INVEST and the Warrior Games. It has been a rich and rewarding experience for CVN AmeriCorps members and warriors alike. 



Celebrating Healthy Futures Month: How a CVN AmeriCorps Member transformed primary care in West Baltimore

Fri, 03/14/2014 - 12:29pm
By: Julie McCracken, CVN AmeriCorps Alum through Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry


Julie McCracken joined CVN AmeriCorps trough BonSecours Volunteer Ministry in September of 2012.  Julie was assigned a brand new position on Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital.  Her service was intended to help more of the hospital’s recently discharged patients become connected to a primary care physician.  Keep reading to find out what happened...
My first few days tackling the follow up appointment system at Bon Secours Hospital were just a little hectic. When I started, follow up appointments were not consistently made, and of the appointments made, it was lucky if more than 10% were kept. If you’re unfamiliar with the importance of a hospital follow up, it’s a key step in keeping an eye on the health of discharged patients. In the community of West Baltimore, it’s also a huge part of keeping discharged patients from returning to the hospital and getting readmitted for the same initial (and usually chronic) illness. Bon Secours was facing a rather circular problem: patients required so much help from social work that there wasn’t enough time to get them a check up with a primary care provider. Not having this kind of follow up led to the inevitable readmission of the same patients. 

At first, I would swing between thinking I wouldn’t make any change and sometimes feeling that I could easily double or triple the numbers. Over the course of October, I had made nearly 15 appointments at the hospital’s free clinic before the first appointment was kept. But at that point, even one appointment kept felt like a huge achievement! 

By the end of that first full month, I had also gained some understanding of the barriers that kept an attendance rate of 10%. Instead of relying on the patients in need to call the hospital’s free transportation, I began setting it up myself. I also made sure to clarify that the appointment would be free and that they would be seen regardless of insurance. By December, I had recorded 20% attendance. In January, it shot up to 50%! Over the next five months, attendance averaged out to about 30%. The numbers from before I arrived had tripled! Looking back on this year, and seeing the number of people that put themselves into regular primary care instead of regular hospital admissions, I am excited and hopeful about future changes in healthcare.


Bon Secours CVN AmeriCorps Members gather for a healthy snack. Julie is now working at a retirement home for physically and mentally disabled adults in Durham, NC, while taking some classes to prepare for medical school.  Inspired by her experience in Baltimore, Julie is interested in understanding how primary care works across different social barriers.  After attending graduate school, Julie hopes to become a primary care provider and work towards a more inclusive and effective primary care system.  

Intentional community living: most challenging and most rewarding part of service

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 10:23am

CVN recruiter Gordon Wong went south earlier this month and still didn't escape the cold!

By Gordon Wong

Recruitment update: If you have been paying any attention to the weather you know that the cold has pretty much left no region of the United States untouched. It was quite the week for the Southeast region of the country! My flight was not cancelled once but twice! The Diocese of Charleston has a great director of college campus minister by the name of Jim Grove and he set me up with a total of seven…that’s right seven school visits! Unfortunately because of the cold South Carolina cancelled schools and shut down airports. I was still able to visit five campuses – Furman University, Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, the College of Charleston, and the Citadel.
Click hereto read Service Day participant Shelby’s reflection on the day.
What an incredible week of visits! The visits didn’t end in South Carolina but continued onto Atlanta!
Gordon speaks to students at the Lyke house in their
"Sermon Talk-Back" session after Sunday mass.
Photo courtesy of Ashley Morris.I am currently writing to you from Atlanta. Usually known as “Hot anta” it has not lived up to the nickname! The entire city is preparing for another snowstorm that is expected to approach the region in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
This week consisted of visits to Kennesaw State, the Lyke House which serves Clark Atlanta, Spelman, and Morehouse, the Lutheran ministry of Georgia Tech and Emory, and Georgia Tech’s Office of Leadership & Civic Engagement. I want to highlight my visit to the Lyke House. We have had a strong relationship with the Lyke House for a few years now and it has been a few years since we last visited. There I was welcomed into their community and presented Catholic Volunteer Network to a captive audience. The audience was engaging and asked a lot of great questions about the process of becoming a volunteer. Campus minister Ashely Morris wrote to me after the visit saying, “It is our prayer that a solid group of students from the Lyke House can and will participate in the opportunities provided through your work and the work of CVN.”
Gordon talks to the students of Lyke house about our
RESPONSE directory. Order your copy or search online.
Photo courtesy of Ashley Morris.Community: While in Atlanta I stayed with the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. For over 20 years these sisters have hosted volunteers from our member program Dominican Volunteers USA and I am so grateful for their hospitality. In this particular community lay people will live with women religious and it creates a unique inter-generational community. 
In addition to my recruitment update I want to talk about one of the four pillars that make up Catholic Volunteer Network: community.
You will notice that the four values our member programs have in common are: spirituality, community, simplicity, and social justice. In my community I lived with 9 recent college graduates where we shared 10 different views on service, came from 10 different experiences, and literally had 10 different ways to make rice! Despite our difference what made our community strong was the knowledge that we were all committing ourselves to live a more simple and intentional life. Our community blossomed from this knowledge.
From my experience at CVN, I have found out that not all communities were made up of 10 people. Some programs choose to have smaller communities perhaps made up of three to five volunteers? I’m probably a bit biased but I really enjoyed my time in a community of 10. I felt like there was always someone in the house looking for an adventure to embark on. I also felt like I was also given the time and space to be on my own as well. As you can imagine serving where you are serving is hard work and to live in an intentional community is just as hard! Though community may be one of the hardest and most challenging aspects to this year of service I think it is the most rewarding of them all.

