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Ten Tips for Making the Most of Your Service Year

6 hours 34 min ago
By Elyse Wegner, serving in Los Angeles with the Episcopal Urban Intern Program

Changing the world starts with youI have had the honor of being an Episcopal Urban Intern in Los Angeles for the past ten months.  I know that when the program ends, I will leave a completely different person. I will leave with a newfound passion, energy and vision for social justice. I will leave my cohorts, fifteen unique and inspiring individuals, but we will always stay connected through this experience. Ultimately, I will leave the program and this year will come to a close, but the program and the valuable lessons I’ve learned will never leave me.

Lesson one: No expectations allowed  
Leave your expectations at home. Don’t expect to get everything right away. Don’t expect to be everyone’s best friend. Don’t expect to always get a seat on the bus. And definitely don’t expect for everything to go your way. Intentional community is about compromise and realizing that what you do affects those around you.

Lesson two: Try new things
The Episcopal Urban Interns together on a retreatMost of my job entails traveling to our 17 partner churches and helping the program coordinator facilitate free cooking and nutrition classes. In these classes, we teach the participants about health and try a new recipe every class. Some participants are hesitant to try dishes with ingredients that they are not accustomed to such as whole grain noodles or vegetables. However, they are pleasantly surprised one hundred percent of the time. This kind of exposure opens up a world of opportunities and truly changes lives.

Lesson three: Ask questions 
It’s okay to ask questions. It shows interest and stimulates conversation. You will do yourself and those around you a disservice if you pretend like you know everything. This service year is about broadening your perspective and recognizing that people are resources.

Lesson four: Just do something 
There are those who crave significance, and those who work hard for causes they believe in and thus, create significance-a lesson I learned from our Executive Director at Seeds of Hope who is always sharing his wisdom. It has been so inspiring to watch people I work with just making stuff happen and I’m hoping that their company has decreased my tendency to procrastinate. Just do something, start somewhere and use failure as a platform to humble yourself and learn.

Lesson five: Invest in relationships 
Give people the time they deserve. Greet them, get to know them, and most importantly, listen. Productivity and collaboration go out the window when someone feels like they aren’t being heard, especially in underserved populations. You will encounter people from all backgrounds who will think very differently than you. Having thoughtful and difficult discussions will instill confidence to share your opinion while respectively hearing someone else’s perspective.

Lesson six: Share your ideas 
I remember it was my first or second week of work and I was still unsure of my place within the organization. We were at a meeting and ideas were being thrown out about how to solve a problem. I kept my ideas to myself because I did not want to intrude. Later on in the car I mentioned my idea to my boss and he asked why I didn’t bring it up in the meeting. I did not share my ideas because I lacked the confidence and was new to the professional world. Sharing enlightens the discussion and might spark creativity within someone else.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Lesson seven: Honor your commitments 
You will be glad that you did. I came into this year knowing that every week I would share a meal with my housemates and gather as a group of fifteen every second Sunday. The community aspect was what drew me to the program and I welcomed the structure and expectations. However, what sounds really good on paper, can end up becoming a challenge in real life. There are days when I don’t feel like going to church or having a long discussion about house duties with my roommates. But I do my best to be there because it brings me out of my shell and allows me to see the world through other perspectives.

Lesson eight: Go with the flow
Not one single day at work has been the same. I love the spontaneity of my job and most days, it doesn’t even feel like work because I am enjoying the service and company of those around me. However, there are days where I find myself digging into really tough ground to plant a tree or shoveling a truckload of mulch into wheelbarrows and feeling like the pile never shrinks. But you get through it and stick to the task because if you put it off until later, it will never get done. Remember, you are not above any job and having an open mind will make you a better team player.

Lesson nine: Stay Positive
It’s simple. Complain less. Give thanks more. Doing so will enrich the experience and create a positive environment that others around you will appreciate.

Lesson ten: Doodle and always tell the truth 
Our executive director always shares a stroke of genius with us at our staff meetings. We actually have a quote book of “Tim-isms” that have just left the rest of us in awe. This quote speaks to me mostly of embracing creativity and maintaining your integrity.

There are so many more lessons that I will cherish and keep close to my heart, but these ten are a good place to start. Invest in people, moments, places, and causes you believe in. True wealth is measured by our memories.

To learn more about serving with the Episcopal Urban Intern program, click here

A Day in the Life...

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 1:30pm
of a Marist Volunteer, by Luis Ramos
Once you arrive on property at the Marist Brothers’ Center in Esopus, New York (MBCE), you are surrounded by trees and countryside, and immediately welcomed home. That might sound odd for a moment, but it is always our hope that people who visit us feel welcome and at home.

Our mission statement reads: 
"The Marist Brothers’ Center at Esopus is a place where a Marist approach to ministry, formation, and service work together to evangelize young people and adults." It is truly exciting to live this out during this year with my fellow volunteers! Our volunteer community lives in The Cottage, one of a few different houses that is on the property.

Doing the dishes--a daily task
A day in the life of a Marist volunteer can change quickly! Our volunteer community has a few hallmarks. One pretty common one is taking care of dishes and serving meals in our dining hall. This, along with being present and available to groups, is part of our work of hospitality.

Our very organized kitchen
RetreatsA school group on retreat
School groups, parishes, and colleges come to the MBCE for programs year round. The types of programs they run vary from retreats to peer group mentoring or even workshops and seminars. Sometimes we run retreats for groups based on their needs and what they would like to do. We plan activities, presentations, and experiences for participants. Helping run and plan these retreats is part of the MBCE living out its mission to evangelize youth.
Prayer is an important part of the daily routine
Outdoor AdventuresRetreatants learning team-building skills

Another type of offering we have is an Outdoor Adventure retreat. Different elements, or stations, serve as activities to facilitate team building and community exercises. These are always a fun way to get the message across to our younger students while they are keeping active! They are definitely a favorite of mine.

