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Let Go and Let God

Wed, 07/20/2016 - 9:00am
By Helene Bansley, Amate House 

"Do not ask yourself what unique talent I possess, but rather, who am I for others?"In the first station of the cross, Jesus is preparing for his death. He goes to the garden of Gethsemane to pray to God because he is overwhelmed with sorrow and distress. He is fearful of his impending death and the suffering he is about to endure. His heart is heavy, yet he utters these words:

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will but as you will.” 

This simple, yet powerful prayer spoke deeply to me the first time I read it. In that moment, I saw Jesus’s human side, that he was capable of feeling sorrow and fear, and in turn I recognized myself. It made me think of the many times in my life and during this year that I have been scared, that I have felt this sense of panic, that empty feeling in my stomach that everything is wrong. When I began my Amate year of service in August, I struggled immensely to adjust. My first night here in South House, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. My bedroom was 90 degrees, I had just crushed a spider, and my sink wouldn’t drain. I thought, God, get me out of here. I immediately doubted the plan He had in store for me, and I wanted to run away. 

Adapting to change is definitely not my strong suit. I missed my former life, my old friends, my independence, being in college, surrounded by people who knew me and accepted me and loved me as I am. I desperately craved that sense of familiarity and comfort, and I wondered how I could possibly find that again? I never imagined the close bonds that I have now created with my eight housemates or the fun, loving, compassionate community that we would build. Not to mention starting a brand new job at One Million Degrees, a scholarship organization that supports low income, highly motivated community college students throughout the city. Integrating myself into a workplace and community that had been long-established before I got there seemed like a daunting, if not impossible task. I felt anxious and worried all the time. I was filled with doubt and questioned if this was where I was truly meant to be. 

One of my favorite sayings is let go and let God. I tried to quiet the doubts in my mind, and let things happen naturally. I prayed to God constantly during this time—when I woke up in the morning, on the train to work, on my walk home. I prayed that He would give me a sign that I was where He wanted me to be. That He had not forgotten me, but rather the opposite; His plan was unfolding just as He intended. And gradually, day by day, I watched things change. I experienced the joy of beautiful friendships developing. I began to feel more confident at work, taking on projects of my own, answering the phone without hesitation, joking around with coworkers that I had initially been intimidated by, and becoming good friends with my awesome and brilliant supervisor Katie. 

Most importantly, I began to truly love and adore my housemates. I felt our community grow closer and create a place we could call home. And as the days passed, I felt more and more comfortable showing my true self. A person that laughs so hard I will start kicking my legs in the air or even roll on the floor uncontrollably. A person who when giving hugs, always holds on a little tighter and a lot longer. A person who feels so deeply and loves so fearlessly. I have become proud of this person, and my community has helped me to embrace my unique holiness. Looking back, I realize I just had to give it time. 

Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will but as you will.”

I think this is my life long struggle, trusting God’s will, and trusting that He has a plan for me, and just because it doesn’t always align with my own plan, God knows me best, better than I know myself, and He will grant what my heart truly desires. This year, my heart yearned for a sense of belonging and purpose. I yearned to love deeply and be loved deeply in return, and that is exactly what I found through Amate House. In the beginning, sure I had my doubts, but 8 months later, I am left with a renewed faith and an even greater closeness to God.

I think that is the point. God always comes through and He is always with me. During my joyful moments and during my darkest moments. He is by my side through it all. He puts challenges and trials in our lives not to make us suffer, but so that we can become the person He wants us to be. 

A person who befriends their brokenness and embraces their flaws, knowing very well that it is only through our brokenness that we are whole; it is only through our flaws that we are perfect, and it is only through God that we are beloved.