Questions to Ponder:-          What type of community am I seeking?-          How will my community strengthen my faith life?-          Where do I want to be when I join this community? Urban or rural setting? Domestic or abroad?-          Who do I want to make up my community? Recent graduates? Intergenerational? Women or men religious?

Everyday Grace

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 3:11pm


One of our recruiters reflected on his trip to New York City.
By Mike Garcia
CVN Recruiter Mike here giving you a warm hello from the Big Apple. I am here in New York City taking in the lights, the life the everyday graces I have experienced recruiting on the road.
First of all I am thankful for one of my closest friends and fellow CVN Alumni Matthew Kenny who has graciously invited me into his Brooklyn bachelor pad while I stay in NYC. What a joy it has been reliving our hilarious antics from back in our volunteer days. I am truly thankful for this awesome bromance.
Second, I am thankful for the exceptionally welcoming stranger in the Times Square subway stop who kindly explained to me I was getting on the wrong train. Where in the world would I be if he hadn’t told me?  We talked for a good half hour before we realized the Q train wasn’t coming but who cares when you make a new friend. Thank you new friend.
Next I have to say thanks to a colleague and good friend of mine, Jenn Edwards Robinson, Coordinator for Campus Ministry and Social Action at Manhattan College. She is sort of a rock star at Manhattan and has done an amazing job of promoting service and volunteerism among students. Because of her, my visits to Manhattan have always left me with such a fire for service and ministry. I also cannot leave out the amazing students of Manhattan who never cease to amaze me with their eager and willing hearts. Thank you.
And lastly I want to thank my mentor, former Volunteer Coordinator and good friend, Luke Hanson S.J. for really showing me what this bustling city of life has to offer. From strolling around Rockefeller Center to eating the tastiest Indian food I have ever had on Broadway, he has made my trip all the better. What a great friend and mentor you have been over the past three years. Here’s to many more adventures. Thanks.
Hope you all are doing well and know that you are in my prayers. Thanks for being you.
Peace, love and dinosaurs,Mike

CVN AmeriCorps Member helped students dramatically improve reading comprehension

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 2:57pm

By Michael Capuran, Program Director at Dominican Volunteers USA
Dominican Volunteers USA members show their AmeriPrideCasa Juan Diego is a service site providing after-school activities in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago to keep youth off the street and out of gangs. Unlike many after school programs that have tremendous teachers but little parental involvement, Casa Juan Diego is different. The program was founded by parents involved in the neighborhood parish who's experience in education was limited.

When AmeriCorps member Angela Maiorano arrived, Casa Juan Diego was at the end of a transition to intensify its reading, comprehension, and fluency training for 1st to 6th grade students. Angela came with a Master's degree in Education and a desire to gain education experience, develop curricula and train teachers.

During the school day and before the after-school students arrived, Angela worked one-on-one with the Casa Juan Diego teachers. She taught them tools such as ways to use classroom posters for different learning styles. At the beginning of the school year, she pre-tested every student's reading level with the DIBELS instruments. She managed volunteers from local colleges that came in weekly to assist the program. Angela even took on the task of tutoring a class of 10 students herself - all of whom improved at least 1.2 grade levels in reading comprehension through the year.
When asked what she gained from the experience, Angela said an appreciation for the culture and dedication of the parents impacted her the most. Casa Juan Diego valued Angela so much they offered her a paid position, but she chose to renew her AmeriCorps position for a second year closer to family in California.
Angela's dedication to service, her flexibility in how it's provided and her compassion for the underprivileged exemplify what it means to be part of the CVN AmeriCorps.