Walking into the forest while blindfolded means you must trust your companions!CommunityPart of our volunteer life involves living in community. This is a lot different than just having housemates, because it is an intentional community! It’s not like a dorm. We share meals, prayer, time to relax, and definitely work! 
This year's group of volunteers includes myself, Rosemarie Mulligan, and Nina Lokar. (Right to Left) 
Playing chess in our free timeMaintaining Our Home Apart from retreats and other programming, it takes a lot to maintain the houses and property we live on. Whether it is moving furniture, cleaning different parts of the house, or mowing the lawn, we’ve got plenty of space that needs work. It can get tough, but our community is up to the challenge. I’m looking forward to learning how to drive a tractor!
A new furniture delivery means a day of hard work! Joining the Marist Volunteer Community was a decision I felt comfortable with. I had been visiting this property since I was a sophomore at Mount Saint Michael Academy, a Marist Brothers’ high school. Being able to contribute to the incredible work that goes on here is something I am proud of and grateful for. Right before I began this year, Br. Owen Ormsby (executive director of the MBCE) told me “I want this to be a year of growth for you”. I fully expect that! I expect a year of hard work, fun times, and growth. Come visit us anytime! I mean it!
To learn more about the Marist Volunteer Community, click here

My New Sight: Michelle

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 1:30pm
 Michelle Baumann is a world-class golfer and baker who just graduated from Creighton University. Since she is serving in Colorado, she is taking full advantage of the beautiful landscape by going hiking when she can. Read on to see what it's like to begin a year of service with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers!
Michelle (blue hat, kneeling, center) and the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers on a hike
My name is Michelle Baumann and I am currently doing a year of service with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers. CVV was started in 1995 by Bill and Mary Frances Jaster, who wanted to start a service program for young adults influenced by the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul. CVV is a year-long program for up to 20 young adults interested in doing a year of service at a non-profit agency in Denver, CO. Each individual have the opportunity to choose which site he or she will work at based off of the interests of the volunteer. Some of the services sites this year include homeless shelters, urban gardens, elementary schools, refugee services, and day shelters.
I chose to do a year of service because I know I want to go back to graduate school, but I am not sure if I want to get a Masters in Social Work or Counseling Psychology. I decided that I wanted to spend a year learning what it would be like to be a social worker to determine if that is the career path for me. This year, I am working at Urban Peak, a homeless shelter for at-risk and runaway youth. The shelter provides overnight services and case management for youth ages 15-20. At the shelter, I spend my time in two different positions. First, I am a Direct Care Counselor, in which I assist with meal services, laundry, answering phone calls, etc. My second position is a Shelter Case Manager, in which I assist youth with finding resources in Denver to help them accomplish their goals.
Individuals in CVV live in an intentional community with the other members of CVV. We have two houses, so each house has 10 volunteers. As a part of the CVV community, activities are scheduled throughout the week to share and reflect on the experiences of the volunteers. I think the community event that is most significant for me and the most unique to CVV is the community dinner that happens on Monday nights. Every Monday, all of the volunteers leave work early to have “Reflection and Discussion” with the community. Topics for R&D include removing judgments and setting boundaries at work. After R&D, CVV has Mass together in the chapel in the CVV houses followed by dinner. Anyone in the Denver community is invited to attend Mass and dinner, usually totaling 25-30 people.
Living in such a large community has taken some time to adjust to. With so many roommates and no homework, it always feels like something is going on, which is both good and bad. I love being able to go to common areas and usually find someone hanging out or playing a game. However, it can be difficult to take time for myself instead of spending time with my roommates. FOMO (or “Fear of Missing Out”) is something that I am adjusting to. It can be difficult to choose between spending quality time with my friends and spending time by myself to de-stress from the day.  CVVolunteers are dedicated to living a simple life. Simple living includes using public transportation/biking, living off a stipend, living without wireless internet, and taking shorter showers. Prior to coming to CVV, I thought living simply meant giving up things so I could only live with things that are absolutely necessary. Now, I see it as choosing to live without excess in order to live in solidarity with the people we are serving. It is determining what things in my life are wants and what things are needs. Some aspects of simplicity have been a bigger adjustment than others. For example, two of the things that required getting used to were using public transportation/biking and living without wireless.
Although I have only been in Denver for about 2 months, I am loving everything so far! I could not be happier with CVV and I am so thankful that I have chosen to spend a year here. Bill and Mary Frances, as well as the rest of the staff at CVV, are all wonderful people. All of them are so supportive and willing to help in any way they can. My volunteer experience would not be as wonderful as it is without my fellow CVVers. They are some of the most inspiring, dedicated, funny, and loving people I have ever met. I cherish the friendship I have with each one of them and I am so excited to see what the rest of the year has in store for us!
To learn more about serving with CVV, click here!

A Day in the Life....

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 9:00am

of a Salesian Volunteer, by Dany Benitez

My name is Dany Benitez.  I am 24 years old and I am from Venezuela. I am currently a Salesian Volunteer at Saint John Bosco High School in Bellflower, CA.  I would like to take this opportunity to share how my life as a Salesian volunteer is on an ordinary day.

            A typical day for me is to wake up at 5:30am to join in the morning prayer service.  I enjoy starting my day asking God for strength and to help me face any challenges I might have that day. 

 After that, I start with my apostolic service by accompanying and monitoring students before and after school at Saint John Bosco Boys’ Club.  This is also referred to as Oratory.  I greet the students and help them to start their day off fresh.

 After that I have the opportunity to teach two Spanish classes as well.  I teach a group of ten students by helping them not only learn the Spanish language but understand it as well.  

I also teach a group of fifteen AP Honors Spanish.  At times, I assist the teachers in the World Languages Department with students who need extra tutoring in Spanish and I assist with special events such as, “Dia de los Muertos” or the “Spanish Conference for Parents.

In the evening I join the community prayer service, followed by dinner.  On Wednesday evenings, I finish the day off with a bit of exercise.  I am a Zumba Instructor at St. Dominic Savio Church.  I teach Zumba exercise routines to a group of ladies and men of all ages.  As a group we work off any stress that we might have had that day to keep our bodies and minds healthy.

Since I’ve met the Salesians of Don Bosco, I believe that we can offer a creative approach that makes a difference in people's lives.  I hope that God will continue to call on me and guide my steps each day.  I want to be a useful tool of his and hope that he keeps me "in service".

To learn more about serving with the Salesians, click here

My New Sight: Ryan

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 11:08am
Ryan Majsak is a recent University of Notre Dame graduate, who is serving with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in San Francisco as a law clerk with the Eviction Defense Collaboration. Read on to find out why sheep and goats inspire him to serve, and what cooking on a tiny budget can teach you!

What is it like living in community with other volunteers?