To find out more about Amate House, please click here

All Will Be Well

Wed, 07/13/2016 - 9:00am
By Gianna Carleo, Colorado Vincentian Volunteer 

“Reflect and Be Transformed”: This photo is of Tommy Ryan (left) and Kaela Alton (right) during a fall retreat with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers. This is one of the last photos taken of Kaela before she passed away.Few things in nature compare to the company of a winding river. There is a special posture of presence, an invitation to prayer, when one enters a river space. It is the paradox of rushing and calm—a simultaneous acceptance of great mystery paired with rooted contemplation. Every now and then, winter rivers freeze over but still have frigid waters rushing underway, creating a unique sound of frozen knocking. Spring waters take many different forms, and as summer comes, water raises the rivers higher, finds its way to the roots of our plants, is harsh at times and breathes coolness into the dry Colorado heat. It is a lovely experience to witness the movement and change of water. Through these changes I find perpetual invitations to prayer in communion with all beings of transformation. 
On October 14, 2015 another gentleness became a part of my prayer and has continued to transform me since. It left a heavy brand on my heart. A simple, four words: all will be well. It was the night of Kaela’s accident. We had gathered for women’s night and quickly moved to hopeful prayer, then panic as we rushed to the hospital after we received word of her accident. Lynne remained calm as she took my car keys, knowing I should not drive us. She handed me her cell phone and said to find the playlist, “Tune Your Heart”. “Play the song, ‘All Will Be Well.’” she said. Her voice filled the car, allowing me to find oxygen through my gasps. All will be well became my prayer as we made our way to the hospital. Tears rolled down my cheeks—water-staining streams of what would soon be unexpected transformation for all of us. 

An autumn rain came the day after Kaela died. As Karli wrote in a poem, “Even the skies were crying today—they poured the sadness a human cannot withstand... the sun will return to rain your light upon us... to blanket us with your warmth”. 

That water and rain overcame each of us that day and all the days after. It transformed us to know deep wells of our very selves and each other. We sat together a lot in that time—holding each other, crying or trying not to cry or praying and not knowing how. I tried to cling to all will be well, but it was difficult. But somehow, through some prayer, we bend and move like the strong weaving, melting, breaking waters and the sun warms us and all will be well. 

The last eight months have been filled with beautiful prayers of the communion of transformation—a communion of CVV staff, alumni, supporters and the incredible volunteers of year 21 . It is my community at EarthLinks, my friends in Denver becoming friends with the CVV community, it is dance, stress, sadness and all the undeniable facets of self that together hold us. It is the water forms we take on and the prayers we pray. 

New people and experiences will soon transform us once again. Some of us may move far from Pearl Street, others might stay close. Still, I pray that all will be well. Regardless of the paths we take, may we be united in a prayer of breath—unending gratitude to the unimaginable God whose creativity of peace brought us to communion with one another. And the sun warms us. And all will be well. 

To learn more about the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, please click here.

Discovering Trust in a Baltimore Hospital

Wed, 07/06/2016 - 9:00am
By Elizabeth Modde, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry 
A Baltimore Graveyard: The irony of our Baltimore benches is a poignant symbolAs a patient advocate, I am immediately drawn to the patients who do not seem to be happy with their care or those who do not understand their care plan. When I found out that one of my favorite patients had refused to get the procedure that his doctor was recommending, I put on my advocacy hat and followed up to see why he had decided on this. The question was over draining fluid off of his lungs with local anesthetic or by putting him to sleep. In his case, the risks were going to be much higher with general anesthesia, but the patient insisted on “being out” for the procedure. With his complicated health history I knew he made his choice with an acute understanding of poor health outcomes and what they meant. What caught me off guard was what he said next. In his slow, belabored but articulated speech, he explained. “See, I look at it this way: I don’t wake up, well then I see God. If I do wake up,” he smiles, “then I see you!”
This perspective caused me to pause. Many of the patients in our West Baltimore neighborhood, have a powerful trust in God. Perhaps this is a product of simply having nothing else, but perhaps it is more complex than this. Maybe there is an awareness and engagement with self and the outside world that only vulnerability can bring. Despite a seemingly low quality of life (at least as many would measure it), I have seen inexplicably high levels of joy in these people. This particular patient has had a rough childhood, questionable support network, unstable and inadequate living environment, and an ongoing struggle with disease. Yet, if there is one thing that impresses me about him, it is his zeal.
When one cannot trust the systems around him or her, trust in God can be one of the powerful tools to help people see the good. Trust in God gives us faith to keep going. It allows patients to keep a positive outlook and sense of peace amidst dire health prognoses that unfairly arise from the social determinants of health. Trust means my co-workers can see their roles as a vocation and can offer up the hard or overwhelming days to God in order to keep finding inspiration in the little moments. Trust allows my neighbors to continue working hard for self improvement in an environment stacked against them. Trust allows me to relinquish my need to fix the world’s problems, giving in to God’s time and God’s guidance.
As Oscar Romero put it, “We are prophets of a future not our own.” The present can be devastating. However, trust brings us peace when there is nowhere else to turn. It enables us to hope again. It transforms us to take right action.
There is another lesson I have noticed about trust this year. Placing trust in God requires the belief that God works with us and will take care of us. If God invests personally in us, then we must be worthy. Faith in God should mean faith in oneself. Trust inspires self-confidence.
Moreover, if God promises to provide for us as a people, then our community must be worthy. Faith in God extends to having faith in our community. It extends to having faith in others. What a change from the shaming messages that external systems and society seem to place on inner city, economically poor, predominantly black groups. Seeing the value and holiness of our community and in the individuals that make it up brings a heightened awareness of human dignity. There is God in each of us and in the place we live. In recognizing this we can do as Jesus did: we can act out of Love and we can act with love.
It is beautiful when I get to see love derived action at the hospital. I see it in a nurse who touches her patient with care and explains her work as inserts an IV. I see it in a nursing assistant who draws a flower on the Styrofoam cup of water she brings to her patients.
Recently, I spent a lot of time with a patient who shook uncontrollably and irregularly. During one of our conversations, she took me over to her window and pointed to a statue of Jesus in the courtyard. We stood there together, holding hands. Soon, our hands clasped, her shaking became my shaking. This is what Life seems to be about for me. Connecting to a greater Love, we intentionally place ourselves in the presence of each other. We find the rhythm we have in common and begin moving in intentional, unpredictable harmony.
Elizabeth is currently volunteering with Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry. To find out more about this program, please click here