Day of the "A": "I believe in these students"

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 1:22pm
By William Brown, AmeriCorps Teacher at Cristo Rey Boston High School

Will provides supplemental academic
and behavioral support for struggling students. Fielding the go-to small talk question at social gatherings of “so what do you do for a living?” has yielded a breadth of fascinating conversations over the past year. Upon hearing that I am serving as an AmeriCorps Member at Cristo Rey Boston High School, people tend to light up and be brimming with questions. Each conversation is unique, but a striking point of continuity is the root question of “why do you serve?” that lies beneath amazement over hours, jobs, pay and work circumstances.

To some degree, I understand the incredulity. The day in, day out of service at Cristo Rey Boston High School is demanding, to put it mildly. The number of hats that my service asks me to wear in an average day seems silly from an outside perspective. Listing off a handful of daily duties like greeting our students with a smile in the morning, preparing them for their day at their Corporate Work Study Placements, networking with local partners to plan extracurricular events to offer to the student body,  analyzing behavioral data, teaching programming languages and organizing community service opportunities usually elicits anything from scoffs to shocked amazement. The thought of giving so much directly after graduating from a top university for no personal monetary gain is baffling to some and absurd to others. Almost without fail I have found that the more I explain, the more an outside observer visibly struggles with that basic question of “why?”

The answer to that root question of “why do you serve” is deceptively simple: I believe in these students, and I believe that the world becomes more just by affording them the opportunity to realize the culmination of their potential. Every student that comes through Cristo Rey’s doors is playing from behind in a systemic sense. Many come to us as freshmen with 6th or 7th grade reading, writing, and math skill sets. An average family of four makes less than $26,000 per year, qualifying a vast majority of our students for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program. The student body consists overwhelmingly of minorities, with a notable number of students being the children of immigrants. Although not quantifiable with a crisp number, this population grapples with issues present in both home and neighborhood life that I struggle to wrap my head around given my background as a white, upper-middle class male from California. Statistically speaking, the very same students that we deliberately choose to accept are the ones that are vulnerable to succumbing to the socioeconomic pressures that perpetuate a cycle of poverty.

Will meets with his advisory group where
students discuss character traits like resilience,
openness to growth and perseverance.And yet, every student that graduates from Cristo Rey is accepted to a four year college. Although we are a young school, 70% of our graduates have graduated or are in line to graduate from four year colleges.

Through this unique educational model that blends academic rigor, development as professionals, and deliberate care for each and every student, these young adults are given the opportunity to take control of their own destiny; to grasp the American Dream where their hard work and dedication is rewarded with success and prosperity.

In light of such an understanding, service is not a burden, with demanding hours, overwhelmingly varied job responsibilities, no monetary gain, and a challenging work environment. It is an opportunity, in my own small way, to contribute to a movement that is opening a door for a new generation of leaders to realize their potential and shatter the cycle of poverty. By acting as a teacher, a mentor and a trusted adult figure, I am able to walk with these students on a daily basis as they struggle through the bitter work required to better realize their dignity and worth as human beings. Serving allows me to go to this margin and witness firsthand the world as it turns towards justice.

As one would expect, piecing through this root explanation of why I serve in a casual conversation is not the most realistic response. Instead, I point inquiring minds to keep an eye on these students and their futures. Watch what they do, what they achieve. See where they are in a decade, two decades. Keep an eye on them as they translate their education into an opportunity to break free of the cycle of poverty and turn the world towards justice. Then come to understand why I, and so many others like me, choose to serve.

Reflecting With My Head in an Oven

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 10:33am

Catholic Volunteer Network, in partnership with Catholic Extension, is hosting Days of Service and Reflection all across the country in the dioceses where our Campus Recruitment Associates serve. As these events take place, we will share reflections from students who participate. During the first event, held in South Carolina, fifteen students from seven campuses came together to serve with Home Works, an organization that supports homeowners and communities in need.
 