Living in community with other volunteers is both a blessing and a challenge. It can be difficult to share such an emotional and stressful experience with people I have just met, but it’s also a great chance to create lifelong relationships. We are a family. We eat together, we spend time together, we laugh together, we argue with one another, we make community budget decisions, we talk about our faith together, we talk about world issues together, and we share in each other’s highs and lows. During my service, I wanted to live in community, because I didn’t want my experience to have start/pause button that I pressed when I arrived and left work. I wanted to be immersed in a lifestyle that was reinforced by my community members. Reflection and discussion with others living similar experiences can help give perspective on things that I am experiencing, and likewise I can learn from what my community members share from their placements. We are diverse in our backgrounds and beliefs and we learn how to respect and be open to others’ opinions and values. It’s not an easy situation, but it’s one that has forced us to learn and grow with each other.

What inspired you to serve?

Often times I reflect on a passage from Matthew 25 about the Sheep and the Goats:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’This passage has become a constant presence in my mind when I encounter someone in need. For if I claim to love Jesus, how can I ignore those in whom He dwells? I decided to do service because I wanted to work directly on behalf of and in solidarity with others. Through my placement at the Eviction Defense Collaborative in San Francisco helping low income tenants fight their evictions, I have the opportunity to play a part in making a significant positive impact on others’ lives every day.

What continues to inspire you, now that you've started?

Every JV house has a patron who is well known for their work in the social justice sphere. Our house’s patron is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We have many pictures and artwork that decorate our apartment that have his likeness and quotes. The central piece in our living area is a painting done by a former JV who used to live in our house that has the Golden Gate Bridge and underneath has a quote prominently displayed from MLK Jr., “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” It is inevitable that at some point each day that I glance at that painting to the point that the quote seems to endlessly echo in my head. Now that the initial “high” of joining a fast-paced nonprofit organization has worn off, patience, focus, and compassion is more difficult to maintain during the long intake of clients or the more mundane tasks of the job. MLK’s words reinforce and remind me of the reason why I joined the JVC and help me find the extra motivation necessary to give my entire self to those whom I am serving.

Has "simple living" been a struggle so far?

Simple living is certainly a challenge, but it is a rewarding one. Cooking with a very modest budget has reminded me that eating for taste and complete fulfillment is a privilege that not everyone experiences. I have been surprised just how resourceful we have been and how far we can stretch our limited food budget. It makes things easier that we are living simply as a community, and we are able to support each other on days that it is especially difficult.

It also is hard to suffer when we have so many generous people and organizations trying to feed and entertain us. I have joked with my community members that we are the most well-connected poor people in the city. Former Jesuit Volunteers, friends, family, and our organizations invite us to picnics, barbecues, meals, and then send us home with all of the leftovers. In fact, their generosity is so abundant that as a community, we have talked about how guilty we feel about receiving so much from others. We dedicated ourselves to a simple lifestyle not so that we could continue living comfortably, just on the dollar of someone else, but to understand and fully embrace in solidarity the decisions and realities that those we work alongside deal with on a daily basis.

For me, an unforeseen challenge has been the slightly uncomfortable adjustment to accept so many handouts without repayment or reciprocation. I have had to allow myself to become humble enough to just accept others’ persistent generosity with mere gratitude. I now understand the feeling of pride and almost a sense of dignity that is lost when receives handouts out of pity or because of the existence of an unequal relationship. Now that I have been on both sides of that interaction, I am now more aware of the feelings of those receiving aid and how to make them feel as comfortable as possible to help them maintain their dignity.

Another challenge is limiting our use of technology. We decided to get WiFi with the use of our personal stipends for the main purposes of communication with friends and family and for working on applications. However, the temptation exists to rely on devices rather than people to entertain ourselves. Living simply emphasizes relationships over things, and technology can be a large barrier to that.

To learn more about serving with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, click here

My New Sight: Mikaela

Fri, 09/25/2015 - 9:14am
Mikaela Prego is a May 2015 graduate of the University of Notre Dame who is currently serving with ACE in Denver, Colorado. So far, she has had 4 full days of teaching school and describes herself as "slightly sane and fully crazy at the moment". She loves the mountains of Colorado and already has been to the top of Mt. Evans! 

What inspired you to serve?This is a hard one to answer. I am not completely sure what convinced me to apply to my program and then accept it. I just kept finding myself being drawn to ACE and I just couldn’t say no, everything fit together so well. The desire to serve though was planted in me in high school. My school’s motto was “servium,” or “I will serve.” I felt like I did not give enough time to service during college and a guilt sort of built up and hung around me all through junior and senior year. I wanted to refocus myself. It was actually a youtube video of Stephen Colbert’s commencement speech at Northwestern University that reminded me how important it is to always be serving those around you and so I acted on that feeling.
Mikaela (bottom) and the Denver ACE communityWhat continues to inspire you, now that you've started?My community, all the people in my program, all of the people who did this before me and all first year teachers inspire me every day. It is incredible what teachers do and that they are able to do it well. I am constantly inspired by the passion I see in my community, in my school and those who are invested in education. How can I not want to be a part of something that is working so hard to give children everything they need to succeed?
Of course my students inspire me daily. I want to help them. I can see how much they know that they don’t even realize and I would love to be someone to help them realize how much they actually know, and how much they are teaching me. They are truly incredible, even on days when they talk all through the hallways or forget how exactly to sit in their chairs or that glue sticks should not be glued to the desk. They are pretty cool humans.Denver ACE Community after a hike to the top of Torreys PeakWhat is it like living in community with other volunteers?Right now living in community is the greatest thing I could have in my life. That sounds dramatic, but I look forward to coming home to a house full of friends and passionate people. There have been a couple days that I have been the first home after school and my heart drops. I just love coming home and being able to talk about the day. Of course there are challenges, but I have been so lucky to be placed with incredible people who share a wonderful and quirky sense of humor and share such a joy for serving, even on days when it brings you to tears. I think community is my saving grace as a first year teacher.
Has "simple living" been a struggle so far?Yes. There have been some negative bank statements and cereal is now a staple of my diet, but to be honest I think the hardest thing for me is to define what simple living really means to me. I think the hardest thing is discovering what living simply means and how that is related to what keeps you mentally sane. Does living simply mean that we should limit how much we eat out together, or how much we drive to explore the city, or how often we take ice cream trips? What is necessary to live simply and what is necessary to keep myself mentally healthy? I find myself asking this question a great deal.
Any short stories about your work that you'd like to share?Every day is definitely an adventure, so I’d say that my work offers a great deal of stories. One in particular stands out to me. In 4th grade we have "read aloud" every day after lunch. For the past two weeks we had been reading “Sideways Stories from Wayside School,” by Louis Sachar. It’s a fantastic book, one that I have not read since I was in fourth grade. But we were reading a chapter about Joe who has trouble counting and his teacher, Ms. Jewls, who tries to help him. When five objects are placed in front of him Joe will count “1, 4, 6, 3, 5.” Ms. Jewls struggles a great deal trying to explain to him that although he arrives at the correct number the way he is counting is not correct. For some reason this made my students crack up. They all started laughing all at once and so I started laughing and there was just so much joy. Just thinking about Joe counting makes me crack a smile. I am so looking forward to more surprisingly joyful moments as we continue through this year together! 
To learn more about serving with ACE, click here