Beyond the Statistics

Wed, 06/22/2016 - 9:00am
Amor de Hermanas - Sisterly Love, Amanda and Diana*By Amanda Ceraldi, Franciscan Mission Service 

From the first day I met her, Diana* captured a piece of my heart. I’m not sure if it was her wide-eyed smile and precious dimples, her joyful belly laugh, or the way she called me “Miss” because she couldn’t properly pronounce my name, but she instantly captivated me. Diana brought a special light to my second grade English class. She was timid at first, but it didn’t take long until her excitement to learn took over.  There was something unique about Diana. I didn’t know what it was at first, but I was eager to understand and love her more to find out.  

Guatemala ranks fourth in the world among malnourished children. With 1 out of 2 children in Guatemala being chronically malnourished and nearly 3 out of 4 children in indigenous communities, it is hard not to be shocked by these statistics. When I first arrived in Guatemala these statistics didn’t really mean anything to me—they were overwhelming, but they were merely numbers. These numbers were a frustration with Guatemala’s infrastructure and they were a reminder of the work that needs to be done for the poor and marginalized.   

I had done research on malnutrition in Guatemala before my arrival. I had heard stories about how malnutrition effects childhood development.  I knew that lack of proper nutrition in the first few years of life has a great effect on a child’s ability to learn later in life. I understood how it would be more difficult for a child to advance in life, both mentally and emotionally, if they didn’t have access to the necessary nutrients to help their brains and bodies develop. But during my time at Orfanato Valle de los Angeles, a boarding school for poor and marginalized children who come from areas of Guatemala plagued with violence, abuse, and malnutrition, these numbers ceased to be a shock, a frustration, or a reminder. These numbers had a face. These numbers had a name. These numbers were my student, Diana. Suddenly, those statistics were directly impacting my call to mission.      

The more time I spent with Diana the more I began to notice what separated her from the other students in class. Diana would yell out answers, not unlike her classmates, but she would become angry and hit herself if she didn’t know the correct answer. She would pace back and forth in frustration if she colored outside of the lines during an activity. She would often punch or kick other students when they would laugh at her for talking to herself. I began to see the other kids in my class isolating themselves from Diana. She was often left without a partner during class activities, her classmates called her names, and it didn’t take much for her to storm away and cry in the corner.  

Like nearly 50% of the children born in Guatemala, Diana was born into such poverty that her family couldn’t properly take care of her. Because of this, and more reasons than I will ever know, Diana was abandoned and forced to overcome something way outside of her control in her young life. But upon her arrival at Valle de los Angeles, Diana was met with love and opportunity for her future. Like all of our 215 students, Diana was seen by our nurses, doctors, and nutritionists to ensure that she was growing, developing, and overcoming her malnourishment. She was given the opportunity to meet with our school psychologist to deal with the effects of her malnutrition. She was given a tutor to help her advance in her classes. But most of all, Diana was given love, care and hope.   

One of the greatest things I’m learning during my time on mission is the power of ministry of presence and accompaniment. Diana taught me how to love and accompany in new ways. I learned how to adjust my lesson plans and teaching style to meet Diana’s needs in my classroom. I learned what would cause Diana’s anger and frustration in my class and how to help her work through her emotions. I learned that loving can simply be the action of opening your arms for a hug. I learned that sometimes, in order to love and accompany another person, all you need to do is be there. Diana taught me that our capacity to grow and to love goes beyond the statistics.    