Reflection by Shelby Irvin, College of Charleston 

....it was getting hot in there.(No, just kidding!)
Today, I was part of a group of volunteers, coming from several colleges in South Carolina, working with a charity called Home Works. We were supposed to paint a woman's house today...but the rain caused a change in our plans and we took up some jobs around the warehouse instead. One group prepared a garage sale - arranging and cleaning items to be sold; like light bulbs, arm chairs, and appliances. Another group cleaned up an area outside - an environmental hazard caused by improperly disposed paint. We worked for a few exhausting and exhilarating hours, then took a break for food and a reflection on the day. 
Photo courtesy of Catholic Volunteer
Network Recruiter Gordon Wong
Eating my sandwich, and listening to Hank, the founder of Home Works, talk about the origins, purposes, and impacts of his work, it occurred to me the wonder of little projects like the one we did today. We only worked a few hours; when we wrapped up for the day, the area my group had worked on clearing still had a great deal of clearing left to do. We were not finished, by any means.
Yet, it occurred to me while chomping on my savory Italian sub - work that is unfinished is the very essence of missions. The work to be done of this earth is never finished - there will always be pain, and poverty, and sin, and wounds to heal. And when we are in the thick of it, it is difficult to believe that what little work we are doing could ever make a difference in the face of so much left unfinished. 

Caitlin, one of the volunteers today, exemplified this perspective. Her task today was to clean an oven to be sold later at the garage sale. Now, I personally never saw the oven, but by Caitlin's description, it must have been the dirtiest oven to ever occupy a warehouse. She said it seemed that oven would never be clean; no matter how much she scrubbed, it would always be grimy. And with her head in the oven, close-up to that seemingly permanent mess, it was hard to believe that her scrubbing made any difference at all. But, once she backed up and saw the whole thing, it was obvious that her hard work had made a great difference. No, the oven was not pristine…but it was much better than it was at the start.
Such is the truth of God's work - humans will never be pristine, but with constant love, outreach, and effort, we can make an enormous difference. As Gandalf, the wise wizard of The Lord of the Rings series, would say, "It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.” With those small acts of love, we can show God's love, and spread the kingdom of heaven to the farthest corners of the globe.

Photo courtesy of Catholic Volunteer Network Recruiter Gordon Wong
Shelby Irvin is a Sophomore Geology major at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, but was actually an opera major when she was a freshman. To learn more about the Catholic Campus Ministry at the College of Charleston visit website: http://sccatholic.net/cofcatholics/.

Catholic Volunteer Network Honors Dr. Martin Luther King Through Service

Sat, 02/08/2014 - 10:35am
In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday as a National Day of Service. Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – a "day on, not a day off," giving Americans of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to honor the legacy of Dr. King through service to their community. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King's vision of a "Beloved Community."

For the past several years, Catholic Volunteer Network has celebrated MLK Day by inviting current volunteers and alumni to participate in service to their communities. This year, we sponsored service events in Chicago and Washington, D.C. on January, 20th.

DC alumni pose with Joe Biden after serving meals to the homeless at SOME.In Washington, D.C. fifteen volunteers and alumni gathered to serve a meal to the homeless with CVN member program, So Others Might Eat. Volunteers at this event were delighted to be joined by Vice President Joe Biden, who arrived unannounced. The group spent some time chatting with the Vice President about their service experiences before getting to work.  Biden, the father of a JVC alum, encouraged Catholic Volunteer Network to continue our important work of service to the poor.

Sixty volunteers came out for the Chicago event, serving another CVN member program, Misericordia Home, which offers care and support for individuals with mild to profound developmental disabilities. Some volunteers hosted a yoga session for residents, while others cleaned and organized the social center.  Following the service project, volunteers shared a simple meal and engaged in a reflection on the life of Dr. King.
In addition to these two events, CVN programs across the country engaged in service to their communities in a variety of ways. AmeriCorps members serving with Boys Hope Girls Hope and Loretto Volunteers served at City Garden Montessori Charter School in St. Louis, Mo. Volunteers serving in Washington, D.C. gathered for an afternoon of dialogue on the topic of race and community service. We are thankful for all the great impact our Network has made on communities across the country.

Be sure to check out photos from these events on our Facebook page! Click here to view the album.

MLK Day is celebrated only one day of the year, but Dr. King's impact is felt every day. As we celebrate Black History Month, we take another opportunity to remember the great strides he made for equality and justice for all.

We want to hear from you - how do you continue to live out the spirit of MLK Day throughout the year?