My New Sight: Sarah

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 9:56am
Sarah Staten is a St. Louis native who loves Cardinals baseball, beating everyone at board games, and her many, many sisters and nieces. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame in May, Sarah began her two years of service with the Billiken Teacher Corps in St. Louis, Missouri. 

What inspires you to do service?

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'." --Erma Bombeck      
When I think about all that I have been given and blessed with, I cannot help but feel called to give back to those who need it most, in whatever capacity that God allows me to.  We all have different gifts and talents, and I want nothing more than to use what God has given me to love and serve others.  In doing so, I know I am giving glory to God by putting to use the gifts He has given me. My parents have also played a huge role in encouraging me to give back.  "To whom much is given, much is expected," (Luke 12:48), as my parents continually remind me. 
What is it like adjusting to living in community?Overall, I love living in community, it is one of the best parts of the Billiken Teacher Corps. (BTC) through St. Louis University.  At first it was a big adjustment to get used to the different personalities in the group.  None of us were friends before, and jumping into a program like this, it was like living with strangers at first!  It was awkward to get used to everyone's quirks and pet peeves (like putting the toilet paper roll on a certain way...who knew that was a thing!).  And adjusting to group responsibilities was hard, too.  Everything you do now affects five other people, and not just yourself.  But the more we talked, and had community nights, and bonded over summer classes, the more we grew to know, understand, and love each other.  Initially, I struggled with accepting the different personalities, perspectives, and viewpoints of my other community members.  How could we all be so different and still want to do the same program?  Why couldn't they agree with me?  However, once I let go of that desire for control, the more easily I was able to come to love and appreciate each member of my community.  Now I know each person’s quirks and mannerisms, when they are aggravated or when they are happy, but I am still continually learning more about each person.  Relationships take time and effort, and patience is crucial when getting to know new people.
Another aspect of community life that is incredible is the support.  It is so comforting to know that on a night when I am up late grading, someone else in the room next to me is doing the same thing.  The solidarity in that makes the late nights, overbearing parents, failing students, and never-ending grading all the more bearable.  Having people who know and understand what you are going through and what you are feeling is incredibly helpful.  I also love coming home after a long day and having a community to share my stories with and to hear their stories as well.   
What does "simple living" mean, and how is it different from what you are used to?"Simple living", in the context of the BTC, means living in a renovated convent with an 8x8 bedroom, sharing your living space with other outside service groups, living off of a teacher stipend, participating in weekly community chores, doing dishes without a dishwasher, finding (and sometimes killing) bugs throughout the convent, and walking up three flights of stairs to get to your bedroom, to name a few.  While these are not terrible or initially shocking things, they are little things that I took for granted and did not realized make such a big difference.  It is in these little challenges that I learn to be patient and tolerant.  I have to remind myself of my blessings and remember not to complain.  This simple living helps us as a community to appreciate what we do have and focus our time and energy on serving other and being present to one another.    Sarah and the Billiken Teacher Corps community

To learn more about serving with the Billiken Teacher Corps, click here and here!

What does Laudato si' say about faith-based service?

Thu, 09/17/2015 - 12:27pm
By Katie Mulembe, Catholic Volunteer Network StaffCommunity, simple living, social justice, spirituality…for so many volunteer programs, these four values serve as the foundation – guiding their mission, enriching their impact, and shaping their programming. Here at Catholic Volunteer Network, we refer to them as our “Four Pillars.” I recently read through Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato si’ and was surprised to see these very familiar themes running throughout the entire document. It was almost as if the Pope was speaking directly to us faith-based volunteers!I began reading the, excited to hear what Pope Francis had to say about care for creation, but I did not expect to be so challenged to deepen my commitment to community, simple living, social justice, and spirituality, which were so integral to my own mission experience over ten years ago. The encyclical affirmed the lessons that service taught me about relationships, the dignity of each person, and our interconnectedness, but it did not stop there. As I prayerfully read through the document, I felt called to repentance for the many times that I have not extended these values to my relationship with the earth. Over and over I have neglected my responsibility to care for all creation. The encyclical encourages all of us to do more, saying “Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.” (19)If you haven’t gotten the chance to read through Laudato si’, I highly recommend it. Although long, it is easy to read – and serves as great material to guide prayer and meditation. Here are a few passages that make reference to our four pillars:Social Justice:“Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus discover what each of us can do about it.” (19)“We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (49)Community“We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.” (52)“Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbor, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God, and with the earth.” (70)“Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” (84)Simple Living:“Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption… A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment.” (222)“Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer.” (223)Spirituality:“The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain train, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.” (233)“Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different place. Water, oil, fire, and colors are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise.” (235)I hope that Laudato si’ encourages you to see God’s presence in all living creatures, and in this beautiful earth that we all call home. Whether you are a current volunteer, former volunteer, or someone who is looking into the possibility of becoming a volunteer - I think this encyclical will be a great resource for your faith journey. And, if you've already read Laudato si' comment below to share how it has impacted your commitment to service
If you are looking for more information about this encyclical, check out these resources:

My New Sight: Interviews with Brand New Volunteers!