*Name Changed

Amanda is currently volunteering with Franciscan Mission Service. To find out more about this program, please click here.

Christ in Disguise: Bon Secours Volunteers Reflect on the Corporal Works of Mercy

Wed, 05/11/2016 - 9:00am
“The Corporal Works of Mercy are found in the teachings of Jesus and give us a model for how we should treat all others, as if they were Christ in disguise.”  ~United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
 The above description of the Corporal Works of Mercy reminds us that Christ lives within all of creation, unifying every living being. When we experience this sacred reality, we come to understand our actions as a means by which we may bring healing and wholeness to the Body of Christ. As our Bon Secours Ministry Volunteers practice the Corporal Works of Mercy through their service, they develop a deeper appreciation for the web of relationships which connects each of them in both an intimate and a personal way to all those they meet in their daily lives. In the reflections below, the BSVM volunteers share encounters which illustrate this growth. It is in the act of responding to their neighbor’s hunger and thirst for dignity through the Corporal Works of Mercy that our volunteers meet Christ in service.  ~ Olivia Steback, Program Manager, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry

Feed the Hungry and Give Drink to the ThirstyBy Gerard Ondrey
When I bring a patient a container of apple juice or a pack of graham crackers, it often doesn’t register in my mind as a significant action.  After all, most patients get three meals a day while in the hospital, something many of them do not receive outside the care of Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital.  However, during my year of service I have come to realize the importance of these gestures lies not in their magnitude, but in the greater recognition of the human dignity these acts symbolize.
The patients I encounter, many of whom struggle with poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, and other afflictions which contribute to their marginalization from mainstream society, are not used to being waited on or served. On the other hand, I am accustomed to going out to restaurants with family or friends, people taking my order, cooking my food, filling up my drink glass, and removing my dishes when I am done.  When offering a patient a snack, I don’t quite have the selection of a five-star restaurant to choose from, but when I am asking a question as simple as, “Would you prefer apple, cranberry, or orange juice?”  I feel I am embodying the ways in which I have been served. “Waiting” on patients, taking their “orders”, bringing them food, and clearing things away when they are done, feel like true acts of mercy. I am showing them that I find them important by honoring their requests and responding in a full and prompt manner.
In my mind, this is what it means to live out the Corporal Works of Mercy of feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. In the above scenarios, the acts are not important because the people I am serving are in danger of starving to death in that moment, but because of the dynamic they represent; seeing and honoring Christ’s presence in all people elicits the desire to serve. 
Shelter the HomelessBy Alex Yeo
Through my ministry in the emergency room I have been able to work with many of the homeless men and women who reside in our community. These individuals come to the hospital seeking medical care and assistance with their social problems. My role, when I first meet them, is to ensure that their non-medical needs are addressed. One of the main organizations the hospital partners with is Healthcare for the Homeless, a nonprofit that provides medical care and social service assistance. With their aid, I have been able to provide patients the support and resources needed to help them transition out of homelessness. 

Visit the SickBy Mackenzie Buss
Our volunteer community has been fortunate enough to avoid sickness so far (thank you Lord!) but, every day at the hospital, we work with those from the greater West Baltimore community who are ill. In my experience, it is often the sickest patients who are the most difficult to 'be present to'. All of our renal patients have a lot going on in their lives, from physical ailments, comorbidities, and actual disability to the myriad social problems that living in an impoverished neighborhood presents. In spite of the massive obstacles that all our patients face, there is still a huge range in energy levels and general overall health. The chipper, friendly, energetic patients are often the easiest to build relationships with. At first, I was daunted by the prospect of talking to the older, quieter, sicker renal patients. As I have grown and learned with Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry this year, I have come to understand that our service isn't necessarily about entertaining patients, solving little problems, or even listening to them. It's about being there for them with your whole soul.
That is the mentality that empowered me to smile a bit and sit down next to one of our elderly, quiet, very sick nursing home patients. Sometimes, I'll hold her hand or say something that I am thinking of, but mostly I just sit there beside her. It's really a silent visit, a moment of being present to one of my sisters in Christ in the only way I know how - to just be together. I don't have much else to offer her, but something about those tiny moments, no matter how small and simple, just feels right. It's like a little slice of the Holy Spirit is there in right relationship with us as we sit and simply betogether. 