Exploring Vocations on World Day for Consecrated Life

Sun, 02/02/2014 - 1:45pm
Communities of priests and religious have always served as an important part of the Catholic Volunteer Network family. Even from our earliest days, our volunteers have worked alongside and lived in community with priests, brothers, and sisters. We've maintained a common mission, which is to be a source of love and hope for the world, especially those living in poverty. Today, on World Day for Consecrated Life Catholic Volunteer Network celebrates this important vocation.

Last November, we published the results of our research study, Volunteer Introspective, which asked over 5,000 former volunteers about this impact their service has had on their lives. The results showed that our volunteers were much more inclined to choose consecrated life than the general population. Here are some interesting study findings:
  • 300 survey respondents (approximately 6 percent) are currently serving in consecrated life or are studying for ordination. 
  • Almost two in five former volunteers (37 percent) have considered a vocation to ordained ministry or religious life. 27 percent of these respondents have considered a vocation very seriously, and 35 percent say they have considered this somewhat seriously.
  • Over 60 percent of former volunteers said that their service was part of their vocational/faith development discernment process. 
Considering this strong connection between lay volunteer service and consecrated life, we would like to provide some resources for those of you who would like to learn more about vocations. Here are some organizations that we recommend:


VISION Vocation Network
This site offers one of the most comprehensive resources available in print and online for those seeking information on Catholic religious vocations and men’s and women’s religious communities. Since 1987 VISION has been providing hundreds of thousands of readers each year with information on the broad spectrum of Catholic religious life through first-person accounts, profiles, photo stories, and articles about discernment, community life, vows, ministry, and Catholic teachings. Online features include a Community Search, Vocations Calendar, and Vocation Match.



Catholics on Call Catholics on Call supports Catholic young adults (ages 18-30) as they strive to discover God’s call in their lives, and explore the possibility of a life of service in the Church. A national vocation discovery program of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union, Catholics on Call is dedicated to helping young adults from diverse backgrounds explore a call to ministry in the Church and to learn about leadership roles as lay ecclesial ministers, men or women religious, or ministry as ordained deacons or priests.

A Nun's Life
A Nun’s Life Ministry was founded by Catholic Sisters Julie Vieira and Maxine Kollasch in 2006. This online faith community and nonprofit ministry reaches out with a pastoral presence to thousands of people worldwide each day. The website at aNunsLife.org is a place where you can talk with Catholic sisters and nuns and lots of other people on topics such as spirituality, prayer, community, ministry, and more.

¡OYE! 
This website and annual publication provides many resources for Hispanic young people who are seeking to learn more about how to live out their faith. ¡OYE! seeks to initiate a dialogue to start building a vocational awareness and culture, a safe space where questions can be asked and where the conversation about radical and crucial issues such as commitment and relationship with God can take place. ¡OYE! is a resource provided by Claretian Publications.

Vocation.com
Vocation.com offers a wealth of resources to young people considering vocations and all Catholics interested in promoting and fostering vocations.The site features video testimonies of priests and consecrated men and women and their unique vocation stories. Texts on the basics of prayer, a collection of meditations, and a discernment checklist provide further guidance through the discernment process. One of the key features of this site is its interactive nature. Inquirers can receive help in locating a vocation director in their area as well as type in their questions and have them answered by a priest.

Do you know of other resources that are helpful for those discerning a vocation? Please share them with us in the comments section below!

P.S. Have you heard about our new initiative to support communities of women religious? Click here to check out our latest press release!

Around the Country in 60 Days

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 10:30am

By Gordon Wong, Recruitment Associate

What an incredible five months it has truly been for me! In five months I have traveled to 11 states and 40 college campuses. I don’t dare guess how many students I’ve had conversations with or how many RESPONSE books I’ve given away. Here's a snapshot of my New England recruitment circuit
from the past fall. Photo credit: Catholic Volunteer Network.
Recruitment hasn’t ended though! Starting this week I will be heading down to South Carolina for a week’s worth of visits to our Campus Recruitment Associates (CRA's), Brittany Mays and Marie Schaner . Through Brittany and Marie’s leadership, we will be hosting a joint day long service and reflection event in Columbia, SC. In addition to the CRA visits and the Service Day I will be visiting half a dozen more campuses while in the Palmetto State.