Wed, 09/16/2015 - 12:04pm
Have you wondered what beginning a long-term service project would be like? What is hard, surprising, different, and inspiring about it? Follow the stories of Grace, Sarah, Mikaela, Ryan, Michelle, and more, in our “My New Sight” section of our blog this month.
My New Sight: Grace CarrollGrace Carroll began serving with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) in Biloxi, Mississippi this August. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in May 2015. In her free time she enjoys swimming, running, hiking, and, of course, Notre Dame football!
What inspired you to serve?I have been interested in teaching since I was in elementary school. My commitment to Catholic education has only grown since high school, as a student at Notre Dame. With my desire to participate in post-grad service, as well as live in an intentional faith community, ACE was the perfect fit! As the time came to make decisions about life after graduation, I could not imagine doing anything else – I felt called by the Holy Spirit to teach with ACE in an under-resourced school somewhere in the US.
What continues to inspire you, now that you've started? Every single day has challenges, and every single day has small victories. However, it can be very hard to recognize those little blessings amidst the chaos, failed lesson plans, classroom management struggles, and homesickness. Prayer has sustained me, as has my ACE community and my family. I begin each day in prayer, asking God to help me seethose blessings – whether that be a student mastering a concept, or witnessing students’ kindness to one another in the hallway, or an encouraging comment from a co-worker, or my students’ smiles when they see me in the stands at their volleyball game. God is everywhere. Learning to see Him in the hallways of my school in southern Mississippi is what sustains me. 
What is it like living in community with other volunteers?I could not do it without them, especially being in a completely new community, city, state, and region. On bad days, they leave an encouraging post-it or give you a much-needed hug when you come home or send you a prayer that strikes a chord. On good days, they are your biggest cheerleaders. There's always someone to make late-night ice cream runs with, to bounce crazy classroom activity ideas off of, and to talk through struggles with. I know that community living will not be without challenges, but we strive as a house to assume good will of one another, to be honest in our communications, and to see Christ in each person. ACE Community in Biloxi after the first week of school
Has "simple living" been a struggle so far? Again, community is huge because none of us are buying new clothes or eating out multiple times per week. We love exploring the local area and trying new food places – we just are always on the lookout for economical ways to do this! I have had a more difficult time not spending money without hesitation on classroom resources and Spanish materials!
Any short stories about your work that you'd like to share?Although I often doubt myself and my abilities as a high school teacher, I love my students. They are energetic, joyful, resilient, creative, forgiving, and kind, who never fail to make me laugh. On one of my first weekends down here, our Campus Ministry team of juniors and seniors was having their start-of-the-year retreat…at a student’s house. As one of the Campus Ministry faculty members, I found myself up at 2 AM eating s’mores with a dozen of my students at one of their houses. I couldn’t help but laugh! Welcome to Mississippi!
To learn more about serving with ACE, click here.

The Power of Compassionate Care

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 4:01pm
By Jessica Biser,  Mercy Volunteer Corps, serving in Savannah, Georgia

Mercy Volunteer Jessica Biser cares for a patient
at a clinic in Savannah, Georgia. You’re a 35 year old woman from a corrupted and poverty-stricken village in Mexico. You have three kids with hungry bellies but not enough food despite all your efforts. You’ve heard all about the “American Dream” and decide it is time for you to experience it for yourself in order to support your family. After a grueling trip, you arrive in the U.S., a place glowing with big buildings and fancy people who speak a language you don’t quite understand. Shortly after arriving, you become sick, most likely from traveling in close proximity to others. You arrive at your appointment to find a doctor who towers over you like a giant oak tree and an interpreter who speaks incomplete Spanish. After your general exam, you begin to mention dizzy spells you have been experiencing recently but the doctor looks annoyed. She doesn’t seem to care about your complaints as her attention moves to her phone. You’re unsure what an “anti-inflammatory” or “steroid injection” is and don’t exactly understand how to take your meds, but choose not to ask any more questions to this impatient doctor. You feel out of place, but remind yourself that you came here for your family you left behind in Mexico; they need your help, so you envision them and push forward.

Unfortunately, this is what immigrants experience and is more common than we wish to believe. I know because I have seen it while volunteering at a free clinic in Savannah, GA. As the interpreter, I notice the patient’s uneasiness when the doctor rolls her eyes after more than one complaint. I see the provider standing in a power stance as the patient cowers in the corner timidly. I hear the terminology used and witness the blank stares in response. But the patients have no other choice. Many Latinos flee their country out of fear, hunger, poverty or a combination of the three. Either way, they come to improve their lives, but when faced with healthcare, they have nowhere to go. Our system is imperfect and seems to create an uphill battle for undocumented Hispanic citizens with cultural barriers forming hurdles along the way. The two cultural barriers that were universal among patients I served were language and health literacy.

Language is an obvious issue. If you don’t speak the native language, how are you going to express your health concerns? Of course, you can use an interpreter but you’re placing a lot of trust and faith into a stranger to efficiently communicate and understand your problems. Unless you have family or friends who can speak English, you’re always relying on a stranger to be your voice about your own health. Language barriers are the first contributor in a patient’s removal from healthcare, literacy being the second. Doctors commonly use medical jargon that doesn’t make much sense to anyone but themselves. When you have language as an added obstacle to literacy, it’s like giving these patients braille and telling them to read it with their hands tied behind their back. It simply isn’t fair to send them on such an obstructed path for something as serious as their health. To make matters worse, they’re too intimidated to ask clarifying questions to the doctor directly so they remain in the dark about most of their care. At this point, after stumbling over two hurdles, the majority of the patients are now twice removed from their care, so distant from connecting with the physician that the whole visit feels almost useless to them. Without a bilingual physician who will take time to explain medical terminology to patients, these problems will persist.

This experience motivates me to provide compassionate care to patients in an open environment. It will remind me, as a physician, to be empathetic, understanding and to really find where the patient stands in all aspects of their life so I can meet them at their level. I cannot change our healthcare system, but I can change my interactions with these individuals and advocate for a higher quality of care for Latino immigrants. My hope as a future physician is to eliminate cultural barriers by providing care to Hispanic patients in a comfortable environment where the patients feel they can express their concerns freely without judgment. Not only has the Lord called me to do his service, but specifically to be his hand and heart in medicine for those who otherwise may not receive care. I would like to end with a poem representation of the immigrants I have been referring.

Will you accept my differences?
The Mercy Volunteer Corp. teaches the support staff the art of yoga. The ones you see so clearly
Of language, ethnicity, and education
Contrasting those of your own
Shift your perspective and you’ll see we’re the same
Experiencing pain, love, loss and joy

My knees wear bruises of forgiveness
My skin dressed in stains of suffering
For I have left my country, my home
Seeking your support and guidance
But instead I’m seen as rotten fruit
Unpleasant and useless

My hands reach for approval
My ears listen for hope
My heart screams for love
My eyes seek justice
My mouth remains shut
Because nobody can hear me

I’m willing to give you my hands scarred with labor
To give my mind etched with experience
To give my heart overflowing with gratitude
The question is,
Are you willing to move past your stigmas?
Are you willing to accept?