Visit Prisoners By Elizabeth Modde
It is not unusual to pass a man or woman walking down the hallway in handcuffs, flanked by two security guards. Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore ministers to patients from the Department of Corrections. In fact, some patients admitted to St. Martin's Hall Inpatient Unit will be discharged to the police. Seeing these patients, shackled to their beds, I find myself trying to imagine what they must be feeling. Some are visibly anxious. With a small idea of the dehumanization that can be experienced in prison, I feel privileged to extend warmth and kindness to our prisoners at the hospital. Recognizing basic humanity and dignity, of both patients and the guards in their rooms, can be as simple as smiling and offering a cup of water. 

Bury the DeadBy Alex Yeo
In the ER, you rarely get the opportunity to develop a lasting relationship with a patient. There is a very specific process: triage, treat, and either discharge or admit to the inpatient floor. The focus is on efficiency not casual conversation. Regardless, many of the patients that come to the ER frequently are often too intoxicated or incapacitated to engage in conversation. This year, however, I had the privilege of meeting a patient, let us call him David, who had developed a lasting relationship with the ER staff.
David, admittedly, was not the most pleasant patient to work with; a homeless alcoholic he had been cycling through the ER for over twenty years. I was always impressed that despite how frustrating it was for the staff to see him constantly return to the hospital, they were able to retain hope for his future. He was always given a place to rest out of the cold, a warm meal, and often times new clothes. The ER staff was his family. Their relationship may have begun begrudgingly but was now one of love and concern.  When David passed away this winter, the mood in the ER was one of sadness and relief. Knowing that he had moved on to a better place brought solace to those who had worked with him.
Being one of the last people to work with him, I was given the task of organizing his memorial service. Visiting the different departments of the hospital to raise publicity about the service, I was amazed at how many people in the hospital knew of him or had stories about caring for him. The hospital staff had given him many resources and much love, but he also gave back to us. During those difficult and frustrating moments of caring for him, he taught us how to love and to be patient; how to look past one’s impulsive judgments and tap into a deeper desire to care for one another as members of God’s creation. For those lessons we are eternally grateful and his presence will be greatly missed. 
Give Alms to the PoorBy Nicole Odlum
Through my ministry, I had the privilege to deliver Christmas gift bags to the many seniors I visit every month for blood pressure screenings. Around Christmastime each year, women from local Baltimore churches donate gift bags filled with simple personal hygiene products, laundry and dish detergent, and hand-knit scarves. For many of the residents, this may be the only Christmas present they receive. When I told them they could keep the entire bag of gifts, the look on their faces was humbling. The gratitude and appreciation they expressed was inspiring; this simple, unexpected gift bag brought them so much joy. One woman actually came back down from her apartment after leaving with her gift bag to thank us again for the things we gave her. That was an extremely powerful moment for me, because I realized how much these simple items, items most people consider a necessity, meant to the seniors. 
Pope Francis writes that, “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”  Please continue to remember our volunteers in your prayers as they take Pope Francis’ words to heart and strive to courageously live lives of mercy and hope. 

To learn more about Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry, please click here

Justice in Education

Mon, 05/02/2016 - 12:18pm
By Mary Arczynski, Colorado Vincentian Volunteer

In school I discovered my passion for improving our societal structures, but by my senior year, I felt dissatisfied with pure discussion and felt a pull to act, to “do” something about all of the societal injustices that I was learning about. Especially in my economics courses, many discussions on the right policies for social safety nets, for Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, etc. seemed so overwhelming in terms of my inability to help everyone. So many of these programs feel like putting a Band-Aid on a deep wound that needs stitches, stitches that no one is willing or able to pay for. Learning about injustice, and not knowing how to help the marginalized, many times left me with a deep feeling of despair. This study led me to my passion for education equality. The more I studied economics, the more I realized the self-agency that improving the education or “worker’s skill” of a person that knowledge and experience provides.
There are many factors that play into the education of a child outside of the public institution of school—to include supportive parents or guardians, presence or lack-thereof of traumatic events in childhood, safety, nutrition, the amount of education received by a child’s parents, etc, and arguably those are factors that society does not have to “pay for” in terms of education. But, when you really think about it, education is everything when it comes to preventing a deep wound from ever forming so that a Band-Aid never has to be used in the first place, and school systems are not equal in terms of funding, nor are they equitable. Education is supposed to give everyone a chance and in addition, when done correctly, it gives people the awareness to advocate for themselves. A beneficial education allows the marginalized to improve their situations and to become contributing members of society who can interact with pride and mutual self-respect.
Education is what turns anger, violence and despair towards a situation into a burning hope for something better. Truly, think of the first time you learned to read a word, your first book and your first scholarly essay that opened a portal into an entirely new perspective on life. An education allows an individual to do that many times over during the course of ONE day. Imagine the impact of a successful countrywide educational structure on our country. One in which each student and school had adequate staffing, textbooks, technology and opportunity.