While on the road I will be writing every two weeks with updates. These blogs will serve as a resource to prospective volunteers and will include questions to ponder and suggestions on how to find the program best for you!
In the meantime here’s my schedule of travels over the next 60 days:
  • South Carolina: Wednesday, January 29 - Tuesday, February 4
    • Wednesday, January 29: Winthrop
    • Thursday, January 30: Wofford & Furman
    • Friday, January 31: Clemson 
    • Saturday, February 1: Service Day in Columbia, SC, 4:30 PM Mass at University of South Carolina
    • Sunday, February 2: USC and College of Charleston
    • Monday, February 3: Citadel
    • Tuesday, February 4: Coastal Carolina
  • Atlanta, GA: Wednesday, February 5 - Sunday, February 9
  • Seattle, WA: Wednesday, February 19 - Friday, February 21
  • Moscow, ID: Saturday, February 22 - Sunday, February 23
    • Saturday, February 22: Service Day
    • Sunday, February 23: University of Idaho
  • Portland, OR: Monday, February 24 - Tuesday, February 25
  • Pueblo, CO: Wednesday, February 27 - Tuesday, March 4: 
    • Saturday, March 1: Service Day at Colorado State University, Pueblo
  • Washington, DC : Friday, March 21 - Sunday, March 23: Ecumenical Advocacy Day
  • Memphis, TN: Saturday, March 29 - Sunday March 30
    • Saturday, March 29: Service Day at Rhodes College
    • Sunday, March 30: University of Memphis & Rhodes College

Excited to be heading down to South Carolina this week!
Many thanks to our friend Jim Grove for setting up these
visits. Photo credit: Catholic Volunteer Network.Events will be added throughout the next couple of weeks. Visit our calendarto learn about an event happening near you.
See you on the road!
- Gordon
P.S. For more up-to-the-minute updates follow Catholic Volunteer Network on Twitter (@CatholicVolNet) and me on Twitter (@gowotweets).







Are you a prospective volunteer, current volunteer, volunteer alumnus or program coordinator and are going to be near Gordon? Join him for any of the events he has planned! Contact him at gwong@catholicvolunteernetwork.org or call him at 301.270.0900, ext. 15.

What's on Your Community Calendar?

Wed, 01/08/2014 - 11:28am
by Caitlin Baummer, CVN AmeriCorps Program Assistant

Hey Volunteers! Have you been looking for fun things to do with your house for community nights? Here's a list of some program favorites for you to put your own spin on...
1. Theme Nights- The Colorado Vincentian Volunteers planned a Golf Night. They pulled out all things argyle, borrowed clubs from their program director and set up a mini golf course around their house. I've also heard stories of DayGlo, stretch pants and teased hair for an 80's Night complete with the Wedding Singer soundtrack blasting in the background. The possibilities are endless.
2. The Myers Briggs Test - Taking this (or another similar assessment) can be a great way to start conversation about your personalities and how you interact with others. It is a fun way to learn more about yourself and can be a huge help in addressing conflict within the community.
3. Affirmations - Take some time for each person to write down/brainstorm things that they really appreciate/ admire about the other community members. Then share them with that person and the rest of the group. This is a great end of the year activity, but can be helpful during mid-term struggles too.
4. Food Creations- volunteers with the Episcopal Urban Intern Program decorated these Gingerbread Houses one night. At my house, we had a popcorn night, where we brewed up some plain popcorn and added toppings ranging from garlic salt to caramel.
5. Game Nights- cards, riddles, sports and of course... board games! Need I say more? The Cabrini Mission Corps volunteers particularly enjoy Quelf, Telestrations and Cranium Hullabaloo.


6. Guest Speakers- invite members of local organizations, religious orders or other volunteer programs to talk about a social justice issue or another topic that you want to learn more about and then discuss your thoughts on the lesson.
7. Star Gazing- whether on a city rooftop or a country field, try removing yourself from the technologies of your house. Maybe start your night in silence and then let the spirit guide the meditations of your heart and conversation.
8. Arts and Crafts- if only I had a picture of our living room in mid-December when we were making Christmas gifts. There were fabric scraps, shreds of paper and glitter EVERYWHERE! Messy? Kind of. But it was a fun way to learn from each other's artistic talents and saved a ton of money in gift giving.
9. Going on a Night Hike- through the woods, on a beach, up that big hill in your city... don't forget your flashlights!
10. Larger Community Night- invite individuals from your local area into your home for dinner. These could be neighbors, co-workers, spiritual leaders, or individuals that you serve (keeping in mind appropriate boundaries of course).
I hope you've found an idea or two to bring back to your community. Send us an email with ideas for community faith-sharing activities at info@catholicvolunteernetwork.org.
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