To learn more about Mercy Volunteer Corps, click here!

Arizona Strong - A volunteer reflection

Fri, 09/04/2015 - 1:34pm
A reflection by Victoria Niedzielski, Mercy Volunteer Corps 2014-2015

The day was May 8, 2015. My community - Karen, Erin, Mary-Kate, Mariah, Kirsten - and I were on our way to Tusayan, Arizona, the town that sits right outside of Grand Canyon National Park. Way back in October, a time that now seems a hundred years ago, we had all signed up for the Grand Canyon Half Marathon. Out of the six of us, only two identified as runners. Even they had only run one other half marathon before. And that was in Page, Arizona, where the elevation is 2,000 feet lower than that of both Tusayan and our home of St. Michaels, Arizona on the Navajo Indian Reservation. This half marathon was going to be a challenge unlike anything we had ever faced before.

As we sat in the van in our usual seats, Mariah and Kirsten in front, Erin and Mary-Kate in the middle, Karen and I cozy in the back, driving as we had driven many times before, that’s when it finally hit me - the sharp realization that I am going to have to say goodbye to my community soon.

One of the reasons I chose to serve with Mercy Volunteer Corps was their emphasis on community living. Dedicating yourself to those in need is a big aspect of a year of service, but it’s important that you get something out of it as well. Community living gives you the opportunity to grow, empathize, live, and love with others.

As the year winds down, I am sure that my time of service would not have been the same if I did not have my community. Volunteering for a year can be hard for people to understand. I’ve gotten many confused questions and comments about choosing to live out a year of service. We live in a world where everything we do has to have a clear and definite purpose, usually one that will benefit us in the future. We go to high school and get good grades that will get us into a good college. In college, we pursue a responsible major that will get us a job right away. We make money to buy a car, a house, have a family, a dog, go on vacations, and eventually save enough to retire. To perform a year of service is to go against the current. There is something sacred about living with other people who also chose not to glide down the river, but to push against its waters, trying to make a splash in places where other people may turn a blind eye.

Two of us, Mariah and Mary-Kate, teach at St. Michael Indian School, a local Catholic school. The rest of us work at a special education school, St. Michaels Association for Special Education. Erin is a nurse, Kirsten is a teacher, Karen works in the therapy department, and I am in administration. Our community grew organically from the start. Each one of us brought something special to our home, whether it was a new way of thinking, a new dish for dinner, or simply a shoulder, or five, to lean on. There can be a lot of sadness on the reservation, which can be frustrating. We are making our own dents in the world through our service, but at the same time we know we can’t fix everything by ourselves.

I’ve learned how important human relationships are. I am an introvert, yet I am constantly being drawn out of my room and into our community space, even if that means just sitting at the kitchen table with a couple of my roommates. If more people were open to wanting to create mutually happy and kind relationships, the world would change so much. We are all human beings, after all, living in the community of Earth.

So, a day later, on May 9, 2015, my community and I were back in the van. This time we were a lot more tired, a lot more sore, and now each of us donned a medal: Grand Canyon Half Marathon Finisher. We did it. Together.

Saying goodbye to my community will perhaps be ever harder than running that half marathon. I’m sure we will keep in contact. We will text, we will email, and we will talk on the phone. We even have tentative plans to meet up once a year for a reunion. But nothing will ever be the same as living together as a community.

When I think of my year of volunteer service, I will think of the vast Arizona sky, the numerous stars that light up the night, free to shine far from from city lights. I will think of the Navajo people and their beautiful ways of looking at the world, about how they walk their sacred land with such reverence and respect, how their spirituality is firmly engrained in their everyday lives. How they have suffered but still rise. I will think of carefully budgeting our stipends each month, planning meals, looking for deals. And I will think of my community: how six strangers became sisters in a matter of months. I am on my way to accepting that, in a few weeks, I will no longer be able to walk up the fifty stairs to our apartment and be greeted with a wave of laughter and warmth, but I know that we will always have Arizona.

Alumni Interview

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 4:47pm
Hi, my name is Nate Kittle I served with Amate House (Marjorie Kovler Center) in 2007-08.

What inspired you to serve?Attending a Jesuit University in Creighton University I was inspired by the social mission of the Gospel.  I knew that ultimately I wanted to go to medical school, but I was taught the value of spending a year working with and learning from an organization like the Marjorie Kovler Center.  I also wanted to gain experience living in community and growing with a group of other young adults who have a similar mission in life to myself.
Where did you serve and what did a typical day at your service site look like?
Marjorie Kovler Center - As a case manager my day was varied.  I sat with clients helping them look through resources for housing, food, ESL, medical care and more importantly psychological care.  I did intake interviews which was the most heart-wrenching and eye-opening part of my job.  Most importantly I helped create a light and fun environment in a place where we were dealing with survivors of torture who were seeking a community and place to feel safe/secure.
What is one memory from your time of service that has stuck with you? Why has it stayed with you?The Kovler Cooking Group.  Once a month staff members and clients would gather to cook a meal.  The "chef" of the night was tasked with organizing the group to help them prepare a meal from their country.  I ate amazing food from Haiti, DRC, Somalia, Ethiopia and Guatemala.  The most memorable parts of the night was the socializing that took place.  These evenings were a chance to get a glimpse of the clients in a social environment away from the desk and away from the trauma they have experienced.
How has your service experience impacted your career path?Since I was a child I knew I wanted to be a physician.  My time at Amate House and at the Kovler Center taught me the value of community.  It taught me how important other viewpoints are and how to respect cultures and beliefs different from my own.  My time in service gave me an opportunity to learn how important this community work is to my life and is a big reason I have become a Family Medicine Physician.
What is your current profession and why did you choose to go into that practice?Family Medicine resident physician in Seattle, WA.  I chose to go into family medicine because I really value community and the intimate relationships that I am able to develop with patients.  My goal as a family medicine physician is to learn about my patient's values and experiences and use this knowledge to improve overall health looking beyond physiological health.
Do you have any advice for volunteers who are wrapping up their year and transitioning out of their time of service?Please please please don't feel pressure to dive into a career.  I am so thankful that I have taken time to enjoy life and have experiences like what I had at Amate House.  I actually took another year to do service during medical school because life is way too short to start work and feel the pressure of a career in your early/mid-20s.  
How do you stay connected to your program or service site?I still went to Kovler cooking groups when I was in Chicago and stayed involved in the local Amate community.  Since leaving Chicago it has been a bit difficult but I read the newsletters when they come out and most importantly I donate money when I am able!