Anyone working in a profession that directly advocates for the marginalized knows that many social justice issues are intertwined. One cannot talk about education injustice without talking about poverty, and one cannot talk about poverty without talking about racial injustice. But, I truly believe that the first pragmatic step to long-term positive improvement of the many social justice issues in our country begins with providing equitable education to children. 

Mary Arczynski is a graduate of James Madison University with a dual degree in English and Economics. She is currently volunteering with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers. 

This post is part of our new Justice Matters series, in which volunteers reflect on the social justice issues that have become an important part of their service experience. 

Holy Ground: A Volunteer and Graduate Student's Experiences of Unexpected Grace

Tue, 04/19/2016 - 9:00am
By Laura Shrode, former Colorado Vincentian Volunteer

“As others allow you into the most tender places in their lives, you will know you are standing on holy ground, and you will find yourself touched, humbled, and gladdened by unexpected grace.” –Sharyl Peterson

On one particular busy afternoon at my service site, Denver Urban Ministries, I met Cynthia (not her real name). My job was to sit with her, ask her some standard questions, fill out paperwork and then assist her to our food pantry. That is the bare minimum. One of the best things about Denver Urban Ministries is their emphasis on quality over quantity. Though the lobby was bursting with people and we were short-staffed, the organizational leadership taught me to be present to the person in front of me. And so it was that I heard Cynthia’s story. Through tears and mumbles, she shared her struggles and fears.  I sat and listened.  I tried to acknowledge her struggles and let her vocalize the pain and the fear she had been feeling, but had been afraid to speak. It appeared as if this were the first time she had been able to mention these struggles aloud. 

Three years later, I do not remember the specifics of our conversation, but I have not forgotten what it felt like to be standing on Holy Ground. What a beautifully, powerful place to be! This conversation with Cynthia was one of the crucial moments that led me on my journey to Saint John’s School of Theology to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. My journey at Saint John’s has allowed me to travel many paths filled with unexpected grace. Many of these moments have come from my time as an intern and a chaplain at a local hospital.

My learning experience so far as a hospital chaplain has taught me to expect the unexpected.  When I enter a patient’s room or respond to a trauma, I have only the slightest idea of what I am getting myself into.  In some cases, the patient is alone sitting in his chair watching The Price is Right. Other times, several family members are present, with remnants of snacks and blankets from the one who stayed overnight with their loved one sprawled across the small space. At another moment, in a moment of trauma, I may enter a sea of organized chaos. The lights are bright, a few white coats are in the room and several other medical staff members dance around the patient in the hospital bed. I am always impressed by how the medical staff have mastered the dance of chaos. So many beeps from different machines, so many bodies trying to do chest compressions, trying to bring in the right medications, trying to do whatever they can to keep the patient alive and comfortable. Most times the dance is beautiful. Somehow the medical team knows their roles and where they need to be to not get in the way of one another. I try to stand near the head of the patient, to let her know that she is not alone. Or I will be directed to where the family is waiting. There we will sit and pray, pace, and share stories.

I am learning to appreciate the many surprises. Sometimes I am surprised by the medical situation - the biology degree in me is constantly fascinated with some of the crazy things I have witnessed. Sometimes I am surprised by the stories I hear - stories of pain, grief, loneliness, joy, hope and love. Many older patients have given me advice on how to live a good life, how to have a happy marriage, and how to keep the faith.

I value these stories because I recognize that in listening to them, I am standing (or sitting usually) on Holy Ground. The patients or family members are allowing me to enter into their lives, even if just for a few brief moments. I am able to share in the joys and blessings of a new birth or the sadness and confusion when someone hears difficult news. I find “unexpected grace” in seeing Christ in the hospital bed before me. How lucky am I that I get to encounter the many faces of Christ on a daily basis? I truly am humbled by these experiences.

My time at Saint John’s School of Theology has led me to other ministry work as well.  I am the new Recruitment Coordinator for the Benedictine Women Service Corps volunteer program. I now have the opportunity to encourage others to seek out ways to encounter that “unexpected grace.” This position allows me to connect with female college students interested in service and help them discern where their path is taking them.  I anticipate, with excitement, that they will have their own experiences of unexpected grace on holy ground.

Laura Shrode was a full-time volunteer with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers in Denver, Colorado 2012-2013. She now is a full-time graduate student at Saint John’s School of Theology (Collegeville, MN) working towards a Master of Divinity with plans for hospital chaplaincy. She also works as the Recruitment Coordinator for the Benedictine Women Service Corps.

To learn more about St. John's School of Theology and their scholarships for volunteers, please click here

Don't Forget About the Soil

Fri, 04/15/2016 - 4:11pm
By Carley Knapp, Bethlehem Farm Volunteer

One of my favorite aspects of being on the volunteer staff of Bethlehem Farm in Pence Springs, West Virginia, is the opportunity to lead crews of high school and college students in our gardens.  We have two large gardens and several smaller ones where we cultivate many of the vegetables and herbs that we serve year-round during our service retreats.  We host volunteers from schools, parishes, and universities around the Northeast, Midwest, and Central United States, and most of the young adults have not spent much time growing any of their own food.  A transformation happens frequently that fills me with hope and joy: Students who at the beginning of the week seem tentative and uncomfortable with garden work by the end of the week are outside with wheelbarrows and pitchforks, big grins and dirty gloves, weeding, seeding, or layering on compost like they’ve been farming their whole lives. I know when I get my hands dirty in the garden, it’s happy work that makes me feel a sense of connectedness.  After all, I am connected to the soil if my food is growing there, not in an abstract kind of way but as a micro-biological reality.  The adage, “You are what you eat,” links us through plants to the soil.  We can only be as healthy as the food that we eat, and the plants that become our food can only be as healthy as the soil that feeds them.  Just as humans enjoy a variety of foods and have individual culinary preferences, plants thrive in environments with a variety of bacteria and fungi and have unique nutritional needs.  The problem is that most of the world’s soil today is eroded and degraded.  A 2006 study in the Journal of the Environment, Development and Sustainability found that soil is being washed and swept away 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished. Our industrial society has not found a way to replace what it takes from the soil.Pope Francis sums up this issue in Laudato Si when he writes,It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants.  But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and byproducts.  We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations. (Paragraph 22)Nourishing our soils is one way to correct the wasteful patterns we have inherited in our society.  If you have a garden, give it love in the form of lots of mulch and compost.  If you don’t have a garden, give your food waste to someone who composts and gardens.  Or start a garden!  Worm bins are a great way to get quick compost from small amounts of food waste. At Bethlehem Farm, we even have a “humanure” system where we use sawdust and buckets to compost our own – you guessed it. Do what makes sense for you, just don’t forget about the soil.

Carley Knapp earned her Bachelor's degree from Indiana University, and a Master's in Theology from St. Meinrad Archabby. She now serves as a volunteer caretaker at Bethlehem Farm, located in Pence Springs, West Virginia. 

This post is part of our new Justice Matters series, in which volunteers reflect on the social justice issues that have become an important part of their service experience. 

Where Are They Now? Former Volunteers in Engineering

Tue, 04/05/2016 - 9:00am
Here is another exciting installment of our popular feature, “Where Are They Now?” This series highlights volunteer alumni who carry out the spirit of service in different professions and ministries. In this edition we are getting to know some alumni who have chosen professions in engineering.

Hello! I'm Angela Medlock, and I served with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers (CVV) in Denver, CO from 2010-2011. I studied civil engineering, and am now a Bridge Inspection Engineer with AECOM.What inspired you to serve?  After attending both the career fair and the volunteer fair at my college, I knew volunteering was what I wanted to do. Spending a year living in community with a group of strangers, working to help those in poverty, and learning the importance of simple living seemed like the perfect way to kick off adulthood.

What is one memory from your time of service that has stuck with you, and why?  I worked at a homeless day-shelter, and many days I was part of the staff that opened the doors in the morning at 6am. As the guests entered, we would greet and check them in. These short interactions were always my favorite part of the day. It amazed me how cheerful so many of the people were despite having slept on the streets or in shelters the night before. It reminded me that having a positive attitude will help get you through a lot in life. I have never enjoyed going to work as much as I did those days I was opening the shelter.

Has your service experience impacted your career path? If so, how?A large component of our service year was focused on reflection and discussion. Taking the time to reflect on how I’m serving my clients and co-workers has made me a stronger leader and manager. Another piece of our service year was learning to live in community with others, even people we didn’t see eye to eye with. We would always be encouraged to face problems directly, and have the difficult conversations that we often want to shy away from. This skill set has come in handy both in my personal and professional life after CVV.