Questions for fun:
What is your favorite color? Orange.
If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be? French Fries
Would you rather be a bird or an aquatic animal? What specifically would you be and why?Bird - An eagle, soaring and going with the wind taking in the world below is a dream, and why I love flying so much!

A Year of Miracles in Detroit

Fri, 07/31/2015 - 11:00am
By Rich Samartino, Story Contest Winner
Mercy Volunteer Corps Volunteer
Detroit, MI

I tell people all the time that miracles happen. Some unexplained force comes into a situation and changes it in ways that people never could have imagined, often with positive, inspiring or beautiful results. Though some people react skeptically to the possibility of miracles occurring, I believe that my year in Detroit with Mercy Volunteer Corps has been full of miracles from the very beginning.

I’ll start my story right there: at the beginning. I was sitting in the Chester County, Pennsylvania public library, clicking through job listings on the website I had just been turned down by the one job prospect I had, and my quest to work with issues related to social justice seemed to be at a dead end.
But then, like a bolt of lightning, I saw it: a job posting for someone working with people with disabilities in a poor area of Philadelphia through an organization called Mercy Volunteer Corps. I couldn’t believe it - of my two most recent volunteer jobs, one was working with adults with developmental disabilities, the other living at a community for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction in North Philadelphia. The position seemed like a perfect match, and I called for more information only to find out that the position had already been filled. “But,” said the voice on the other end, “we do have one spot left in Detroit.”
With a burning desire to work directly with issues related to social justice, I decided to read more details about the opening at Cabrini Clinic, America’s oldest free health clinic. The clinic’s small staff and history of advocating for social justice in healthcare appealed to me as an ideal place to get involved with issues related to social justice. Within days, I had been accepted to the program, and in a little over a month I was living in Detroit.
When I arrived in Detroit, I found a city full of people actively working to create a more just society. My placement at Cabrini Clinic put me in contact with one of the most connected people in the struggle for justice in Detroit, Sister Mary Ellen Howard, former Executive Director of Cabrini and a member of the Detroit People’s Water Board, among many other organizations. By the time my first month in Detroit was over, I had attended a People’s Water Board meeting and several other justice-related gatherings with Mary Ellen. Like a duck taking to water, I began to make my own connections with people involved in the struggle in Detroit.
A breakthrough that allowed me to become involved as a contributing member to the movement for justice came when I attended a meeting of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management. I graduated from Penn State with a degree in Information Sciences & Technology, so when I sat down and heard the group discussing the need for someone to update their website, I knew I had found a perfect opportunity to contribute my IT skills to the fight for justice in Detroit. I soon had administrator access to the group’s website and began posting articles that group members sent to me, something I have done several times per week for several months now. 
This seemingly simple contribution has led me places I never could have imagined. I now personally know many of the key people involved in the struggle against water shutoffs and tax foreclosures in the city, and most amazingly to me, contributing my IT skills has allowed me to be not just an admirer of these talented and dedicated people, but a co-worker and comrade as well. Most recently, I have been asked to help create a website for legendary Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs’ 100th birthday party.
I don’t know any other way that I could have become so intimately involved in a struggle so important to me in a way that allows me to contribute my greatest gift of technology skills.
Whether this is a miracle or not is open to interpretation. However, I would like to close by comparing my presence in Detroit to a seed, one that finds fertile ground and begins to grow. Eventually, it becomes so big that even birds and other animals rest on its branches and enjoy the sunlight that gives life to all beings. I feel that my work here has already touched many lives and made a positive impact in the struggle for justice in Detroit. However, like any living thing I want to keep growing and reach my full potential. Eventually all plants and animals pass away, but it is the image of each one of us resonating with the spirit within at such a frequency that the whole world hums along with us, that is the true miracle of life and highest aim of any person here. But it all starts with a little, dark seed in cold ground. Until, by an unexplained force, green shoots extend upward and hairy roots down. Why these changes at this particular time and in this way? Who can explain it? You can provide your own explanation. I call it a miracle.

Just Listen

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 10:51am
By Meghan Krueger
Bon Secours Volunteer
Baltimore, MD

Serving with Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry in Baltimore: “My Quest to B-more”.  This was my mantra as I prepared to begin my year of service, and my prior assumption of how justice is attained. I moved to West Baltimore with high hopes of affecting change in this community; an attitude that can be seen in various aspects of my day-to-day life. When faced with a new opportunity for involvement, whether that is through my work placement or my residence in the neighborhood, I leap into action asking, “What more can I do?”. This has most recently come up in response to the uprisings in Baltimore. Reflection on my reaction to this current event, as well as other experiences I have had in Baltimore, has allowed me to recognize an ever-present call to forgo my own agenda and just listen.

“Karen, do you have any ideas for something else I could do for the people we see at our monthly blood pressure screenings?” This was often a question I raised to my supervisor (and even more frequently to myself internally) during my first couple months as the assistant in a hospital disease management program. My task-oriented-self wanted something tangible, something noteworthy, to work toward; but it is by grace that I have been able to reach an acceptance and appreciation of the fact that my role this year is not so much to do, as it is to be. It was through interacting with Ms. Ellen – a native of Baltimore, cancer patient, and widow living independently in a senior building - that it was made most clear to me that taking blood pressures is merely a means of getting through to the people that I meet, and an invitation for them to talk and be heard. From “the arthritis in my knees is terrible!” to “it’s a shame what Baltimore has come to since I was growing up here”, the carrying on of Ms. Ellen and the other residents is a much needed release of tension, and a glimpse at the concerns of the impoverished members of the elderly generations. The premise of a blood pressure screening has the profound effect of creating a sacred space for conversation, fellowship, and learning.