Why did you choose to work in engineering?Growing up, I was always enthralled by bridges. This passion, along with a very engaging Physics teacher in high school, led me to pursue a career in civil engineering.

Did your service experience change your perspective as an engineer? How?As a bridge inspector we deal with people who are homeless on a regular basis. They often take shelter beneath bridges, and when we come to do our inspection they will offer helpful information they have noticed about the bridge (i.e. leaking joints, heavy water flows, etc.). Some inspectors refer to these people as “vagrants” and “bums” in our reports. My volunteer year comes out at these moments, and I advocate for the people living under the bridge even if it just means changing the language we use to reference them in our reports.

My work brings me joy because … I am able to combine my love for bridges with my love for the outdoors while protecting the traveling public!

How do you stay connected to your program or service site?Since my volunteer year, I have had the privilege to sit on the board for CVV and help start an alumni association for the volunteers who have gone through the year of service. My closest friends are still the people from my CVV community, and one of the program directors is my spiritual director!

Questions for fun:What engineering class did you complain about most in college, and why?Statistics. My professor, despite his engaging British accent, was extremely tough.

Will computers eventually outsmart humans?Unless they can teach computers compassion, I don’t think so!

Hey! I'm Dan Frank, and I served with the Mercy Volunteer Corps at a Catholic middle school located on the heart of the Navajo Nation. I taught mathematics, coached soccer, and started an after school engineering club during the 2010-2011 school year. Now, I am a Ph.D student in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Florida.

What inspired you to serve? As an undergrad, I had a truly inspiring adviser. He was a former NASA astronaut that had a passion for engineering outreach. He encouraged me to engage with local inner-city students in engineering activities. Through these outreach efforts, I began to appreciate just how many opportunities that I’ve been given in life and recognized that I had a responsibility to do what I could to extend these opportunities to the next generation.

What is one memory from your time of service that has stuck with you, and why? One time I was giving a presentation on robotics to the first grade. I showed them a video of a robot that was trying to climb a jungle gym when it slipped, fell, and broke. When I asked the class, “What do you do when something breaks?” One of the students responded, “You cry!” I was completely caught by surprise. That was not the answer that I was expecting. So I gently responded, “You could cry, but wouldn’t it be even better if you fixed it instead?” The class cheered as I then showed them a video of the repaired robot, climbing once again. At the end of the presentation I asked the same question, “What do you do when something breaks?” The class shouted out, “You fix it!”

Has your service experience impacted your career path? If so, how?Absolutely, because of my service experience, I realized just how important having opportunities to learn about engineering can be for students. It inspired me to go back to the Navajo Nation every year to run workshops on engineering topics as well as to start a couple Lego robotics teams. I even helped one of those teams to organize and host a STEM conference for the Navajo Nation where people traveled a combined total of over 12,000 miles to attend. As a graduate student, I was spending so much time on engineering outreach with the Navajo Nation and other sites around the country, that I finally recognized it as my true passion, causing me to shift the focus of my research from robotics to engineering education.

Why did you choose to work in engineering? For as long as I can remember, I loved building robots. I remember my first robot was an upside-down bucket strapped to an RC car that had a couple wrenches taped onto it for arms. Being able to make something is cool. Making something that moves is even better. Being able to make something that moves and can think for itself, well what’s cooler than that?

Did your service experience change your perspective as an engineer? How?It was experiences like the one I had working with the first graders that helped me to learn that engineering is more than just a profession. It’s a perspective - a way of viewing the world, not as one full of obstacles, but as one filled with endless opportunities. Engineers use a number of skills to solve problems that can be used by anyone. For example, how do you approach a problem when there may be thousands of possible solutions? How do you take a large problem and break it down into a bunch of smaller ones? When I work with a class to help them to develop these engineering skills, I don’t do it because I think it is important that everyone becomes an engineer. I do it because I believe that these are skills that anyone can benefit from, regardless of the profession that they choose. Learning about engineering is empowering. It means that a lot less tears are going to be shed when something breaks in the first grade classroom.

My work brings me joy because … I am able to use my skills and talents to bring positive change to the communities that need it the most.

Questions for fun:What engineering class did you complain about most in college, and why?Probably thermodynamics, I just never warmed up to it.

Will computers eventually outsmart humans?Are you sure that it hasn’t happened already?
In the next installment of "Where Are They Now?" we will feature former volunteers working in campus ministry! Do you know someone we should feature in this article? Send your submissions to Katie Mulembe at