“Doorbell!...There it is again!...Now they’re knocking…it must be the kids”. I wonder what the request will be this time – the soccer ball, the nail polish, something to eat – but in doing so I am completely missing the point. They could care less about which sport they’re playing, which color nail polish I offer to them to borrow, or what we have for a snack; what they truly crave, and what they are indirectly asking for, is our time and attention. It’s taken almost a year, but I can now see it – we know these kids well, but we’ve never seen their parents; we see them dressed in their school uniforms, but hear about how they’ve had a different substitute teacher every day for the past four months; and they tell us how they love to dance, but that there is no one willing to organize any afterschool activities for them. My large-scale thinking self wonders, “what can we start in this neighborhood for the kids?”, when what I really need to start doing is listening. I will never be able to understand what it is like to grow up in West Baltimore, the way these mature-beyond-their-years children are, but the least I can do is toss the football with them, paint my nails alongside them, and simply show them that I care. Most recently, the uprisings in Baltimore City stimulated my forward-looking tendencies. Sitting in front of the TV on the day of the initial riots, I found myself already thinking, “what can I do to help rebuild, to work to achieve justice in this situation?” The guidance and insight that I have gained through my various experiences this year, allowed me to reach the understanding that the best course of action to take at this point was to fully and genuinely listen. Rather than try to come up with an explanation for the violence, it was more important to ask, “what are those running around looting and setting fires trying to tell us?” In a way, these teenagers were speaking for the larger West Baltimore community, a group of people with very little voice at all. The true injustice is failing to hear their cries for change. I will forever be an outsider in this community, but my unique opportunity to gain an inside perspective on life in West Baltimore has led me to appreciate that the critical first step toward progress and justice is to take time to listen.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “a riot is the language of the unheard”. Over the last several months, I have seen this riot come in many forms – unfiltered complaints, relentless doorbell ringing, and literal riots – each parallel experience culminating in the humbling realization that all I can and should do is listen. My mailing address may confirm my current residence in an underserved neighborhood of West Baltimore, but I know, realistically, that I will never understand what it is like to live in this community – to have grown up here and to have the expectation of never leaving it. It’s taken me a while to get there, but, contrary to my initial expectations and goals, I know that justice will be achieved, not as a consequence of my personal efforts, but as a result of my commitment to open my ears and my heart to the unheard voices all around me.

A dream come true

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 6:27am

By Addie CrossenSSJ Mission Corps volunteerSt. Mary-by-the-Sea in Cape May, NJ

When I first heard of the Summer SSJ Mission Corps Program, it sounded like a dream come true. How could it not? Spending 6 weeks in Cape May, one of the most beautiful places on earth, volunteering - one of my favorite things to do - and meeting others my age that share in some of my main interests! There was no downside to this opportunity and as the summer went on I truly did realize it was a dream come true.

Spending my summer at St.Mary’s-by-the-Sea Retreat House with the SSJ Mission Corps was the best decision I could have made last year. I had just finished my freshmen year of school and had gotten away from my volunteering roots, which I really didn’t like. Volunteering had always been a large part of my life and I knew I needed to get back to it somehow. Not only did the Summer Mission Corps Program provide me with a way back into volunteering, it also taught me so many lessons that I never expected to learn.
I learned how to live a simpler life, not only through my own actions of fasting and reflection, but through the examples of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. How they live their lives is truly beautiful and I am so grateful to have been able to take part.
I learned how to live in a community, and all of the incredibly hard work and patience it takes to be more concerned with the well-being and the needs of my community rather than my own, so that we were able to work together and grow together and learn together. The importance of communication and the ability to discuss my feelings with others will forever be a lesson that I will continue to use in my life.
The best part of living in the community was forming the bonds that were created. Being able to go from barely knowing one another to spending everyday together and becoming great friends was the greatest part. I was able to be with my friends and learn who I am as an individual with them as they were learning about themselves at the same time. It is an experience I will always cherish. 

Learning from weeds

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 9:07am
By Annemarie Barrett
Current missioners in Bolivia
with Franciscan Mission Service

At the end of the day, I am learning that Mother Earth is our greatest teacher.

When we look close at the garden, it is all there. “Greatest teacher” of what? What is “all there”?

In reconnecting with the Earth and the communities that work her land, I have been reminded of the significant challenges that lay before us.

I have known for a long time now how grave the situation is that our planet is in. But I have only recently started to share work with communities that have been and will be disproportionately affected by climate change.

And yet, for as apocalyptic as the future does look, learning from the wisdom of Mother Earth has deeply renewed my faith in the potential we have to respond to these crises.

When facing these seemingly insurmountable challenges, her wisdom grounds me and offers me a new perspective.

Learning from the task of weeding in the garden offers some great examples.

Lettuce combined with fava beans in the parish garden.Since joining the Plataforma Regional de Protección de Suelos, a regional organization of NGOs that practice sustainable agriculture here in Bolivia, our Pastoral de la Madre Tierra has attended various workshops they offer.

In these workshops we have learned to study Mother Nature in order to transform the challenges we experience in our work.

In the garden, we constantly deal with weeds.

Instead of spraying the weeds with chemicals we are learning about companion planting. We are learning which seeds to plant together so that they mutually benefit one another, a practice that can significantly reduce weeds as well as pests.

In these workshops we have learned that the values at the root of companion planting are collaboration and coexistence, not competition.

When growing plants are faced with weeds that threaten their growth and even their existence, they can move towards collaboration, to learn how to live together instead of compete.

Great production of lettuce harvested from 
the combination with fava beans.These lessons are learned from the relationships that naturally occur in our environment. If we look at any ecosystem, we see the ways the different species coexist and even collaborate.

When confronting harsh realities like that of climate change, what would it look like to take a step towards humility as a human race? Instead of relying on competition to save us, could we take time to learn from the wisdom Mother Earth? Could we invest in collaboration and commit to coexistence?

In these workshops we have also learned that not all weeds are bad, not all need to be removed. Instead of fearing weeds, we learn to work with them. We let them grow and stay around the seeds we have planted until they enter into competition, because we trust that those weeds, when small, can also maintain the life in the soil.

Many times while weeding I have found myself meditating on the process of weeding as a spiritual practice. What are the weeds, or weaknesses, or shadow sides in me that keep me from God and others? How can I coexist with those weeds instead of denying they exist, so that I might grow?

In reconnecting with the Earth, I am learning to focus less on scarcity and more on the abundance of wisdom we have available to us through our relationship with the Earth.

In the midst of great challenges of an ever industrializing, globalizing and isolating society, returning to the wisdom in our natural interconnectedness, I am learning that our connection to the Earth it is not only essential to our physical survival but also a deep source of spiritual revival.

The community of Santa Rosa with the Santa Vera Cruz parish community.